Learning to live again
Melissa James
15th August 2016
Learning to live again

Around two years ago I wrote a song called Live Again. The song gives voice to the often silent psychological suffering that many may recognise: feelings of isolation, loneliness, depression; wanting to speak to someone but not knowing how to find the words to articulate what’s felt. When I wrote the song - basing it on the situation of despair that I witnessed of someone close to me at that time - I could never have known then what a significant role it would play in my life now.  


A decision to record Live Again came last summer when I wanted to make a follow-up record to my first album, Day Dawns.  Recording the songs with a "stripped back" feel was a creative choice but ironically the emotional layers that had built-up and been carried over many years were gradually, and painfully, slipping away from me as a result of these acoustic studio sessions. So much has come to light as a result of hearing my voice in this modest setting of voice & guitar and voice & piano. Crucially, the meaning behind the words became more stark.  As I lived each day after recording, it became apparent to me that the person whose voice was behind the lyrics…was me.


In October last year I held a launch party for the album entitled Stripped Back which features Live Again.  It would be several months after this event that I would finally accept and understand that I was too emotionally drained and exhausted (partly from having delving therapy sessions) to actually release it. Ahead of the concert I’d asked a small group of amateur singers I work with if they would join me in singing backing vocals on Live Again. Inspired by this performance, my imagination was alight with images of me singing the song in a public space. Later, it made sense that the purpose of the public performance would be to convey a positive message on mental - or mind - health.

Almost as confirmation that this vision should be pursued, it seemed that at every turning I was hearing stories which demonstrated how many were bearing the brunt – sometimes covertly – of a mind-related illness on some level. On a morning when I was trying to determine the relevance of my idea to stage a Big Sing, I switched-on the radio to hear the Founder and CEO of SANE, Marjorie Wallace speaking about her charity and from here the concept of SING4SANE (S4S) would, little by little, unfurl.


February this year saw a passionately stirring performance of Live Again, with 30 singers alongside me, at Caffe Nero’s Heathrow premises. Soon after this event, again I was picturing another S4S Big Sing but this time in a recording studio. This image lay dormant for some time. It was only a few weeks ago that I chose to answer the niggle in me that begged the question “Should I make a Big Sing recording of Live Again and release it as a charity single?”

I put the proposal to two men I knew whose immediate enthusiasm for the idea became key in things taking shape: Andrew Hunt, the song’s producer (and Exec. Director of the Music Producer’s Guild) and Dave Chi who offered to take-on all things PR and publicity related for the single.  In spite of this, I remained tentative for a while – uncertain as to whether I could - and if I even wanted to – take on the emotional and momentous challenge of making this happen.   


And now I stand firm in believing it should. I sense the strength of importance of this event by the number of people who are giving their time and commitment to being part of it.  Its mission is to shine a light on - what I see as being – a critical matter that needs to be more openly addressed in order to become destigmatised and to enable a more considered understanding of, and empathy towards, mind ill health. Tell someone you’ve broken a part of your body and you’ll greet nods of compassion.  If you dare to tell them you’re suffering with anxiety or that you’re emotionally unstable in some way, the response is likely very different – as it was for me when, not long ago, I reluctantly but regrettably had to pull-out of a festival performance. 

Furthermore, even if only in some small way, I want to encourage a deeper look at the importance of taking care of one’s mind.  We should be speaking readily about how we can do this just as easily as we talk about what we eat and how we exercise – both of which can affect our mind health. 


On a more personal level, as I sing Live Again at an eminent London studio, I’ll have in mind that this is part of my journey in letting go of past hurt and a lesson in freeing myself from vocal restrictions caused by past trauma.  With small steps, I am also now determined to live more openly and honestly. Writing this blog for Help Musicians UK is a big step, and an aid, in this process too. Finally my secret is out.

The Big Sing should be a fulfilling and unifying experience for the big-hearted musicians and singing participants who have offered their energies to highlighting a mounting and concerning issue.  All the participating singers demonstrate how people can come together, supporting one another for a positive means. The more professional singers will help the less experienced singers, adding a lift to their sound. This adds volume to the message that those of us in a better position to help others can be a backbone to the people who need it.

It is, in the end, a group singing session and I’m not expecting lives to be saved as a result. 

That said, I know the power music can have. Last year, a man travelled direct from his LA home to a London music venue where I was playing one night to come and tell me how two songs of mine, that he’d coincidentally received from someone at a point of feeling suicidal, had saved his life. So if from the S4S single we can make just one person feel that there is no shame in admitting their suffering, be that mental or otherwise, then I’ll consider that an immensely gratifying result and a very good thing indeed. 

The recording of Live Again, as part of the SING4SANE Big Sing, takes place on Sunday 21 August.  To find out how to join as a singing participant or to learn more about the project and how to support it, email Melissa or visit Melissa’s website.

All sale proceeds from the SING4SANE single release will go direct to SANE.

With thanks to Help Musicians UK for sharing my personal story, and the story of this project.