Got Them Old Housebound Blues

As we are all well aware, since March 2020 when Covid arrived the notion of getting together with a bunch of like mined souls to enjoy live music was put on pause. Thankfully, restrictions are now starting to ease but from DBTR’s perspective this last 15 months have admittedly been very difficult. Everyone has their own lockdown story of course and some will be a lot more fraught than this one, so for those who have had to deal with loss and serious illness please forgive my indulgence. That said, I believe its a story worth telling because it’s not just my story, its the story of people everywhere who enjoy going out to see live music. Whether that’s a rock gig, a rave, a classical concert or an opera I believe live music impacts on our well-being in more ways than we might think.

Like most of us, I keep myself busy and connected via a computer screen – but its just not the same is it? As well as promoting DBTR gigs I like to go out and see live music on a regular basis without being responsible for anything other than going to the bar for a pint. So there’s a big live-music hole in my life right now and reflecting on my own situation it made me wonder how others are feeling about having their social interactions reduced to going to the supermarket and watching their favourite artist play an online set and tapping out the odd comment while watching.

So how has this year of zero live music affected you? I’ll be brutally honest – It’s made me socially isolated – and I know from what I’ve read online I’m not the only one. When things are in full swing, I have this never ending cycle of music related meet-ups to discuss past, present and future and gigs and when I go out, there is always someone who has been out to a DBTR gig who either just says hello, or stops for a chat. When I go for my coffee in Claypath Deli, people are in an out of there talking to me about music and almost without realising the local music community became my ‘social network’….and then all of a sudden it’s gone.

A confession: up until 2019 I had worked in social care – my work had been primarily focused on mental health and I saw first hand how limited social interactions can affect a persons well-being. Part of my job was to put in place services to reduce the risk of a person becoming isolated. So in many ways it strikes me as ironic that here we are in 2021 and I happen to be contemplating my own experience of becoming socially isolated.

The issue of loneliness received a lot of media attention in 2014, much of it sparked by journalist George Monbiot who had written an article in The Guardian on the very subject. His article was called ‘The Age of Loneliness is Killing Us’ and it went viral. George stated that ‘loneliness has become an epidemic, [he went on to say] social isolation is as potent a cause of early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day; loneliness, research suggests, is twice as deadly as obesity and dementia, high blood pressure, alcoholism, depression, paranoia, anxiety and suicide become more prevalent when connections are cut’.

There was a massive reaction to those words and George was asked to write a book on the subject. He turned down that offer, he said that ‘the writing process is in itself a solitary act and to write a book on loneliness would have been a depressing task’. So instead he teamed up with musician Ewan McLennan and they collaborated on an album called ‘Breaking The Spell of Loneliness’. George provided the words and Ewan worked them into songs and wrote the music. Their plan was to tour the album during which George would speak about the issues raised and Ewan would perform the songs. Long story short, I contacted their booking agent and in 2016 DBTR, in partnership with Durham Book Festival premiered their nationwide tour at a packed Durham Miners Hall. For a loneliness themed gig it was an incredibly social occasion. George even invited the entire audience for a drink afterwards at The Bridge Hotel!

Fast forward to 2021 and the knock-on effect of C19 has brought with it a new age of loneliness that means a lot more of us are feeling that very pain of isolation that Monbiot referred to in 2014. Not being able to ask anyone face to face about their own experiences I did a little digging around on line and found an article on by Sarah Jacoby entitled ‘Live Music Is a Huge Part of My Self-Care’.

Sarah has this to say; ‘For me, seeing live music has an important mental health benefit: As someone diagnosed with social anxiety, going to concerts – often by myself, is a key part of my self-care toolbox. It allows me to be with a bunch of people and feel like I’m actually part of the community without having to do much real social interacting….It’s a chance to yell, get pushed around, and occasionally push other people around to music loud enough to shake my entire body. There’s not really a lot of mental or physical space for anything else, and I genuinely find it to be a meditative experience. Thinking about a future without concerts makes me anxious. And that’s on top of the many, many other anxieties I have going on right now’.

I’m not advocating pushing anyone around at gigs (anymore) but I do take Sarah’s point. Live music, to many of us means a hell of lot more than a night on the town; it’s a moment to mix socially with like-minded people, to know you’re in a room with folks you can relate to (often on an unspoken level), which can be an uplifting and joyous experience in itself. Furthermore, when we are in that environment, there are musicians who do posses that incredible ability to open doors in our consciousness. It’s certainly one aspect of the live music experience that keeps me going back for more; I’m sure we have all had those moments of transcendence that makes possible the ‘meditative experience’ that Sarah speaks of. For me, it is something that [and I know I speak for many of us] cannot return quickly enough.

Click here > to read a review of George Monbiot and Ewan McLennan in Durham.

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