Tuesday Tunes 9: Friendship


I’m not sure if it is just a UK thing but this week is Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) here. I would have matched this week’s tunes to the MHAW theme but this year they have gone for ‘kindness,’ and I beat them to that, having done it for Tuesday Tunes 5. I might be posting separately for MHAW, but in the meantime I thought I’d choose something closely related as this week’s theme: so I’ve gone for ‘friendship.’

Acts of kindness aren’t restricted to things we do for friends but they are undoubtedly an essential part of a strong, long lasting friendship, so I hope you agree that my choice is appropriately sympathetic. In the current circumstances, friendships are perhaps even more important than ever: they can help us cope with being required to stay at home whenever possible, and technology has really come into its own in helping us stay in touch. Who would have thought, eight weeks ago, that the very thing which often took the blame for destroying social interaction would now be an essential for so many, and a potential lifesaver? And that is just one of the many things we have learned from lockdown. With the recent celebrations here to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day much has been said about how our predecessors coped with the deprivations of war: think about a time without the internet, television, mobile phones, computers and tablets, and consider how you would have coped – no 24 hour instant news coverage in those days to keep us informed! So friendships were quite possibly even more important back then to help people get by.

My first tune this week is from Free, a band who have long been a favourite of mine, and one which I was lucky enough to see play live in their early days. They were only together for around five years, which makes all the more remarkable the quality and number of albums they produced in such a short time: six albums released in just under four years. This is from what I think is their best album – Fire And Water – which, along with the single All Right Now, was the one that helped them really hit the big time. This may ‘just’ be an album track, but that doesn’t in any way diminish it – it is superb:

My second song for this week is my all time favourite song about friendship. It was written by Carole King in 1971 and featured on her hugely successful album, Tapestry. Simultaneously, James Taylor was recording his Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon album, and recorded a version of the song. Joni Mitchell sang backing vocals on both versions. Carole credits James with the initial inspiration for the song, which she says was a response to a line in his Fire And Rain song: “I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend.’ The song was released as a single by James and was massive hit: no.1 in the US, no.2 in Canada, no.3 in Ireland and no.4 in the UK. Faced with choosing between their versions, I chickened out, so here is a live performance by them as a duo, from 2007:

As James says in the introduction to the song, he feels it was an amazing act of generosity on Carole’s part to let him release his version first. That, to me, is the heart of friendship, and you only have to watch the video to understand what it means for them both.

A personal note on that song: it was one of my Mum’s favourites, and last Friday was the twelfth anniversary of her passing. Whilst we do it in March, many countries mark Mother’s Day in May, so even though I don’t need the prompt I am always reminded of her by the barrage of coverage it receives. That makes this a particularly poignant choice of song for me, at this time of year, and emphasises for me what (and who) is really important in our lives.

I hope that you have friends, as well as family, to support you through these pandemic days. Gradually, restrictions are beginning to be lifted, and there have been a number of signs of growing frustrations on the part of some at being required not to go out and socialise (or to get their hair cut or their nails done.) The problem is that not enough is known about the virus to give us any sense of when and how the restrictions can safely be removed: there is a large element of trial and error in play. I just hope that governments can be sensible and grown up about taking the important decisions. I also hope that the impatient ones don’t allow their selfishness and stupidity to override everyone’s safety – but at least the demonstrations here last weekend weren’t full of people carrying assault rifles. Stupid comes in degrees!

Friends are important at any time. Enjoy yours now, even if that has to be at a social distance. Take care, be safe.

Tuesday Tunes 5: Kindness, Caring, Support

One of the biggest news stories here in the UK this past week – apart from the government’s continued dissembling over what is and isn’t happening in their Covid-19 response (usually the latter) – has been the one about Captain Tom Moore. Captain Tom is a WW2 veteran who turns 100 on 30 April, and had set himself the challenge of doing 100 laps of his garden to raise £1,000 for NHS Charities, as a way of thanking the service for the care it had provided him – particularly after he broke his hip. The story was picked up by tv and the press and resulted in an incredible outpouring of love and donations for this wonderful man. The last time I looked the total donated was over £27m! Tom was also invited to perform a duet – via the means of technology – with Michael Ball, the stage actor and singer. The song reached no.1 within two days of being released, raising yet more cash for charity.

Of course, this is a remarkable story, but it got me thinking about how many other acts of kindness and charity were being performed in these pandemic days. Very few even reach the headlines at all, let alone to the degree that Tom has achieved, but I believe they are all worthy of celebration in their own right. So, for that reason, my theme this week for my two Tuesday Tunes is: kindness, caring and support.

Both of the tunes are by English artists, one of whom has toured internationally, although I don’t think the other has. I make no apologies for sharing songs by people of whom you may not have heard: that for me is one of the joys of music, finding new things to enjoy. The first is from the better known of the two acts: Frank Turner is a singer/songwriter with a very loyal following, who has been making great albums for nearly 15 years. This song is the title track from his 2018 album Be More Kind. It is one of his gentler songs, and I think we should all heed its message, both now and when ‘normal’ returns:

The song was written as a response to world developments in 2016/7, notably the election of Trump and the UK Brexit vote, but it had a much wider relevance than just those two countries. Two years on, with the pandemic affecting so many countries, the message is even more strong and pertinent. I think it is a beautiful song.

