Category: Music


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’

Trick of the Mind WordCloud

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!

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.

Planning in the cold

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

Well here we are in 2015 already – and I can’t even say we are ‘just’ here as, once again, this is a belated New Year post. I gave up New Year Resolutions some years ago: I was already in the habit of beating myself up over what I perceived as my shortcomings and failures without setting myself up to fail again; and by making unreasonable or vague resolutions, that is exactly what I was doing.

I set my self goals for each year now, and I’m finding that, so far, that works much better. Last year’s goal was fairly simple: to keep going the momentum that started the previous year. This was to include the Autumn and Winter months. So far I think I have done ok with that goal, so this year’s goal will be pretty much the same.

So far, I am getting involved more in arts projects. Something I had thought I would not do again. Below is a flyer for one, which although I stepped back from being involved in the actual performance, I am working on a looping slideshow  to hopefully represent the effects of mental health issues on our self-image.

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It is part of a wider event called ‘Time to Talk’, which is designed to open dialogue about mental health issues and the squeamishness that still seems to exist about discussing those issues. In the large part of my life that has been affected by mental health issues, there has been a great reduction in the stigma attached to depression and other mental health problems as very real illnesses, but there is still a way to go. I think the current government’s rhetoric (or should I say propaganda) on benefits scroungers – in particular related to disability benefits – has set progress back a great deal in this. The day, and the performance, promise to be very interesting! Make a note of the date – 5th February – and look out for events going on.

Other performances I’m getting involved in (hopefully) are still at early discussion stage. I think one of this year’s goals could be to actually perform or have performed some of my musical work. It’s almost two years now since I made another step I thought I would never do again and started thinking about and pursuing some musical activity. Now, in the same way that I have taken myself, and my camera, ‘out there’, it may be time to do the same with myself and my keyboard.

If I don’t achieve it, I am NOT going to beat myself up over it – I am determined that I have put those days behind me now.

Better late than never – Happy New Year!

After years of ‘giving in’ to the effects of depression, and perhaps the harsher oppression of its treatment, I feel like I am starting to surface. I was discussing the Prozac effect with someone recently and they summed it up as like being under water. That is spot on – it is just like being submerged in murky waters. What you hear is only half heard, what you see is only half seen, and what you feel is crushed.

This past week, I have been learning and relearning some of the graphics software I have. Okay I haven’t produced great works of art, but as doodles go, they represent a huge progression from a blank screen.


For me the major impact of the last few weeks has been a desire to compose music again. I have just got all the notes down for a 2 minute introduction to a string quartet. I have carried the theme around in the depths of my mind for several years now. In that time my perception of contemporary music and the reality of it have slipped further apart. I am aiming to make the music more simple than I used to strive for, without being ‘trite’.

As I said, I’ve got all the notes down. It is still ‘in the raw’; it lacks any other kind of ‘marks’ on the page as yet (dynamics, phrasing, etc).


The other simple pleasure, that became a highlight of the week for me, is when I walked through the local park and spotted a heron. That is the last thing you expect to see in South Liverpool, but there it was bold as brass. The picture below is a photo that I have ‘sketchified’.

Heron

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2013/may/29/stravinsky-rite-of-spring

29th May 1913, ‘The Rite of Spring’ received its first performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. To say it was not well received would be an understatement. The audience, accustomed to ‘safe’ musical tradition, rioted. The music was Avant-garde – it broke ground with it’s polytonality (non-adherence to any one key) and constantly shifting time signature, harsh jagged rhythms – all very new to musical audiences at that time. The choreography was also harsh on the sensibilities of the delicate Paris audience. For starters it dealt with Pagan fertility rites. Shock, horror!

