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Andy Franks knows the industry inside out having worked as a sound engineer, monitor engineer, stage manager, production manager, tour manager and tour director. His life in the fast lane working with the likes of Depeche Mode, Coldplay, Robbie Williams and The Rolling Stones (to name a few) has seen him at the pinnacle of the industry. After developing an addiction to alcohol that ultimately saw him getting fired from a tour Andy decided in 2016 to set up charity ‘Music Support’ to help others within the music industry who struggle with mental health or addiction.
Hi Andy! Thanks so much for talking to me today! You founded the brilliant charity ‘Music Support’ back in 2016 – What was it that inspired you to take action in this way?
Well I had been working in the music business for 40 years and was a tour manager for about 30 of them. I finally got fired for my alcoholism and I really struggled to try and find a way to get help. I didn’t know who to turn to and kind of felt that it was my own problem and when I got sacked they said you need to sort yourself out, and I thought ‘well how do I do that?’ When I got sober I thought that I needed to try and help other people who were in a similar position and as luck would have it I bumped into Matt Thomas. We were just chatting about what we were up to and I told him I was thinking about setting up a charity and he said he was thinking of doing the same! We joined forces with a couple of other people and very quickly realised we wanted to get something up and running so we launched and away we went!
I’ve read that in the early days of the charity you were manning the helplines yourselves – were you shocked at the type, and quantity, of calls that you were receiving?
Yeah, I think when we first started, as with all these things, we were making it up very much as we went along so we didn’t know how many calls we were going to get. I’m not trained in any way but at that time it’s what we had to do! We found out very quickly that just having somebody on the end of the phone that understood the pressures and the problems that people have to go through cut through so much. It took away all of that disbelief and scepticism and trying to convince people; in the music industry you’re touring around the world with multinational acts and staying in five star hotels and flying on private jets, people think ‘what’s not to love about that?’ Of course, it’s absolutely true, what’s not to like? It’s great when it’s great but when it’s not it’s not. Being able to speak to people was a great thing, and luckily we also had access to therapists and people that we knew that understood about the music business so it was kind of a snowball effect really; we could put people in touch and then we got more people that wanted to help. I started going to festivals in the first year of ‘Music Support’ and people were so desperate for something like this; you could see that there was a momentum and a need for it, so from that point of view it was a no brainer. The actual running of it and how we were going to finance it and deal with phone calls in the middle of the night was another thing. Now we are six years down the line, who would’ve thought!
Not only does the charity run helplines, you also provide Mental Health First Aid Training and Addiction and Recovery workshops. How crucial do you think it is that people are able to educate themselves so that they are able to offer more support to those around them, and themselves?
I think it’s really important. We’ve got Norman Beecher and Hannah Brinley who do all of our mental health first aid training and are absolutely amazing. If anybody is thinking about going on the course it’s four sessions over a couple of days or weeks and they’re both such brilliant practitioners that make you feel welcome and understood. When you think of first aid you see St Johns Ambulance people at gigs, you see medical people with a red cross at every concert now. When I first started there weren’t things like that. Our stuff is very much for the people working there and touring, not that I’m sure there aren’t people in the audience with mental health problems and addiction, but we want to be more specific and help people in our industry to get to a point where most tours will have mental health first aid training. Within the next few years it will probably become the norm in any big organisation in the same way that you have to have medical first aiders, for the mind as well as the body because it’s just as important. So much productivity is lost because of people having mental health or addiction issues. It's accepted that people think ‘they’ll just get over it’ or not wanting to deal with it. In our industry it’s difficult to be off sick but if you work at a record company or a management company and don’t want to come into work because you’ve got issues at home, if you had someone you could talk to in the office 1 on 1 it would help, so I think it will become more of the norm. When we started it was a very different thing but now with the mental health first aid training there’s an awareness and people want to get involved. Younger people coming in kind of expect to have those things and people looking out for them.
The music industry seems to have a reputation for mental health struggles that surpasses any other. From your experience within the industry, and now with the charity, what do you think it is about this particular industry that sees so many struggle?
