Music and bipolar go, for me at least, hand in hand. On good days, I’ll hear the music of the sidewalk, feel melodies breathing from strangers and have lyrics pour from every interaction. On bad days, it’s only silence, sombre notes, no inspiration, no confidence.
There’s nothing quite like being a 17 year old at a gig. No parents, no curfew, bar the last train home and a big crowd to get lost in. Let your hair down, immerse yourself in the music, the lights and the atmosphere. Feel the crush of the pit force you closer to the rail that separates you and the stage. Whether you know every word, or your friend has dragged you along, these nights feel immense, infinite, life changing. You feel yourself mindless in the crowd, euphoric. The cigarette breaks that send you spilling out into the twinkling cobblestones of Humber street or into the car park behind The Adelphi. Requests for a lighter spark conversations charged by electric performances. Whatever your poison, a group will sneak away, coming back a little more intoxicated, a little more mindless, a little more loose, and ready to dance. It’s time for the main act.
Hearing music has complete control over my mood. Wrong vibe can ruin the party, too sad at the wrong time can send me sideways, too hectic can obliterate concentration. In my younger years I gravitated towards The Smiths, Ben Howard, crooners that instigated a self-critical introspection. Later, I became enamoured with the music of the 80’s. With Spiders nightclub as my weekly haunt, I often frequented a playlist I named ‘GoGoGo’ with the decades classics and uplifting dance tracks.
As a musician and songwriter, I find music allows me complete, non-judgemental confessionals. I can sing about issues I wouldn’t dream of sharing in a conversation. I can pour out my soul for a smattering of applause, and compliments after the show. Spinning songs from poetry, I can tell stories with my performances and take audiences along for the ride. In intimate venues, I find that I feel the audience most, and they listen for the nooks and crannies, immerse themselves in the microcosm of each song and have a natural resonance with my chorus.
After I moved to Manchester to start university, I found myself immersed in other people’s tastes in music. From dub in the club to reggae in the halls. Each day brought a new genre, a new window into the strange and a new feasting on the unfamiliar. I found myself being plunged out of the indie and Brit rock I knew and loved and into a variety of different settings, from Psychedelic sit ins to Bjork in the basement. For this and many other experiences, I cannot thank my friends enough.
This, of course, affected my own creative process. In the past, my music was firmly in the category of acoustic singer/songwriter. I loved Fleet Foxes, Florence and the Machine, Daughter and other hand-plucked, folky bards. My sets went down a treat in the Yorkshire folk scene I had premiered and played in, from Filey to Hull.
In the songwriting process, particularly with others, I find a joining of souls. Whether it’s the first time we’ve met or working with a friend, writing together puts a big shift in the dynamic, bringing you closer with newfound respect. Collaborating on a track and hearing the finished product gives an unrivalled joy to me. Some of my fondest memories are being holed up in student halls, with a note pad and pen while someone else strums intricate melodies on a guitar or sitting by a piano ad-libbing about drunk nights out. Even when I’m anxious, relaxing into a new song or writing relationship can completely shift my mood for days.
Moving to the city not only allowed me to hear new influences, but I also collaborated with people well versed in reggae, funk and jazz, bringing me to a new sound of floaty cross-genre pop. For this, I give huge thanks to Christian Daniel Holland Smith, my multi-instrumentalist hero, for his jam sessions and an inspired production. Another thanks are due to Owen Davies, a phenomenal pianist, for our time spent on the keys.
When I found myself in a psychiatric institution, having been recently diagnosed with Bipolar, music was my only solace. I was banned from internet access with no phone or technology to keep me company. I did, however, have my inner music, much to the joy and annoyance of the other patients (I very nearly referred to them as inmates, it seems somewhat more accurate). I spent my yard time with cigarettes and song, taking requests or spilling soulfully crafted tailor-made compositions to each patient, my hyper brain activity pairing hand in hand with freestyle ability. Everyone had earphones, they were allowed their own bubble with their own frequencies, which I sorely missed. When I got a CD player brought in, I had an escape. I was calmer and more able to cope with my environment with the sunny soundtrack of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and a medley of 60’s songs. I was at my happiest when the nurses took out a large speaker and took requests. ABBA really got everyone on their feet and I recall a conga line around the communal area.
The electric surge of songwriting helps me whether I’m manic or depressed. Often, I’ll turn to my guitar with my troubles and turning it into something melodic that people relate to really helps me feel connected. From the warm walls of my synth to the atmospheric pubs and festivals I have had the honour of playing at, makes me feel worthy, often at times of despair or hopelessness. Being onstage gives me an incomparable rush. Finding others that share my passion is a lifelong quest of self exploration and what it means to be human. From rejection at auditions, to compliments after a show, each interaction of sharing music challenges me to grow as an artist and performer. To every person, I have met on this journey so far, I thank you humbly and wholly.
In short, music saves lives. It may be cliché to say it brings people closer, however this is, if anything, an understatement. Music is more effective than any drug, than any compliment. Music of all forms should be treasured and encouraged. When there is no light, there is still music. When there is no hope, there is still music. Whether you’re listening on Spotify, asking Alexa, or buying gig tickets, you are changing someone’s life, making their dream a reality. I cannot thank you enough for that. So please, as my parting wish, go to grassroot music venues. Share your friends’ music. Listen to their recommendations. Sing! Self express as often as you can, in whatever format and environment you desire. You are worthy.
Words: to.do.list/Carmina Budworth
Photo credit: Sam Joyce