My first experience of ‘The Rite’ was probably like a lot of others, although I was only dimly aware of it at the time. It in a setting of cartoon dinosaurs and stuff – mingled amongst hippos in tutus dancing to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, and Mickey Mouse dressed as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. As fabulous as ‘Fantasia’ was to me as a young child, it wasn’t until a few years later when I listened to it as a piece of music in its own right (no pun intended) that I could begin to comprehend what a monumental moment in musical history this work was.

I began to hear the magic of the music – and the sheer difference to all that had been before. I got hold of the orchestral score of the work and would follow it avidly while I listened. To me at fifteen it was vibrant, exciting and still ‘fresh’. It changed the way I listened to unfamiliar (to me) music and sparked a major interest in the contemporary music of my youth, and a need to compose music which stayed with me to some extent until now. And the beauty of a piece like ‘The Rite’ is that 40 years on from my first serious listening to it, it is still as vibrant and fresh to me now.

It’s ironic that a later riot caused by a performance of Stravinsky’s work was stirred up by (among others) Pierre Boulez, whose ‘beef’ was that Stravinsky was no longer radical enough. Personally I’m glad he wasn’t always as radical. I enjoy the diversity of his music – The Symphony of Psalms is one of my favourite choral works and there is so much in his overall output that mirrored what was going on in contemporary music as well as echoes of more traditional musics. I think it is a shame when diversity is frowned upon by the cultural ‘elite’.

Okay – I’m off to listen to ‘The Rite’ and hurl some furniture around to commemorate that first performance… just kidding, I will enjoy listening to it as I always did.

Re-opened until May 31st, 2013 – Petition for an Inquiry into Abuse in Specialist Music Education.

I was at Chetham’s (Cheetham’s Hospital School of Music – as it was known then), just before Mike Brewer took over. I have recognised at least one name that has come up as an alleged abuser. It is quite shocking for me to learn of the institutional abuse that seems to have been occuring at the time.

One of the saddest things for me is that I remember arriving at Cheetham’s and feeling for the first time in my life, a sense of belonging – for the first time I wasn’t ‘the weird kid’ because I preferred playing violin to playing football. There is a great sense of betrayal in knowing that some of the friends I had there were possible victims of this.

I was aware of some stuff going on there that would result in prosecution nowadays (corporal punishment – and teachers’ temper tantrums that were taken a step too far). I was totally unaware of sexual abuse going on. Although it doesn’t entirely surprise me. Attitudes were unfortunately very lax in those days.

I would have to also say that I find it hard to believe that abuse was confined to specialist music schools. Private schools were ‘under the radar’ in those days. They were not subject to the same law as state schools.

So here we are again in another recession (or as some describe it, depression) under a government which evaluates everything – from people, to ventures, organisations, projects or works of art – in terms of cost effectiveness and profit.

So the message came across in Maria Miller’s speech given at the British Museum in April, that Arts organizations need to focus more on the economic worth of their projects than on artistic considerations.

Of course, the cost of any undertaking is always a consideration that needs to be borne in mind, but to aim solely for cost effectiveness and profit in the arts is, I think, unhealthy to any civilized and evolving society.

It has been pointed out by Polly Toynbee that our culture is what is left behind when we die – as the British Museum exemplifies.

But I think that another crucial problem with examining the price tag on creative work is the stagnating effect it has on culture. Profit comes from popularity, and so under a purely economic consideration, the very basist of mainstream culture thrives, while the more adventurous stuff is pushed aside. The trouble with that is that the adventurous stuff is the stuff that represents progress in the arts.  Without the impact of say – a Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ on the world of classical music, we may still be listening to music that is no more demanding of the listener than Mozart’s first compositions. Yet at ‘the rite’s’ first performance, the audience rioted.

Of course, there are so many areas in which the government’s impact on society and on society’s mainstream thinking is problematic (personally, I feel a lot of it is dangerous). But I probably don’t have the bandwidth to cover it. I come from a background of the arts, so it strikes a personal chord for me.

Creative Recycling

Ever wondered what to do with all those empty beer bottles? Here’s a creative idea from Melbourne, Australia.