Lee’s story

Lee’s story

Isolation is one of the biggest impacts of my condition.

Chronic pain, fatigue and cognitive difficulties caused by Fibromyalgia and Myalgic Encephalitis mean I can’t work or socialise regularly. Three years down the line, I find myself getting anxious about going to new places, experiencing new things and meeting new people.

Taking part in a Good Vibrations gamelan course at Jobcentre Plus helped me overcome these anxieties. Many people in the group were experiencing similar difficulties to me, so we could empathise and understand each other. Through working together as a team we helped ourselves individually. Connecting with new people in this way boosted my confidence in social situations and motivated me to push my boundaries further. I have already re-joined the local library and, while this might not sound like a big deal to some, it was a huge step for me. I’m hoping to do a Reiki course in the future too.

The gamelan music in itself was a therapy for me. For the first time in a long while I was able to fully focus on one thing. The experience was fulfilling. It gave me a real sense of achievement and helped me concentrate on what I can do rather than what I can’t. It reminded me that it’s important to do things for yourself in life.

Most importantly, the gamelan course was fun. We had freedom to experiment with different instruments and create new sounds, and the relaxed atmosphere meant we could socialise and laugh together. I would recommend taking part in a Good Vibrations gamelan course to anyone looking to build their confidence and have a completely new experience. If I can learn to enjoy my life again and relax, even when under a great deal of stress, anyone can.

Rob’s story

Rob’s story

Many people including myself didn’t think I would see my 30th birthday.

I grew up in a pub with alcoholic parents who had regular drunken fights. Me and my brother had no restrictions. I was 5 when I had my first run in with the police, shoplifting from the local newsagents.

By the age of seven I had my first permanent exclusion and by eleven I was smoking cannabis and drinking alcohol. The alcohol was easy to get hold of but the money for cannabis was a little harder, so I turned to crime. My drug habit escalated and I got into trouble with the police regularly. By 14 I was in specialist provision, where I met other boys like me, with the same disrespect for education. I was out of control, angry and violent – that youth everyone’s scared of – and it was inevitable I’d end up in prison.

I was determined to make it my first and last time. On release, I looked for work and volunteered with community projects. Then my dad died suddenly. I was 22. Everything went into free-fall. I used drink and drugs as my answer and the anger built within me and I became involved in a fight which resulted in a 4 year sentence.

I moved into far more violent circles. Within months I had a serious cocaine addiction, fuelled through crime. I had to hide in my flat because I now had drug debts myself. Finally, I committed a serious violent offence and I was given an IPP – imprisoned for public protection, which means I was a danger to society and unsafe to be around. The only way I was going to overcome this was to change everything in my life.

I knew I needed structure and support to stop me re-offending. I started by learning how to read properly. I accepted counselling and help from agencies I shied away from in the past. Trying to change the habits of a lifetime is hard and at times I have stumbled. However, I have done my best to use my time in custody effectively. I’ve got a partner and a baby now, so I’ve got to make it work.

Good Vibrations came to my prison in early 2020. I’d never seen a gamelan before, so it was totally new to me and to the other men who took part. We were on the same level – all out of our comfort zones. We had to leave our egos at the door and collaborate to master this unfamiliar set of instruments. We had to encourage each other, or else the whole thing wouldn’t work, and this built confidence and self-belief. We took something we knew nothing about and in 5 days we were skilled and confident enough to showcase it to others, not just staff, not just family but fellow prisoners – that’s massive. 

Good Vibrations gave me a safe context to try out being more confident, creative, collaborating with others – and that helped me believe in the better version of myself.

I don’t know when I’m going to be released, but I’m determined to do something positive with my life when I am. I’m part of the Rejuvenate Project which supports the rehabilitation of ex-offenders. It has given me structure and the ability to become a positive role model. I’ve even started writing blogs about my experience, something I never would have dreamed of doing a year ago. I no longer want to be a problem in the community, but part of the solution, and I’m focused on remaining that way.