I think the pressure that you are under to produce. There’s so much riding on it. When you go to a gig to watch a band you want it to be their best show they’ve ever done but for people working if you’ve had a horrendous day or you’ve got marital problems you have to try and forget all of that and put a brave face on. All the technicians backstage have to create this unbelievable spectacle and it has to happen on time. You’re dealing with all the latest technology and all this new equipment and you don’t know if it will work and there’s all these kinds of things that could potentially go wrong and if it does go wrong you’ve got to fix it so the audience doesn’t know. You go through this entire thing and then go somewhere else and do it again – what idiot would do that! You know, you’re constantly under pressure and at some point if you’ve got an issue or can’t deal with it you’ll end up thinking about how you can relax; you get on the bus or go to the hotel and have a few drinks or do some drugs trying to get through it. How can you work out that kind of stuff when your brain is fried? If there’s a problem with a light you may go and try and fix it and if you can’t you’d get someone else to have a look but when there’s something going on in your head what do you do? You get drunk or off your face, then you sober up and wake up the next day with a hangover and feel awful and still have to do your job, and lo and behold the problem hasn’t gone away. You need to have support out there that can help and that you feel confident that you can speak to someone and they have your back. You’re moving around the world in this little travelling group of people that hasn’t got a base – like going away with the circus. It’s like a psychosis; you have to be out on the road then when you come back you don’t know how to deal with your normal life.
The pandemic has been extremely tough on people’s mental health. Have you seen an impact on the amount of people seeking your support?
Initially the call rate went down a little bit because people were at home and they didn’t really have the opportunity to make calls because their family were around or they weren’t sure how to deal with it. If you’ve got mental health problems and you’re at home all the time you’re under the spotlight and it’s hard to hide so that became a pressure. Then people started to worry about money and the business and whether it would ever come back. A lot of people left the business. The music industry is a fantastic thing of putting on these spectacles and shows but no one looks after the people working on them. People who work for companies were being furloughed but in the music industry there wasn’t any guarantee of furlough, you had to apply for it and some people would get it and others didn’t. It was a very difficult thing and people decided to leave the industry, earn less money but be home in the evenings. Now the pandemic is getting less suddenly there’s a dilemma as to whether to go back and go through all of that again or just to stay away from it, and some people are going back and then aren’t sure if they can handle it, wondering if they would be able to do it. With the loss of touring for a while there’s also so many going on this year and next year, people may have two of their clients out touring at the same time and they feel ‘I have to look after both of them otherwise they may not want me’. There’s pressure left right and centre and it never goes away. When you struggle to think clearly you can’t deal with that pressure.
When you set up the charity in 2016 did you imagine that six years later it would be where it is now, and what would you expect, and hope to see another six years into the future?
If we’d have known how difficult it was to set the whole thing up I’m not sure we would have! It was three or four years of really hard work! People maybe think ‘you’re in the charity because you’re getting some money’ or that it’s some great side gig or something! I mean I got paid back for some printing I did in the first two or three months and that’s the only money I’ve ever received from this charity after six years! It’s a difficult thing to get going and a complicated thing because when you start dealing with people’s mental health there are so many hoops to jump through, and quite rightly! You’re taking care of people so you need to make sure you have all the safeguards in place and again we had no idea of all that stuff. Now we have three full time members of staff and loads of helpers. We’ve got fantastic support and we’ve got people who donate money. In 6 or 7 years time I’d like to have proper funding!
For any of our readers who want to help out ‘Music Support’ – what is the best way for them to do it?
People can get involved with volunteering to help out at our “festival Safe hubs” backstage places for Band, crew or whoever works at the festival, to have a safe space. People can also help us to fundraise, donate to us or by attending, and/or spreading the word about our Mental Health First Aid and Addiction Awareness Courses
Finally, one thing we ask all of our interviewees is to name a top three songs that relate to mental health. What would be your top three?
You’re Not Alone – Cathal Smyth
Between Dark and Dawn – Nick Lowe
Almost Blue – Chet Baker
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