David Williams

9 months ago   |   Words: Wes Pilgrimage

Inspiration hits when we come across figures who fulfil their potential, regardless of difficult personal circumstances. David Williams is one of those people. The young Liverpool entrepreneur has fended off debilitating bouts of anxiety and depression to grow two of the city’s most popular businesses – food hall Baltic Market and culinary magazine, Independent Liverpool. He also finds time to document his mental health experiences on his blog The Secret We All Share. We caught up with David to chat food trends, self criticism and Sister Sledge. 

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

Honestly? Love Island. No, I’m only kidding (partially). At the moment I’m reading ‘The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck’ by Mark Manson. It’s incredible. It teaches you that unhappiness is found in the search to be better, richer, skinnier and more and that if life gives you lemons, learn to like them. It has done wonders for me. I’m also watching The Staircase on Netflix, a murder mystery about a woman found mysteriously at the bottom of stairs.

Where’s the sweet spot between a healthy but tasty meal? What dishes would you recommend that tick both boxes?

For me I can’t get enough of a falafel bowl from Hafla Hafla at Baltic Market. It’s full of falafel, salad, charred peppers, couscous, spicy dips, yoghurts and more. It’s absolutely packed full of veggies, vitamins and all that other good stuff but feels naughty.

Do you think people are getting more adventurous with their eating habits? If so, what is influencing that?

Massively. I think social media has played a huge part in this but also it’s a natural progression from a multi-cultural society. We’re not only so lucky to live in a multicultural society in Liverpool but also to embrace it. On Bold Street for example you could travel the world through food whilst walking down one street. It’s that sense of intrigue to start new stuff that makes people want to try.

What are you favourite places to eat in the UK?

That’s such a good and hard question. For me though my favourites have to be: Maray, Mowgli, Neon Jamon, Little Furnace and I better stop before I keep going/order a takeaway.

What do you predict to be the next food trends? 

The next food trend will be Korean food. If there isn’t a Korean BBQ concept in Liverpool in the next couple years I’ll be so shocked. Also, South American street food is becomingly very popular as it’s very vibrant and largely vegan.

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

I’d say the hardest thing I’ve ever had to overcome was life after my first ever panic attack. Whilst it was happening I had no idea what was happening, I honestly thought I had gone insane. Life hasn’t really been the same since that day… some good ways and some bad. I slumped into a crazy depression after it and spent every minute I was awake trying to stop myself having another panic attack. I cut all friends out my life and spent months in my bed and trapped in my head. Funnily enough it was Independent Liverpool that helped me overcome it. It got me out the house, meeting people and writing about my experiences was so lovely. Isn’t it funny how the worst thing in my life led to the best thing? I think that’s why Independent Liverpool means so much to me. It literally saved me. Not a lot of people know that.

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

I’ve spent my whole life being so incredibly overly critical of myself. In many ways I’ve been my own worst enemy and it can be hard. I’m slowly learning to be my own best friend again and to stop myself in my long-drawn thought processes that spiral out of control and to remind myself I’m a good person doing good things. I think I also learned that I’ve actually been suffering from depression and anxiety my whole life and it’s not a recent thing and the problems started within the family at a young age. But the older you get the more you realise your parents are just people trying to get by, trying to give you the best life they have with whatever resources they’ve got. That animosity towards a hard start in life can eat you alive unless you release it.

What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?

I’m a big believer in it’s not what you do, it’s who you’re with. As long as I’m with friends, girlfriend or family that’s always a pretty good start. A perfect day for me though would be a huge cycle in the morning, a cup of coffee and a walk around Sefton Park in the afternoon and then a pub quiz with my mates or to go camping. Nothing like a date with nature to sort you out. Either that or a day of cooking. I absolutely adore cooking. See, I don’t ask for much!

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

My job. I’m so lucky I get to talk about the city I love, meet interesting people every day and help local businesses achieve their dream. That is just the most incredible feeling for me. Also, having an audience we can encourage to be open about mental health and notify them about organisations yourself.

