Dunstan Bruce of Interrobang

The ex-Chumbawamba frontman tells us why he’s supporting MHF Live.

Tell us why you are supporting MHF Live

Around about the age of 50 I hit a low point, I disappeared down a hole and clammed up completely.

It was so unhealthy. I was completely stuck.

At the time I remember announcing proudly to everyone “I’m a 50 year old man; I’m not going to change now”. I was struggling and proudly internalising all my anguish and self-loathing and inability to communicate. It was dreadful.

Luckily for me I had some really good people around me. I had creative outlets to deal with my condition and supportive friends who helped me through. I was lucky. I was able to open up and express myself and be given self-worth and value and a reason again. Not everyone is. Not everyone can do those things, not everyone has those beautiful, helpful, patient people to turn to.

I love the idea of MHF Live. Having released an album with my (relatively new) band, Interrobang, that talks endlessly about where I am at in the world, how I feel, what problems I have and how I can best combat them, MHF Live is such an obvious project to be involved with.

I’ve had conversations with so many friends of my generation who are struggling with anxieties and mental health issues that this seems like such a necessary and helpful organisation. I just want to be part of the chorus, if I can help people get help - because I know what a f***er it is out there – then I’ll be happy.

What’s your earliest musical memory?

I was given a Top Of The Pops album at the age of about 10 which had a version of Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child on it which absolutely blew my tiny mind. This was the first time I played air guitar [and possibly the last]. I played it over and over and over. It amazed and intrigued me. What was it? Who was this man? What the f**k was he doing with that guitar?

And then f**k me! Alice Cooper and David Bowie came along with School’s Out and then Ziggy. I was hooked! This is weird and wonderful! What’s happening to me? I thought. A man with a woman’s name! A man wearing make up! Singing about getting out of school. An androgynous man wearing weird clothes. It was irresistible to me. I was in.

What does music do for your mental health?

I’m actually careful what I listen to and when because I’m well aware of how different music affects me. A few years ago I really got into this one particular Bella Hardy album, With The Dawn. It’s heart-wrenchingly painful and sad and gorgeous and beautiful and boy did it f**k with my mental state! It became a barometer for how I was feeling. Can I put Bella on? Or is that too dangerous? Am I strong enough to listen to this? Or should I give it a miss?

I really started to think about what I listened to and when. How many times can you listen to Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree? Knowing it’s linked in some way to the death of his son? Or Bowie’s Darkstar album knowing he died so close to its release? So I moderate what I listen to and when.

Being on tour and sharing our music, I realised that I listen to a lot of moody, morose music [I was also a massive Smiths fan back in the 80s] so it’s been a constant in my listening pleasure; misery and that. But I’m aware and I’m careful. In the 90s I was listening to handbag house every weekend; the opposite end of the spectrum and that made me feel as though I could turn the world upside down just like punk had in the 70s.

I use music. It’s the most visceral, powerful thing. It has saved me time and time again.

Who is the musician who has most inspired you?

Patti Smith probably more than any other musician has been with me for the past 40 years. Yeah, we fall out some times but that’s inevitable in a relationship that lasts that long and sometimes we get bored of each other and we drift apart but then she’ll turn up in Brighton and I’ll take someone to see her who has never seen her before and they’ll be blown away and I’ll be back in love all over again.

Specifically though John Grant’s album Pale Green Ghosts completely inspired me to write an album’s worth of painfully personal songs that ripped the lid off my life, my state of mind and became my first step on some sort of road to recovery. It was such a cathartic experience and I really believe that if I hadn’t heard John’s incredibly brutally personal break up album I would never have been brave enough to write my own.

What makes you happy?

  • Falling in love
  • Making Lola laugh
  • Being on stage shouting in [guitarist] Griff’s ear
  • The creative process going well
  • Kindness, generosity, big hearts
  • Being loved

What’s the best sound in the world?

When Lenny was little his laugh was easily the best sound in the whole world ever.

And the worst?

Oh Trump. Easily.

What song is in your head just now?

I was just editing my film and I managed to squeeze some Dexys Midnight Runners into the soundtrack which I am absolutely delighted about so I have “There, There My Dear” going round my head. That said I’m now listening to Bowie’s Blackstar album on the train home which is a remarkable piece of work. In my opinion, obviously. That’s in my ears.

Please tell us about (and share) a piece of music that has had an impact on your mental health. 

I’m a tad reluctant to blah on about my own Interrobang album but honestly, it was such a cathartic experience writing and performing that album that I have got to say that it has really helped me come out of a dark place. I kinda feel like performing it is a way of saying goodbye to that version of myself.

There’s a track on there called Curmudgeon which is about being stuck in one mind-set that I can’t get out of, falling into familiar patterns, being trapped by my own perceived limitations and inheriting stuff from my dad. I think I’ve managed to tackle those things and have come out of the other side. Some days I find myself back there, obviously, but taking things one day at a time I’m usually glass-half-full doing alright.

Dunstan will be fundraising for MHF Live at his gigs in Leeds, Newcastle and Nottingham in April 2019. Get tickets here.

Does music help your mental health?

Does music give you a release? Do you have a passion for rock, pop, soul, garage or grime? Could you put on an event to share your passion and raise awareness, raise money and raise the roof for mental health? MHF Live is the Mental Health Foundation's new live music fundraising event.

Find out about MHF Live