The first ever Tonic workshop
Tonic trustee and workshop facilitator Vinny Peculiar recalls the first ever Tonic Music for Mental Health workshop.
Vinny Peculiar, with acoustic guitar and friends, at Portsmouth Pyramids
The first ever Tonic workshop:
Way back in 2012 I met Steph Langan (Tonic’s Chief Exec) when my band Parlour Flames played a show at The Joiners in Southampton. It was a great little gig and we got chatting after the show about art, life, mental health and wellbeing – as you do. Steph spoke of her ambitions for her newly formed charity, and we bonded over a shared belief in the power of music as a healing force for mental wellbeing. We wittered on, me saying I’d love to help, and Steph saying it’s going to happen. We kept in touch…
The first Tonic workshop was held at Portsmouth Pyramids, and it’s gone down in Tonic history as a fabulous day to treasure. It was a day that gave rise to a style of workshop delivery we are still using and fine-tuning today.
We delivered the workshop to around twenty-five participants. It was co-facilitated by Bonehead (Oasis), my band mate from Parlour Flames, who was happy to get involved. After the initial icebreaking exercises, we split into small groups and shared musical tastes and inspirations, looking at how music makes us feel, and how it can help us reflect, connect and reconnect. We talked about musical memory, music as a source of strength and hope, political music, music as self-expression, songwriting, and songwriters, in a series of small group exercises.
After lunch, we focused on writing a song in our small groups – each group became a band and agreed on a name. I always think naming the band is important, like a gang mentality, giving us a collective identity. Everyone had brought instruments – mostly guitars, and a couple of keyboards – and some people brought lyrics which were turned into songs as the day unfolded.
Each group evolved in different ways. Some were quicker to agree on a musical direction than others, some had words before they had music, some couldn’t quite decide how to structure the song, but engage in the process they did. After a few hours of tossing chord sequences, words and melodies around, all of the groups were well on track. A couple of groups managed to write two songs, which was really going some, considering they had only just met.
There was an opportunity for each act to perform their songs at the late afternoon sound check, meet the sound engineer, set vocal levels, and balance instruments. This was especially useful for participants with a limited experience of live performance. It helps put people at ease, ensuring they feel comfortable, can hear what they are doing, and know where they are positioned on the stage plan.
We broke up for food at around 6pm and there was a real buzz in the air about the impending evening performances. The Pyramids started to fill up with friends and family, curious locals, and friends of friends. I really didn’t expect so many people – we had a proper audience.
The night went about as smoothly as these things can go. Our newly formed bands played their hearts out, the reactions from the audience were fantastically positive, applause brought many smiles, and the night took on an infectious we-can-do-anything attitude. It was a big success.
Some of the course participants were on stage for the first time in their lives – the nerves were palpable – but mutual support drove people into places they would not typically go. There were encores and a mass singalong on an unforgettable night that Bonehead and I still recall with huge affection.
Tonic music workshops in confidence building and creativity have continued to offer support to aspiring performers and writers ever since. I’m proud to have been involved in delivering these sessions across all kinds of demographics, including universities, youth groups, day centres, hospitals, and directly to groups of psychiatrists.