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

Feeling content. Happiness isn’t something that is given, it’s earned and if you can manage to enjoy the little things in life, it goes a big way.

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

I try to cycle to and from work as much as possible. If I don’t cycle I try to walk it instead. I’m also doing a couch to 10k at the moment and despite the lycra and crippling pain – it’s going alright. I could definitely do more though. My day is so much better when exercise is involved.

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?

A big thing for me was playing kerby as a kid. I think I’d still be outside playing that now if it weren’t for my Mum calling me in each night. I was lucky enough to live on a street with loads of kids a similar age to me so we’d ride bikes, play cricket, play footy and then end it with kerby at the end of the day. Those summers felt like forever, the days felt so long and times felt so innocent. There was nothing on my mind apart from throwing the ball at a kerb. I miss those days.

What three songs lift your spirits?

Sister Sledge – Thinkin’ Of You
Earth Wind & Fire – September
Sweet Female Attitude – Flowers

(who knew I had such guilty pleasures, eh?)

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

Talking is the biggest thing. Obviously it doesn’t fix everything overnight but sharing a problem with someone who’s willing to listen who obviously cares does wonders for the mind. I always say to people helping someone with depression isn’t about changing the metaphorical storm they’re under, it’s about holding up the umbrella once in a while. Depression and anxiety slaughters our vitality and our want to do things so I always try push friends to get out the house, go for a walk, see an old friend or go for a cycle to get the happy hormones going again.

Zuton Fever: Dave McCabe on working it out

4 weeks ago   |   Words: Ste Turton   |   Photography: Phil Bridges

Sundays have changed a bit for Dave McCabe. Straight from a gym session of spinning ‘and a load of weights’, the charismatic musician’s looking fresh, as he settles into a booth at Love & Rockets, Lark Lane, for a chat about The Zutons’ upcoming tour. With rehearsals booked for this evening and a potentially sweaty 90 minutes watching his title-chasing Liverpool this afternoon, it’s not what you’d call a traditional day of rest. Dave’s happy with the loaded schedule.

“The fitness helps your voice, it helps your brain. It’s not like I’m looking dead skinny and great. But I’m seeing a personal trainer twice, sometimes three times a week. Riding me bike into town. It helps, you know, doing bits.”

Besides one fundraising gig three years back for the tragic loss of close friend Kristian Ealey, The Zoots haven’t been on stage together for a decade. Kicking-off ten UK headline gigs this month to celebrate the fifteen-year release of debut LP Who Killed…The Zutons?, McCabe recently made a conscious decision to live a cleaner, more productive life.

“This is me one beer all weekend, I’ve cut right down. The main thing is staying off the ale, getting up early in the morning, doing your warm-ups, all that shit. You’ve got loads to do to keep you distracted once the tour starts, but the hard work’s done in the practice room. You can’t  just go into rehearsal feeling dead weird and hungover. I’ve been having fits of tears, I don’t know why. They only last about two seconds and I used to put it down to the hangovers. But I’ve realised it’s always about stuff I like. A song I like. It’s never crying because I’m bitter, or angry. It’s always positive. It’s always about beautiful stuff.”

It’s been a hectic and emotional few months all round. Since announcing the reunion before Christmas, the band have been busy behind the closed doors of Elevator Studios, re-discovering their rhythm and timing. Alongside its catchy melodies and hooks, Who Killed…The Zutons? is an album filled with trepidation and uncertainty. Tracks like Zuton Fever and Pressure Point, in particular, grapple with unwanted and inexplicable anxieties. What was going through the frontman’s young mind, when he penned the lyrics?

“I was kinda just growing up. You’re seeing your dream come to life because we’d already been signed and started the album. You take a step back, loads of stuff comes out and you start cleaning your emotional pipes.”

“If you’re in a band you’ve got to be like that. In terms of songs and expressing yourself, you’ve gotta be honest or no one else will connect with it.”

