Our dedicated staff and volunteers come from all walks of life. This includes people who have experienced mental illness, as well as those with experience working in the mental healthcare sector.
We are artists, musicians, caregivers and innovators. We draw from this diverse range of experience and expertise to provide unique services:
In the Tonic Ska Choir, we use the power of communal singing to bring people together and promote mental wellbeing.
In the Recovery Through Music programme, we use music and the arts to empower people on their journeys of recovery.
In the Tonic Rider programme, we use our music industry experience and knowhow to promote good mental health in the music industry.
Tonic was founded in 2012 as a direct response to the lack of creative support for people experiencing mental health difficulties. It was founded upon the belief that participation in music and the arts can aid you in your recovery from mental illness.
Our first event was at Portsmouth Pyramids Centre. It included four stages of live music with over 50 local and nationally recognised performers. A year later we organised our second all day event to a capacity crowd of 1500, headlined by Dub Pistols and Terry Hall. These events were followed by four gigs at the 100 Club in London.
From our early events promoting mental health awareness, we now champion mental health action. By providing opportunities for people to participate in music and the arts, we directly support them on their journeys of recovery.
We have been providing creative mental health support through the Recovery Through Music programme since our inception. The free-to-attend programme provides Creative Workshops to aid in mental health recovery.
Established in 2019, the uplifting Tonic Ska Choir performs at gigs, festivals, rallies and events, as well as recording covers in a professional recording studio. Choir members experience the joy of communal singing, which promotes a positive mood and reduces feelings of stress and anxiety.
In 2021, we launched Tonic Rider – an innovative programme promoting good mental health in the music industry. Tonic Rider provides free training and support to music industry professionals, both remotely and at venues. In its first year, Tonic Rider offered 212 spaces on its groups, workshops and courses.
In 2022, Tonic moved to a new HQ in Southsea, Portsmouth. Tonic HQ includes a shop, performance space, kitchen, and offices. It is big enough for the choir to perform in, and we have the capacity to hold intimate gigs.
As the Tonic community keeps growing, we will continue providing creative mental health support to promote Recovery Through Music, while promoting good mental health in the music industry through the Tonic Rider programme.
“These are terribly testing times for those of us with mental health issues. My mental health deteriorated towards the end of 2020. The thing that got me through was communication. If you’re suffering, then it is incredibly important to tell people... family, friends, doctors, Tonic! Tell them to check on you... always. Share your health issues… they aren’t problems. Most of all… stay safe… stay secure... We’ll get there!”
Terry Hall is lead singer of The Specials.
“I support Tonic because of the great work they do bringing the issue of mental health into the open. They are a passionate team that understand the problems people with mental illness face. The music industry has many artists that suffer from depression and other issues. There is a stigma around mental health and Tonic help to challenge this and raise awareness - that is why I give them my full support and backing.”
Barry Ashworth founded electronic music group Dub Pistols in 1996.
“It’s vitally important to support groups and charities like Tonic who work tirelessly on behalf of people with mental health problems. This is why I was honoured to accept a role as a patron of Tonic and hopefully with your help we can all make a difference.”
Kevin Cummins is a music photographer.
BBC 6 Music
Meet the Team
Founders & Trustees
Steph explored the themes of music, social justice and mental health in her fine art degree. This led her to a career as a social worker, working with adults with severe and enduring mental illness at an NHS Trust, and then later within a University Student Wellbeing Service.
Steph co-founded Tonic while working as a Care Coordinator in a Community Mental Health Team. Her clients frequently cited the importance of music in their recovery, but there was a lack of creative services and resources to refer clients onto. Frustrated by this, Steph and her colleague Lisa, inspired by the many festivals and gigs they attended, set out to create a music event that their clients could be involved with, and Tonic was born.
Founder & Chief Executive Officer
Despite having no prior experience of event management, Steph organised sell-out gigs at Portsmouth Pyramids, the iconic 100 Club, The Wedgewood Rooms, The Joiners and The Cellar. Money raised from these gigs paved the way to fund free music & art workshops, as well as funding EPs & LPs for musicians living with mental illness. We now have a shop that provides emotional support, including a studio with full creative timetable and two choirs, supporting hundreds of people each year.
