Christmas songs FairyTale of new york by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl

Welcome to the 3rd part of our series exploring the lessons that can be learned from well-known (and some not-so-well-known) Christmas tracks.  Today we are looking at relationships during the festive period and ways to keep them in good shape. 

Shane McGowan and Kirsty McCall, ‘Fairytale of New York’


Our first track is the well-worn soundtrack to many Christmas parties.  Although released back in 1987it is still the most played Christmas track with a BBC poll naming it the UK’s favourite Christmas track of all time.

The popularity of this track, which appeared on The Pogues album,‘If I Should Fall from Grace with God,’ may strike you as strange given the subject matter.  The Pogues’ lead singer, Shane McGowan, spends most of the time lyrically sparring with guest vocalist, Kirsty MacColl, reaching a crescendo of insults half way though the song.

Christmas is often heralded as the season of ‘Peace and Goodwill’ but sometimes these expectations can be unrealistic.  If you have had a challenging year in your relationship marked by rows and splits then spending long days with your partner can seem like one challenge too many.

Some friction is natural even in the best of relationships and disagreements can be positive if they lead to constructive problem solving.  However, if your relationship has been tough going for a while, it might be a good idea to sit down before Christmas and agree some ground rules so that you both make it through the holiday period.  For example, decide that if you feel tensions rising you will take some time out and come back to any point-of-conflict when you’re both feeling calmer. 

Aim to keep things as amicable as possible while you navigate the visits to the in-laws, the long lost friends and seldom-seen relations.  Try to avoid falling into the trap of expecting Christmas to provide a band-aid for your troubles. 

If things have been difficult for some time then a Christmas break is unlikely to make things better and spending more time together may make things worse.  More effective would be to put a date in your diary for the New Year so that you can plan constructive ways to deal with your relationship difficulties.

Joni Mitchell, ‘River’


‘River’ is a less well-known Christmas track although it is set during the holiday period and the strains of ‘Jingle Bells’ can be heard in the piano accompaniment to the song.  Joni Mitchell sings of the end of a relationship, associated regrets and the desire to move on:

‘Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby that I ever had

Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on.’

Joni Mitchell is one of the giants of rock music’s golden age with a creative output covering folk, pop and jazz. She has broken many barriers for women in the music industry as an archetypical 70s singer/songwriter with much of her output from that decade earning critical acclaim.  She is the highest ranking female guitarist of all time according to Rolling’s Stone magazine and is also an accomplished poet and artist.

‘River’ is the second most widely covered Joni Mitchell record(after ‘Both Sides Now’) having been recorded a staggering 432 times by artists as diverse as Barry Manilow and Sarah McLachlan. It documents the break-up of Mitchell’s relationship with Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fame.  In turn, Nash wrote ‘Our House’ about happier times together. 

Like Joni Mitchell you may be facing Christmas ‘singing songs of joy and peace’ but may be filled with thoughts of what might have been. Perhaps even blaming yourself for your relationship break-up.  You may find yourself thinking like Mitchel who sings ‘I’m so hard to handle, I’m selfish and I’m sad, Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby that I ever had.’ 

Regardless of your current view it takes two to break a relationship just as it takes two to make a relationship. Don’t lose faith in yourself or your ability to form a happy relationship.  Above all, look after yourself over the holidays, eat as well as you can, exercise and make sure you get plenty of rest.  Sometimes we forget to look after ourselves during tough times and end up making ourselves feel even worse.

Ron Sexsmith, ‘Maybe This Christmas’


The festive season has a bad habit of turning us into a bah-humbug Grinch. The high street crowds, the TV ads, the endless Christmas songs on the radio (how ironic) and Christmas parties. Add in endless trips to see relatives, a touch of credit card debt and we have the recipe for a bad-mood-inducing festive season.

Thankfully we can turn to this wonderful, little known Christmas tune by Ron Sexsmith. It unashamedly asks us to consider the real reason for the season; peace, love and forgiveness.

As the lyrics suggest, maybe this Christmas we might all step out of long-held grudges and offer the olive branch of peace. Or maybe we might allow Christmas to challenge us to find a deeper meaning than the consumption of gifts, food and drink.

Counselling and support services


The Christmas period can be a difficult time for many of us. Whether it is due to a difficult relationship or memories of a lost loved one, we understand that not everyone is going to have a ‘happy’ Christmas this year.

