In all our sanctuaries we sit at risk

Live Music Sweeps the Board



A few years ago, I worked free-lance in central London as a sort of facilitator on behalf of the local mental health services. I had been trained as a social worker and for decades previously had worked as a manager of community centres for people with long term mental health diagnoses.

But nowadays, I was more often on a bike, wandering around London, exploring possibilities. And one of these possibilities was to hold musical events from time to time in local mental health inpatient units. Let there be good party food. Let there be live music of high quality.

It was an idea that worked. Each and every concert we ran was a major success.

The most dramatic image and memory I have is of times when we arranged for drummers to come and play for us, above all some West African drummers available in London for a few months. The agency which put us in touch with them was called “Live Music Now.” 

We called on the drummers as often as possible during that time. Their sound was so overwhelmingly infectious (sic) that it changed everything. It swept mental ill health away, so that, for an hour or so, patients stopped being patients with psychiatric symptoms, and became just rapturous dancers instead, in their own space and time. And the nurses present stopped being nurses for a while and they too…

And often patients and nurses were simply dancing together, with that division of roles between them also blown away. There will have been good after-effects of that infection, as well, in terms of the therapeutic relationship.

A psychiatric hospital admission is not a good memory for those who experience it, and is a hard place to leave behind. In contrast, the memory of those concerts, would surely have cast a bit of a glow, completely separate from the labels that usually attach themselves here, the trauma of this dark time.