“Tonic is everything I love – music, art and incredible people. We have been blessed to meet and support the most inspirational people, and to have such a kind and supportive creative team. Tonic is not a job, it’s a way of life.”
Lisa co-founded Tonic Music for Mental Health with Steph at a time when they both worked together in a Community Mental Health Team. Lisa had experienced her own journey with depression and anxiety, and wanted to support others in a more creative way.
The founders conceived the idea, breathed life into the idea, and raised it to be something quite amazing.
Due to personal reasons, Lisa had to take a step back from active parenting of Tonic, but she is proud to have seen Steph and the Tonic crew continue to nurture her baby. She will always be there to offer encouragement and support.
Lisa is proud to have taken on an important role as one of the Tonic trustees.
Founder & Trustee
Abbie is a Science Writer/Editor by trade and an aspiring but not particularly accomplished musician. She had been looking into retraining in music therapy but was put off by the formality of the courses and heard about the wonderful work that Tonic were doing. She soon became involved with helping behind the scenes and has never looked back since.
“Tonic provides a variety of inclusive, supportive and nonjudgmental communities. We have small groups, larger choirs, or people who just pop into the shop for a mooch through some vinyl, a chat, and a cup of tea. It is a small slice of how the world should be, but too often isn't. Little by little, we are looking to change this.”
Vicki is a registered Mental Health Nurse and has worked in the NHS for over 30 years in acute adult mental health and CAMHS services. She currently works in an urgent care setting supporting people in crisis.
Vicki is absolutely passionate about fighting to save, improve and protect the NHS so everybody can access a fully-funded health service in their time of need.
When not working, Vicki enjoys walking her golden retriever along Brighton beach, chasing sunsets and going to gigs. She loves listening to soul, funk, ska and reggae. Her favourite artists are Paul Weller and Bowie. She also has a soft spot for The Specials who have been really supportive of Tonic.
Vicki is a great believer in the power of music to improve our mental health and help us feel more connected. She can often be found on Tonic’s information stands at gigs and loves hearing people’s stories.
“I feel humbled and privileged to be part of Team Tonic. I have met so many inspirational people who share similar passions and values. We are all very down to Earth and bags of fun to work with so... get involved!”
Steve works on bids and grant applications for Portsmouth City Council. He has a background in the charity sector both as a manager and a trustee.
He is a fan of live music and the power it has to bring people together.
“I am proud to be a part of Tonic as a trustee – the work it does has never been more important.”
Dr John Barnes is a Consultant Psychiatrist in Rehabilitation. He has been with the Somerset Partnership NHS Trust (Sompar) since 1997, working across community and hospital rehabilitation settings. He has been consultant to Ash Ward low secure rehabilitation service in Bridgwater since 2011.
John has supported the development of rehabilitation psychiatry within Somerset and in the South West region, and he is a trainer of core and advanced trainees in psychiatry. John is himself trained in family interventions in psychosis, and is an advocate of a range psychological and social approaches to mental illness, including creative therapies and participation in music and the arts.
John worked with Tonic on the development of the Creative City Somerset 2019 arts and music project for clients of Sompar, which included Tonic’s Vinny Peculiar giving workshops to help participants write and perform a song. John and Vinny also co-presented a workshop at a national conference for rehabilitation psychiatrists in November 2019. John is currently working with colleagues in Somerset, planning a follow-up to the Creative City project.
John has been an adviser to Tonic since January 2019, helping the team with planning and evaluation. On his visits to Tonic HQ John has attended workshops in guitar and bass, as well as the Tonic Ska Choir.
Jo is a mental health nurse and CBT therapist. She is currently the psychology lead in an NHS community mental health rehabilitation team.
Jo has previously worked as the clinical manager of a nationally acclaimed early intervention psychosis service; working in this area provided her with amazing opportunities to engage creatively with young people. One of the highlights of Jo's time in early intervention was a music and spoken word night at a grassroots venue, with performances by the young people she worked with.
Music and performance are essential to Jo's own wellbeing and a huge part of her life. She has punk rock roots, was a DJ in an indie club in the 90s, and can now often be found at festivals in the summer months, performing with Samba Reggae band Batala Portsmouth.
