Fruit Tree Foundation launches new album tackling themes of mental health

Alasdair Roberts, James Yorkston, Scott Hutchison and others record album

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Fruit Tree Foundation launches new album tackling themes of mental health

A major new Scottish supergroup has formed to tackle stigma around mental health. Kirstin Innes talks to Rod Jones about the Fruit Tree Foundation.

Sons and Daughters. Frightened Rabbit. The Phantom Band. Norman Blake. Perhaps because it sets out to encourage discussion of problems nearly everyone has come into contact with at some point in their lives, the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival has always attracted high-profile support. It seemed a pretty logical step, then, for Rod Jones and Emma Pollock, who traditionally curate the festival’s Music Like a Vitamin gigs, to get some of Scotland’s best musicians together and record an album in celebration of SMHAFF’s aims – challenging the stigma around mental health issues.

‘The festival creates so much enthusiasm around itself and does so much to raise awareness about mental health issues,’ explains Jones, ‘but that enthusiasm exists mostly in the one month the festival runs for. I thought, with an album, people could listen to it year round, and it might extend their interaction with those issues a bit. So I shanghaied Emma into helping me organise it!’

The result is The Fruit Tree Foundation, an entirely new collection of music from a veritable Who’s Who of Scottish indie and folk. Jones is of course from Idlewild; the album also features Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison, James Graham of The Twilight Sad and Jill O’Sullivan from Sparrow and the Workshop, alongside singer-songwriters Pollock, Karine Polwart, Jenny Reeve, Alasdair Roberts and James Yorkston. What’s remarkable about this record is that it was written, collaboratively, in less than a week, by a group of artists who hadn’t all known each other previously, and yet it’s a polished, coherent work, something that hangs together, feels lush, full, beautiful, and, well, planned.

‘We didn’t give them a brief as such,’ Jones explains. ‘As I said when we were writing, you can pick any song out of the history of songwriting and find a way to tie the lyrics to some sort of mental health issues. We didn’t need or want to get all Band Aid and ‘Feed the World’ about it – when you write from your own life and experiences, these issues tend to come out anyway.’

He did try and steer them down a theme of ‘childhood’, as that’s what the festival is looking at this year. ‘Some of them have addressed that directly, some haven’t. It’s a particular bee in my bonnet, actually – I want to petition the government to spend more time on mental health education in schools. We have physical and sexual education already – I’m not saying an equivalent will stop people having mental health problems. It won’t. But people need to know what’s available to them.’

Bees in bonnets aside, Jones’ own involvement in the festival is personal, and he’s not afraid to talk about it. ‘After I was diagnosed with depression, I could look back and point to times in my life when that had been what was going on — I just didn’t know. Music plays such a huge part in youth culture, that when you’ve got someone who you admire, someone who’s in Frightened Rabbit or whatever, onstage, talking about why they’re involved — I don’t think we’re making mental health issues ‘cool’, but we’re encouraging people to think about these things, to talk about them. That’s a huge starting point for a lot of people.’

HMV Picture House, Edinburgh, Fri 1 Oct; O2 ABC, Glasgow, Sat 2 Oct. www.fruittreefoundation.com and www.mhfestival.com for info.

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