If ever a band from Sunderland was going to make it big in the early 2000’s, the sensible money was on The Futureheads. Taking new wave and post-punk influences, the Wearside four peice released their self titled debut album in 2004 to critical acclaim. Their cover of ‘Hounds Of Love’ by Kate Bush reached number 8 in the UK charts the following year. Unfortunately the band never achieved the success they deserved. Their singer, Barry Hyde, was diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder in 2011. Now he teaches music and is about to release his debut solo album, ‘Malody’. A darker, more theatrical peice than his previous band’s releases, it also draws upon his experiences with mental health issues. Earlier this week I had an chat with Barry.
You came into the spotlight with the band The Futureheads. What was it like for you around then?
Looking back, which is something I’m so glad I can do, the experience of the rising of the band was extremely intense. Mixed. Things just kept moving forward, it was a long experience, complex and obviously exciting experience. To have the curtain drawn on the inner workings of the music business was a turning point. We realised that we had unwittingly entered a race. A race for the big feature, a race for festival billing, ‘so and so have just signed publishing deal for (insert amount large amount)’, ‘so and so doesn’t like the new single, we should do an edit’. A very vulnerable time. The music business cares not for your mental health. Anxiety was high. I would just just shut off.
When did you start showing signs of mental illness? What did you experience?
I was 19 when I first experienced mania. I was incredible if am I honest, creatively speaking, but that was also when the mood swings started. And in hindsight, the beginnings of egotism. I was a control freak in the rehearsal room and I’m sure at times a little overbearing.
You were diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder around 2011/12. What led to this and how did you cope at the time?
Yes, I was given a diagnosis by a crisis team psychiatrist in 2011. It all made sense to me. I had been ill for for over a decade but the previous few years had been pretty chronic. Actually the diagnosis was the beginning of the real struggles. Spring 2011 to Autumn 2013 was when the illness was at it’s most chronic. The diagnosis was at first a relief, but those was short-lived. Suddenly it was official. I was in trouble, the struggle began, the fight. It crippled me. The computer shut down. It was horrific.
After you were diagnosed as bipolar, did it feel like it gave you an understanding about why you are behaving the way you were? How did your friends and family react?
Yes, it gave me a clarity. I don’t think anyone was remotely surprised when I started to lose it. My mother had had deep concerns about my mania and general behaviour. But I was impossible to confront. Too fast, I could run circles around anyone. There was from perspective nothing wrong with me at all. We have an incredibly strong bond to the point of telepathy.
Most people from around Sunderland know about Cherry Knowles (NOTE ~ Cherry Knowles is a mental health hospital located just outside of Sunderland. When we were young you were told that if you were bad you would be sent there. It was used as a threat and I still find the place intimidating). You’ve been admitted there. Can you describe what it was like?
There are no words to describe the feeling of waking up in a psychiatric hospital for the first time. It was terrifying. At first. On my first admission I was pretty much in denial but had so much anxiety that I was living in a state of constant suicidal thoughts. My stay was too short and I didn’t open myself up to be helped. I had to learn how to do that. That skill essentially saved my life. The staff were great, I got on well with everyone. The other patients too. It was a real education and ultimately it showed me that in the grand scheme of mental ailments I was very lucky. I noticed that my mind was much sharper than I thought it was. I realised, or you might say remembered, that I was an excellent communicator, a skilful musician and relatively wise. The healing had begun but the journey wasn’t over. I knew it was time to leave when one of the nurses asked me to ‘go and have a word with the lad in room 7 that wouldn’t come out of his room to see if I could bring him out of himself’. I learned how to be a therapist when I was in Cherry Knowles.
What kind of support have you had? Do you find it affects you much?
My support network was and still is amazing. It goes without saying that my parents and siblings have been through a hell of an ordeal with it and I love them with every fibre of my being for being strong. Some of my fellow patients didn’t have a single visitor during my time with them. I would sometimes have 10 at a time.
You have an album coming out shortly called ‘Malody’, that you say draws heavily from your bipolar experiences. Would you like to explain how it’s affected the album?
The album is the most personal work I have ever created. I try and take my new music to the deepest place possible, whether it be anger, sadness, joy or happiness it has to be extremely so. I want the depths. It’s my only way of converting what has happened in to something tangible and positive. It is a document, a therapy session and a goodbye to the chronic nature of BDP.
I heard some of the songs when you supported The Lake Poets at the Cluny towards the end of last year. It seems like a departure from the new wave sound that The Futureheads were known for. Was this a conscious decision or had the musical style reflecting the subject matter?
Every songwriter/composer is creating worlds with their music. The features of that work are various but on of the key aspects for me is ‘instrument’. The instrument is the context of that world. You can’t write guitar music using a kazoo. The piano has become my companion, my tool and my teacher. The more I sit at the piano stool that deeper I go in to the ‘piano world’. It has been the master-key to so much important knowledge. ‘Malody’ couldn’t be further away from The Futureheads. I decided to make this album I was excited by the idea of creating a different world. A world without electric guitars, drums, amps, vocal harmonies. I took my time, Futureheads albums had always been very quick and over a short period of time. This album has appeared over a period of about 5 years with an gradual increase activity. It was a good gig for to do because I love Mart (of The Lake Poets) and his crowd are discerning good listeners. I can’t stand people that talk at gigs. I make them leave.
So, how are you doing at the moment?
Well, I find myself in that great position where cycles are ending whilst some new cycles are beginning. I teach on a degree and BTEC and it’s marking time, I’m starting to get in to it but still have much to learn. The last week of term is also the week my album comes out. As one chapter ends another begins. My main concern at the minute is staying in love with my album. I am confident I have created powerful musical art but have to balance caring about what people think and also not allowing other people’s opinions affect my creative process moving forward. I’m full of busy right now. Balance, balance, balance.
Any last words you’d like to share with everyone?
I’d like thank everyone for their support with regards to the album and also the solidarity I have received from other people that have had/are having their own struggles with mental health problems. We are united but also paradoxically alone in our worlds. When the walls start to crumble we experience psychological turbulence, it is a transformation that our culture is unsure of. Fear is the main barrier to understanding this incredible experience. My heart goes out to everyone that has lost the fight or lost people to the the illness. Mental Health Issues can be life threatening but I don’t believe are completely terminal. A diagnosis is in a sense an educated guess as to what the problem is but never quite nails it with many mental health problems. The sufferer has to unravel the puzzle and those that have support behind should thank their lucky stars because some people have nobody.
I’d like to thank Barry for taking time out to answer these questions. I’m really looking forward to the ‘Malody’ album which you can order from PledgeMusic at this link (‘Malody’ pre order). It is released by Sirenspire Records on 3rd June.
If you’d like to talk to me further please email me at email@example.com and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. If you’d like to do an interview to share your story too, drop me a message there. I’ve created a closed support group on Facebook called The Order Of The Dog. It’s for people with mental issues and others who want to support or get a better understanding. You can only see things in there if you’re a member so please don’t worry about all and sundry seeing what you post. Finally, please feel free to share this with anyone or anywhere you think it might help.
The Order Of The Dog