Belle and Sebastian – Going Through The Emotions

2 months ago   |   Words: Sue Bennett   |   Photography: David Boni

Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch is without a bike. It’s been stolen right at the moment we’re scheduled in to speak. I’m listening to his answerphone message; hovering – silent. It says not to leave a voicemail as he doesn’t pick them up. I text instead, and wait. 

In his 20s Stuart Murdoch was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition that rendered him absent from the rites of passage he is so associated with. It was an experience that harnessed his imagination and turned him into one of the most gifted musicians and writers we have today.

The outsider trapped indoors constructed the lyrical narratives we would all eventually move through, lovesick, on a sunny afternoon, while trapped in an office, or free at the park with a boy with a filthy laugh – and so many more mundane landscapes that became populated with the indie-kid romance of his characters. Stuart’s inner life has allowed his audience to feel like the contents of their lives is soundtracked by a novelist. His songs are established in the collective consciousness of an entire generation.

The phone rings. Thoughtful and generous with his time in spite of the missing bike, Stuart delivers his answers with warmth and calm. He tells me he is soon to leave for Moscow on tour.

Just before the interview ends I ask him if Belle and Sebastian are ever going to run another competition to put their fans on a record cover. This is what they did with their current three-part EP How to Solve Our Human Problems; it’s on my bucket list to be a Belle and Sebastian girl. 

‘Maybe in ten years’ he says.

‘Ten years?! Stuart! I’ll look terrible by then’.

‘You won’t look terrible, you’ll look experienced and distinguished. Older people are beautiful’.

I want to grow old with Belle and Sebastian.

I put the phone down and I realise, that as it was an incoming call, only my voice has been recorded. The interview along with the bike has been lost. Colour my life with the chaos of trouble.

A few days later I get an email from Stuart on tour in Moscow. He’s written his answers down for us and sent them back. From Russia with love to the readers of The Mind Map.

They say don’t meet your heroes. If your hero is Stuart Murdoch I’m a witness to the fact that he’s one of the great ones. Here he is not once, but twice reborn (with a big thank you) for Going Through The Emotions…

What has been your biggest life challenge so far and what did you do to overcome it?

I got sick with ME/CFS in 1990. It changed my life fundamentally and forever. I’m still very much dealing with it day to day. Such a chronic condition is bound, I think, to have a deep effect on one’s mental health. It has!

What advice would you offer a young person struggling with CFS/depression? What have been your main coping strategies over the years and reflecting now which have been most successful?

Try not to be alone. Try to connect with people the best you may. You might even reach that magical stage when you realise that your presence is doing someone else some good, which is very good for your spirits also.

It might be furthest from your mind at the minute, but it might just be that the whole point of your travails happening to you is so that you may gain compassion for other people, and therefore set out to help. But I realise this a lot to ask if you are at an acute and difficult stage.

When I first got sick with ME/CFS, we formed a support group, specifically for young people. It was good to be with people who understood what was going on without having to explain everything.

Was it a lonely experience being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome? I read that it made you feel like an outsider, but that it helped you to daydream and become a songwriter – was that your way of coping with the loneliness of it?

At times, the ME/CFS was very isolating. My lifestyle was so strange, emerging like a weird insect into the light for an hour a day, staggering for a short walk.

When I realised I might be able to write songs, I clung to every word I wrote. I knew it was the only worthwhile thing that was happening to me. I felt like a character in a story who had to endure terrible things, but who was given a secret power to help them prevail.

What advice would you give people in situations where they find themselves feeling isolated?

Don’t be afraid of taking a chance. Use your ‘difficulties’ as an excuse to ignore social norms! Try something new, join a class or a club.

We always felt that we had so little energy that it made us bold in ways that would have embarrassed our old selves. Leave that self behind. Don’t be afraid to leave behind out of date plans and ambitions. This is you now. You may be hurting, but you are unique, you are special, you definitely have a special power somewhere! Find it.

Does connecting with the community of people who also suffer from ME help? What strength have you gained from speaking and reaching out?

I actually didn’t talk about ME/CFS for years. I went through a patch when I seemed to be functioning better, and I just wanted to forget about, put it behind me.

Over the past eight years I was plunged back into ME/CFS, and I realised I couldn’t NOT talk about it. It was affecting my ability to do my job, so couldn’t be ignored.