Reconnecting with his bandmates seems to be providing as much enjoyment as re-visiting their back catalogue. At a time when some of Dave’s nearest have been battling ill-health, the comfort of his familiar crew has been a timely blessing.

“Back in the big bed, and I’ve only had one argument with Boyan” (Chowdhury, guitar) he laughs. “It’s been really good, everyone’s been dead nice. It was all about me and Sean (Payne, drums) getting on. We’re the driving force, if you will. Pair of narks, the ones who go home and think about shit.”

With Abi Harding back on sax, it’s only Russell Pritchard missing from the original lineup. The La’s/Cast’s Jay Lewis picks up bass duty, while Neil Bradley’s introduced on keys; adding a different dimension not only to the Zutons’ trademark stuff, but also new material the re-shaped collective are working on.

“There’s about twenty songs that I like, bits of songs. They all need finishing. It feels good, the ones we’ve done. Feels like it’s moved forward with Neil being there. There’s more percussion. Bit less sax, more harmonies. I’ve known Jay and Neil since I was about 17, they’ve got the right personalities.”

It’s been a long time coming, but McCabe seems to have struck a harmony in both his recreational and occupational realms. With an eye on the mounted television showing the Liverpool match, and his fingers stuck into a post-workout recovery batch of chicken wings, he’s as relaxed as a Reds fan can be right now. But as any football fan knows, a one-nil lead can be precarious, especially for an outfit with attacking tendencies. Does he see his controlled streak continuing, during and after the tour?

“We’ve done loads of partying in the past. The main thing for me is laying off, not going crazy for days on end. The best advice for anyone not to drink is to keep busy, replace it with other stuff. Give it a chance to feel better. Get over the boredom and all that.”

The singer’s honesty won’t come as a surprise to those who know him. An open book with a real interest in the human condition; even during his wildest periods, McCabe always had a self awareness and desire to find inner calm.

“I think maybe the main thing with any kind of anxiety is realising something in your head is creating stress. A lot of the problems I’ve had in my life have been stress related. Luckily for me I’ve known it’s stress, or been in a group where someone’s been able to point out to me ‘look, you’re stressed’. Some people go months… years, without knowing that. And it has bad results. I’ve seen mates break down crying, just over feeling anxious. I don’t find it hard to gab about anxiety or stress any more. I did when I was younger. More and more people are suffering from it. It’s normal to talk.”

Whether it’s been solo shows or with other bands – including Silent K, which he’s still a member – Dave’s never stopped gigging. But the last time the Zutons topped the bill, Barack Obama had just been elected president, Instagram had yet to be created and Michael Jackson was still alive. Does the prospect of going out there, to a potentially different environment and audience, bring with it additional nerves or fears?

“It’s more about the singing really at the moment, hitting the high notes. But you’ve gotta have nerves, the old cliche is true, and I always did. It’s a good thing. If you just go on and you’re not nervous you’re usually knackered and do a shit gig.”

And what about young artists starting out, putting bands together? With the shift to streaming and the ability for musicians to monetise their talent seemingly more difficult than when McCabe signed his first record deal, does he have any advice for newcomers?

“If you don’t know the difference and you really wanna do it, you’ll find a way. Just keep doing it. The main thing is just enjoying it, that’s what I’ve always thought from the off. It’s nice to make a living out of music, but if you don’t enjoy it there’s no point in doing it.”

True to his word he declines numerous offers of another drink, instead nursing one Guinness for the duration of the conversation, switching to water after polishing off his grub. On the 60 minute mark with Liverpool still leading, he decides to dart off and watch the rest of the game at home, unnecessarily apologising for wanting to grab an hours kip before band duties.

It’s a wiser McCabe; one that’s learnt from experiences and past disappointments. After a rollercoaster conclusion to the match his team have returned to the top of the league, too. Hopefully where they’ll remain.

