The Impact of no Live Music on Mental Health

I want to begin by referring to a study carried out by Behavioral Scientist, Professor Patrick Fagan, who, with the backing of wireless company O2, found that music improves our emotional wellbeing by more than 20%. Music is also likely to help us live longer. Yes, that’s right. He’s saying that popping down the pub and watching that solo acoustic singer for the evening whilst nursing a beer could do your mental health so much good, you’ll live longer.

I’m in. You?

So, throwing yourself into a mosh-pit at a Metal gig, swaying away to the Blues singer, tapping your foot along to the Jazz band or dancing in the isles at a Pop concert could genuinely extend your life. A prescription of live music, suggested at least once a fortnight by Fagan, has every chance of improving your health, happiness and wellbeing. That, of course, is on the understanding that we don’t get absolutely spannered every time we go, which could be an issue for one or two amongst us. However, what positive news! I mean, it’s not rocket science that music and dopamine are clearly in cahoots.

This though, of course, is why many of us are really struggling right now.

On the evening of the 13th March 2020 I was at Phase One, an incredibly cool Liverpool gig venue for upcoming, emerging artists. Myself and co-radio presenter, Cameron Maerevoet, had been given guest-list passes to watch fast-rising Liverpool indie outfit, Seprona, supported by Portsmouth band, Flowvers. It would be the last gig I would attend until….well, that conundrum is yet to be resolved. And let’s face it – it doesn’t look like I’ll be going to any soon.

Seprona, Phase One, Liverpool (13th March 2020)
© Dirty Rock N Roller Photography

I’ve spent a lifetime tucked away in little venues watching bands, having a bevvie and thoroughly enjoying myself. The bands that night in Liverpool were great – both Seprona and Flowvers have bright futures. But there was something else going on in the room that night. A nervy, unsettling tension. This ‘virus’ that the news had been banging on about had taken the UK by the scruff of the neck and was starting to push us up against the wall. Covid-19 wasn’t just a rumour, or a news story in another country anymore. It was real, it was here, and people were anxious and confused about what was happening. There was even talk of places closing as a precaution. Yes, closing.

“Could be the last night we open,” the barman told me as I got the beers in.

“Really?” I asked, skeptical.

Really.”

He clearly knew something that I didn’t. Just days later the country was in lockdown – the likes of which most of us never thought we’d experience in our lifetime. I remember remarking to friends that we were literally living in a science fiction novel. The bars were shut, the pubs and nightclubs shut, the shops shut, our liberties strangled. It all felt weird and frightening and completely….new. The stack of so-far-unused concert tickets on my shelf caught my eye every morning from that day on. Needless to say, none of those gigs went ahead in 2020. Not one.

I lost a fair few quid on concert tickets, since ticket operators and venues either went into liquidation or disappeared in a rather dodgy haze of silence. The worst loss was £90 at Southport Theatre – now shut indefinitely – on two tickets for Englebert Humperdink. Some may say I deserve it for ever entertaining such a show, but I like him, and that’s that. The 85-year-old probably won’t return to these shores now. That bird has almost certainly flown. And to be honest, who is in a position these days to lose £90? Another slap on the wrist for not keeping up with the modern world – I paid cash, and therefore couldn’t claim any credit-card compensation. You know, sometimes I feel like an alien on my own planet.

And so, to the issue. We’ve all endured nearly a year of on-and-off lockdown. I managed to play one gig in August when things were slightly relaxed, but I’ve still not seen any live music since March. It’s absolutely devastating to watch close friends struggling who are dependent on music for their income. There’s no sign of live music returning, especially since the latest wave of Covid-19 is more serious than ever. I can’t hide my frustrations – I’m fuming about the government response to the tragic situation the arts in this country finds itself in. One of the fundamental reasons that our country is globally admired is because of our art – our literature, our film industry, but our music in particular. The consequence of this pandemic could be absolutely catastrophic for live venues, theatres, arenas and festivals – the government haven’t done enough, in my opinion, to ensure that our sacred arts scene will still be there for us all, and the world, to enjoy when this is over.

As for Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, suggesting that those in the arts should retrain….what a bellend. With over 80,000 British people dead in this country because of the ineptitude of this government, maybe it’s our ‘leaders’ that aught to be retraining?!

Anyway, let’s not get too political.

The point of this article is to highlight the importance of live music in our lives. And it’s not just the actual music itself; it’s everything that goes along with it. Live music encourages us to socialise, gives us something to look forward to and get excited about, puts happy targets in our diaries, and often gets us to travel or book ourselves into a hotel in a different town or city, which is both stimulating and invigorating. During concerts we have life defining moments, tick off bucket-list hopes & dreams, get to see our heroes in the flesh, and justify the soundtracks to our lives. It’s rare that you don’t leave a concert feeling exhilarated, unless its Oasis or (if he’s in a strop – which is reasonably often) Van Morrison.

Live music is part of the fabric of our existence.

It’s beyond disappointing to walk past empty pubs, derelict bars and moulding nightclubs. Not a peep has been heard from the arenas for what seems like a lifetime. From the biggest acts in the world to local pub performers, the whole industry sits and waits. For some, the wait has already been too long. The financial consequences have been fatal. Venues have closed their doors for the last time, theatres gone into administration, and performers forced to find other work.

For enthusiastic gig-goers, the wait has been unbearable. Our mental health is suffering because of this, and future months, at least for now, look bleak. Studies that associate emotional health with longer life expectancy are no more relevant than now – the age of the pandemic. I’ve started to dig out some old concert tickets (i’ve never lost one), since fond memories are often a recipe for healing. I’ve been very lucky over the years. I’ve seen pretty much everyone you can possibly think of left alive that has any sort of importance in music during my lifetime of love for live music. A lot of great times have been had, but that’s for future stories.

