Mental Health Awareness Through Music
Today sees the return of ‘Music Like a Vitamin’, the music strand of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival.
Now in its third year — in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation, Scottish Wave of Change and Breathing Space Scotland — its aim is to raise mental health awareness through music.
It’s a project which continues to evolve under the direction of former Delgado — now a solo artist in her own right — Emma Pollock and Idlewild’s Rod Jones. Together, under their newly-founded off-shoot the Fruit Tree Foundation, the two brought together a host of Scottish talent to write and record an album of new material earlier this year.
The fruits of their collaborative endeavours will be aired at shows at Edinburgh’s HMV Picture House on Friday, Oct. 1 and the following night at Glasgow’s O2 ABC venue.
Rod Jones explained to Spinner what ‘Music Like a Vitamin’ hopes to achieve with its ever-expanding initiative. “When we started this project our main goal was to keep momentum from the festival in terms of raising awareness of mental health issues and the services available to those experiencing mental health problems. Also we hope to promote mental health well-being and education in both the forms of informing people in ways to improve their lives when suffering from a mental health problem and also by starting a dialogue with each other. Communication and sharing is key on the road to recovery.”
That was very much the ethos for the writing of ‘The Fruit Tree Foundation — First Edition.’ Taking a group of nine songwriters to what was a snow-bound Perthshire in early March may originally have been a daunting idea, but such was the belief of those asked to participate — among their number the Twilight Sad’s James Graham, Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchinson, Jill O’Sullivan from Sparrow and the Workshop and Jenny Reeve (AKA Strike the Colours) — that for Jones it ultimately proved a rewarding trip.
Jones explains, “The writing process in Perthshire was an extremely enjoyable and invigorating experience. We paired off nervously with each other to try and compose songs not really knowing how well we would work together. I would just put two or three artists together in a room for the day with the only direction being that they finish writing a song together by the end of the day. The results were surprisingly and consistently fantastic.”
For her part, Emma Pollock found the trip north a positive one. “Writing the new music in the house in Perthshire in such an intense way really brought home to me the inclusive nature of music and how it always manages to convey an energy all of its own,” she said. “All nine of us walked in on the first day really quite unaware of what we were about to do, but ultimately the music written carried us all along and the atmosphere in the house was always really positive.”
She continued, “Music takes you out of yourself and you can become engrossed in its mood and momentum. This change of perspective can be a wonderful thing and I love the fact there’s so much music out there for us to dive into any time we want to go somewhere new.”
THE FRUIT TREE PROJECT ALBUM INTRO
There are several ways you can go about making a mental health charity record. The easiest is to pick a clumsy, vaguely-related theme and then strum your way through mid-paced covers of ‘We Are the World’ and ‘Theme From MASH’, half-asleep, thinking that in the end, quality isn’t really the point. And The Fruit Tree Project would have been forgiven for that. People would have bought the album, played it once and then filed it away under ‘good causes done badly’. God knows that’s been done before. But this collection of musicians chose not to patronise fans or condescend to the issues by operating on auto-pilot. I believe their album has real value because the people on it have taken risks, and been smart enough to realise the best thing artists can do for any cause, no matter how worthy, is get down off their soap boxes and MAKE SOMETHING NEW. So they wrote fresh material, together, fast. Some hadn’t even met each other before the process started. Which made it interesting.
It could have been a disaster. After all, there were nine artists involved who all sing, including several solo performers all used to having their way. So egos could have been bruised. Also, there were real logistical problems – with nine conflicting touring and recording schedules, simply getting everyone in the same room together was, as they say, ‘a challenge’. This meant it was even more crucial to have a system to make sure things actually got done – first, a week of rehearsals under tight constraints, then a break, then another week, in isolation, out in the country, with two studios on the go at once. Each day, people were sent off in pairs and ordered to pull their early versions of songs into shape. There was little time to anguish over details or fight about arrangements. They just had to get on with it. Again, it could have been a disaster. Perhaps it should have been. But it wasn’t.
The members of The Fruit Tree Project aren’t allowed to say this themselves, they have to be modest (and we’re very good at that round these parts). But I’m just a listener, free to say what I like, and I reckon that what they’ve delivered, perhaps because of the restraints, is a powerful, strangely coherent record with a rare energy to it. Despite vocal duties being shared around, and hardly the same line-up for any two tunes, there’s a real sense of the immediate here, and in places it sounds suspiciously like (whisper it) folks were actually having fun. Also, learning something about different ways to write, surprising themselves and each other with what’s possible in the absence of time and money. This might lead to interesting results in the future for the day job. The good news is, it has already. For me, the subtle burr of ‘Splinter’, the lush, uplifting ‘I Forgot to Fall’ or the languid duet of ‘Tooth and Claw’ can stand as equals with the finest work by any of the artists here.
The sign of a good charity record is when listeners forget they’re listening to a charity record. And as I’ve been walking around Glasgow in the last few days, having a sneaky early listen on headphones, singing along like a real nerd, I’ve found that pretty easy. I hope you do too.
Rodge Glass, July 2010.
“Favourite Son” – The Fruit Tree Foundation
A limited number of copies of the album, complete with artwork from former Arab Strap man Aidan Moffat, will be available at Friday and Saturday’s shows. However, two bonus tracks — ‘I Forgot the Fall’ by Rod Jones and Scott Hutchison and ‘Favourite Son’ by Emma Pollock, Jill O’Sullivan and James Graham, are available now as free downloads at www.fruittreefoundation.com.
The Edinburgh show will feature solo sets from Scott Hutchison, Karine Polwart and Broken Records while James Yorkston and Alasdair Roberts will play sets in Glasgow.
However, the message for both nights seems to be “expect the unexpected.” Jones said, “I’m sure there will be plenty of surprises at the shows. Although none have been planned, the general nature of this album and the artists involved has been very surprising and continues to throw up pleasant surprises. I’m sure the concerts will be both exciting and very special.”
As for future events, Jones has a clear vision for the Fruit Tree Foundation, “Our aim is for this project to grow geographically as well as in profile over the next few years. I hope that next year we will be able to put together a similar project on a UK-wide basis in terms of profile and artists with a view to go international in the third year.”
Tickets for the ‘Music Like a Vitamin’ shows are priced £6 and available through the usual outlets. ‘The Fruit Tree Foundation – First Edition’ will be given a commercial release next year while the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival runs from Oct. 1 to 24.
Initial Source – www.spinnermusic.com
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