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Artist insight: Sound Minds

Updated Wednesday 12th May 2010

Musicians Devon and Clinton discuss their experiences of life on a mental health ward and how their passion for music helped them.

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Copyright The Open University

[Music copyright: Sound Minds]

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Devon Marston: My name is Devon Marston and I’m one of the founders of Sound Minds. Sound Minds was started off back in the late 80s as part of care in the community, looking at provisions for people with long-term mental health problems which the community was longing for. Down here in Battersea the Methodist Mission was in partnership with some of the occupational therapists from the local trust to be able to include some of the people from the hospital to come into the community and to do music. One of the persons that came along when it was just about setting up was Clinton Henry.

Clinton Henry: [music lyrics] “You spend so much time indoors, you sound special, rebel without a cause. I find it hard to believe anything, I even disbelieve when the birds sing. So many wars and destruction, no wonder third world countries find it hard to function. So many words and what they need is money for construction. At times I go to church and feel the need to repent ...” [fades]

Devon Marston: Clinton Henry at that time was getting back into music after years of being in the system, being pushed to and fro, and lost a bit of his touch but when Sound Minds came around it brought him back a bit, back to him own self. Clinton, when you first started Sound Minds, did you think ‘Oh what a relief, I’m getting back into doing music again after being, you know, a patient within the mental health system?’

Clinton Henry: Hmm. True.

Devon Marston: Is it true to say that you was on TV in Ireland promoting your music?

Clinton Henry: Yeah. Gay Byrne show. Ireland’s answer at the time to Parkinson or to the main chat shows. After that, when things fell through I didn’t have no confidence.

Devon Marston: Because coming into the system sometimes you lose your confidence and your creativity. But when you started to get involved with Sound Minds did it sort of gradually, after a while gave you a purpose to get up and get back into doing something constructive for yourself and the community didn’t it.

Clinton Henry: Yeah, that’s true. Yeah, I was, used to be the front man, I’m used to doing this and, I don’t know, a bit embarrassed as well. Embarrassment, shame and embarrassment and a lack of confidence. I realised I had to start thinking, getting me act together and I suppose, yeah, slowly I started writing again because it obviously wasn’t such a shameful thing to do in the first place.

Devon Marston: Well Clinton, did your writing of your music, did that change, did your lyrics and your music sort of slightly change because of what happened to you?

Clinton Henry: I remember I sort of woke up in hospital about say two o’clock, three o’clock in the morning, I couldn’t sleep so I came into the room and started writing. I couldn’t get nowhere. After a while, after a few months and that I was talking to a few people and they said everybody has a writer’s block, maybe I was trying to write like I used to write in that space. And I realised that I’m in a different space. It’s alright being in a different space so I’ve got to try and adapt and, yeah, to your question I think the writing has changed a hell of a lot. I mean for one delivery-wise it’s not as aggressive and angry but it still touches subjects like, you know, relationships, family, I still write about injustices around the world. I know I can’t do much, there’s not much I can do about it in my present state but maybe I won’t dwell on them subjects too long, I’ll try and I’ll put a bit of humour into it as well.

Devon Marston: After a while things change, you feel more comfortable, more confident, your self-esteem’s coming back.

Clinton Henry: Yeah.

Devon Marston: You’re meeting a new set of people, and then am I right to say your lyrics changed, you made them more poetic? The poetry that you did you blended it with your music, you created a new style of music for yourself.

Clinton Henry: It was after going to one of the sessions down there, Sound Minds, so I went home, went back to the ward that night, put the radio on, found one of my favourite stations and there’s this jungle thing like dh-dh-dh-dh, really fast, really fast, and I had to find words and I went ‘just got to hand it to the concentration bandit, you just tough, tough, tough in modern day civilisation, concentration bandit is my occupation.’ Knowing that next week I’ll have the mic.

Devon Marston: And you felt like you were taking control of your life again.

Clinton Henry: Yeah. Yeah.

Devon Marston: So you can really say actually that you was on your way to recovery now, eh? Because of your own creativity, mixing with other people, not stuck in the hospital doing music therapy. And then what actually you did after that, you started to set up your own project by mixing with other musicians in the mental health system but also from a profession not in the mental health section.