Inner Space – Strawberry Guy

1 month ago   |   Words: Phil Bridges   |   Photography: Phil Bridges

It’s Sunday afternoon and musician Alex Stephens is welcoming me into his shared flat in Liverpool’s Georgian Quarter via a pillared porch. He’s friendly, wearing bright white socks only a creative in their early twenties or a retired racket sports enthusiast could pull off. Communal furniture lines wide Hitchcockian hallways, as we ascend to the third floor exchanging observations about the wind. Grade II listed, Catherine House operated in the 1800s as a ‘House of Rest’ for women suffering from incurable chronic diseases. It’s the type of building that instantly restores your faith in ghosts. Cloaked in light, Alex’s top floor flat is a spacious museum of arts and culture. An organ sits in the corner, zines fill a coffee table and polaroids decorate the high walls.   

A week earlier, I received a message from Alex, who performs as Strawberry Guy, stating he’d like to talk to The Mind Map about his experiences of supporting family members through their respective mental health struggles. A close family member was sectioned when Alex was 13 and has endured a series of subsequent mental health problems.

“Visiting family straight after a breakdown can be quite hard as that’s often the worst stage of the illness. High episodes can quickly turn into anger.”

Now 22, Alex is a humorous character, yet understandably pensive as he relates the memories. You can almost sense them being broadcasted between his blonde, curtained hair.

“I remember kind of erratic behaviour. Sometimes during a manic episode they’d be talking in different languages and getting confused with who I was.”

He explains how he and his 11-year-old sister would be dropped off alone to visit family at psychiatric units across South Wales, prompting me to wonder if the pair received any counselling or support at school.

“I did get offered counselling but at the time I didn’t like the idea of talking to a stranger. Also, I’m an atheist now but was quite religious at the time. I remember feeling religion was like a support blanket. I’d probably recommend people in a similar situation get counselling, or at least speak to a friend.

“I was conscious of how strange it must have all been for my younger sister, so I felt I had to kind of help her and be strong for her. My parents had just divorced, so I had to play a fatherly role I guess in a way.”

As Alex goes on to explain how extreme mental illness runs throughout his family, I ask if this affects how he reflects on his own mental health: “I remember growing up thinking when I was sad or down it could be something serious. However, my mental health has always been pretty good, fortunately.

“I think the biggest thing for me staying mentally well is to just be comfortable with myself. I don’t want to make this a big thing, but I cross dressed for years on my own, I didn’t tell anyone until I was 18 and that was like a big secret and it kind of kept me feeling on edge like I was burdened by it. It didn’t make me happy whereas since opening up it’s made me happy and comfortable within myself which I think is important.”

With renewed discussions about masculinity being in crisis – suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK – and patriarchal structures having been slowly shaken over four waves of feminism, does Alex feel it’s easy to be man in 2019?

“In some respects I feel very lucky that the social context, especially in cities makes it easier for people to be themselves.  I’m just a guy, a straight guy that likes dressing up in clothes and that’s it, there’s nothing more too it really. It’s just my choice. My ex helped me a lot.

“Woman have been progressive in terms of gender equality and men now need to do their bit. They need to back down and let their emotions flow, so that gender equality can exist. Women are moving forward but men still need to evolve. Like if women choose to have short hair, or wear suits, it’s considered normal, but if a guy was to walk down the street in a dress, people would think it strange.”

I wonder about Alex’s experiences of creating music in all male bands: “I think you have the whole kind of dominance thing really. Even though it’s dressed as banter, it’s still men fighting to be dominant. That stuff, in any situation, keeps people feeling the need to be tough. You can find yourself laughing things off that have affected you deep down and that’s not beneficial and it keeps you closeted about your emotions.”

In addition to his Strawberry Guy project, Alex forms one quarter of Heavenly Records’ tropical disco band, The Orielles. Classically trained, he plays keys and co-writes. Talking to me during a break in touring, Alex tells me how he and The Orielles’ drummer Sidonie “basically live the same life.” “We live together, play in a band together and even have the same job.” I observe it’s bizzare how little money is available for indie acts these days and a smile breaks across his face. He explains amusingly how Sidonie was “working her day job when a song she’d co-written came on Radio One, getting her thinking ‘what is going on with my life!’”. The anecdote illuminates the disparity between perception and reality and how things have changed for young musicians due to streaming. As recent as the mid noughties average indie bands were receiving six figure advances to appropriate slightly better, average indie bands.