At The Spark, we have been providing counselling and support to individuals, couples, families and children for over 50 years. Our aim is to help clients to better understand their emotions and experiences, and to find ways to deal with them.

Find out more information about The Spark and our counselling services for individuals, couples and families.

Contact us via our contact form or freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could help you.

12 plays of Christmas - Band Aid

What is the real meaning of Christmas?  In the second of our #12PlaysofChristmas series we are highlighting a couple of tracks that remind us that Christmas can be about more than consumerism and overindulgence.

Band Aid, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’


For those of a certain age, the Band Aid single of Christmas 1984 and Live Aid concert the following summer were era-defining moments. The recently released film, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ ends (spoiler alert!) with a rousing finale as Freddy Mercury and Queen reunite to perform at Live Aid; an event that sees their reputation resurrected.

There is no doubt that fading pop stars and their careers were reinvigorated by Band Aid. However, putting cynicism to one side the efforts of Bob Geldof, Midge Ure and others did highlight the problems suffered by the Ethiopian people as well as galvanise support to do something about it.

A ‘turkey’ of a Christmas hit

The song is fairly standard fare with NME famously labelling it – rather mischievously – a ‘turkey’. Despite a poor critical reception people were encouraged to donate to the cause and the impact has been long lasting with cover versions, further concerts and additional charitable efforts like Comic Relief resulting in a significant charitable legacy.

We are often reminded that Christmas is about giving as much as receiving and rightly so. Not only does the concept of helping our fellow humans underpin every major religion, but giving is also a feel-good experience.  We are social creatures and doing something charitable, however modest, can be very satisfying and contribute to positive mental health.

Why not consider a way to benefit others this Christmas and help out those less fortunate than yourself with these gift ideas? (https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/deals/charity-gifts/.)

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’


By listening to our second track we are hoping to encourage some quiet self-reflection during the holiday period.

John and Yoko spent several years on peace campaigns and protesting against US involvement in the Vietnam War.  This included highly publicised ‘bed-ins,’ a large-scale poster campaign and full-page adverts in major newspapers in the USA and UK.

Protest songs were a characteristic of John and Yoko’s earlier work together including such tracks as ‘Power to the People’ and ‘Give Peace a Chance’.  It is difficult to estimate the long-term impact of this work but, as an ex-Beatle, anything Lennon said or did was bound to be listened to by a large number of people.

Time to reflect on the year passed and the one yet to come

The opening lines of the song were always intended to challenge us to consider the impact of our own activities:

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun.

Many of us have a few days off work at this time of year and while we can be busy preparing food, visiting relations and catching up with friends, there is usually some downtime. This can be a great time to take stock of the previous year’s ups and downs.

It is worthwhile to ask ourselves: what did I do that I’m pleased with?  What were my disappointments? What would I like to do differently next year?

If New Year is the time for making resolutions, Christmas is the opportunity to consider our contribution to family, friends, work and community. This may be a new approach for you and so you may find it challenging. Like many things, however, practice makes perfect, and the tougher tasks are usually the most rewarding.

Alicia Keys, ‘Blended Family (What You Do For Love)’


You are unlikely to hear our final track on any Christmas Greatest Hits selection.  There is only a passing mention of Christmas and the track wasn’t even a big hit (although it did reach the lofty heights of 79 in Scotland’s official charts!).  Nevertheless, we believe this Alicia Keys track from 2016 contains some useful messages for a happy and positive festive season.

The song was based upon Keys’ relationships with her rapper husband Swizz Beatz (real name Kasseem Dean) and his previous marriage to singer Mashonda Tifrere.  Keys and Dean have two sons and the rapper also has 3 other children including a son with Tifrere.  Keys and Dean contributed to Tifrere’s book, ‘Blend: The Secret to Co-Parenting and Creating a Balanced Family’ and Keys’ subsequent track follows the book’s recommendation for creating a positive environment for children within blended families.

Families come in all shapes and sizes

You may find yourself in a similar situation to Keys, Dean and Tifrere this Christmas.  Blended families are common and it is entirely possible you may be welcoming stepsons and stepdaughters along with your own children over the holiday period.  Perhaps this is your first Christmas as a stepfamily and you are approaching it with some trepidation.

As our free parenting guide ‘Families Come in all Shapes and Sizes’ suggests, be prepared for everyone to feel a little unsettled. In particular, if this is your first Christmas together as a new, extended family.

