An overheard conversation in Durham’s finest café – Claypath Deli in the Spring of 2018 was the catalyst for a creative alliance between the Durham music community and Gilesgate based mental health support organisation RTProjects. Over coffee, the co-founders of RT (Beano and Emma) explained to DBTR that in 2007 they had opened an art studio on the outskirts of the City with the intention of providing an alternative to pharmaceutical interventions for people living with depression and related mental health problems.

Open Art Surgery’ says the sign above the door of the fully equipped studio that is RTProjects and this is where Beano and Emma use art to save lives. For the last fourteen years they have helped as many people as they can though difficult times though like many vital services funding is a major challenge. One of they ways they raise money is by holding an annual event called Run To The Sun. ‘Can you put us in contact with some musicians who might be into playing at this years Run’ asked Beano. ‘Leave it with me’ was the answer. DBTR subsequently approached several musicians, some of whom stepped up and played at 2018’s Run To The Sun. That was not the end of the matter though – a seed had been planted.

A December 2018 benefit at Claypath Deli, ensued featuring Steve Pledger, The Kets and Bubamara. That got the ball rolling in fine style and a healthy donation made its way to RT. In fact, one of the DBTR regulars was so impressed by the work RT are doing in the community he made a donation that matched the door take. A beautiful gesture that will never be forgotten.

Beano, who is the living embodiment of the Shakespearian maxim – ‘all the world’s a stage’ had come up with a rhythmic spoken-word piece tentatively called What if? It was centred around a person whose life was spiralling out of control. It went something like – What if you lost your job?…What if you couldn’t find another one?… What if your relationship fell apart?… What if you were evicted?’ and so on and so forth. 

‘How about developing that idea and recording it Beano, maybe add a bit of acoustic guitar.’ Beano responded in the positive and critically acclaimed musician Steve Pledger was drafted in and a collaboration got underway. The words and music for what would become What if? – Never Give Up were duly composed, in what seemed to me, a very short space of time.

So come January 2019 they drove up To see Dr Bone at The Washoose Studio in Lanarkshire and What if? – Never Give Up was recorded, mixed, produced and mastered over the course of an intense and exhausting 10-hour recording session.

It so happens that some years ago Beano had been feeling suicidal himself and he used his own personal journey as a framework for the song. As he explained ‘the whole point of RTProjects is to save lives using art and this track is an extension of that philosophy and perhaps my words can somehow reach someone, somewhere who may be desperate and give them hope that their situation can get better’.  

DBTR could not shake the notion that, though the track in itself was powerful and would certainly speak to those suffering from feelings of isolation, if it were the title track of an album it would justifiably become the focal point of a collection of related songs and through sales of the album funds could be raised. The call went out to the music community and 13 songs were duly donated by some fantastic musicians.

The album, entitled What if? was released on 5/5/2019 via Bandcamp. It was received positively by everyone who heard it,  it got some nice reviews – The Rocking Magpie was particularly kind – ‘The title track… will send a shiver down your back as the duo tell of the artist’s own struggle with the darker edges of life; as do many of us ……. sometimes silently’

Journalists wrote, radio stations played and interviews were given; flyers were distributed, posters posted and social media posts shared. Tickets were bought. And the launch night happened….and reviewed thus:-

What if? Never Give Up Album Launch

Dunelm House, Durham City 1/6/2019

Billed as a Launch night for a compilation album called What if? –  14 tracks put together by Durham live music promoter Down By The River to raise funds for local mental health charity RT Projects. The gig brought together 9 of the artists who had contributed to the album. The evening started with 5 singer/songwriters onstage; Steve Pledger, Lee Maddison, Anne Marie Sanderson, Ian Bartholomew and the youngest of the five, North Yorkshire based George Boomsma. 

It was an interesting format; with each musician taking it in turn, to perform their track from What if? A second round of songs from the five prompted Anne Marie to say it felt like she was taking part in a live version of an iPod shuffle, which was not too far off the mark. It worked a treat, with each musician bringing something different to the mix. It’s really hard to single anyone out, the five were equally superb but the youthful charm of Boomsma and his exquisite vocal maybe just edged it, as evidenced by the rush to his merch at the interval. 

After what was a very emotional and sometimes challenging first set The Violet Chimes elevated the mood of the packed room with three catchy indie-pop tunes. Their contribution to What if? – ‘Falling Granite’, sounding particularly impressive live. Jamie Harwood, who makes up one-half of the Chimes, explained that his mother had benefited from the work done by RTProjects and the genuine warmth he exuded from the stage set things up perfectly for one of Durham’s favourite sons Martin Stephenson.

