Category: Liverpool


A couple of years ago, as I started to emerge from one of the darkest periods of depression of my life, I was using the affirmation “Taking back my life”, because that is exactly how I felt. Depression is often compared to a ‘black dog’. Personally I don’t find that a good analogy – I have had two black dogs in my life, and both were good for my well-being. I can not associate them with depression. To me it is more like a muddied, boggy pool which we are submerged under. We see dim shapes and shadows of reality, but they are seen through dark muddy water. Emerging from my depression at the time was like ‘surfacing’ – making my way to clearer waters – to a clearer reality.

As usual it has been a long time since I updated here. I have had some family illness issues, which have made it difficult not to slip back into that mire. On a more positive note, I have been busy with various projects. I have done courses in blog set-up, community journalism and blog management, which have culminated in me being part of a great team, running a new blog:

Well Pool (Promoting Positive Health & Well-Being)

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It’s been a fascinating project and it is interactive in that if you have things to share on the vast subject of well-being, we are always keen to publish them.

Additionally, I have set up a photography page – at the moment, just on Facebook, but I am still on a learning curve with my Nikon! The page is:

Marc Fraser Photography

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I also did a relevant post on photography and well-being on the WellPool blog called

‘Photography – My Well-Being Salvation’

But by far the biggest element in my life has been working towards an installation for World Mental Health Day, which was on 10 October 2015.

I ended up shelving the original idea for a completely new slideshow because of the aforementioned family health issues; instead I added sound to the slideshow that ran at the ‘Sticks ‘n’ Stones’ event in February. On an emotional and creative rollercoaster, I added a ‘mix’ of some music I made a few years back in algorithmic music software – generated semi-randomly – as well as snippets from discussions on self-image and how it suffers under fluctuating mental health. There were also a few snippets of speech synthesis. The end result was this:

‘A Trick of the Eye – A Trick of the Mind: WMHD version’

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The day was amazing. The staff at the Playhouse Theatre, where this and some really excellent drama, dance and workshop performances were going on for most of the day, were so hospitable. It goes without saying that their work was brilliant – like a well-oiled machine.

So that leads me back to the title of this post. Two years ago, I was taking back my life. Now I feel that Saturday has started me on the road to taking back my identity.

Before I fell into that muddy pool, the things that kept me out of the mire were artistic work as a composer working with fringe theatre, dance, performance art, etc. After the event on Saturday, I feel like I am that person again.

I am already putting ideas together for the installation that I shelved.

There has been a lot more going on with me this year – mostly positive (in the end). I have done my debut (and probably swan-song) in stand-up comedy via the Comedy Trust’s ‘Feeling Funny’ project, done more training in Peer Support, and more. Ever onwards, ever upwards.

Me at Comedy Night at The Brink

The Stranglers at the O2 Academy, Liverpool last night were every bit as entertaining as they were the last time I saw them – in the mid- late- 80s!

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When I was younger and attempting to play keyboards at some serious level, I wanted to be a combination of Jon Lord from Deep Purple and Dave Greenfield from The Stranglers. There was a big problem with this: I was nowhere in their league as a keyboardist.

I was really chuffed when I learned about The Stranglers gig here in Liverpool and even more so when I was able to go. I heard about the gig only last week, and then my awesome girlfriend, Frankie, bought me the ticket as a birthday present! This is on top of the fact that I anticipate being in New Orleans with her on my actual birthday. I am very blessed.

So the gig was absolutely amazing. I have seen the Stranglers more times than any other band – the first time in 1979, where they were supporting The Who at Wembley Stadium (check out the other support too!). That gig was as surreal as it was brilliant! At that time they were touring with ‘The Raven’, which to this day remains my personal favourite of their many and varied albums.

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Being at a gig like the one last night, it was reassuring to feel – in my head – that I was in my mid-twenties again. Unfortunately, after some very arthritic pogoing, my body totally disagreed! I’m sure there are a few people who know me that don’t even want to think about that one! It was reassuring that a high percentage of the audience were my age. As Baz Warne quipped between songs “Aww this is nice – look at all the smiling faces (look at all the bald heads too!)” A couple of women standing next to me became very protective of their toes and their beers when I got started!

The Rezillos were supporting the Stranglers too. I never really paid them much heed in the dizzy days of punk – apart from that song that was on Top of the Pops called – amazingly enough – ‘Top of the Pops’.

