Music has always been integral to my wellbeing

Yusuf/Cat Stevens

Yusuf Cat Stevens, a hero of mine for many reasons - Credit: PA

Songs have always been a huge part of my life, and they are integral to my wellbeing.

I was born in 1976, the year that Barry Manilow had a hit with ‘I Write The Songs’, John Miles released ‘Music’ and The Isley Brothers ‘Harvest for the World’ made people sit up and think.

I like to imagine that there is some kind of cosmic synchronicity in that: it gives me hope on grey days.

In that same year Yusuf Cat Stevens, a hero of mine for many reasons, on his Majikat Earth Tour, performed two songs that are part of the playlist I now call upon to sooth and reassure me when I am unwell: 'The Wind’ and ‘Peace Train’.

Music was central to my upbringing. My parents are both singers, and Dad and I sometimes used to sit in the dark, eyes closed, listening to Frank Sinatra.

Along with Sinatra I had an early introduction to Peggy Lee and Nina Simone. Those three incredible musicians were apparently struggling with mental demons much like the ones that I would go on to battle, but people didn’t speak of those things back then. 

Songs are, of course, a form of art, and all art is open to interpretation. My interpretation of certain songs has helped me to understand my mind and feel less alone. Simone’s ‘Mood Indigo’ and ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’, and Lee’s ‘Is That All There Is?’ are lullabies that sooth me in the depths of depression.

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Simone’s ‘Feelin' Good’ and her version of the Beatles ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and Lee’s ‘Sweet Happy Life’ accompany the smiles and inner sunshine that dawn at the end of each grey squall.

When I was about ten years old I was introduced to a group whose music would go on to become a soundtrack to the ups and downs that would follow for decades to come: The Carpenters. In my times of deepest darkness, Karen’s voice singing ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’ helps me so much.

In 1987, the year I left Preston Primary School, Sting released ‘Fragile’, a powerful song detailing the dangers of gun crime.

A recording I found recently of Sting standing beside Stevie Wonder on the stage as Wonder brings his lyrics to life is, for me, a wonderful lesson in humility, kindness, encouraging the best out of a fellow human with a disability and creative awareness raising.

I have always loved James Taylor, and ‘You’ve Got A Friend' has long been a favourite.

There is a rumour that Carole King wrote that song for Taylor, in response to a line in his song ‘Fire and Rain’, released the year before she wrote it. 

“I’ve seen lonely nights when I could not find a friend.” To any friend really listening, that would have been interpreted as a cry for help, and King heard and responded to it. It’s no surprise to me that Taylor’s version of that song has gone on to become the most well known.

It must have meant so much to him to know that his friend cared enough about him to write it.

When I listen to King's 1972 song 'Bitter With The Sweet', I feel hopeful, and I also wonder whether she wrote that in part for Taylor too, because of the line “A friend of mine once told me, and I know he knows all about feeling down.”

Taylor, who famously battled addiction for much of his young adult life, is now in recovery, and shares his story freely with others.

In 2018, he provided guest vocals on a poignant piece by his fellow American singer songwriter Charlie Puth, then 27 years old to Taylor’s 70.

The song ‘Change’, raises the alarm about the state of the world in the same way as Yusuf Cat Stevens and The Isley Brothers did in the decade that Taylor was in his 20s.

Bob Dylan turned 80 a couple of weeks ago. When he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 2016, I was so pleased. All songs are really poems put to music, and songs have the ability to slip into our daily lives and subconscious minds, telling us stories and spreading messages that we may really need to hear.

In recent years John Mayer, First Aid Kit, Demi Lovato and many other best selling artists have written songs about mental health.

Arlo Parks was the only artist to perform live from Glastonbury during lockdown last year, and her performance 'Black Dog', according to the reviews on Youtube, seems to have helped a lot of people.

The lyrics will resonate with anyone who has lived experience of depression as a patient or carer, and it's also a mellow, Sunday sort of song - I recommend a listen.

You can find a longer list of tracks you might enjoy on my website: www. rose-coloured.com/music-can-help-mental-health

I recommend taking some time this weekend to sit alone or with your loved ones, perhaps with the lights low, and listen to some music. Or, get out around the Bay and find a local artist or band to enjoy.

Musicians are now permitted to play again, and they need our support more than ever, just as we will always need the sense of awe, joy and education that their gifts can give to us.