I’ve been wanting to write something about how music has helped me cope with my mental health issues for a long time; the ability to listen to a certain song or album and disappear is a great help when things get tough. But there’s one band in particular that I owe a lot to and that’s The Maccabees and given I’m off to see them this weekend, I thought it was an apt time to put pen to paper.
Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll know of my love for this band; I wax lyrical about them to anyone who will listen. But for me there’s something beyond being a fan, something more then enjoying their music and supporting them. I made a connection with their music the moment I heard it and it’s one that I always turn to when I need comfort. Certain tracks of theirs seem to have given a narrative to moments in my life where my emotions have been all tangled up and unintelligible. Sometimes these were euphoric moments and some were painful, yet the affinity I felt with their music was a real consolation when I had nowhere else to turn and often the only thing that got me out of bed in the morning or stopped me from cutting myself.
Some people will read this and guffaw, with many believing that this sort of simpatico with a band reserved for ‘legends’ and ‘icons’. I’m of course writing this in the wake of David Bowie’s death where I’ve found the outpouring of love most heartwarming, and something of a catalyst to write this. I’m sure Bowie was that comfort blanket for many people; whereas for me it’s been The Maccabees. And that’s okay; I think the greatest gift you can get from music is empathy and it doesn’t matter where you find it, as long as you find it.
As many band recommendations have come over the years, it was a boy who first got me into them. In a futile attempt to impress said boy I bought tickets to see them at Manchester Academy having not listened to any of their stuff but spurred on by said boy’s constant enthusiasm for them. There were a couple of months to go until the gig so I attempted to acquaint myself with their back catalogue quick smart (they’d just released their second album), and it didn’t take long for me to fall madly in love with them. Anything with guitars is usually a winner with me but the added intensity of Orlando’s voice and the devilish lyrics ensured they had me hook, line and sinker and by the time the gig came around I was fit to burst with excitement and longing to hear Love You Better in particular.
I still can’t listen to that song and not become misty eyed. It’s both one of my favourites and one of the hardest to listen to. The echoes of “and I thought that you might feel the same” instantly taking me back to the countless times I fell for a boy only for him to not feel the same or fall for someone else. That moment when you can’t stop thinking about someone only to find that they’ve played you good and proper, is painful, really painful. I’ve lost count of the times I lay on my bed crying whilst listening to this song on repeat. And even now I have the most wonderful man in my life who appreciates all the love I have to give, I still can’t hear this an not be reminded of all those nights feeling like no-one was every going to like me, let alone love me back.
I’m pleased to say that Precious Time has far more positive connotations and will always remind me of my first few months with Tom. When we first got together, he lived in Newcastle and I was in Manchester. It was hard, we only saw each other every other weekend and it was a time where my depression had really taken a hold and I was severely unhappy. Knowing what a sentimental shmuck I am, he sent me a mixtape. It was the most thoughtful thing anyone had ever done for me and I was overjoyed, even more so when I heard he’d included this song. The notion of “taking our precious time about it” was not lost on me; I’ve never been known for my patience and the distance between us was making me even less so, so this became my anthem and the song I turned to when I got frustrated with the situation…”you’ll need heart and I’ll need courage. We all need time”.
Given To The Wild, their third album, was released when I first started to realise there was something more to my down days and the album felt like something of a saving grace. They’d been away for nearly three years and I was longing to have them back as I was finding less and less enjoyment in life and knew that the announcement of a tour would give me something to look forward to. They didn’t disappoint and as much as I was finding things difficult, I knew that there was going to be at least one night ahead where I felt happy (and here’s the proof; my gig review from 2011) and I think I ended up seeing them another 3 times during that album campaign; despite being ridiculed by my friends.
There was a particular song on Given To The Wild that really stood out for me and once again seemed to describe exactly how I was feeling; Slowly One. The lyric “some day you’re going to wake up and think you went a day without going cold” mirrored all the feelings of deep sadness and loneliness I had at that time and also offered me a tiny glimmer of hope that one day I might not feel quite so bad.
Last year’s chart topping album ‘Marks To Prove It’ unsurprisingly took hold of my heart, much like its three predecessors. And not only because of the songs this time, but because of its back story. At the time of its release, Tom and I had just decided to make the leap and move to London; South London. The album’s main concern is the strain of gentrification on London’s Elephant and Castle and through reading various articles about the album I felt like I had a better sense of the area I was moving to and the plight of the places I would be travelling through daily on my commute, something I was somewhat ignorant to previously.
The accompanying film ‘Elephant Days’ gave me a huge insight into one of my favourite songs on the album; ‘Silence’. It’s a stark, highly impassioned personal song, where guitarist Hugo takes the vocal reigns for the first time. It’s a simple song that on hearing, you might, as I did, assume it’s about a lost love. And it is, but not in the usual sense. Elephant Days included a small piece to camera where Hugo informs that’s it’s about his and Felix’s mum who passed away when they were younger. The moment I heard this, my eyes welled up, even more so when he explained that the faint recording in the background of the track is a voicemail left by a counsellor for him ahead of an appointment.
Often we’re told that boys don’t talk about feelings and suddenly there was a member of my favourite band talking about something so very personal and putting it out there for the world to hear. I felt so proud and inspired. And then a few months later, this article appeared in The Sunday Times, detailing the loss of their mum to MS and the impact it had on them. At the risk of sounding dramatic; it had a profound effect on me. The Maccabees have always been a private band, preferring to let their music do the talking and having this insight felt like a real privilege, especially given the subject matter.
The circumstances are of course completely different, but I remained silent for a long time about my struggles and I appreciate how difficult it is to open up, even to those close to you. Hugo’s admission that “I’m trying….trying not to keep everything locked away. But it’s not easy” stood out particularly. It’s so easy to forget that musicians are human and have their struggles.
I think for two private people like Felix and Hugo to acknowledge the ardour in talking about painful experiences and the effect it can have is a huge thing, and to put it out there for public consumption even more so. These sorts of articles reach the demographic that perhaps traditional mental health campaigns don’t and they start a dialogue. That’s so very valuable, especially for young males.
So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. And thank you Orlando, Felix, Hugo, Rupert and Sam for always being there; whether it’s during a panic attack on the tube or whilst celebrating an anniversary. Thank you for making me feel less alone and giving me hope.
And with that, I’m going to head to Brixton Academy tomorrow night (and Saturday night!!) fling my arms around, sing my heart out and remind myself that music really is a wonderful wonderful thing.