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At such gigs now, there is always a tinge of sadness at what seem like the ‘lost years’ in my life. The last time I saw The Stranglers must have been around 1986. After that, I lost touch with them after some rather horrendous experiences with a criminal landlord who made various threats, resulting in my being afraid to leave the house – that’s a short period of my life that I haven’t talked much about on here. It was short, but enough to have had a lasting impact. Anyway, I lost touch with many of my preferred bands and musicians at that time, then later, when Jacquie became ill, I lost touch with all music.

It did make for an interesting gig last night, though – I would say about half the songs on last night’s playlist were ‘new’ to me. They did play many of their greatest hits and many of my personal favourites. They kicked off with a military band style arrangement of ‘Waltz In Black’, which brought back fantastic memories of a gig at Hammersmith Odeon where they started the show with 3 ballerinas clad in leather and lace tutus, fishnets etc. It was amazing to watch. Last night they followed that with the first two tracks from The Raven – as they had started their set at the Wembley gig back in ‘79. They also played standards such as ‘Peaches’, ‘Get a grip on yourself’, ‘Golden Brown’, ‘Skin Deep’, ‘Always the Sun’, their version of ‘Walk on By’ – ‘No More Heroes’ was left as a second encore. It made for great impact. They also played ‘Curfew’ from the Black and White album – a great surprise for me as this was another of my personal favourites.

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I read a review of the gig at the O2 Academy, Sheffield the previous night and for that one, drummer Jet Black was absent – he is in his 70s now. Glad to say that he played a few songs last night.

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At the Sheffield gig, frontman Baz Warne – who enthuses the audience and (apparently) the band with energy and humour – said in explanation of Jet Black’s absence “[He’s] having a cup of horlicks, a lie down and a rest.” Jet Black used to get some stick in the early punk days of the band as being ‘old’ (I remember reading in NME that he was in his 30s at the time). He is now in his 70s of course. But you wouldn’t know from the few songs he did last night.

The night would have been perfect if Frankie had been with me. But there will be gigs together in the next few weeks. I couldn’t help but tap my foot when the music started – and when the old classics came out, I was almost at full pogo – temporarily forgetting that this was my 57th birthday present, and where energy sporadically touched my life back then, arthritis does now!

Let’s just say that today – the day after – I ache in places I forgot I had!

Craft and Vintage Fair

Another fab event coming up in Liverpool on Saturday, 21 February 2015.

Tinderbox Fairs are putting on this ‘Craft and Vintage Fair’ at Nook & Cranny, Bold Street, Liverpool. Take a look on the Facebook page to check out some of the things that will be showcased.

Tinderbox Fair Flyer

There are also two spots available at the fair for vintage traders.

If you are a vintage trader, and are available and interested, please email Jenny McCarthy at:

tinderboxuk@gmail.com.

“Illusions Parade”

This is just a quick post to mention an upcoming event, which a friend drew my attention to. The event itself is in August, but in case any people reading this (or any of their friends, colleagues, etc.) want to submit some work, it is worth mentioning, as the final date for submission is 1st April 2015.

“Illusions Parade”

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The web page is pretty self-explanatory and worth a look for anyone interested in visual and or experimental arts.

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We have come a long way in reducing the stigma attached to mental illness, but as yet it is still just a reduction – not a removal.

Tomorrow, ‘Time to Talk Day’, is all about working to further reduce that stigma and the discrimination that goes with it. Don’t be surprised if someone comes up to you tomorrow and asks your consent to take your photo and for you to make a comment about your feelings about mental health issues. The statistics about mental illness speak volumes. According to those statistics, one in four people will experience some mental health issue in their life – it is slightly higher in Liverpool. Yet the statistics don’t take into account the number of people that are in denial.

Many people say “I’ve never had, nor will I ever have, a mental health issue.” Yet if you were to go through life without ever being stressed because of bereavement, divorce, job loss, threat of job loss, abuse (mental or physical), you would either be very blessed, or – more likely – so emotionally repressed that you could expect at some time to suffer a breakdown of some kind.

From personal experience I can say that there is a great deal of relief in not only admitting and facing up to the fact that you have a mental health issue, but in being among people who do the same. Having a condition like depression or anxiety is isolating enough to start with. When someone is denying that they have that condition, it becomes even more isolating. Being with people who can say “Well actually, you’re not alone in this – I have had the same issue.” is one of the greatest steps towards re-balancing that I took in my battle with depression.