With The Orielles nearing the end of a touring cycle, Alex is now talking to record labels about releasing his Strawberry Guy recordings. The first track he put online, soothing lament ‘Without You’ received two million plays on You Tube: “I love mixing electronic synth with more orchestral instruments.”

Before I leave, Alex has one last thing to show me – a Facebook message from a fan. It thanks Alex for ‘Without You’ saying it has “calmed me down during the worst of panic attacks”. Walking up Upper Parliament Street, I reflect upon Alex as an accidental mental health advocate – subconsciously channeling his experiences through sound to support others. Sonic continuations of the hospital visits he depicted earlier. Therapy can take many forms.  

Greg, Adele and Joel of Bloom

1 month ago   |   Words: Phil Bridges   |   Photography: Phil Bridges

As Birkenhead bathes in the low March sun, broken liners await repair in the adjacent Cammell Laird shipyard. These sleeping giants are a fitting symbol of restoration as I near Bloom, the new home to mental health charity The Open Door Centre.

Opened in February, following seven years in Liscard, the charity’s new home is a cocoon of wellbeing. On entering the muralled building, muted dream-pop soundtracks bubbling curry and a wood burner crackles in a communal cafe area. Breakout spaces and therapy sheds are accessible towards the back of the tastefully renovated warehouse space. It’s the antithesis to sterile offices under flyovers and suburban clinics you might normally associate with therapy. It is 11am and the venue has just opened for a day of delivering mental health support to its 15-30 year old members. Gathered on a bench are Adele, Joel and Greg, three amiable 20 somethings, who channel their respective mental health experiences into full time roles at the charity. Over the course of our interview, The Open Door’s mantra of being a charity by young people for young people is clear.

Before we delve into a serious discussion around lived experience, the challenges young people face and therapy, I ask the interviewees to confirm their names. Joel deadpans “Joel Dipple. Nipple with a D” – propelling his colleagues into a collective belly laugh. “I genuinely never made that connection,” Greg chortles. The exchange is emblematic of how The Open Door houses vital conversations in accessible surrounds. It’s a Russian doll of depth – therapy punctuated with humour and warmth. Working on a free membership format, the charity supports young people feeling down, low, stressed or anxious, through its Computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CCBT) tool ‘Bazaar: A Marketplace For The Mind’. Visitors are guided through the eight week training with someone of a similar age and character – providing a perfect blend of human interaction and accessible online intervention.

Adele Iddison, 25, Wirral, centre co-ordinator

PB: What are your own experiences around mental health

AI: It probably all started when I was in my early teens – a bit of anxiety and depression around my brother going to the army. It wasn’t taken seriously though. It was just seen as something to kind of shake off. But it developed into this horrible depression that I tried to ignore at first until I went to uni and it all came to a head. I dropped out of uni and just felt really low with no direction. The pressure of getting work added to it. 

PB: What has helped you?

AI: I think just talking to people about it, because that was my main issue – I just never spoke to anyone about it, I think because of that experience when I was younger and it not being taken seriously. It kind of shut me up as I got older. Once I did speak out about it, how I actually really felt, which was worse than what people thought, that’s when I was taken seriously.

This job keeps me well. Helping other people has really helped me. It’s helped with my confidence as well. Also, just making sure that I’m with people. Making sure that I’m at least doing something that I enjoy at least once a week – having that balance and making sure that I have structure.

PB: What challenges do you think young people face?

AI: I think the main challenge is not being taken seriously, and that worry of “If I do tell people, will I be taken seriously? Will people want to help or will they just think I’m weird?” You know, all the stigma around it as well – I think that’s one of the main challenges. And again, finding that support. There is a lot out there but it’s more about trying to find the right kind of support. It’s very clinical, which can work for some people but a lot of people need that feeling of being able to approach people. I think that’s a challenge for young people as well.

