Talking Heads is our regular feature in collaboration with DreaminIsFree, where we talk to folk working across all sectors of the music industry in the north, discussing mental health, well-being, and coping with life in the pandemic.

For many working in the music industry up north, it has never been easy to keep above water, but now many of our colleagues, favourite artists, and friends are in a critical situation. As venues face closure and touring has all but come to a halt, any revenue there once was is running dry. And the worst part is, we do not know how long this will continue. Naturally, this is a strenuous time our mental health.

We cannot change our situation, but what we can do is start a conversation. And we hope to do so with this series. If you are involved in the music industry and need any support you will find a useful set of contacts here on the Help Musicians charity page. You can also find more contacts at the end of this article if you need.

In our third Talking Heads discussion we chat with Ben Taylor, founder of You Are Not Alone Festival (YANA), a multi-venue festival in the centre of Manchester City Centre, in aid of the independent local charity, Manchester Mind.

We chat to Ben about the inspiration for YANA, his top YANA moments, and the amazing level of support YANA has received from Manchester’s music community.

The VLM: What inspired you to set up the YANA Festival?

Ben: Unfortunately my idea for the festival stemmed from a very sad period of time of my life. I lost four of my friends to suicide. It affected me a lot of course, but I had to try and turn it in to some sort of positive otherwise I’d have hit rock bottom. I wanted to do what I could to help people with mental health problems, and read about the superb work that Manchester Mind do.

Initially I was looking at a one venue event, but the immediate response from artists blew me away that it went from one venue to a multi-venue event with three venues.

How has the support from the music community been?

From the first announcement that I was planning the festival, the support has been incredible. More so than I imagined, although this city never fails to amaze me when we need everyone to come together.

The first year was a big success, selling out in advance, which again was fantastic and exactly what I wanted. Moving forward that has enabled YANA to grow, so much so that the next festival will be across six venues.

What were your personal highlights from last year’s festival?

There were so many! My biggest highlight was seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces as I walked around on the day. It seemed like everyone had such a great time, and that’s what I wanted the event to be, fun, full of great music while also raising funds and awareness for the charity.

And how about your top five YANA Festival moments?

1 – As mentioned above, the buzz of the day and seeing everyone have a ball was a big moment.

2 – All the music throughout the day was so great. It was a real good mix of genres, from live acts to DJs. Everyone did a stand up job and should be very proud.

3 – Andy Burnham was a guest at the event. We were both interviewed about the festival and how important it is for the city and for the charity to have as much exposure as possible. Andy is a fan of what I’m trying to do, and we’ll be talking again on how to expand on what is already in place.

4 – I’ve had messages from so many people telling me that the festival has helped them realise there is help out there and that they have reached out themselves. That was the goal, if I could help one person then I’ve succeeded. To have more and more get in touch is just amazing. A great feeling.

5 – The success of year one has lead to more exciting plans. Bigger venues, more artists, and there are plans in place to start bringing YANA to other cities.

Do you find music helps lift spirits during this period?

100%. And when we do get back to going to see live music again, I won’t take it for granted at all. Those first run of shows back will be something else. I know on a personal level that being amongst it again may be hard to adapt to, but the more we get back to some sort of normality, the better mentally we’ll feel, I’m sure of that.

You Are Not Alone Logo 2019

We lost a true star with Denise Johnson’s sudden passing recently. Not only was she a phenomenal talent, she was also a great supporter of YANA. Are there any plans to do something special in her memory for YANA festivals?

It still doesn’t feel real that Denise is gone. She was a good friend, and you’re right she was a big supporter of the festival, and a big supporter of local bands too. Denise attended the first year and we were talking about her performing at the next YANA. That would’ve been the standout highlight for me for sure. I made no secrecy of the fact that she was my favourite female vocalist, and always will be.

At the next festival there’ll be a tribute to Denise in the time slot that she would’ve performed. There’ll be a playback of her debut album, plus videos and photos. I’m also naming a stage after her, which will showcase so much brand new talent out there.

COVID has forced this year’s festival to be postponed to the 06 March next year. Is there anything we can do to support you in the interim?

All the posts, retweets, shares are always much appreciated, as are the continuous ticket sales. We didn’t receive any refunds after the date changes, which was great to see.

I’ll be launching some YANA merchandise very soon, with profits going to Manchester Mind, so grab yourself some of those when you see them!

What music have you been listening to during lockdown to help you through?

My lockdown ears have been filled with some great music from LOAstate, Red Rum Club, RATS, Gary John Taylor, Deja Vega, Narrow Margin, Lucy Gaffney and Reid Anderson. I urge you all to have a listen to all these acts, you won’t be disappointed.

If there was one piece of advice you could give someone who is struggling with mental health what would that be?

I recently started speaking to a therapist. Something I thought I’d never do. And you know what, it helped so much. I’ve been guilty of keeping my thoughts inside, and that doesn’t do yourself any good.

I lost my mum 18 years ago, and a lot of my mental health problems look to have started from that moment. It’s taken me this long to talk about it with someone, and that’s made me look at things differently.

My advice would be if you’re struggling, please speak to someone. It doesn’t have to be someone close to you, there are a lot of support networks out there who will listen and won’t be judgemental. You Are Not Alone x

You can purchase tickets for next year’s YANA festival here. 

You can find a list of mental health helplines here and The Samaritans phoneline is open 24 hours a day on 116 123. 

About The Author

Debbie Cannon

Music nut from Greater Manchester with an insatiable appetite for new music. Generally found at gigs in and around the north west. Three favourite bands: Sophie and the Giants, False Heads, and The Howl & The Hum

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