I figure now that it’s up to me to help when I can, to try to elucidate the position, and to be part of the search for a diagnosis and cure. It might be the most important thing I ever do.

Tell me about your interest in Buddhism and yoga. How did that begin, and do you feel spirituality is something that supports your wellbeing?

When I first got ill, so many material things in my life fell away – work, studies, friends, athletics. When the buzz of your life has quietened, new thoughts arise. Mine happened to be of the spiritual kind.

So I went to church, and I still do. I used to meditate too, but in the past five years I’ve thrown my lot in with Buddhists big time. I don’t see a clash. One spiritual practice seems to enrich the other. I love the philosophy of Buddhism, the way that it suggests a path for living. It’s very practical and helpful.

What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?

I would say, a family day that I could enjoy, without feeling ill. Just having good energy to be with my boys. I’d take one on an adventure in the morning, the other in the afternoon. Then a nice barbeque with friends later.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

One of the monks at the Buddhist centre pointed out that everything in your life, everything that you have and have had in the past, was given to you, made for you, prepared for you by others. Food, clothes, water, the house you live in, etc. Therefore, you can practice being grateful at every turn, to everyone, from the person who made your sandwich, to your mum for having you!

Complete this sentence: “Ace mental health for me means…”

Going to bed feeling excited about the adventure of the next day.

What do you eat to stay healthy?

Well, I’m not healthy, so I’m not absolutely sure that it makes any difference whether I eat chocolate or salad! But if good healthy food is around, I’ll definitely eat it. Fish and greens, and soups and salads and fruits. I love it when we go on tour because I get loads of lovely green veg to eat.

Do you have a daily routine of exercise or do you make it up as you go along?

I walk, slowly. I have no routine, I just go where the wind blows. I love my bike. It’s a road bike. The reason I couldn’t speak to you straight away was because my bike was stolen just before I spoke to you.

Here at The Mind Map we remember playing football and ‘tag’ – running around the playground everyday and loving it – can you share a similar memory?

Yes, I have lots of good memories. I had really good energy as a kid. I always loved the Scouts and Cubs and canoeing on the lochs. It’s the little things. I remember a long walk through the Scottish countryside on holiday, when I was 10 or so, singing all the Beatles songs I knew, while my brother played air drums.

What three songs lift your spirits?

I’m currently making a playlist for my 50th of songs from each era. Songs that lift my spirits are:

Sam Cooke – What a Wonderful World

Nina Simone – I Wish I knew How it Would Feel to be Free

Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Want to Have Fun

What advice do you offer to friends when they are feeling overwhelmed?

Sometimes when people are truly overwhelmed, I’m likely to tell them anything they want to hear. It’s not the best time to challenge them with Buddhist wisdom.

When I come back from my class and my wife has just put the kids to bed and is knackered on the sofa and I try to tell her something I learned that night, she often says

“Don’t give me the Bhudda..”

I usually go get her a beer instead.



Skinny Pelembe – Going Through The Emotions

1 week ago   |   Words: Mark Taylor   |   Photography: Auriane Defert

The successful pursuit of artistic endeavour has afforded Skinny Pelembe some well-earned lie-in’s, but don’t confuse a late start with laziness. The singer-guitarist-producer has been burning the midnight oil working on music that has featured on 6 Music and Radio 1 Xtra. After recently finishing a UK tour supporting the release of his single ‘I Just Wanna Be Your Prisoner’, Doncaster-raised Skinny offers The Mind Map his varied insight into accepting personal loss, and how best to navigate the London Underground with musical equipment in tow.

What are you working on at the moment?

Album 1 tracks, beats for other folks, a choral arrangement, album 2 demos, ideas for a special super cool science project, and since painting the new EP cover I’m trying to get my brush game up again!

What has been your biggest life challenge so far and what did you do to overcome it?

Honestly, just trying to keep it together since losing my old man (as in passing on, not like losing him in one of those mega Sainsburys stores that do bedding and stuff, too). I guess you don’t overcome, more accept, having music / art as an outlet is so massively underrated.

What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?

I might have had the perfect day in Nottingham last weekend, the city that just gives! City centre paddling pool, fairground, artificial beach, a Universal Works store, we played a show at Rough Trade, Yazmin Lacey and the Running Circle crew came out to hang. The only thing more that I wanted was a 99 flake, and when I finally got one I think I felt my pancreas bend upwards to form a smile shape.

