How far are we all from mental illness? Music and mental health, starting out as a singer songwriter, Robin Williams

Hi, I wonder how far we are all from mental illness? We sometimes
categorise people who have mental illness as something different
from ourselves and see a distinction between ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’
people. There is not a type of person who suffers from mental illness
One in four adults will develop a mental health problem at some point in their lives. It is not down to mental weakness or being somethingless than the normal.
Music can connect you to yourself and to other people. I have found
great help from songwriting when I have experienced periods of mental imbalance. I have found that out of quite dark and anxious times have come what I see as my best lyrics and musical ideas.

I decided to start singing recently. I have always played guitar and relied on others to sing. But as all my other singers have either not put across lyrically what I wanted to say, or have pissed off to London I thought I would have a go myself.

I have now played five open mic nights, the first was quite exhilarating, the second very odd, the third disappointing, the fourth a bit boring and the fifth a lot of fun. I have realised that I have a decent voice but not a great one. Nobody cried or said my songs changed their life. But nobody shouted ‘you’re shit’ or attacked me and a few people said they liked the lyrics to my songs. ‘Cynical and doomy, but good’ was one comment. I liked that. ‘Well crafted songs’ was another. That sounds a bit damned by faint praise. One of the songs I wrote, which I thought was fitting to the topic of this post, is called ‘Bottle It Up’. Its a song which comments on the inability of people, especially men, and very especially British men, to talk about their emotions and problems.

‘People find it hard to cry,
When they’ve never seen a tear in their father’s eye
They’ve got troubles they’ll never tell
Feelings they’ll never show
It takes a drink to jump off the brink
And tell someone what you really think,
Troubles you’ll never tell
Feelings you’ll never show

Bottle it up
Don’t let it out
Keep it all in like a lager lout
That’s just the good old British way

I knew a man who could never tell
What was going on inside himself, he had
Troubles he’d never tell
Feelings he’d never show
One day he’s up, the next day he’s down
These days he’s neither up nor down
(They put him on some anti depressants)

Bottle it up
Don’t let it out
Keep it all in like a lager lout
That’s just the good old British way

(lyrics copyright Adam Moffatt 2014)

The second open mic gig, the odd one, was at a bar called Talk. I arrived to find the usual open mic was cancelled, but there was a spoken word/poetry/rap open mic event on. I had paid for my parking so I thought I might as well stick around and give it a try.
But you only got a minute to put across your performance and then you were cut off. Roy Mc Farlane, Birmingham’s Poet Laureate was there and he was really good, he did a particularly moving poem about his dad who he never knew. The open mic started and I was sandwiched between a woman who sang about fried chicken and a supposedly ‘conscious’ rapper, who seemed barely conscious and kept shouting out to Bordeseley Green productions. I played a song taking the piss out of pop songs that are always written about falling in love in a club,and how the reality of clubs are quite scummy, depressing meat markets. However I’m not sure it was quite understood and I was looked at as if I was a bit weird. I was definitely not going to be voted the winner via social media so I headed back.
Plus I had only put £2.20 on the parking.

I’d also like to talk about a project I have volunteered on called
Musical Connections. It is a group for people who have had mental
health problems and have an interest in song writing and music making.It runs at Hopkins Day Centre in Handsworth, Birmingham. There are some great pianists,guitarists, singers and one chap who has a knack for poetry and writes great lyrics. After we had played a song together this guy asked me ‘Are you a volunteer or do you come to the group?’, meaning did I go as a service user.
I considered for a bit and said ‘I am helping out as a volunteer but I’ve had mental health problems in the past’. Volunteering at this group has actually been one of the things that has stimulated and engaged my mind and dragged it out of some spirals of negative thoughts that I have had recently. It made me think that the lines between mental health and illness are far more blurred than we think.

Finally, on the subject of creative people and mental health I had to pay tribute to Robin Williams, who sadly took his own life today. There was always that bit in his films; Mrs Doubtfire and many others, after the comedy, where he sort of took off his comedy face and made a long, profoundly sad speech. I was thinking that you could easily see his life as a film which followed that pattern. The news of his suicide is sort of the equivalent of that sad bit when you realise the joy has to end and you have to look at the reality of life. Sadly he felt he couldn’t face it. Cheers for the excellent films.

Thanks for reading my first post and stick around as I will continue to share ideas around my songs and upload some of my songs soon.