Barry Ashworth on the impact of Covid on the mental health of musicians | notice | Opinion
Dub Pistols frontman Barry Ashworth exploded a fortune on his drug deal with Geffen in the 2000s and was previously named Caner of the Year by Muzik magazine.
Ahead of his third fundraising walk, he discusses his recovery, as well as the music industry’s issues with mental health, addiction and suicide.
Music has always had a long history with artists and teams suffering from mental health problemswhether it’s alcohol and drug abuse, performance anxiety, or the constant pressure to be the best.
Another important factor in this regard is the strains of touring and burnout. So many artists suffer from mental health issues with the ups and downs, touring and late nights and generally the lifestyle. I have witnessed it firsthand.
Suicide is another major problem in our industry, certainly after The death of Keith Flint and during the Covid. It has been isolation and not knowing what the future really holds. It really hit me that if I can be affected then a lot of people can be badly affected as well.
I started working in clubs in my early twenties, organizing different parties. It was stressful – one day you have a lot of money and all it takes is a bad night and you lost everything. There was drink, drugs, and late nights. Anxiety, paranoia, and descent put you in a headspace of negativity and make you really vulnerable.
I lost some friends. There was an addiction in my family and one of our relatives overdosed and died on the couch with us one night. I once received the Caner of the Year award from Muzik Magazine, but I didn’t want to take it because I didn’t want to be responsible for just one person starting to use drugs. What I chose to do with my own life was my decision. I knew the effect it had on me and the damage it had on others.
My relationship with drugs has cost me dearly. That was the reason I blew up the money from my seven-figure deal with Geffen Records. It was 2001, our Dub Pistols record was in the US charts and it all started to implode. Our Six Million Ways To Live record was canceled, the tour was interrupted and we lost everything. We came back to the UK broken, we couldn’t get another deal, we had no money and were addicted to alcohol and drugs.
A lot of people who I thought were my friends have stopped calling. It was a huge wake-up call. A friend had a note and said to me: ‘Barry, you need help’, I managed to turn the tide in two years.
The arts and hospitality industry had a horrible year financially, being the first to be confined and the longest confined. This had a huge effect on many artists and crews mentally, who had their livelihoods but also their identities taken away.
Over the past year I have spoken to artists and you can hear the desperation in their voices
Over the past year I have spoken to artists and you can hear the desperation in their voices, the anxiety and the stress levels. So many people are living on a knife-edge with their finances and they have lost their livelihoods. There weren’t many people whose sanity was not affected. A lot of people don’t know what the future holds, and of course, it’s going to have a psychological effect on you. People lost their sense of their worth and it broke them.
Someone close to me committed suicide, and these stories kept passing by, as if they were the case every day with someone committing suicide. I called people everyday to check on them, and a lot of them couldn’t talk to me because they were in such a dark place. I got into myself last year too and found out for the first time that I felt paralyzed and numb in my mind.
People always say you should reach out and let people know. The problem is, when you enter this state, you can’t actually speak; you don’t want to talk, you pull out and it’s very hard to get by.
Everyone needs to feel good, but you can’t always feel good. For each top, there is a bottom; some people’s lows are much deeper than others. You just have to be able to look after each other.
I got involved with Tonic Music about eight years ago. I met the The founder of Tonic Steph Langan and we talked about helping people recover through music and how it can uplift you. I heard about their workshops, helped with fundraising and when they asked me to be a patron, I jumped at the chance.
When people shut up, that’s when you need to start worrying about them. Therefore the Toned jumper launching the program during lockdown really made the difference. I use the Tonic program to focus, keep busy, and help me feel like I’m doing something right. Over the years, I have done parachute jumps, charity concerts, streaming concerts, and auctions.
I wanted to do something I had never done before, I’m a bit of a thrill-seeker, so when I decided to do a wing walk two years ago, it was just me. It went really well and I thought it would be great to make it an annual event, invite some of my industry colleagues and see if we can raise some more money then we decided to form the Flying Circus and we succeeded.
This year will be the third edition of Barry’s Flying Circus, my great charity walk. I will be joined by my mate Bez, alongside 40 wingers, on September 28-29 and the two of us aim to raise £ 80,000!
Doing the Tonic Rider peer groups, led by musician and psychotherapist Adam Ficek, was a revelation. We took a trip with optimistic people one week, down the next. Right now the whole mental health issue is huge and it won’t go away even now that events start to return to normal.
Our fundraising with the Wing Walk will allow the Tonic Rider program to continue to provide free and direct mental health support to professionals in the music industry, through peer support groups, d ‘Mental health first aid training and musical performance anxiety workshops, among other services, as well as online resources and site support this year and beyond.
We are still on the road to recovery, but the problem now is funding. With the cost of Covid and Brexit, there is a huge gap at a time when it is needed more than ever. But it’s amazing how generous people are – it’s overwhelming and heartwarming to get that support from people.
We hope that people will do what they can and give what they can, however small. And if they need help, then the Tonic Music For Mental Health charity is here for them.
Click on here for Barry Ashworth’s Just Giving page.
Click on here for help and advice from Tonic Music.