Denial and the need to talk is a key factor in the performance organized by PSS at the Siren Café in St Jame’s Street, Liverpool tomorrow. 

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My part in the event is a slideshow representing how our self-image can be distorted by mental illness:

Blurb

Lost and Found

Yesterday I took part in the ‘Upbeat 2’ event organized by the Richmond Fellowship, Liverpool and Imagine and held at the Zanzibar Club in Liverpool. I found it very beneficial in a lot more ways than I expected.

I bumped into a couple of people I had known when I first came to Liverpool back in 2000, I also met friends of friends, and made a couple of new ones. It was another opportunity to force myself out of the house too: it is so easy to fall into the mire of reclusiveness in the Winter months with residual depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). To get there and take part was, in itself, quite an achievement for me.

Then there was the playing in front of people. I haven’t played the keyboard in front of anyone since the early 90s. More recently, I have ‘lapsed’ away from keyboard practice for about a year now. So to have the confidence to actually play, knowing that my performance would be far less than I could be capable of was another big achievement. I even borrowed a violin for a few seconds and scratched out an Irish Jig – I haven’t touched a violin for over 10 years.

Oh, my performance on both instruments was far from great. I know how much better I’ve been on them, but it didn’t matter as much as having the bottle to ‘have a go’.

I met a very nice lady called Jen McCarthy, who had written some lyrics and had a rough idea for a song from them. I bumped into Alex – a guitarist I knew when I first moved to Liverpool: he played lead in the band that Chris, my late partner Helen’s son was drummer in. Then a fantastic and experienced guitarist called Simon joined us and we put the song together. It was great fun, and I think we came up with a song that did justice to Jen’s lyrics.

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On stage

Finally, at the end of the evening I volunteered to play ‘live’ and in one ‘part’ an instrumental that I’d recorded on a multi-track recorder  over 20 years ago (probably the last time I seriously played the keyboards until I got my current instrument in 2013). The recorded track had drum machines, sequencing and overlayed ‘orchestrations’. Yet here I was attempting it with no sequencing or programming whatsoever. I was either very brave or very foolish.

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And it is this that provided the most illuminating aspect of the day. It gave me time to ponder the effects of years of depression on my confidence, or maybe it’s a chicken and egg thing, and the gradual erosion of confidence contributed to the depression? who knows… I was also able to observe progress made in its slow and partial return.

The fact is that I had not been a confident performer since I went to college (ironically). I had four years of prominent members of staff saying that when I was playing in an orchestra or as a soloist, I stuck out like a sore thumb because I looked like I wasn’t enjoying it, like I didn’t want to be there. As much as I tried to ignore it and ride above it, it eroded away at confidence until I ended up a jibbering, shaking wreck whenever I was on stage. It was extremely frustrating and annoying: even now, after years out of violin performance, after years of not playing the violin, I still listen to orchestral music, and if I’ve played it I relive it. If I haven’t played it, I think myself into the orchestra – I listen as someone thinking about how it would feel to be taking part in the performance.

I found confidence as a carer when my wife became very ill, but when she died, that confidence was eroded by self-blame and self-doubt. Then I started to find confidence as a person in a loving relationship with Helen – in spite of the relationship being fraught with difficulties related to first my mental health and then her cancer. Losing her also knocked my confidence. Even now, the residue of that knock is that I still have a slight feeling that I am like ‘the kiss of death’ and that getting close to others is harmful to them. I know – it doesn’t make any sense. The logical part of my brain tells me I’m being stupid thinking like that, and maybe crediting myself with way too much self-importance. Yet the emotional, sentimental – and depressable – part of my heart still harbours those feelings.

So the return of confidence has been so gradual I have barely noticed – as gradual as its initial onset. I am thankful to my friends and my new girlfriend – even though ours is currently a long-distance relationship (she lives in Philadelphia, PA) for helping me to find it again. What has taken me completely by surprise is the outlet for it – a return to creative projects: music and photography/photo-art. Last night was a milestone in taking back my life and regaining some of that confidence.

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All in all, the day was a great way for people who have been touched by mental health issues to get together, work to get creative together and raise our feelings of wellbeing through creativity. I’m looking forward with hope for another similar event next year.

Just a quick mention of an upcoming event on January 26. As the poster says, the workshop is for Imagine and Richmond Fellowship members, but the evening gig is open to all and with free admission. I’m hoping to take part.

UpBeat 2 poster

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One of the most amazing pieces of artwork I’ve seen recently is a statue sculpted by Andy Edwards commemorating the Christmas Truce in 1914.