Clinton Henry: That’s right, yeah.

Devon Marston: And you actually employed them to work with you.

Clinton Henry: Yeah.

Devon Marston: You formed a band and you started to get your own gigs.

Clinton Henry: And that was quite amazing because it’s sort of fact again, like I didn’t know where I was or who I was, but with the Sound Minds we were protected, okay it was the mental health situation. When that occurred, when I started getting other musicians I was thinking how would they bounce off with Sound Minds, I’ll have to invite them to Sound Minds, how are they going to think about mental health, how are they going to do that. Well the only way to find out is invite them down, so Charlie came down, Lancaster, gets a keyboard, Guy Chambers came down, not a problem, Louise, not a problem. Nobody found it a problem with mental health. Obviously there was a big stigma about mental health, but when people see it in a positive way like them sessions were obviously showing, no shortage of things to do.

Devon Marston: What you’re saying is music can really help someone with a mental health problem. Not in a sort of big therapy way but music can help someone with a mental health problem and the mental health community as well.

Clinton Henry: Yeah.

Devon Marston: As well as the other community out there. And I think that’s what you’ve achieved.

Clinton Henry: [music lyrics] “Don’t leave me tonight by myself, I want to talk to you ‘til we get things right. What difference a day makes, you help clear my mind, put on the brakes. Now try all the remedies on the market, it’s my turn to write up me own prescription. Cockney rebel, herbal diction. The traveller moves from home to home ...” [fades]

Clinton Henry: I didn’t know what was happening to me. I didn’t know what the illness was, I didn’t know how to control it, I didn’t know the tablets was how to control it, and it wasn’t my way normally, tablets. I didn’t know what was happening. Maybe my first few attempts at writing didn’t calm me down, didn’t ease my soul. So I probably had to wait ‘til the right time to get the vehicle. Where Sound Minds came in, they had the vehicle to do it, to record it. Yeah, I just had to listen.

Clinton Henry: [music lyrics] “The traveller moves from home to home, naturally fit and body toned. So many clothes out on loan. Care worker, tear jerker. So many stories close to the bone, starting in the home, in the home.”

Devon Marston: [music lyrics] “There’s a fire in my heart that keeps on burning. There’s a fire in my heart. I pray. There’s a joy in my life that keeps me searching. Searching ‘til the break of day …” [fades]

Clinton Henry: How and when did you first sort of get involved in the mental health system? I know that you talked about, before about not knowing who you was at the time.

Devon Marston: I was a professional musician working with a band called Investigators, a reggae band. I was touring and they had a number one hit, but then I lost my gran and then I didn’t know how to cope with it, so I just went out partying, drinking, not eating, not sleeping. I didn’t know how to cope with bereavement. And then what happened, my mother found me, my brother came in and saw me in a squat down in Battersea, I was unemployed, you know, I was rough, on the streets, so I went back home and then they called the doctors in and said that they were taking me to the hospital because I don’t seem to be well. The police came as well, I didn’t understand why that was. Anyway, they came, took me to the hospital. Under section, I didn’t really understand what all of that meant, section and admission to a mental hospital.

Clinton Henry: Hmm, the first time you’ve heard of it.

Devon Marston: Yeah. I had no understanding of mental illness.

Clinton Henry: Yeah. Do you yourself think you were alright then?

Devon Marston: At that time I think I was alright, nothing wrong with me. You know. All I needed was just, you know,

Clinton Henry: A bit of rest and some shoulder to cry on.

Devon Marston: a bit of rest, yeah, I was a bit stressed out. And some shoulder to cry on, you know, and someone said well don’t worry about it, you know, everything’s going to be alright. But they just got the doctors in and then I was on the ward, and then the same night I was on the ward um, I woke up and I wanted to leave because I thought that they’d got it wrong. And then the nurse pressed the buzzer at her desk and then four big blokes got me on the floor, they held me down and injected me with major tranquilisers. I was unconscious for four days and I nearly died.

Clinton Henry: Hmm, four days.