My second song for this week is by an English folk/rock band who also, like Frank, have a loyal following but unlike him are probably little known beyond our shores. In their current guise, Merry Hell have been around for about 10 years, though they derive from an earlier band: The Tansads. Both bands have a strong social conscience that underlines their songs, which are also typified by some insanely catchy choruses. They have recently released a new video, made during lockdown, in support of our NHS, called Beyond The Call. As it is new I thought about sharing it in this post but, as our NHS is very much a UK national treasure, I chose instead to go with this one from 2016, as I think its message is of much wider relevance. The song is unashamedly political, but much of the response from governments to the pandemic has been political, hasn’t it? I don’t think I’m stretching it too far by saying that ‘We Need Each Other Now‘ is a message that needs to transcend politics:

I have always believed that human beings are innately kind and considerate, and this (perhaps naïve) faith is reinforced every day by what I see and hear in the news and on social media, particularly in the local context. I am unable to get out much, apart from hospital and clinic visits, so I rely on delivery services for groceries. Should these fail, however, I have a neighbour who has volunteered help if I need it, there are several local voluntary organisations providing support for people in my situation, and my daughters (who both live 20 miles away) have also offered to shop for me. That is what I have in mind when I talk about kindness, caring and support. I hope I’m not being too optimistic in thinking that the spirit that we see in current circumstances will survive longer than the virus.

I thought I’d finish today with a little bonus. I have always intended these posts to be brief, with just two songs each week, but I feel that an extra one is called for this week: I can’t imagine how Michael Ball would ever feature in one of my posts otherwise. Here is the video for that chart topper I mentioned earlier, featuring Captain Tom Moore, Michael Ball and the NHS Voices Of Care Choir:

Not a dry eye in the house!

Take care, of yourself and others. Be safe, stay well. See you next Tuesday.

World Mental Health Day 2019


Not that I needed the reminders, but my inbox has been receiving a steady flow of emails about World Mental Health Day (WMHD), which is marked each year on 10 October. This date is recognised by the World Health Organisation and the theme for the year is set by the World Federation for Mental Health. This year’s theme is suicide prevention.

Having had mental health problems myself – mostly depression and anxiety-related – I feel very lucky that I have never once had the remotest hint of a suicidal thought. Others are, sadly, far worse off than I in this respect, and I am pleased that this subject is receiving so much attention. For so long it has been one of those taboo subjects of which we dare not speak, choosing instead to brush it under the figurative carpet.

This week has seen the launch of the Every Mind Matters campaign by Public Health England and the NHS, to encourage people to be more aware of the early signs of mental health issues. Their website can be found  here and is full of loads of useful advice and resources. I strongly encourage you to take a look if you or anyone you know might benefit from getting some good help and advice. The campaign is being supported by the younger royals – the Cambridges  and Sussexes – and is generating good publicity. Many companies and organisations, such as the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have also pledged support.

Today I’ve seen a piece on breakfast tv about Ellie Soutter, a snowboarder champion who took her own life last year on her 18th birthday. It featured an interview with Ellie’s mother and was heartbreaking, really bringing home the devastation caused in the lives of loved ones, families and friends when someone commits suicide. The gaping hole that they leave, all those unanswered questions about what drove them to do it, the guilt about whether their family, friends or anyone could have seen signs of their unhappiness and done something – anything – to help. There are, sadly, no easy answers to any of those questions. None of us wants to be in poor Ellie’s mum’s situation, but we don’t have hindsight to know what we might have done in her circumstances. We shouldn’t need things like Every Mind Matters to remind us of this, but the reality is that we do. The importance of spreading this word, and of sharing awareness of what we can do to help ourselves and our loved ones, cannot be understated.


One of the organisations which supports people with mental health issues is Time To Change. I’ve spoken about them before, and have recently signed up to be a ‘Time To Change Champion,’ which means that I have committed to spreading the word about what we can do to help. This isn’t a big announcement, and isn’t anything for which qualifications are needed. Anyone can do it – the more who do, the more widespread the message becomes. If you’re interested, do visit the Time To Change website. Here you’ll also find lots of good advice, including their campaign for this year’s WMHD, ‘Ask Twice,’ as you can see from the image above. This is the simple thought that, rather than accepting the usual ‘I’m fine’ answer to the ‘how are you?’ question, we might delve a little deeper. Here is the link: you’ll find a good little video about it to encourage you to think more about this, along with more advice on how to start that conversation. I’ll be posting more as a ‘Time To Change Champion’ in the months to come, and I hope some of you will sign up too.

I’m aware that this post reflects the fact that I am in the UK, but this is World Mental Health Day. Wherever you are from, this is an important day. In the column to the right you will see a box labelled ‘Stand Up For Mental Health.’ If you click on this it takes you to the website of HealthyPlace.com, whose campaign this is. They are US-based, and I know that there are many similar initiatives around the world. Wherever you are, please take a few moments to find out what is available to you and what you can do to help. And if you think you might need some support, please do seek assistance, and don’t be afraid to ask.

’How are you?’

‘I’m fine thanks.’

‘Are you sure? You don’t seem quite like yourself…’

‘Well, actually…’

That wasn’t too hard, was it? If you know someone you think might be struggling, #AskTwice today and every day. You may be saving a life.