5th Mar 2020 in Arts

Tickets have gone on sale today for a music and arts festival in the Cathedral Quarter to support mental health and suicide prevention.

OK? Takes place on Saturday 28th March 2020 at 6pm in The Telegraph Building and has been organised by NI band And So I Watch You From Afar (ASIWYFA) with help from friends in the local music scene.

The OK? Line-up so far includes ASIWYFA, Soak, General Fiasco, Joshua Burnside, Pillow Queens, New Pagans, Catalan!, Junk Drawer, Jordan Adetunji, Careerist, Cherym, Problem Patterns and Gnarkats with David Holmes and Phil Kieran playing the after-party.

Tickets are available at www.shine.net and Ticketmaster outlets.

As well as fundraising for PIPS, AWARE NI and Help Musicians, the event is also intended to act as a gathering of community and a reminder to keep asking one other – “Are you OK?”.

OK? went from conception to launch in just two weeks, thanks to the phenomenal response that ASIWYFA received when they approached friends and colleagues within the local music industry with the idea.

ASIWYFA guitarist and vocalist Rory Friers explains: “We started by hitting up our friends and our favourite artists and it’s amazing – you think it would take a bit of convincing to get some of these incredible people to come and give their time for free, but it’s one of those subject matters that everyone is really passionate about and nobody even thought for a second about saying no.

“When we saw how many people were signing up to play, that’s when we started to feel like we had something that was bigger than the sum of its parts; something that will hopefully resonate and become one of those moments of alchemy where something special happens. We were very lucky to know a lot of these artists and be introduced to the ones we didn’t know and we’re just so grateful to them all.”

As Rory says, there are few – if any – of us who haven’t been affected in some way by mental health issues and/or suicide.

According to the Northern Ireland Assembly Research and Information Service, people in Northern Ireland experience “20-25% higher levels of mental health illness when compared to the rest of the UK, and around 1 in 5 adults are reported to have a diagnosable mental health condition at any given time. There are significantly higher levels of depression than in the rest of the UK, higher antidepressant prescription rates, and higher incidences of self-harm.

Rory says: “There isn’t a solution for it at the minute and I’m no expert – we’re just asking ‘what can we do’ to try and elevate the conversation, to try to shout about it a bit louder, and to help people who are being personally affected or are suffering.

“It was instinctual that we wanted to do something that brought people together and make some noise for a subject we felt strongly about and to raise a bit of money too.”

“We’re just a band, four guys who have played music all our lives and this is what we felt we wanted to do to feel like we are doing something; to give us a focus. It’s something that needs to be talked about and dealt with to a greater extent.”

It is just over ten years since the city’s music community came together for Belfast4Haiti – an ambitious multi-stage gig across the Limelight’s venues on Ormeau Avenue which raised money for those affected by the Haiti earthquake.

The issues are little more close to home this time, and it’s hoped the festival can act, not just as a vital fundraiser for three important charities, but also as a catalyst for a wider conversation around our mental health crisis.

Co-Organiser Helen Sloan says – “This event is a necessary coming together, through one of art’s great unifiers – music, to reinforce a sense of community and let everyone know there are available support networks for those in need.”

Lesley Wright, Community Fundraiser in AWARE NI says the organisation are delighted to be involved in OK?: “We are so pleased to see the musical community coming together in support of mental health in Northern Ireland. We would like to thank all involved in organising the event for choosing to support AWARE. Any funds raised will help us to continue to support people living with depression in Northern Ireland.”

Although the music line-up is a veritable who’s who of contemporary music in Northern Ireland, there will be lots more going on besides the gigs, as Helen explains: “There will be so much more on the night, including some exciting comperes. We have some local artists making original artwork for limited edition prints based around the event. Those will be available to buy to further support the charities, along with some other bespoke one-off merchandise at the venue.

Rory explains “It’s actually only been two weeks since we had the idea for this, so the event is kind of growing as we go!”

If you fancy volunteering or have an idea for using your creative skills to be involved in this amazing day, get in touch with the team by emailing okfestivalbelfast@gmail.com

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