We are genuinely delighted to turn 11. For those of you who do not know how TONIC started, here’s a quick overview from founder Steph Langan.
When I was 29 a good friend, George ended his life by suicide. He was 33. It shook our entire community and has left a lasting impression. Time and time again we see young men end their lives by suicide. Many never seek help from their GP, mental health services or talking therapies. I had planned to train as an Art Therapist following a fine art degree but this experience led me to train as a Social Worker and practice within adult mental health. George was, and still is my measure of helping to understand and change the stigma associated with seeking help to prevent further suicides.
Lisa and I worked together as Care Coordinators in a NHS Community Mental Health Team for adults experiencing severe and enduring mental-ill health. Back in 2011, there was very little in the way of music projects that we could refer our clients to. This was important as a high proportion of our clients cited music as being one of the most important to their recovery journeys. So, after many discussions at work with our clients and colleagues and lots of nights out at gigs and festivals we started planning what would become TONIC.
Our first venture was to organise a music event and alongside this we set up regular art workshops for clients we worked with who created artwork to display within the venue.
After lots of twists and turns we realised our desire to plan an outdoor music event was a bit too adventurous with no skills, no money and four months to plan. So, we settled on Portsmouth Pyramids, a 1,500 capacity venue. We decided one stage would not be enough, so opted for four stages across the venue with over 50 performers throughout the day and night. To say the event was stressful would be a complete understatement. Lisa nearly legged it home during the afternoon when the PA to the outside stage didn’t work and I discovered my ‘fake it until you make it’ persona to get through the pressure.
That first event taught me:
a) we needed a team of people who did know what they were doing;
b) event work was hard;
c) music events were an incredible way for people to come together, unite and have an opportunity to have an open conversation about their mental health.
We never wanted in those early days to organise a conference, round table discussion or day time event because we wanted to attract a crowd of people who wouldn’t ordinarily attend a mental health event. Someone like George. We felt organising music events would be an opportunity to connect with people, particularly men who also may not seek help from traditional services for experiencing depression, anxiety or suicidal ideation. We felt this would open a gateway to support and help break down stigma.
Soon after TONIC 1, we met Vinny Peculiar and Bonehead (Oasis) at a gig and Vinny jumped on board to facilitate our first of many music workshops. We would jam and write songs in the morning with strangers and perform on stage during the evening with friends.
Planning the ‘TONIC 2’ event led to meeting Terry Hall. We met and talked about the plans for Tonic and he loved the concept. He became our first founding Tonic patron and performed two songs ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’ and ‘Gangsters’ with Dub Pistols as well as an eclectic DJ set.
TONIC 2 was so much smoother to organise and much less stressful second time round. To this day, I still meet people across the UK at gigs who tell me they attended.
We opened our first shop and studio and curated a timetable of guitar, bass, vocal, songwriting, poetry and art workshops.
The Specials donated proceeds from their Encore album launch at the 100 Club to TONIC. That, along with donations from their UK Tour.
Led to funding the Tonic Ska Choir.
Covid hit and our in-person groups and support stopped. We quickly adapted to working online and providing groups via Zoom. We also created the Tonic Rider programme for musicians and music industry professionals.
The tragedy of our friend’s untimely death, Gorillaz Tour Manager, Craig Duffy led to donations to TONIC in Craig’s memory of his 'favourite charity'.
We opened our second TONIC HQ and in-person support, workshops and events.
Including two very special performances by Peter Doherty.
This started a special relationship with The Libertines and we joined them on tour across the UK with our Never Mind The Stigma stand.
And The Libertines doing a TONIC fundraiser gig in Liverpool.
Terry’s untimely death in 2022 hit us hard. We owe him so much and will miss him greatly.
2023 is the start of a new chapter in the TONIC story. We have a growing team, new programmes in the making, new challenges and opportunities and we will embrace every second of it.
So thank you to all the incredible people who have taken those important steps to reach out to us and seek support through our early beginnings of facilitating music workshops, art groups and ska choir and our more recent peer groups, mental health awareness and suicide prevention training and our many workshops. And thank you to everyone who has contributed to TONIC over the past 11 years to ensure we can fund and facilitate the support we provide. We wouldn't be where we are now without the support of so many people.