Errol’s story

Errol’s story

I spent most of my childhood in care. That’s where I learnt to be a criminal – it was my training ground. The other boys and the staff all said I’d end up in prison.

I had no prospects and smashing shop windows and cars was the only way I had of expressing my anger. I was in and out of prison for years. In between I’d work, but I’d always end up back inside.

In 2016 I took part in a Good Vibrations course for the first time at HMP Thameside. I’m rhythmic, but not very musical. It wasn’t what I expected. We had to carry all these ancient delicate instruments into the hall to start with – I was interested straight away. With gamelan, there’s a lot of space for people who haven’t got a clue about how to play music.

I remember there were people there from some of the other prison wings, including a couple of guys I wasn’t getting on with. There was real tension, even though it all started over a packet of biscuits. I remember threatening this geezer one minute, then the next suddenly we’re sharing a xylophone! You can’t play music, trying to find melody and rhythm, and still have beef. It’s impossible. Either the tension takes over, or the music, shared cooperation and collaboration does.

After I was released I bumped into Kieran, a Good Vibrations facilitator, at an event one day. He helped get me on a course at the Southbank, but it was too stressful to fit in so I dropped out. I was diagnosed with ADHD around that time and I think that had something to do with it. But later I tried again. I performed with other musicians at a conference using gamelan instruments and music tech, and did a gamelan and poetry course called Beyond Performance at the University of York. I even spoke and performed at a Good Vibrations board meeting.

Playing gamelan helped me learn to co-operate, communicate and experience harmony with other people. You can’t play music with someone and stay angry. I now realise I’m at my most impactful when I choose not to kick off and show compassion instead. Good Vibrations helps me on the right track.

Now I’m an actor and a spoken word artist. I’ve been in two feature films and I run workshops for charities and in prisons. You can see some of my work here www.wordonthekerb.com. When I perform, I realise I have the power to influence people. It can be very easy to lead people in the right or the wrong direction, so it has to come with responsibility. I can see the rhythm of my childhood so clearly – people around me should have been able to see where I was heading. There, I did it again – when you grow up in care it’s easy to put responsibility onto others. We can’t hang about waiting for someone to save us, we need to save ourselves. The ultimate responsibility is with me. I always try to be better today than I was yesterday.

Mike’s story

Mike’s story

I never imagined my mental health would lead me to be incarcerated, but that’s the hand I was dealt. It was there that I first encountered Good Vibrations. I saw the poster and signed up straight away not really knowing what I’d experience. At this point I saw it simply as an excuse to get out of my cell and do something different to break up the monotonous prison life.

Even though I’d been an avid music collector with an ear for world music, I knew nothing of gamelan. The array of different instruments was impressive and I felt spoilt for choice as to which one I’d like to try first. I didn’t play any musical instruments but had dabbled in digital music production so had an understanding of rhythm and structure, which helped.

I had very little experience of working together as a collective of musicians – this was a challenge but also a blessing. One thing prison does is knock your confidence and mine was at an all-time low. The gamelan sessions helped raise this again in a whole new experience from conducting and working as a team to (frighteningly) doing a solo piece. The music was very hypnotic and meditative and sat nicely with my new found faith in Buddhism. Completion of the course gave me a real sense of achievement. Just what you need when you feel like you are losing at life.

Prior to prison I was an arts workshop facilitator for 25 years and I remember thinking in those sessions ‘I’d love to do this job’. Fast forward a handful of years and here I am volunteering with Good Vibrations in the community with the hope to learn more and possibly become a facilitator myself, helping others like it helped me.

Tony’s story

Tony’s story

I first joined Good Vibrations’ Loophole Music project in 2018, when I was a patient in Bethlem Royal Hospital in Bromley. I was so happy to be creative again. It reawakened something in me that had been lying dormant for a long time.