It takes time for people to get to know each other, to start feeling comfortable and find a new family identity.  Everyone should have their own space, however small. Try to set aside time to get to know new arrivals and be patient with challenging emotions.

Christmas is a great time for doing things together – going for a long walk in the park or watching an old Christmas film– and this can help to forge new bonds and new traditions.  Above all, parents should try to work together like Alicia Keys has through her own blended family and hold true to the positive affirmation that ‘love could bring us closer than blood.’

Counselling and support services


The Christmas period can be a difficult time for many of us. Whether it is due to a difficult relationship or memories of a lost loved one, we understand that not everyone is going to have a ‘happy’ Christmas this year.

At The Spark, we have been providing counselling and support to individuals, couples, families and children for over 50 years. Our aim is to help clients to better understand their emotions and experiences, and to find ways to deal with them.

Find out more information about The Spark and our counselling services for individuals, couples and families.

Contact us via our contact form or freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could help you.

The Pretenders I'll Stand by You cover artwork

Songs for Sound Minds #25 – ‘I’ll Stand by You’ by The Pretenders

This week’s pick by The Pretenders was suggested by one of our followers on Facebook: a timeless classic about love and faithfulness in times of trouble. A song made special, not by the experiences of those who wrote it, but by those who heard it.


‘I’ll Stand by You’ started out as a joke that turned into a dream come true for songwriter Billy Steinberg. During a conversation with music publisher Jason Dauman, Steinberg was asked who he wanted to collaborate with in the future.

Prince, Bruce Springsteen and Chrissie Hynde

Thinking the question a joke, Steinberg replied somewhat facetiously: “Prince, Bruce Springsteen and Chrissie Hynde.”

“I said those names because they were three of my favorite songwriters and he sort of took it seriously. Then a little while later he called me up and he said, ‘Chrissie Hynde wants to write with you and Tom (Tom Kelly, Steinberg’s writing partner).’  And I thought, ‘Right.’”

“I get a phone call and this woman said, ‘Billy, this is Chrissie Hynde,’ and I thought somebody was playing with me or something.”

Star struck and a little soft

Despite writing hits like ‘Eternal Flame’ and ‘Like a Virgin’, Steinberg was star struck: “The butterflies in my stomach were fluttering so much I could barely speak because I love The Pretenders.”

Hynde joined Steinberg and Kelly in Los Angeles and their efforts created a total of six songs, including ‘I’ll Stand by You’; but Pretenders fan Steinberg had mixed feelings.

“I remember when we wrote it I felt two things. I felt one, we had written a hit song; and I felt two, a little sheepish that we had written something a little soft, a little generic for The Pretenders… I know that Chrissie felt that way too to some extent.”

The dream turns sour

In an interview with Mojo Chrissie Hynde admitted being unimpressed with the tune: “When I did that song, I thought, Urgh this is s–t.”

The Pretenders I'll Stand by You cover artwork

As the dream turned sour for Steinberg hope emerged in the form of an impromptu gig.

Despite her initial disappointment with the track, Hynde pressed on: “I played it for a couple of girls who weren’t in the [music] business and by the end of it they were both in tears. I said, OK, put it out.”

The universality of the lyrics that Steinberg feared were too soft and generic is exactly what makes ‘I’ll Stand by You’ such a special song.

It speaks of complete love and unquestioning support when we are at our weakest. The kind of love that means someone is there to wipe away our tears and walk with us.

Thanks to Steinberg, Kelly and Hynde we can experience the shared understanding that we all feel that way sometimes. And that we all want to be there to stand by someone we care about.


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

Songs for Sound Minds #24 – ‘Get on With Your Short Life’ by Brian Kennedy


Our latest pick in the Songs For Sound Minds series could very well have been written specifically for January. An antidote if you will to a month spent grappling with our extra ‘holiday weight’, body image angst and post-Christmas diets.

get on with your short life

Celebrity awards season is in full swing and between the Grammys and the Oscars there are plenty of opportunities feel bad about ourselves compared to the ‘beautiful people’.

Many of us will have fallen off the healthy eating bandwagon and simultaneously wondered why our waistline isn’t shrinking.  All in all it is not difficult to find reasons to be unhappy about who we are at this time of year.

Why do you have to waste time on your waistline?