Jo is a passionate believer in the positive power of creativity, self-expression, music and dance.
“I am delighted to be involved with Tonic Rider; a fantastic programme that promotes positive mental health in the music industry.”
Jade is a classically trained mezzo-soprano singer from North Wales, who left behind opera arias to front Cardiff and Brighton based rock, punk and soul bands. After taking a short hiatus from her own music, Jade is now the vocalist of a London based jazz quartet.
Her main musical influences are Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley and Billie Holiday, but she loves the raw and honest attitude of John Lydon!
Jade is the music facilitator for our vocal groups and the Tonic Punk Choir.
“Being at the heart of Tonic is wonderful as it means I get to see people develop both personally and creatively. Watching the confidence, friendship and abilities grow within the groups is an amazing thing to be a part of. I’m very proud of the vocal group, who all work so hard to develop their voices and confidence. Through positive risk-taking they are achieving what once seemed out of reach.”
“I’m really excited to be leading the punk choir. Not only is this such a fun and creative project, but it will also be a chance for all those involved to come together and sing those great punk songs that stand for change - something we can apply to Tonic’s ethos of challenging the stigma around mental health.”
Music has been an integral part of Steve's life for as long as he can remember. From pilfering his dad's rock ‘n’ roll records as a small child, to buying his first ever record by The Specials, to laying on his adolescent bed fascinated by the musings of Morrisey and The Smiths; Steve is now on a never-ending aural journey taking in reggae, soul, jazz and electronica, amongst many other genres. He has DJ'd at many events over the years and has an irregular guest spot on 1 Brighton FM. When not listening to music or talking about music, you can find Steve consumed by his other passion: test match cricket.
Recovery Through Music Lead
Over the past 20 years, Steve has worked in psychiatric units, held many different positions in substance misuse services, and most recently supported students with their mental health at the University of Portsmouth.
“Music can be a powerful vehicle for recovery and personal change. It has an immediacy and impact that other artforms struggle to compete with. I genuinely believe in its powerful and life-enhancing qualities.
“Through music and all of its associated benefits, Tonic is a provider of recovery and hope. It's full of passionate, caring people and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Steve leads the Recovery Through Music programme.
Dawn has been part of the Tonic family since 2018 and likes to get involved with everything she can. This includes liaising for the Tonic Rider programme, event coordinating, and fundraising on our ‘Never Mind the Stigma’ stand at events.
Tonic Rider Liaison & Event Coordinator
“No day is ever the same at Tonic. Whether I’m meeting new people, going to new places, learning new skills, or learning about myself, I love it. The best bit for me is that, not only do I get to be a part of this amazing team, but I get to see first-hand and be a part of what Team Tonic provides - helping people on their journeys of recovery.
“The Tonic shop is such a great place to escape and relax. There's always a warm welcome, a smiling face, a listening ear, and lots of opportunities to get involved.”
Billy has been creating artwork for Tonic for a number of years, and in 2020 became a full member of Team Tonic. He is involved in creative design and graphics across the whole Tonic family.
Billy has been DJing around Portsmouth and the South Coast for the past 30 years.
“Tonic is an inspiration to so many people, I am humbled to do what I can to help.”
Jeordie’s role is to design, manage and review our programme of taught workshops, support groups and training courses for music professionals. He also liaises with other music organisations and represents Tonic Rider at industry events.
“Over the past decade, awareness of mental health in the music industry has grown significantly, but now is the time for action. I believe the Tonic Rider programme offers something for all music professionals to promote good mental health in the music industry.”
Tonic Rider Coordinator
Alongside this, Jeordie is a PhD researcher of substance use amongst working musicians, and he has contributed to forthcoming publications within the field of mental health in the music industry. He is a graduate member (MBPsS) of the British Psychological Society with a MSc Research Methods, BSc (Hons) Psychology and Sociology, and CertHE Social Work. Outside of work, Jeordie is usually found wearing a band T-shirt at a gig or festival, or at a record store adding to his collection of over 2,000 albums.
“Tonic is a family, who share a passion for music and good mental health. There is the old adage about choosing a job you love, and that is certainly true for me, thanks to my amazing colleagues and the wider Tonic community.”