In the 80’s and early 90’s I sang with a band in pubs and clubs in South London. I really loved it, but then in the late 90’s, due to mental health problems, I found myself in hospital for the first time. When I came out, I joined another band playing covers and writing some of our own songs too. It was going really well, but, you know, sometimes life gets in the way of your plans. I was admitted to hospital again. Taking part in Loophole Music definitely helped me with my recovery. I think music is a truly international language and it’s very therapeutic – I find it very soothing, comforting and relaxing.

I take care of my mental health now by making sure I get plenty of fresh air and exercise, and by getting involved in positive activities. I work in Bethlem Hospital through a charity called Hear Us, giving peer support to patients. One day in 2020 when I was working, I saw a notice about Loophole Music and I asked if I could join again. Kieran and Bison, who run the project, encouraged me to focus on writing my own music and lyrics. So I started working on some songs I’d begun a long time ago and never got a chance to finish. It’s really exciting to be able to make music again. I’ve got plenty more songs inside me. I mainly sing and I’m learning to play a bit of bass and keyboard too – just a few chords. I even played violin using an ipad the other day. Music technology is all new to me!

I find the Loophole Music project inspiring. It has really helped me and has become an important part of my life, so much so that I volunteer at Loophole now. I get a lot out of helping others who are going through something similar to what I’ve been through myself. Between sessions I can still work on my own songs, which means I can keep my own creativity going too.

One thing I loved doing was helping Kieran and Bison run an online workshop from a pub in Stockwell as part of the Maudsley Charity festival to mark World Mental Health Day 2020. I learned a great deal from the experience, and it gave me a lot of confidence too. I hope I’ll be able to stay volunteering with Loophole for a long while – I’m here as long as they’ll have me!

You can watch Tony creating a track called Time at Loophole Music here

Linda’s story

Linda’s story

Linda is a joy to have on our Resonate gamelan project in Glasgow. She first joined in 2016 and is now one of our most committed members.

Playing gamelan for the first time, Linda says, she could finally do something and be appreciated for her ability, not judged for her disability. A long time resident of Glasgow, Linda has a physical disability, some learning difficulties and mental health needs, but despite using a wheelchair, will always take part in activities if she can.

Linda has contributed a lot to Resonate Glasgow, and to Good Vibrations as a whole. She suggested we set up Exploring Performance, an extension group for people like her who really want to improve and work towards public performances. She linked us to The Advisory Group (TAG), who she is an advisor for, a national organisation that promotes inclusion. As a result, Good Vibrations has set up a gamelan project with TAG and two of its partner organisations, Community Lifestyles and KEY Community Support.

In 2019, through Good Vibrations, Linda gained a nationally-recognised Level 1 Music Ensemble Skills OCNL qualification award:

“I’m so happy. I got my OCN certificate today. It’s so cool. That’s made my day. It’s my very first qualification of any kind. It’s absolutely fantastical.”                               

We, in turn, support Linda. We advocated for her to improve her care support and transport. We linked her up with Common Wheel, a group supporting people with mental illness. We told Linda about concerts with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Gamelan Naga Mas so she could hear gamelan played at a professional level, and introduced her to inclusive music ensemble, Sonic Bothy, whose workshop she attended.

This has been one of the biggest benefits for Linda – getting to hear about activities. During Resonate sessions we talk about what’s on, how to get to venues, accessibility, and the type of music it will be. Afterwards we discuss the experience and think about things like the difference between a grand piano and an upright piano, traditional and improvised music.

Linda loves being part of Resonate: “I find it very, very therapeutic and unique because it’s Indonesian music. I love the whole group. They’re so good to me. It’s the only group I’ve been to that has treated me as a person, as a human being, and ignored the wheelchair.

Linda is enthusiastic, a great team player, and an inspiration to those around her. We hope she will carry on being part of Resonate for years to come.

You can see Linda talking about her experience at Resonate Glasgow here: Watch a video