Now resident in the highlands of Scotland, Martin was the perfect headliner and he soon had the audience chuckling with his unique brand of between-song banter. One minute he’s talking about chakras and ego and all things existential, the next his berating his ex-wife for nicking a house from him. ‘It was only a f’en council house but it was good one’ he fumed, only half joking you got the feeling. 

Once he gets round to playing a tune, it’s his effortless guitar style that is remarkable and he seems to have found the perfect foil in percussionist Shayne Fontayne who drives things along nicely with his subtle Cajon beats. Martin is joined on stage for a couple of songs by his partner Anna Lavigne and they finish the set off with ‘Thomasina’, – Stephenson’s contribution to What if? The song just happens to be about Martin’s favourite aunt who we are told was also Jamie Harwoods mother.  It was a poignant end to a brilliant set when Jamie joined Martin and Anna on stage for the song. 

The night is brought to a touching close by co-founder of RTProjects, Beano who is joined by singer/songwriter Steve Pledger. Earlier in the year the two had collaborated on the title track of What if? Part spoken word, performed by Beano and as he explains pre-song, draws on his experience of depression and his own dark times. Pledger adds sensitive acoustic guitar chords, and a powerful chorus repeated throughout that almost pleads with the listener to ‘Never give up’.  It was an emotional end to an emotional evening and the ovation Pledger and Beano received you felt was directed at everyone who had contributed to such a magical evening of live music and all for a great cause. Well done all *****

Never Give Up – A beginning not an end.

Throughout 2019 and into 2020 RTProjects and their friends had been hiding beautifully painted stones all over the world – The What if? Never Give Up Rocks initiative relies on people discovering the stones and uploading a photo to Facebook and in doing so they find out about Never Give Up. The RT studio itself became a gig venue with nights featuring Simon Wood and Steve Pledger being particular highlights.

On March 1st 2020 BC (Before Covid) a group of Durham University Students known as Music Durham, got together and put on a Never Give Up fundraiser at a packed Assembly Rooms Theatre which featured everything from Opera to magic to contemporary dance with Beano and Pledger again bringing the night to an end with What if? – Never Give Up. Then of course C19 came along, not to be deterred RT are now hosting a regular online event called Sounds Good.

2021 got of to a good start when Never Give Up crossed the Atlantic Ocean and was played by Canadian Radio presenter Jan Hall. Jan produces a weekly syndicated radio show called Folk Roots Radio which airs on various Canadian and US stations. – click here to listen > Never Give Up can be heard 33 minutes in.

Buoyed by the news that Never Give Up had gone Transatlantic, Beano is keen for everyone to know that he and the team at RTProjects view the project as very much alive and on-going. According to Beano, ‘The thing has legs and is breaking into a trot just now. I think it fits well with these awful times we are all going through. I think it’s as important as ever, and maybe even more so, to spread hope and encourage people to connect in any way we can.

I think a big turning point was finally getting the video uploaded to YouTube. I made a concerted effort to put together a visual for the song in 2020. Due to the Covid restrictions it was difficult to get out and about to shoot anything new so I used footage that I already had and mixed it with stuff I’ve shot locally. It’s very much a lockdown video. 

I’m again working with Music Durham who put on a ‘Never Give Up’ show at the Assembly Rooms Theatre last March and are keen to make it an annual event. We are talking about the possibility of doing something outdoors this year. We are also working with a young woman who cited Never Give Up as a huge contributing factor to her not attempting suicide again. She was recovering in a psychiatric hospital at the time and heard Never Give Up on one of RTProjects online events. We have since discovered that she is a bit of a singer. I’m hoping she will agree to sing it at the next Music Durham Never Give Up concert.

I don’t take myself seriously as a songwriter but ‘What if? – Never Give Up’ turned out to be so much better than I ever imagined and to know it continues to have such a positive impact is really gratifying. I didn’t really see myself writing anything after What if? but I’m putting some words together at the moment – a new song I’ve called ‘Heaven’ is in the works so watch this space.

My dream is that What if? – Never Give Up can continue to give people hope and become a resource which can be used by suicide prevention workers. After all, it works.’ 

The single What if? – Never Give Up can be bought here for £1 > Never Give Up

The album What if? can be bought here for £7 > What if?

All money raised goes directly to RTProjects so they can continue saving lives.

Love and Peace DBTR

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