Instead of committing to another fad diet or dropping your hard-earned cash on yet more clothes, we have another suggestion.

Listen to one of Ireland’s most under-rated singer songwriters, Brian Kennedy and his simple advice: get on with your short life.

You know you’re only dreaming

Accompanied by one of the catchiest of catchy tunes, ‘Get on With Your Short Life’ is a worthwhile reminder of how we tend to focus on the wrong things in life.

Clothes, looking younger and the aspiration to be like those on the red carpet can dominate our thinking. We end up tied in knots trying to be the version of ourselves we think will bring the most happiness.

get on with your short life
Of course she woke up looking like this…

The tragedy of it all is that we miss out on ‘this sweet precious time’ that is life. The time we spend pursuing the right shoes, new clothes and the ‘perfect’ waistline cannot be recovered.

It is time with loved ones, experiencing the joy and security of good relationships that is lost forever.

Stop daydreaming and get on with your short life

As Brian suggests, stop the ‘if only’ daydreaming and get on with enjoying this short life. You’ll be glad you did.


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

Songs for Sound Minds #23 – ‘This Will Be Our Year’ by The Zombies


So, have you made your New Year Resolutions? Have you been inspired by a healthy eating blog to change your bad eating habits? Maybe you were in the local gym on January 3 planning to go from ‘Couch to 5k’.

‘What is the point?’ you might say. According to BUPA, 80 per cent of people do not make it to the end of March before going back to their old ways.

Research from the University of Bristol found that 88% of us will not keep our resolution.

Nothing much is achieve without the resolve to achieve something

But before you get too cynical it is worthwhile remembering that nothing much is achieved without the resolve to achieve something.

There is much to be said for the 1960s slogan, ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life.’ It speaks of putting past failures and disappointments behind us. It encourages positivity and looking ahead with anticipation instead of dread.

Storm clouds

Another gem from the same period – the song ‘This Will Be Our Year’ – has the same feel to it. Compared to some of the starry-eyed hits from the time, it is a pretty down-to-earth and pragmatic song.

And I won’t forget

The way you helped me

Up when I was down

And I won’t forget

The way you said

Darling I love you

You gave me faith to go on

Now we’re there

And we’ve only just begun

This will be our year

Took a long time to come

Getting through tough times

Whether you have experienced a period of poor mental health or just a tough time in general, there are few feelings better than the relief when it is over.

Often our optimism for the future comes from knowing we can rely on those who helped us through tough times – for the first time or once again.

For those in the know, the song was the soundtrack to Don Draper’s daughter bringing him light at the end of his dark tunnel in the acclaimed TV series Mad Men by telling him, ‘I love you.’

One of the greatest albums of all time

The Zombies’ track, ‘This Will Be Our Year’ was from their 1968 album with the misspelled title, ‘Odessey and Oracle’. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it 100 on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Their keyboard player, Rod Argent, is perhaps one of the less well-known artists of the era.  He did go on to form the eponymous band, Argent, which had hits with ‘Hold Your Head Up’ and ‘God Gave Rock and Roll to You’. The latter track was covered by Kiss and featured in the film ‘Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey’ in the late 1980s.

As you listen to our latest pick in the Songs For Sound Minds series, why not take a look at our article ‘6 Ways to Keep a New Year Resolution’ for some practical tips on making positive change this year.

There is no reason why this can’t be our year.


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

Van Morrison

Songs for Sound Minds #22 – ‘Days Like This’ by Van Morrison


What are your thoughts when you first hear this refrain?

‘Well my mama told me there’d be days like this’

Are you thinking about the negative side of things?  The ‘chancers’ in life that your mum warned you to avoid? The times when it feels like nothing is going right?

You might even be thinking that this is supposed to be a part of a series called Songs for Sound Minds, and wonder: what are they thinking?

Thinking about better days


Van Morrison

Of course this Van Morrison classic (aren’t they all?) is actually all about better days. Days when we are busy appreciating the good times. Spending our time without a care or concern.

Appropriately for those of us in Scotland the song starts with the words: ‘When it’s not always raining there’ll be days like this.’ But Van Morrison is not just talking when the typical British weather takes a holiday.

This Belfast boy is thinking about the times when ‘there’s no-one complaining’ least of all ourselves. Times when the chancers never cross our path.