Devon Marston: And then after that they said to me I’ve got to stay there because I’m under section, and then I was ...

Clinton Henry: How did you feel when they said that you had to stay in under section for six months? You didn’t, well you knew what it was by then didn’t you I suppose, what section was?

Devon Marston: Well I didn’t know because when they injected me with that medication that changed my life completely. I was a totally different person, I didn’t ...

Clinton Henry: You never really got over it.

Devon Marston: No, because it made, it made me different, it made me feel different, it made me react to life differently. I lost my culture, I lost my creativity, I had no purpose any more.

Clinton Henry: How old were you, Devon, at the time then?

Devon Marston: I was about 22 then. So I spent most of my young years within the mental health system. I remember very vividly, I remember watching TV in the lounge in the hospital and I was watching Top of the Pops then, and I remember seeing a black girl and a black man singing on there. I said to myself one day I’m going to come out of this place and I’m going to get back into the music business and I’m going to be on TV. And then I started to write things down on paper. Because before when I was in a professional band we used to advertise, promote ourselves so I started to write posters again and Investigators, Devon Marston will be appearing at Wandsworth Civic Suite, blah blah blah month. Next day I started writing songs.

Clinton Henry: So it wasn’t like a sort of sentimental thing. You were just designing wasn’t it, that’s what you did as well.

Devon Marston: I was, yeah, I was doing it because something clicked in my mind, I’m thinking that’s where I’m coming from. I started to remember that’s where I’m coming from. From being creative by playing music. And that is what taked me through my illness and made me come out the other end to create and set up Sound Minds. Because I knew that one day I’m coming out at least and I will go back to my whole life. Because at that time I said to myself I want to go back to do my music, but what I didn’t realise is I can’t go back to do my music, I can only go forward because I’ve changed, I’m changed. But the music gave me the hope to get better. If it wasn’t for the music I think I’d be still around in the system in and out of the wards just like some of the other guys.

Clinton Henry: Yeah, yeah.

Devon Marston: And that’s what the mental health system did for me. It changed me but made me realise that there is something in my life that I can hold onto, you know, and that was music.

Clinton Henry: If you was to give somebody advice, like coming into the system now, where would you direct him? It’s totally new and frightening for them.

Devon Marston: Sure. I’ve encountered people like that, you know, just find out what is it they want to do really. Basically I just see how far they are with what they do, it depends what they do. If they’re an actor or a musician or whatever, media work or they want to do video editing.

Clinton Henry: Well isn’t that Canerows and Plaits, that’s a major step then, a real little challenge.

Devon Marston: The Canerows and Plaits is something that came out of Sound Minds. Talk to the patients, it’ll primarily be black people and minority people on the wards, as we’ve experienced, you know, life on the ward is difficult and it’s unbearable sometimes. And the surveys and studies into black and minority ethnic people in mental health, they get more medicated on the ward, they’re less likely to get information about services that are applying for them and they go to services that doesn’t fit with them. Canerows and Plaits was set up out of Sound Minds to actually go on the ward and try to find out by consultation process what is it would make their experience of being on the ward much more bearable.

[music lyrics] “It’s only you, make me feel this way ...” [fades]

Well this song, I was inspired to write it really. It speaks a lot about relationships, you know, between me and my maker, and to me and other people. I can’t work on my own, you know, Sound Minds wouldn’t have been done on my own, it takes more than one person and sometimes it’s only you that makes them dreams come true, whoever you are. Someone else helps you to make your dreams come true, I can’t do it on my own. And it was Rob.

Clinton Henry: Devon can’t do it by himself.

Devon Marston: I can’t do it by myself, and at that time the words came Rob was helping me so he was part of what made me write the song.

Clinton Henry: A nice little organic way of writing.

Devon Marston: Yeah, of writing it. But it just came to me, I never set out to write it or construct it. It just came because Rob and I was playing, and then I realised, you know, sometimes it takes another person to help you to make your dreams come true, not just you on your own.

[music lyrics] “... make me feel this way. Only you brightened up my day. Only you make my dreams come true. Only you bring the sunshine through. Oh baby, it must be you ...” [fades]

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