What are you listening to, reading and watching at the moment?

I’m very quickly becoming obsessed with Aldous Harding’s voice and singing faces, so I’m listening and watching her A LOT. Reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami again, the whole mood of the book just feels so familiar, it’s the comforting literary equivalent of pie and mash for me.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

I’m most grateful that for at least most of my working week I don’t have to wake up before 9am anymore. That sounds lazy, but I’ll happily work till 4am, so get off my back, man!

Complete this sentence: “Ace mental health for me means…”

…being the salmon that can swim upstream, and not necessarily make it up the river, but still smile as you push through the current.

What do you eat to stay healthy?

As little sugar and “bad” carbs as possible. Apart from the obnoxious amount of Rubicon passion fruit, and Maoam, and Nata cakes I consume.

I have the Juan Manuel Fangio of metabolisms, so until it slows down I’m just gonna continue to read loads about nutrition and be that wanker talks the talk but doesn’t walk it.

Do you have a daily routine of exercise or do you make it up as you go along?

Running everywhere with my guitar, amp and pedals. I’m working with transport for London on a system that incorporates the kettlebell “functional movement” style into the “late musician lugging loads of gear around” routine, I think it’s just going to be a game changer…

Here at The Mind Map we remember playing football and ‘tag’ – running around the playground everyday and loving it – can you share a similar memory?

SJC. Standing Jump Crew. A rag tag group of young, dedicated mavericks with one goal – to push the limits of the standing-start long jump. I left the game as Doncaster Metropolitan Borough’s under 12’s Long Jump champ. The group disbanded shortly after. I’d hit the wall. Literally.

What three songs lift your spirits?

Oh Yoko – John Lennon

Show Me What You Got – Busta Rhymes

Just One Second – London Elektricity

What is your favourite self-help book, or motivational quote?

Those that matter don’t mind.

Those that mind don’t matter.

Mind over matter.

What advice do you offer to friends when they are feeling overwhelmed?

Paul McKenna’s Deep Relaxation Guided Hypnosis tape. Sounds ridiculous. Is ridiculous. But it works…

You can find Skinny Pelembe’s latest tour dates and releases here.

Nia Wyn – Going Through The Emotions

2 weeks ago   |   Words: Rebecca Durband

Nia Wyn is an inspiring young woman – using her own mental health experiences to help others.  Growing up in a small town in North Wales, Nia found comfort in old soul and blues records. Her latest release ‘Turnstiles’ was produced by Paul Weller. We caught up with the socially conscious storyteller to discuss her work, music and how she stays well.

What are you listening to, reading and watching at the moment?

I’ve been digging up 1960s and 70s Aretha Franklin releases. Early Nas. Trojan compilations too and the new Internet album. I haven’t found time to read for quite a while now. I’ve been watching a lot of UK crime dramas lately, including the Unforgotten. Plus Matt Groening’s new show Disenchantment.

What has been your biggest life challenge so far and what did you do to overcome it?

Giving up alcohol. I’ve been four years sober. I had to draw on the support of my loved ones, throw myself into music and take my time. One of the best decisions I ever made.

What have you learned about yourself over the past five or so years?

That I need to give myself a break now and again as I’m way too hard on myself – still working on it.

What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?

Spending the daytime with my loved ones, including my two cats Bobo and Homer, and then finishing the night off with a banging show with my band.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

That I’m still alive, and for the love and compassion I receive from those closest to me.

Could you tell us more about your work within mental health?

At the moment I work a couple days a week in a voluntary-sector mental health service in South London. I use my lived experience of mental illness to support others, and co-run a peer support project there. It’s rewarding and pays the bills to do music.

How have your personal experiences helped you develop empathy towards mental illness?

I think we are experts by experience. The best placed people to understand people experiencing mental illness are the ones who have been there themselves and can support someone by validating them and being there for them. It’s not about being ‘I know exactly how you feel’ cos that’s not true, no one knows exactly how you feel. But my experiences help me to relate and know what it’s like to be stigmatised in society.

Complete this sentence: “Ace mental health for me means…”

Having time to be creative, feeling grounded, clear-headed and having good awareness of what I need in that moment.