If you don’t know the story, it was the first Christmas of the First World War, and British and German soldiers came out of the trenches into ‘No Man’s Land’ under a ceasefire. They swapped food and cigarettes, and then played a game of football before returning to the trenches to continue hostilities.

It is probably one of the most moving events of the war, and to see the statue too is an incredibly emotive experience. It has been moving around a bit. It started at St Luke’s – The Bombed Out Church, Liverpool, before going for a couple of days to the Anglican Cathedral (also in Liverpool). Then it was in Belgium, on the actual site of the original Christmas Truce, over the Christmas period. It is now back at the Anglican Cathedral until 5 February 2015. There are plans to hopefully get three bronze copies – one to remain in Liverpool at St Luke’s, one to stay at the Belgian site, and the third to go to Germany.

I started a photo blog called ‘Beyond the Lens’ on Tumblr in November last year. Although it is still fairly sparsely populated, I have posted some pictures of this marvellous statue on there. Check it out  to see these photos and more (click on ‘Beyond the Lens’ above).

If you are in the area before 5th February, I can strongly recommend a visit to Liverpool Anglican Cathedral too. The statue is amazing, and is an amazing building.

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I did the March On Cancer last night here in Liverpool. It was a great evening, and a great evening for the event to take place. Crisp and clear without being too cold. Hundreds of people took part – each with their own story. Of course their are many more stories – stories of those who lost to cancer and stories of those who survived and who live with the disease still.

http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/hundreds-march-liverpool-mission-take-7921048

It was fitting for me that the march started and finished opposite the Atlantic Tower Hotel – that is a very memorable part of my story – my reasons for doing the march:

Before I actually moved to Liverpool, Helen, my late partner who died of cancer in 2011, and I had a great night out in the city centre. At the end of it, she suggested we stay in town, and we ended up having a crazy, wonderful night at the Atlantic Tower. I have never forgotten that night, and the pledge we made to each other that one day we would go to Paris together. We did eventually get to Paris in 2010. It was to be our last shared vacation. Helen – and Jacquie (my wife – also lost to cancer in 1999) – were so much in my mind last night of course. Each, in their time and their own way, have brought out the best of me.

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The march was not the end of the effort. People are fundraising for the week ahead of the Stand Up To Cancer broadcast on UK TV’s ‘Channel 4’ on the 17th October. The aim is to raise £15m for Cancer Research.

I am very proud to have played a tiny part in the initiative. The JustGiving page will be open to accept donations until 1 November. I hope that maybe some of you reading this will find it in your heart to have a look and maybe donate to this great cause.

Finally (almost), check out my photo album on Facebook – photos taken last night, before, during and after the march.

Here are the links used in this post again:

http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/hundreds-march-liverpool-mission-take-7921048

http://www.standuptocancer.org.uk/

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/stand-up-to-cancer/

http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/

https://www.justgiving.com/MarcMOC2014/

https://www.facebook.com/marc.fraser1/media_set?set=a.10153532085409041.1073741906.627794040&type=1

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On June 1 I posted about the Friends of St Luke’s. There has been some good progress in the campaign. The council have agreed to pay for essential repairs and maintenance. They have agreed not to sell the church, but to keep ownership of it, and to have it managed by the most suitable group. There is to be consultation and the opportunity for interested parties to present their ideas for the management of the site. It is indeed great progress as it means it is not a one-horse race, as has been implied recently by – well, one of the horses – let’s leave it at that.

Here is the sad news for me. I have had to step down from the admin team for health reasons. I acknowledge that I have made great progress in recovery from 2 decades of mental health issues, but I think that I was not quite ready for this task yet. However…

I have met some great people in the process, learned a lot about a wide range of subjects. And even though I am not ‘full on’ in the campaign now, I fully support the ethos and ideas of the team. Although not a ‘scouser’, I like to think – I hope – that I have the same passion for the place as I would have if I was born and bred. To me the total lack of respect that has been displayed in recent months (if not years) for the status of the site as a war memorial and place of rest and tranquillity is appalling.

The Friends of St Luke’s is a solid, great team of people with a very strong basis for managing the place as it was originally intended when the council bought it from the Church in the 60s. If anybody reading this feels strongly about respecting the memory of war victims (doesn’t matter where you are), or is a local resident who values as many do, the original ethos of the purchase, please take a look at the Facebook Page and show your support, by giving the page a ‘like’.