Moments when life seems so straightforward and simple – ‘when you don’t need an answer’ – that even a child could get it right because ‘all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit.’

Sometimes though we forget to appreciate those good times.

Those ‘don’t need to worry’ moments


We can all too easily fall into the habit of criticising other people or grumbling about our lot in life.

It can be easy to miss the good things that are happening. Amidst the difficult times we live in –  blighted by terrorism, fear and economic worries – it can feel like there is never a moment ‘when you don’t need to worry.’

Instead ‘Van the Man’ encourages us to simply focus on the better days and our better moments. To spend our time thinking of them and not reliving days when we just wanted to pull the covers over our head.

An anthem for the Northern Ireland peace process


The optimism and positivity of ‘Days Like This’ was harnessed for the peace process in Morrison’s home country of Northern Ireland.

Effectively becoming the ‘anthem’ of the peace movement, the song featured widely including in television advertising encouraging the end of hostilities between unionist and republican movements.

Although your day may not quite reach the heights of helping unite a divided country, it is important to recognise the good times and enjoy the experience of days like this.


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

John Lennon Watching the Wheels

Songs for Sound Minds #21 – ‘Watching the Wheels’ John Lennon


It probably comes as no surprise that John Lennon features on our Songs for Sound Minds playlist.

But it’s not for the song you’d think it would be…

Watching the Wheels by John Lennon



John Lennon – bread baker

John Lennon had been at the top of the charts for over 10 years when he decided to step back from the day job and stop making music altogether.

During much of the 1960s he was a major part of The Beatles, one of the biggest pop acts in history. Then he was a solo artist penning thought provoking hits like ‘Imagine’ and ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’.

At the time, Lennon made it clear that he was very content staying home. Looking after his young son, Sean, baking bread and doing other domestic chores.

His perspective was contrary to what society has long programmed us to believe: that the workplace is the only place we can be productive and find fulfillment.

I wish I’d spent more time at the office (said no one ever)

John Lennon Watching the Wheels

The pertinent question to ask in life – perhaps the exact one Lennon asked himself – is this: in our twilight years, how many of us will wish that we had spent more time at the office and less with family?

Lennon’s response was to resign from the hit factory and opt for the home life.

In 1975 he became the world’s most famous ‘househusband’ as it used to be called. This may not seem like a revolutionary step nowadays with our emphasis on shared parental leave and the fight against gender stereotypes.

In the 1970s it was however a dramatic statement and drew a lot of criticism from friends and fans.

As the first verse of John Lennon’s song ‘Watching the Wheels’ says:

‘People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing

Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin

When I say that I’m o.k. they look at me kind of strange

Surely you’re not happy now you no longer play the game.’

The achievement ‘merry-go-round’

Social norms tend to encourage us to measure our success and achievements by how far up the corporate ladder we climb.

Often it can seem that our whole identity is defined by the job that we do, the money that we earn and the stuff we accumulate.

This 1980 hit encourages us to turn our backs on the ‘merry-go-round’ and let go of the urge to succeed at any cost.

The lyrics give us permission to sit ‘watching the wheels go round and round.’ Instead of trying to win the rat race, step out of the flow and take time to breathe.

Enjoying the simple things in life

Words like John Lennon’s can inspire us to realise that the simpler things in life can be very satisfying.

Perhaps you have a favourite quote that encourages you when the pace of modern life is getting on top of you.

Take this one from Albert Einstein as an example: “A calm and humble life will bring more happiness than the pursuit of success and the constant restlessness that comes with it.”

Or maybe there is a poem that takes your mind to a quieter, more peaceful place.  One example is this verse by W H Davies written over 100 years ago:

‘What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows’.

More to life than stress and stuff

It can seem like we have no option but to seek more responsibility, earn that next promotion and accumulate more ‘stuff’.

This can become a roller coaster of ever increasing stress and ever decreasing satisfaction.

Yet, however fast paced our day and however long our ‘to do list’ we can always make time to take a step back and choose a more relaxing option.


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You) Kelly Clarkson

Songs for Sound Minds #20 – Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) Kelly Clarkson


At The Spark we work hard to help people improve their relationships and build connections with each other. Sometimes though, trying to mend a broken relationship is not healthy for either individual.

Moving on from a difficult relationship can be a liberating and life changing experience. That is the theme of this week’s featured track – ‘Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)’ by Kelly Clarkson.

Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) by Kelly Clarkson



From American Idol to rocky relationships

Clarkson shot to fame as the inaugural winner of the American Idol reality television show in 2002. A roller-coaster career followed during which the Texan singer has had more than her fair share of difficult relationships.

An acrimonious split from her original American Idol dictated record label – RCA – brought an end to what Clarkson described as “an arranged marriage”.

This particular relationship lasted 14 years. During that time her music, appearance and even weight were policed by her management.

In her personal life, Clarkson’s fame made maintaining relationships difficult until her marriage in 2013.

A perfect representation of my life

Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You) Kelly Clarkson

Clarkson considered the lyric ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ as “a perfect representation of my life”.

The inspiring theme is that just because the relationship is over that ‘doesn’t mean I’m over ’cause you’re gone’. She has moved on and things are better than they were before.

The message of the song is that it is possible to be stronger in spite of experiencing pain and tragedy.  We can all think of examples of people who have overcome tragic circumstances.

Hope out of pain and tragedy

Think of Simon Weston, who survived 46% burns to his body during the Falklands War. Yet he has gone on to become a high profile political activist and champion of a number of charities.

In 2014, he was voted Britain’s most heroic figure.

Or take Katie Piper the victim of a sulphuric acid attack which resulted in 40 surgical operations and left her blind in one eye.

Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You) Katie Piper

She has set up her own charitable foundation, regularly appears on radio and television and has authored several books including one with the title, ‘Things Get Better: If You Believe Then You Will Survive.’

The science behind ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’

Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) paraphrases the Friedrich Nietzsche quotation: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”. Nietzsche’s prophetic philosophy is supported in the world of science.

Victor Frankl was a German psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz during the Second World War.  He noticed that even in conditions as dehumanizing as the concentration camp there were people who behaved with decency and humanity.

Personal growth from tragedy

Scientific studies show that for some people who survive trauma there are reported positive changes and enhanced personal development which scientists call Post Traumatic Growth.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) promotes stories of survivors of heart attacks who give up their obsession with the rat race and discover new ways of living, improved relationships and a greater commitment to their family.

There can be a silver lining

Stephen Joseph, Professor of Psychology at the University of Nottingham suggests that it is helpful to reflect on the positive aspects of challenging events.

This could be better friendships, a new perspective on life, previously hidden strength of character or a greater understanding of life.

The implication is that there are benefits in trying to make sense of adverse life circumstances.

Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)

Something terrible happened.  You survived and lived to tell the tale of stronger relationships, a stronger ability to cope or a stronger understanding of life’s ups and downs.

It didn’t kill you but it did make you stronger.


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

George Harrison Any Road

Songs for Sound Minds #19 – ‘Any Road’ by George Harrison


‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.’

This may seem a statement of the blooming obvious if ever there was one.  However, how many of us have wasted time on fruitless activities rather than identifying our priorities for the future?

Being unclear about our goals can leave us feeling frustrated, stressed and exhausted.

How much happier would we feel if we could summon the energy to clarify where we would like to be?

George Harrison Any Road

‘Any Road’ by George Harrison

‘Any Road’ released in 2003, was the last single by George Harrison.  As ‘the quiet Beatle’ he was one of the ‘Fab Four’ who had so much influence on pop culture and contemporary life since their first hit back in 1962.

So what is George saying in this song that could help us understand our own mental health?

The element of chance

The song recognises that there is a natural element of chance in our lives but that embracing such an approach in every way has implications.

‘We pay the price with a spin of a wheel, with the roll of a dice.’ 

The suggestion is that a more conscious approach to decision making might result in fewer regrets.  By leaving things to chance we are risking our own happiness.

Overcoming our own doubts and insecurities

It may be at times that if we want to achieve something we need to overcome our own doubts and lack of confidence.

As Harrison sings, ‘we’ve got to fight with the thoughts in the head, with the dark and the light’ – those fears, insecurities and anxieties that we all struggle with in varying degrees.

Storm clouds

It is not enough to be clear about where we are going. We also need to realise that we may need to overcome the obstacles those fears and anxieties create.

Bringing East and West together

Much of George Harrison’s solo output attempted to integrate Eastern religion into Western life and this song is no exception.

His most famous solo song, ‘My Sweet Lord’ mixes the Judeo-Christian ‘Hallelujah’ with the Hindu ‘Hare Krishna.’

