The Changing Room
As someone who has written extensively about a bipolar diagnosis during my 20s prompting three decades of antipsychotic medication, this annual awareness campaign is always poignant. This year I'm fortunate to have benefitted from the support of a mental health outreach programme I joined last October, The Changing Room.
Organised by the Scottish Association for Mental Health and piloted at Hibernian FC and then Heart of Midlothian FC in 2018, The Changing Room is a 12-week programme with one goal – to promote men’s mental health and wellbeing through the power of the beautiful game. This hugely successful initiative has since been rolled out to clubs across Scotland, Scottish Government funding has been provided to launch 'Changing Room Extra Time' sessions to build on the existing programmes, while The Changing Room for Young Women has also been launched at Hibs and Hearts for women aged 18 to 30. (Women between the ages of 16 and 24 are almost three times as likely to experience a common mental health issue as males of the same age, 1 in 2 females will stop taking part in any organised physical activity by the age of 20, and around 1 in 5 women have a common mental health problem such as anxiety or depression.)
Participants of the 12-week programmes at Easter Road also have the opportunity to attend monthly drop-ins under the banner Supporting Our Supporters, meeting on the last Monday of every month in the Community Hub at Easter Road, 6-7.30 pm. The main difference to the Changing Room is that the former sessions are delivered by SAMH coaches, whereas the SOS drop-ins are chaired by Hibs Community Foundation (HCF) volunteers who have been through the Changing Room themselves, some of whom have gone on to receive training in coaching by SAMH.
Walk and Talk
The opening day of Mental Health Awareness Week, Monday 15 May, coincided with an SOS-arranged 'Walk and Talk.' Pioneered by SAMH, these sessions have become an integral part of the Changing Room programmes, giving participants the opportunity to talk freely about issues they might have side-by-side rather than seated around a table. Against the backdrop of a relaxing stroll around the pitch perimeters of familiar home grounds, participants embark in pairs, discussing the football on their first circuit (sometimes pointing out season ticket seats), relaxing into a mode where they might be more comfortable opening up about their mental health on the next circuit.
SAMH organised the inaugural Changing Room 'alumni event' last October, inviting supporters of every Scottish club who'd completed their respective 12-week programmes to the Hampden hospitality suite. As well as touching base with fellow alumni, attendees listened to motivational talks by SAMH and club coaches, and former Hearts, Rangers and Wigan Athletic centre-half, Andy Webster. A key component of this inspirational gathering was a similar chance to 'Walk and Talk' around the national stadium.
At Monday's event, we gained a pitchside view during our 'Walk and Talk,' before retiring to the technical area for a chat. As ever, Lewis Melee, the HCF Head of Community, was on hand to make sure we didn't get locked in!
The Changing Room provides a safe environment where participants can share stories. While revealing personal traumas takes courage, open conversations about lived experience of mental health problems can also help others feel more able to talk about their own experiences. Here are some examples from different Changing Room sessions.
Current Hibernian captain and first goalkeeper David Marshall volunteered to become a member of the HCF Board in 2022. He was a guest speaker at a recent event at the Community Hub, pictured here with HCF/SOS volunteers, Dave Thomson, Neil Renton, Paul Taylor and Mark Fleming.
Aladdin Sane at 50.
Last Wednesday, 19th April, marked the 50th anniversary of the release of David Bowie’s seminal sixth album, Aladdin Sane. On the road touring The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, the wildly creative Bowie was already penning tracks for his next musical outing, touching down in Trident Studios and RCA in, respectively, London and New York, to record these fresh ideas. Harnessing the Spiders from Mars (guitarist Mick Ronson, bassist Trevor Bolder, and drummer Mick Woodmansey), Bowie sought out innovative talent to take the recordings into bold new directions. Mike Garson was the avante-garde pianist Bowie chose to sprinkle dustings of keyboard magic.
Mike Garson, piano maestro
After gaining notice of Garson’s experimental jazz style, he requested the 27-year-old New Yorker add swirling solos to the album’s title track. Initially, Garson played bluesy, then Latin-flavoured overdubs to the song’s basic rock ‘n’ roll template. Bowie urged him to throw caution to the wind and attack the keys as he would during some late-night jazz free-for-all. Garson duly obliged, producing a mesmerising solo.
Detaching from the song's basic A and G chords, the notes fizzle, collide, and swirl all over the place, like some sonic interpretation of a murmuration of starlings scattering during a falcon ambush, dancing over every key, and into spaces far beyond any conventional scale; finally chiming with the melody in perfect time to synchronise with the chorus. Most incredibly of all, the result was captured in one take. Garson’s accompaniment to the concluding track, ‘Lady Grinning Soul,’ is more grounded, but still cascades in psychedelic whirlwinds around Bowie’s plaintive vocal.
Garson continued collaborating with Bowie for the next few years, going on to become a lifelong friend. No other co-musician played alongside Bowie more often (between 1972 and 2004, Garson guested in over 1,000 shows, performing on more than 20 of Bowie’s albums.)
Interviewed on Stuart Maconie and Mark Radcliffe’s BBC Radio 6 show from his LA home last Sunday morning, Garson admitted the key place Bowie held in his heart. He emphasised the intensity of their musical alliance by telling a tour anecdote. One young female fan approached Garson after a gig and explained exactly how important ‘Aladdin Sane’ and the other songs from that era were to her. The uplifting potency of Bowie's music had literally saved her life when she had undergone a dark period and contemplated suicide.
The Jean Genie
I recall how electrifying it was hearing ‘The Jean Genie, the first of four singles to be released from the album, in November 1972. It reached number 2 in the singles chart. I was 10, just getting into all the glam rock bands that would eventually appear regularly on Top of the Pops spearheaded by Bowie’s chameleon-like, androgynous stage persona and Ronson’s crunching Gibson Les Paul riffs.
Bowie's most successful single to date was all over the radio, coinciding with the heady moment, a fortnight later, when my team, Hibernian, beat Celtic 2-1 in the final of the Scottish League Cup. Goals by Pat Stanton and the winner by Jimmy O'Rourke put Hibs in the driving seat, and Kenny Dalglish's strike with 13 minutes to go wasn't enough to prevent the capital club gaining their first trophy since winning the Scottish League in 1952.
Bowie’s striking mullet was a stylistic reference point for many older local teenagers; growing up in Shandon on Edinburgh's west side, typified by the local gang, YST, hanging around outside the launderette on the corner of Harrison Gardens in baggy trousers, stack heels, and star jerseys, chainsmoking Embassy Regal. If I had to pass them en route to the shops, my heart would patter. But their bold fashion, alluding to TOTP glam rock, terracing violence, and the perfume-drenched older teenage girls hanging around with them was a glimpse of a dangerous but alluring world beyond listening to cassette recordings of Bowie, T. Rex, Mott the Hoople, Gary Glitter (I know), Slade et al alone in my bedroom.
The uplifting potency of Bowie's music had literally saved her life when she had undergone a dark period and contemplate suicide.
A vicarious connection with Aladdin Sane? I played guitar and keyboards in a pop group, Little Big Dig, and in 1984 we recorded a session for Richard Skinner's BBC Radio 1 show, to be broadcast when Muriel Gray was sitting in for him (her then-boyfriend was our manager). Our four songs were taped in the same studio used by so many iconic musicians over the years, including Bowie and Mick Ronson when they collaborated for the first time, recording tracks for John Peel's show.
The closest I ever got to hearing Bowie live was when he headlined at Murrayfield Stadium the previous summer. The sound system was powerful enough for my dad and me to hear everything, including his stage announcements, from the loft of our house, 1.5 miles away. Dad recorded a segment to play back to my wee sister, Anne who was among the thousands attending. Somewhere, at the back of a drawer, gathering dust, there are cassettes containing Dad's Bowie bootleg, and also the recording he made of Little Big Dig's Radio 1 session on Muriel's show.
In my memoir, '1976 - Growing Up Bipolar,' I describe the thrill of recording in Maida Vale studios. Our engineer that day was long-term BBC producer, Dale Griffin, former drummer of Mott the Hoople, the band who had been on the verge of splitting up until Bowie offered them his song, 'All the Young Dudes.' Produced by Bowie, it became an international hit.
#Bowie #AladdinSane #glam
Favourite albums 2022
Although the pandemic is still a live concern, the easing of restrictions earlier this year instigated a slew of new releases, with performers finally dropping and touring albums that had long been on the back-burner. Summer festival season resumed after the hiatus, Glastonbury 2022 starring a mix of headliners new and veteran - Bille Eilish, Kendrick Lamar, and Paul McCartney. Here's just a tip of the iceberg of fabulous music that has helped boost mental health after lockdown (not to mention tanking economies and Putin's tanks).
Related blog: Favourite albums of 2021
Keith Levene: post-punk trailblazer
Keith Levene, 18 July 1957 – 11 November 2022
In the early 1970s, 15-year-old prog fan Keith Levene was blown away after watching Yes play five consecutive shows at his local arena, the Rainbow in Finsbury Park. So much so that he decided not to go home at the end of their stint, instead blagging a job as a roadie. But Levene was to seal his place in rock 'n' roll's history books later that decade, not for polishing Alan White's cymbals, but co-founding not one but two of the most influential bands that emerged during the punk revolution of the later 1970s: The Clash and Public Image Limited.
Before the former had played any gigs, Levene and fellow guitarist Mick Jones were hanging around London venues on the lookout for potential bandmates. Catching pub rockers the 101ers at the Nashville Room in April 1976, supported by fledgling 'punk' band The Sex Pistols, they weren't taken by the band's set of rockabilly-tinged R&B. But they were by the 101ers charismatic frontman, Joe Strummer. Joe himself had been mightily impressed by the support band, recognising a brash new musical style that made his own group sound dated. Later, Keith invited Joe to spearhead his and Mick's new venture. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history.
Levene performed at The Clash's inaugural shows and co-wrote 'What's My Name,' eventually included on their first album. Although he recognised their potential, commenting in his autobiography, I WaS a TeeN GuiTariST 4 the CLaSH!, "Everyone knew the Clash would make it," he departed before the groundbreaking long player was released. Two years later, The Sex Pistols had imploded and John Lydon was eager to pursue his next musical project, Public Image Limited. Keith Levene became their first guitarist, his unique style signposting a radical change in direction from punk's raw power chords to something much more dynamic.
As he said, "Once I got good enough to know the rules, I didn’t want to be like any other guitarist. I didn’t go out of my way to be different. I just had an ear for what was wrong. So if I did something that was wrong, i.e. made a mistake or did something that wasn’t in key, I was open-minded enough to listen to it again.”
PiL's stellar debut single, the eponymous 'Public Image,' released in October 1978, was driven by the killer delivery of Levene's arpeggio guitar, John Lydon's sardonic vocals, and Jay Wobble's thundering open E-stringed bassline. The album that followed, Public Image: First Issue, similarly showcased that riveting combination of Levene's chiming fretwork over Wobble's dub-heavy rhythms. The follow-up album, Metal Box consolidated the innovative sound, with Levene exploring even more otherworldly sound effects.
Although he left PiL, he went on to produce music and released several solo albums. When he passed away on 11 November, aged 65, close friend and author Adam Hammond tweeted: "Our thoughts and love go out to his partner Kate, sister Jill, and all of Keith’s family and friends. The world is a darker place without his genius. Mine will be darker without my mate."
I share my birthday, 18 July, with Keith Levene. If I also shared a modicum of his guitar-playing brilliance, I'd be happy.
37 years ago today, I listened to the future (about being mesmerised by Keith Levene during PiL's first live UK television performance).
The Clash: the legendary debut: the 40th anniversary of their first album.
Changing Room; transforming lives
Instigated by the Scottish Association for Mental Health, The Changing Room piloted at Hibernian FC in 2018 with one aim: to promote men's mental health and wellbeing through the power of the beautiful game. Statistically, it has been revealed that males feel less comfortable opening up about mental health issues present and past. The Changing Room - a 12-week programme using football as the common passion - is intended to provide an environment where fans of various clubs, with unique but common histories, can feel encouraged to open up about what they have been through.
At Easter Road Stadium the 12-week course has included a 'walk and talk' around the pitch perimeter, a walking football match, a guest speaker (former Hibs player/manager Yogi Hughes), and weekly get-togethers fuelled by coffee and refreshments in the ground's Famous Five stand. Similar sessions were rolled out by SAMH at Heart of Midlothian on the other side of the city, and subsequently, senior clubs across Scotland.
On October 25th, the inaugural 'Alumni' event was hosted at Hampden Stadium in Glasgow. Representatives of Changing Room programmes from Hibs, Hearts, Kilmarnock, Rangers, Aberdeen, Dundee United, Greenock Morton, Montrose, St Mirren, and many more clubs, convened to celebrate having completed the 12-week course. Speakers included SAMH and club coaches, and former Hearts, Rangers and Wigan Athletic centre-half, Andy Webster.
This get-together was hugely successful, with speakers and participants unanimous about The Changing Room being cathartic and inspirational: open discussion and sharing stories is a key aspect of recovery and continual wellbeing, and the general destigmatisation of mental health. Individuals who have lived through diverse challenges, covering a range of psychiatric/psychological issues, can gain confidence through empathy and understanding. The 12-week programmes have also provided participants with access to a community of new friends and confidantes that can be tapped into on an ongoing basis.