For now, our priority is to survive. Dramatic, maybe, but that’s the reality.

Too many families have lost loved ones for us to think this is someone else’s problem. The hospitals are at bursting point and the NHS on its knees. Somehow it feels a little inappropriate to be so concerned with the live music industry when people are dying, but we need to take the bigger picture into account too or the after effects of this destructive virus will go on for decades. We have to preserve our culture, or we’ll lose a major part of our identity.

Stay safe, folks. Support musicians if you can during this awful time. Watch their livestreams and donate if you’re able, or better still, buy their records.

That is, if you want them to be there ready to play for you when the world comes back.


Being early doesn’t always pay…

The year was 2010.

And, sorry, I’m going to ruin the story straight away by assuring you that everything ended well.

However, it began terribly.

Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood announced a really unexpected joint tour – and by joint, I don’t mean two separate sets – they were promising a full show on stage together. I got straight on the phone to my bandmate Adrian and spilled a million reasons why we had to be there. He listened patiently then informed me that his arm didn’t need to be twisted up his back. And so, that was that.

The closest gig was at Birmingham LG Arena, so we booked tickets months in advance and excited ourselves stupid with every mention of it. After all, both these legends were getting on. Right?

The date of the gig was the 18th May, 2010. It was clearly written on the ticket. They had arrived at my house, and been filed away safely, away from reckless lurking hands ‘cleaning up’ or the overly-vexatious boxer dog. In fact, I’d slipped them inside my vinyl copy of The Beatles’ Blue Album. That was the Holy Grail in my house that no-one else dare touch.

I’ve always loved the feel of a concert ticket in my hand. They feel like freedom and possibility and exhilaration. I love the writing on them, big and bold…a famous name that promises to become a face, right in front of you. The curious hologram. The date – a moment of your personal history captured in print. That thrilling line of punched holes, ready to be ripped by a bored concierge with spots and sincere disinterest. The type that have no idea who the legends are you’re going to see.

Adrian, the great guitar player and co-singer in our regularly gigging duo, Little Wing, had nothing to do with the admin. I handled it, paid for it, and he simply reimbursed the cash. I was just about as experienced a gig-goer as anyone you could possibly meet from my generation. I’d watched hundreds, all over the world. I could reel a few off to impress you if you like? The Eagles in Melbourne, Australia. Chuck Berry in Luxembourg City. The Rolling Stones and Deep Purple in Paris. Paul Weller in Benacassim, Spain. Leonard Cohen in Montruex, Switzerland. I could go on, but I’m sensing you hating me already.

The point being, I’d been on trains, planes, ferries, trams, buses, cars…basically everything but horseback to get to gigs. Logistically, for a daydreaming technophobe, I was pretty slick. So what could possibly go wrong?

Well, how about this.

“Hey, Adrian, you ready for the gig this week?”

“Yes, great.”

“You fancy driving? We’ll split the petrol?” (Tactical – he’s not really a drinker).

“No problem. Let’s set off early and get there in good time.”

So, off we went on our two-plus hour jaunt down the M6 to Birmingham playing Clapton and Winwood CD’s, riling ourselves up for the gig of a lifetime.

Upon arrival in Birmingham we were surprised by the lack of traffic.

“I knew setting off early was a good idea,” Adrian said.

I’d spotted a McDonalds, so my attention was otherwise occupied.

“Yep,” I said.

When we landed at Birmingham LG Arena a short while later, we were even more astonished to see no cars in the car park. In fact, the whole place was a ghost town. The barrier was down, and when we approached the gate a baffled looking security guy stepped out of a small hut and approached the van.

“Can I help, lads?”

“Hi mate, yeah, we’re here for the Clapton / Winwwod gig,” Adrian said since he lingered at the driver’s side.

“The what?”

I leant over. “Eric Clapton,” I reiterated. “And Steve Winwood. Here. Tonight.”

What?”

I wanted to shout THE FUCKING GIG! but the genuine concern spreading across the bloke’s face stopped me in my tracks. Adrian turned to face me and that sinking feeling melted me into my seat.

“No gig on here tonight, Lads,” the Brummy chap said, hands aloft in apology.

“Fucking hell,” I whispered, pulling the tickets out of the envelope. The guy stuck around for the climax. “But it says here, the Birmingham LG Arena, tonight.”

The guy leant into the car to see the tickets in my hand. Then he slowly withdrew.

“That ticket says 18th May, mate. It’s the 11th today.”

Well, my ass fell clean through the van flooring. Adrian laughed. I sank back into my seat, horrified by my own stupidity. Other people might have punched me. Adrian said:

“Let’s go get something to eat.”

The only compensation for such a mistake was that we arrived a week early and not a week late, but it wasn’t round the corner. We made the best of the situation, and had a rather nice curry before making the trip home.

The following week we made the gig, on the correct day. We even got there for the correct time and sat in the right seats. We did really well. Clapton and Winwood were superb – a raucous mix of tunes from both solo careers, Cream, Traffic, Derek & The Dominoes, The Spencer Davis Group and some covers too. A career spanning retrospective by two of England’s finest. Clapton’s slowhand was on fire, and Winwood’s voice better than ever. Well worth the two trips!

© Southport Reporter

Anyway, we’re still friends. We still play music.

I don’t book the tickets anymore.