Saturday sees the return of an annual music festival, which seems to be in equal measure loved or hated, the Eurovision song contest. Eurovision fans have already been watching the semi-finals on BBC Four, and although I’m not quite as dedicated as that (some of my fellow librarians have great Facebook posts with in-depth critiques of every song), I do usually watch at least a little, no, let’s be honest, ALL of the final. It’s one of those guilty pleasures that has been a part of my life since a small child – I clearly remember ABBA winning in Brighton with Waterloo… my mother and aunt were not convinced that they would ever make it on the world stage.
It’s been quite a few years since the UK last had a winning entry, and that happened way back in 1997 with the song Love shine a light performed by Katrina and the Waves. I had been living in Cambridge for a few years then, and remembered that there was a great deal of excitement locally when the song won, for not only had it been championed all the way to the “Great British Song Contest” by none other than BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, who gave the song its UK radio debut, but the composer, Kimberley Rew, was a graduate in archaeology from Jesus College. A triumph therefore for both town and gown.
This week though there is an extra reason to remember the last British Eurovision winner.
Kim originally wrote the song for the Samaritans, as an anniversary anthem – a close relative of the group was a volunteer for the charity. Samaritans is now over 60 years old, and is as important as ever. In 1953 a vicar, Chad Varah, and his secretary set up a 2-person telephone hotline to lend an ear to those who were feeling suicidal. Today the Samaritans has over 20,000 volunteers in the UK and Ireland, and over 400 branches worldwide from the USA and Bosnia to India and Zimbabwe. Monica Dickens, the great-grand-daughter of Charles, was a founder member of the American branch, and wrote the novel The Listeners based on her experiences.
It seems particularly poignant that this year, just two months after the suicide of Keith Flint, lead singer of The Prodigy, Mental Health and Eurovision weeks should coincide. The musical world is not unusual in having many members who are affected by mental health issues, it’s estimated that around 1 person in 4 will suffer from some kind of mental illness during their lifetime; but a worrying report from the charity Help Musicians UK (the working name of the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund) suggests that the figure for musicians may be substantially higher at 60%. Some surveys have placed it nearer 75%.
Unusual working patterns and anti-social hours, the sense of identity bound up in the work of a musician, job insecurity, sexism, criticism, and bullying all contribute to many musicians loving music, but hating the industry.
Musicians such as Ian Curtis (Joy Division), and Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) both committed suicide after suffering from depression. More recently Lady Gaga has opened up about her own experiences of PTSD, and Zayn Malik has revealed his struggles with anxiety.
For struggling musicians there are now more options available for help with mental health. Help Musicians UK has a great website Music minds matter, and offers a free counselling service as long as you meet certain criteria (earn 50% of your income in the music industry, have less than £16k in savings, are based in the UK). The Musicians’ Union also has a helpful web-page.
On the positive side, music can be uplifting, and a great aid to keeping you upbeat. Researchers at McGill University discovered that listening to music releases dopamine. The dopamine was at its highest level when listening to music that you love. So make sure you keep listening to your favourite tracks.
Another study also reported on nature.com revealed that music didn’t just release dopamine, it could lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce anxiety, and even decrease pain.
So perhaps I shouldn’t be so ashamed of my Eurovision guilty pleasure, after all it’s good for my mental health – at least until the voting starts…