Harrison introduced his fellow band members, John, Paul and Ringo, to Transcendental Meditation in 1967 and, also, he had a life-long interest in the Hare Krishna movement.

In the song, ‘Any Road’ he presents themes common to Eastern faiths and beliefs.

‘There was no beginning, there is no end, it wasn’t born and never dies, there are no edges, there is no sides.’ 

Regardless of this philosophising, George concludes the song by reiterating his pragmatic refrain ‘but if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.’

George Harrison and Alice in Wonderland

The song has been compared with Alice in Wonderland and in particular the conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” asks Alice.

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” replies the Cheshire Cat.

Having a sense of direction

It may seem, at times that life is as surreal as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  We can ruminate on the whys and wherefores of life.

‘You may not know where you came from, may not know who you are,’ but there’s a lot to be gained from having a good sense of direction.

Otherwise, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.’



Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

 

 

Benjamin Clementine

Songs for Sound Minds #18 – ‘Phantom of Aleppoville’ by Benjamin Clementine


On the surface ‘Phantom of Aleppoville’ by Benjamin Clementine is a song about bullying. Dig a little deeper and it becomes a celebration of surviving and learning to be at peace with the experience.

Many of us have experienced bullying and the often profound, negative effects on our self-esteem and confidence. In the song Benjamin Clementine – winner of the 2015 Mercury Prize for his haunting debut album ‘At least for now’ – explores the impact bullying had on him.

We won’t leave you alone

Like so many his bullying occurred in school following the transition from primary to secondary. Combined with the eventual divorce of his parents, Clementine struggled to handle the relentless bullying and feelings of helplessness familiar to almost all victims.

‘We won’t leave you alone
We want you to die
We won’t leave you alone.’

The composition of the song was influenced by Clementine’s study of the work of British psychiatrist, Donald Winnicott. Winnicott determined that bullying – albeit on a lesser scale – could produce similar patterns of trauma in patients as those of war.

Where is Aleppoville?

This theme features most obviously in the setting for Clementine’s recollections. Aleppoville – the ‘little city of Aleppo’- is where children experience bullying according to Clementine.

It may not be intentional, but to choose Aleppo as the location of his song is surely more than coincidence. The real Aleppo has of course been at the centre of the ongoing Syrian civil war that has devastated the lives of countless children and families.

Choosing forgiveness

Benjamin ClementineDespite the trauma of his experiences, Clementine draws the song to a conclusion based on his chosen path of acceptance and forgiveness. Realising that he will never know why he was bullied, he has forgiven them – characterised as a single individual, ‘Billy the bully’.

‘Billy the bully, it’s alright
You’ve been forgiven
Come on now Zacchaeus
Come down from your sycamore tree
We’re dancing, roses are found dancing’

Clementine visualises himself inviting Billy to come down from his perch and join him as Jesus of Nazareth did with Zacchaeus the hated tax collector. The traditional roles have been reversed: the bully is the one now fearfully hiding in the tree whilst the victim is free to dance on the ground below.

What makes a bully a bully?

By swapping the roles of the bully and victim Clementine highlights an important truth: that bullies tend to bully as a reaction to anxieties, pain and unhappiness in their own lives. Interestingly it was Winnicott who first hypothesised the link between anti-social behaviour and an inadequate or ruptured home environment.

According to the NSPCC, nearly half of all children and young people are bullied at some point in their school lives.  Childline reported 24,000 counselling sessions with children about bullying in 2016/17.  The effects on the young person’s mental health can be startling and the NHS website states that bullying can lead to self-harm, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Reaching a state of forgiveness is a big challenge for the victims of bullying. Supporting them to reach the kind of contentment found by Clementine is something that we at The Spark embrace as a central purpose of our counselling and support services.

Equally we have a duty to consider the wider issue of how bullies are created. By supporting children who struggle with issues like family breakdown and anger we can prevent them becoming another ‘Billy the bully’.


The Spark’s Children & Young People’s counsellors work in primary and secondary schools supporting individuals to address these inter-connected issues. By working with children dealing with difficult life experiences, we can help to reduce the incidence of bullying in schools.

If you know of someone who is being bullied or whose mental health has been affected by bullying call us on our freephone number 0808 802 0050 or complete and enquiry form.

Find out more about our counselling services and our work providing school-based counsellors.


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds