INTERVIEW: Ms Humdrum talks to Tonic Ska Choir at Victorious Festival

By Carron Stacey

WHERE?: Southsea Common (press ticket)

WHEN?: 23 – 25/8/19

During my stint as a reporter at Victorious Festival last month, one of my highlights was to interview two people who work for the charity Tonic Music for Mental Health’s Ska Choir.

  • Read on for reasons including where to join the Tonic Ska Choir

Started only in April this year, the Tonic Ska Choir has grown in membership from 14 to over 40, and was rewarded with a front page splash and inside spread in the local newspaper earlier this month.

The charity Tonic Music for Mental Health toyed with the idea for a little while, says Leonie Tremain, group leader.

“It’s funded by The Specials, which is incredible.” (The Specials donated their Encore album launch proceeds to start up the choir.) “We have members in the choir that are huge die-hard Specials fans. To know that they have not only the support but the financial backing from one of their biggest inspirations is amazing for them.”

Leonie explains that you don’t have to be able to sing; you can be completely tone deaf and you can still join. “It’s all about confidence building and safe spaces for people to come (to). Vulnerable people can come and enjoy themselves, relax and recover through music.”

At the festival this year, the choir performed You’re Wondering Now and A Message to You Rudy by The Specials, alongside Jimmy Cliff’s You Can Get It If You Really Want, The Melodian’s Sweet Sensation (which is a favourite of the choir according to Leonie), a mash-up of The Specials’ Monkey Man into Desmond Dekker’s Israelites, ending on The Pioneers’ Let Your Yeah Be Yeah

The Tonic Ska Choir is just one of the offshoots of Tonic Music for Mental Health not-for-profit organisation, which also runs free workshops in the community with the aim of recovery through arts.

Jason Gale, musical director, says of the choir performing at Victorious in the Beats and Swing tent, “It’s a wicked opportunity to do something positive, to get involved with something you wouldn’t necessarily get involved with otherwise. So similarly with the workshops that I run at Tonic, a lot of those people wouldn’t leave the house if it wasn’t for those workshops. I think the choir is just a bigger version of those workshops. There are so many people that don’t leave the house and I’ve seen their faces when they’re performing and they’re having the time of their life and once it’s over, they want to do it again. They just love it.”

Jason arranges and creates backing tracks for the choir, buying only a few. They aim to own all of the covers eventually. 

Leonie explains how positive the music is. “The message in ska music is always positive and uplifting, so people just love it. It makes people feel happy.” This is something I’ve always found with ska music. Certainly the 2 Tone wave of ska music promoted racial harmony amid tensions in the 70s and 80s, with multiracial line-ups in bands such as The Beat, The Specials and The Selecter. Alive by Dub Pistols, also supporters of the Tonic Ska Choir, and who also performed at Victorious this year, after The Specials, contains the lyrics “Cause you are alive, and you will survive, so, get ready to ride” continuing on with telling us not to be stressed, that we are blessed, and to stay cool so our bodies can dance. There’s a lot that can be taken from these words. 

As well as the inspirational patrons and raison d’etre of ska music, music and singing themselves can be beneficial to our wellbeing. Music can affect pain management, sleep quality is improved and a study found that music helped participants achieve a better mood and become more self-aware.

All of this overlaps with findings that music therapy can be used to treat depression and anxiety. In fact, community group singing appears to have a significant effect on the mental health of the older population – surely this must be true for all ages?

We sing when we’re little. Look at singing assemblies in school, whether it be traditional songs or hymns, or a recent chart hit. Who doesn’t like to sing with their friends at social gatherings, once some of the social inhibitions have been removed? Singing brings us together.

It’s known that it is a physical workout, by strengthening both your posture and your immune system. With such physical, social and psychological benefits, it’s no wonder choirs like this are growing in numbers and emerging everywhere.

Portsmouth Choir sessions are held, free, every Tuesday from 7.45pm to 9pm at St Margaret’s Church, Haslemere Road, Southsea.

@TonicMusicForMentalHealth, @thespecials, @dub.pistols, @beats&swing,@VictoriousFestival

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