PB: How can The Open Door Centre help young people?

AI: We’re a non-clinical service. We have the volunteer programme, so we allow people to be paired with people that have that relatability factor to them. All the volunteers have had their own experiences too, including staff too. I think that’s a really big factor that comes into it at the centre. The course that we do as well is bespoke – there’s no course out there like it. It’s unique to the centre as well, and the building with the culture side I think is presented in a way that’s accessible and creative.

Greg Edwards, 29, Wirral, operations manager

PB: What are your own experiences around mental health

GE: I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in my early twenties. It’s something I’ve always had but it became worse as I got older. Thankfully, I got treatment and support when I was living in London and my recovery started from there, and it’s been pretty good since.

PB: What has helped you?

GE: In terms of keeping well, I think with a lot of mental health issues it’s about the journey you go through. So, learning a lot about yourself, learning about your own resilience, your own trigger points. I think that’s quite important. Keeping well to me is all about self awareness and sort of trying to nip things in the bud before they become a big problem again or blow out of proportion. Living quite a busy, active life suits me and my personality. I do a lot of endurance sport events and things like that to keep me busy and keep my mind healthy. I also do a lot of music and other creative things outside of work which stops me from having too much time to worry about other things, which seems to work.

PB: What challenges do you think young people face?

GE: I would probably say the digital age has caused problems in the sense people are always able to communicate and not necessarily in a healthy way. We see a lot of issues around things like cyber bullying. You know, in the past, if you were bullied at school and you went home, the bullying stopped. Now, if you’re experiencing bullying, it can continue online, in Whats App groups for example.

There’s a lot more acceptance around mental health issues now, which is a really positive thing but I don’t think the support networks, these statutory services, have caught up with the demand, and I think the expectation of young people being able to access support immediately isn’t there. That’s a real obstacle, and I think it causes quite a lot of tension for young people.

PB: How can The Open Door Centre help young people?

GE: One of our key ambitions, and something we’ve always met, is to have no waiting lists. Offering immediate and effective support in a creative, innovative environment is kind of central to what we do. It doesn’t have to be complicated – it’s not anything secretive. It’s all about having a person-centred approach to working with people where we respond to their individualism and help them through their journey in a way that’s compassionate and supportive. Using clinical tools but in a way that’s engaged with other people. It hasn’t got the same formal approach as in some clinical services.

What we’re trying to do really is offer that choice and that opportunity to people if they want to, or they’re not feeling great. They can just come along, sign up with us, and get involved. We’ve been gradually able to support more people each year. Now, moving to the Bloom Building, we’re able to more than triple our support, which is a great step for the charity but hopefully it will help the local area more and help young people more as we see more people.

Joel Dipple, 24, Stafford, venue co-ordinator

PB: What are your own experiences around mental health?

JD: My mental health deteriorated after the death of my best mate. I don’t think it was anything you could see as long term depression or anxiety, but the grief from that was something I bottled up for probably around six months and it came to a head in a series of panic attacks. I then sought grief counselling – for a little while, which helped. I always found for me personally, the art of conversation helped me get through that stage and helps me to this day in terms of coming to terms with what happened.

What I thought would have been great for me at the time was if there was a space like this where I was, where there was a more welcoming environment than something that was clinical. I probably would have sought help far earlier than I did. Now being able to work in an environment which is so welcoming and supportive of others is something that I am quite proud to be in this environment, hopefully helping folk. Even if it is, for me, just being on the coffee shop side of things and making it a welcoming experience for people. It’s great.

PB: What challenges do you think young people face?

JD: From my own experiences, knowing where and who to talk to. I think as young people, we are far more aware of the conversation of mental health and it is far more open, but there is still always the struggle of not wanting to maybe burden friendship groups or close people with mental health issues and not knowing where a conversation can actually take place around it.

PB: How can The Open Door Centre help young people?

JD: Having a space like this where, as Greg was saying, there’s no waiting list and a conversation can happen with someone who’s trained and relatable is an amazing thing.


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