What do you eat to stay healthy?

Try to get a good range of different vegetables, fish, meat. Most healthy days I’ll have a balanced diet with REASONABLE portions…

Do you have a daily routine of exercise or do you make it up as you go along?

I used to be really slack with this – when I was a kid I was a proper little footballer, playing games every week. I had a long period of not exercising at all but as of late I’m pushing myself to go 2-3 times a week, half cardio half strength work. I do what I feel like on the day as long as I go, cos it’s not just about the affect on my body, it’s more about my mental wellbeing.

What three songs lift your spirits?

Marvin Gaye – How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You
Princess Nokia – GOAT
Buddy – Hey Up There

What advice do you offer to friends when they are feeling overwhelmed?

To give yourself time – and to know it’s okay to feel that way, and that the feeling will pass because all feelings are temporary.

Finally, what was it like working with Paul Weller? What did you learn from his approach?

It was the dopest. He is a real dude, proper down to earth and wise as hell. I learnt a lot from working with him, and we talk fairly often – he gives me a lot of tips and I’ve been sending him more material I’ve been writing. The biggest thing I take away from working with him is to not be afraid to try something new, push boundaries and be comfortable shapeshifting genres – if it sounds good it sounds good.

Chris Kirkland – Going Through The Emotions

1 month ago   |   Words: Caoimhe O'Neill

Former England goalkeeper Chris Kirkland walked away from professional football in 2016, having spent 17 seasons at clubs including Coventry City, Liverpool, Wigan and Sheffield Wednesday. He has since spoken publicly on his decision to retire from the game due to anxiety. In turn Chris has become one of the leading voices of mental health and wellbeing in football. Kirkland hasn’t altogether hung up his gloves – now coaching for Liverpool F.C Women as well as running his own academy for young goalkeepers. We caught up with Chris to ask about his favourite save, advice for goalies under pressure, his perfect day and more.

Hi Chris, you’ve just become the new goalkeeping coach for Liverpool Ladies, how are you getting on in your new role?

I’m loving the new role at Liverpool F.C Women. I was waiting for the right opportunity to come up and as I do a lot with Liverpool Football Club already, being a supporter and former player, this was perfect for me.

In 2001 you signed for Liverpool from Coventry City. Looking back, what advice would you give to your 20-year-old self to help stay in a good frame of mind?

When I was younger it wasn’t an issue, all I wanted to do was play football. It wasn’t until I got into my 30s that I started to struggle mentally. So, I wish there was help around back then at the clubs I was at because no doubt I would have sought professional help.

Who was your sporting idol when you were growing up?

My sporting idol was Steve Ogrizovic at Coventry City. Just seeing the way he trained and how he handled himself on and off the pitch, I learnt a lot from him and we still speak regularly to this day.

What was the most memorable save you made?

My most memorable save was against Nicolas Anelka at Chelsea for Wigan. I managed to scramble and lean back to tip a header over the bar at an important time of the game.

Goalkeepers can be highly scrutinised by fans and the media for their performances. Loris Karius being a recent example. Porto’s Iker Casillas defended the young German by uploading a highlights reel of his own mistakes in solidarity. What is the best advice you received during your playing days?

Keepers will make mistakes, always have, always will, just forget about it and save the next one.

What would you say to any goalkeeper playing under this level of pressure?

You have to try and switch off away from football. Family life is vitally important and the most important thing is if you are happy off the pitch you are happy on it and vice-versa.

As an ex-professional footballer physical activity was obviously a big part of your daily routine. What does your exercise regime consist of today?

I’m still very active. I power walk with my dog most days for 6 miles, I go the gym 3-4 times a week, play golf and obviously the GK training at Liverpool and my academy keeps me very active.

What are you listening to or watching at the moment?

I listen to all chart music and country music. We are watching Shooter on Netflix at the minute.

What have you learned about yourself over the past five or so years?

I’ve learnt that times can seem unbelievably hard but if you talk through your problems there is a way out if you want it enough and obviously how important my wife, daughter, friends and dog are to me.

What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?

Perfect day would be an early morning walk with my dog, a nice bacon butty for breakfast, go out somewhere with my family and then cook a big roast for tea.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

I’m most grateful for still being here and having a great family and friends.

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