Jimmy has a deep love of music and has been a musician for nearly 30 years, playing in a number of local bands as a multi-instrumentalist. Jimmy is a fully-qualified youth worker with a BA Hons in Youth & Community Work and has run a number of music groups for young people across Portsmouth. He has also developed strong links in Portsmouth's creative community by organising local events. Jimmy hopes to combine these qualities to create fundraising opportunities for Tonic.
Events & Fundraising Coordinator / Music Facilitator
“I love the connection you get when playing music with other people. Music is primal and anyone can cut loose and join in, banging a drum or shaking a maraca, no matter what your ability. The joy listening and making music brings is amazing and it can really lift your mood. I love the way hearing a certain song can transport you back to poignant times of your life, whether happy or sad. Music is so powerful.”
Simon's role includes copywriting, editing and managing our IT systems. He made our website and now maintains it. He also writes our core content.
“I will never forget the day I first discovered the true power of music when, aged 14, I was introduced to the classic Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon. There were two tracks in particular that blew me away - Time and Us & Them. Never before had music moved me in this way. I experienced both an emotional and physical response.”
Editor / Copywriter
Simon has facilitated our guitar and bass workshops. He also does some garden variety graphic design and photo editing.
“I believe that music can be the difference in people’s lives that carries them on their journeys of recovery. There was a time when it felt like music was all I had - the only thing keeping me afloat - and this is why Tonic’s work is so important to me.”
Stan has been volunteering for Tonic since it was founded in 2012. Ten years later, he joined the staff team to perform a variety of roles.
“Tonic has been a part of my life for so long and it has truly shaped the person I have become. I have had so many opportunities that I never would have dreamt of.”
Emiliyah is a classically-trained singer with a love for reggae music. Originally from Warsaw, she has been immersed in music her whole life. On her musical journey, Emiliyah has been blessed to share a stage with legends such as Lee Scratch Perry, Janet Kay, Luciano, Vivian Jones, Dreadzone, and many more. She is the lead singer of Portsmouth-based band Emiliyah And The MightyZ All Stars.
Emiliyah facilitates the Tonic Ska Choir.
“My mission is to share love through everything I do. I strongly believe in empowerment, one love, and in the healing power of music and art.
“The Tonic Ska Choir is a great way of using music to empower people, lift their mood, and promote good mental health. I take pride in helping people to experience the benefits of communal singing.”
James is a professional pianist/keyboardist, music teacher and choir director originally from Bermuda, currently living in London. He is a multi-genre, international performer having shared the stage with Mary J. Blige, Robin Thicke, Kindred the Family Soul, Alison Hinds, Mighty Clouds of Joy, and many more.
“Music is truly a universal language with the power to transcend social division. The world could certainly do with a little more harmony. In particular, communal music is the ideal vehicle to promote the values of equality and inclusion. I firmly believe that formal training should never be a requirement to participate in music - it must be accessible to anyone who wants to have fun. In my opinion, music is the best medicine, a Tonic for the soul.”
Tonic Music for Mental Health is an inclusive and non-judgemental organisation.
We do not tolerate unlawful discrimination, bullying or harassment.
We seek to create an environment that promotes dignity and respect for everyone – because we believe in equality.
We respect the unique worth, inherent dignity and human rights of every individual.
At Tonic Music for Mental Health, we celebrate difference.
By drawing from a wide range of experiences, we ensure that no good idea goes unnoticed, and no one with a fresh perspective is left out.
It takes a diverse team to run a successful charity.
Why are we called Tonic?
In our name Tonic Music for Mental Health, the word Tonic has two meanings:
1. “Something that makes you feel happier or healthier”
2. “The first note in a musical scale” – the tonic is the most important degree of a scale, serving as the focus for both harmony and melody. Likewise, there is a strong case for mental wellbeing being the most important part of our health. Subjective terms associated with the tonic in music include at home, stable, at rest, and a feeling of resolution. Almost all music ends with a final statement of the tonic.
Definitions (in quotation marks) are from the Macmillan Dictionary.
The use of the word Tonic is also a nod to 2-Tone Tonic Suits.