I arrive at the Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda, Melbourne and hear the strains of music welling up from the downstairs bar. The show is already in full swing and there are quite a few people out to have a good time. This is Strumarama, an event to give voice to singers and songwriters with emotional and mental health issues. It is put together by Wild@heART Community Arts.
The show bears the fruit of song writing workshops run in South Melbourne, Heidelberg and Drouin, a town in West Gippsland Victoria. The work shops are a creative place for those with emotional and mental health issues to express themselves. Performers generally have previous artistic experience and possess a commitment to develop their craft with industry mentors.
Heidi Everett, who has a disability, is a musician and runs the song writing workshops. Tonight at the Esplanade Hotel she has brought a group with her from Heidelberg.
Between acts the MC throws out the odd music trivia song inviting the audience to guess. Pink Floyd, Beatles. It's all too easy some cry.
Performers are only introduced by their first names. A pair called Jamie and Byron put out a song about a woman who mightn't be the best to encounter named
Just a Girl.
One singer tells of her visit to a jazz night at a country hotel that gave her happiness.
The room rocks to the strains of the well-known group the Bipolar Bears, accompanied by drummer Nick Seymour referred to jokingly as the janitor.
While most of the performers strum acoustic or electric guitars, one singer Steve offers a song accompanied by Heidi playing the iPhone that has pre-recorded music. As she says,
this is the face of music to come.
It is the stories of the workshop participants that really make the night. There are stories of love, hurt and their own mental health.
Naturally some songs deal with the reality of living with a mental health issue. Drugs like Diazepam and Seroquel feature prominently in their stories.
One performer introduced as Eddie picks up this theme in a cool blues number about his lithium lady.
A female singer confronts the reality of her condition singing out the words
Most of the songs are upbeat and chirpy. But one singer offers an edgy song called
Russian Roulette about her encounter with the life she sees around her.
A great night
Some of the performers are clearly nervous or hesitant but with the encouragement of an enthusiastic and supportive audience they push through to rapturous responses.
As the evening bops on there seem to be ever more people jostling into the room. The punters are out to have a good time and to celebrate the achievements of those dealing with emotional and mental health issues.
I leave the night to Heidi's band pumping out lively and positive vibes on how wonderful it is to be on the groove train.
The intention is to run the Strumarama event quarterly. I'm sure the crowd will be looking forward to the next event, and it would be no delusion to call it a great deal of fun.
The next Strumarama is at 7pm on 11 December at the Prince of Wales Hotel in St Kilda. Gold coin entry.