Music as Medicine: A Musician’s Journey with OCD

“Music is the best form of distraction.”

Whether you write it, listen to it or perform it, music brings out your inner escape artist. It is a universal diary of sound that we can associate with the best and the worst of times. Music is an emotional outlet but when you live with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), it is the distraction that makes life that little bit easier.


The current UK estimates suggest that 1.2% of the population live with OCD, which equates to roughly 12 in every 1000 people. Yet, the flippant phrase“I’m so OCD about that…”  has wriggled its way into the dialect of many. A phrase used to describe harmless personal quirks influenced by the lack of accurate portrayals of OCD in the media. A phrase that misinterprets the reality of having one of the top 10 most debilitating conditions to live with.

When Ayanam Udoma auditioned for The Voice in February this year, you may not have been aware of his internal battle with OCD.

ayanam 1

“Some people are more functional with the condition than others. You could meet me and if I didn’t tell you I had OCD, you would never know. You might see something in my facial expressions but you wouldn’t know what was bothering me.”

The 27-year-old Nigerian opened-up about his anxiety on the show but didn’t reveal the underlying cause. Having lived with intensely negative, repetitive and intrusive thoughts since he was a child, Ayanam didn’t let his condition get in the way of pursuing his musical passion.

“The first moment I can identify of having OCD was when I was about 6 or 7, I wasn’t aware for years that it was definitely that but when I was 21 and my granny passed away, I started experiencing very aggressive thoughts and worried that my memories were negatively distorted.”

Almost everybody experiences the types of thought that people with OCD have. However, most people can dismiss these thoughts. Those with OCD carry out compulsions to reduce the anxiety they feel from an obsession. Common obsessions can surround fears of contamination, worry that you may come to or cause harm, unwanted sexual thoughts, discomfort if things aren’t symmetrical and other extreme doubts.

OCD cycle

When Ayanam experienced the worst and most violent thoughts, he found that the best thing to do was to keep himself busy with music. With studies suggesting that music releases a chemical in the brain that has a key role in setting good moods, Ayanam would grab his guitar and sing, often inspired by some of his deepest feelings.

“I worry I might have hurt someone and I’ll try and explore that thought to the point where I have created a whole reality based around it and I’m not sure which reality is true and which isn’t. When I feel like this, I pick up a pen and write my thoughts down as poetry that I then turn into song lyrics.”

From singing in the car on his way to school to getting into music properly at A-Level, Ayanam has always sang and played the guitar as a way of creative expression. Manchester’s vibrant and welcoming music scene became his family when he moved there in 2016 and kick-started his love for open-mic nights and live music.

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Performing makes me happy 😊

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Last October, Manchester-based musician Liam Callacher, hosted a charity gig in aid of OCD Action UK, inspired by his sister Lois, who has OCD. The event brought together musicians from all over Greater Manchester for a 2-day open-mic event at the Old Pint Pot in Salford. There were 4 artists with OCD that got involved to support the charity close to their hearts.

Liam who goes by the stage name, The Northern Rambler, invited Udoma and fellow musician Heidi Dewhirst to take part in a series of Facebook Live sessions on his music page. This gave the artists the opportunity to sing, discuss their musical journey and answer any questions about their OCD.

“Both Heidi and Ayanam very candidly talk about their experiences with OCD. They are very open, lovely people and their willingness to talk about their conditions has helped so many” said Liam.

Much like Ayanam, Heidi, 27, experienced signs of OCD from a very young age but initially labelled her thoughts as hormonal emotions and believed they were all part of growing up. Her OCD consists of negative intrusive thoughts combined with hygiene and contamination fears.

Heidi 1

“When I was little, I used to wish that I was surrounded by a big bubble or that there was an invisible shield protecting me. Obviously, that is quite intense because in the world you need to have contact with things mentally and physically” she said.

With regards to music, Heidi defined herself as a singer/songwriter from her early teenage years. She used her song-writing as an outlet to rant about and explore everything from her intrusive thoughts to tales about boys. After performing her first open-mic night at 19-years-old, Heidi’s musical journey progressed further and was beneficial to her condition – believing she would be stuck in a wallow without music in her life.

“4 years ago, I wrote a song called ‘Nevertheless’. It equates the cold winter night to a bleak mental state and one of the lines is saying ‘hey bully, I’m not going to listen to you anymore’ because that’s the perfect description of having OCD and even now when I sing that, I really sing that line out loud, it resonates in my heart.”

Bonding over their life experiences and passion for music Heidi and Ayanam found support in one another over the 3-years he lived in Manchester before moving to London this year.

“When it became apparent that Ayanam and myself shared almost exactly the same experiences regarding intrusive thoughts, it helped us both so much. We completely, un-judgementally understood each other, we could just bounce our feelings off each other and in turn, offer advice in a way that was less intimidating than speaking to a trained professional” explained Heidi.

For musicians with OCD, getting up on stage and performing isn’t the hardest part. If music is your passion, the adrenaline kicks in and carries you through a song. For Ayanam, going on The Voice was a chance to prove he was capable, regardless of his brain telling him he wasn’t good enough and getting through to the knock-out stages proved that.

“I never thought I’d get that far but I received so much help and support along the way. The Voice team were aware of my anxiety and always made sure I was okay. There is someone there to ensure your mental health is the best it can be and my coach Tom Jones was so understanding.”

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A highlight from being on @thevoiceuk was being mentored by @realsirtomjones and @jamesarthurinsta23 – from a popular music perspective, I've lived under a rock since 2009 so I have to admit I wasn't as familiar with James Arthur's music. I knew he was a big name though but he truly came across as such a nice and humble person. His words meant the world to me and he treated me so kindly and, even when the cameras were off, was just so genuinely supportive and encouraging. I likely may never meet him again and I don't know if he'll read this but I just wanted to say thank you for being so lovely and a great example of what an artist should be. Thank you for recently being so open about your anxiety and thank you for creating "Say you won't let go" (I can't stop listening to it!) #MentalHealthAwareness #Anxiety #TheVoiceUk #JamesArthur

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Since performing on The Voice, Ayanam has gained recognition as a motivational speaker amongst young audiences. Recently, he was invited along to a school to give a talk about overcoming anxiety in general and how to ‘hush’ the negative voices in your head. Additionally, his active online social media presence has allowed for fellow musicians and people with OCD to reach out and thank him for his ambition and encouragement to follow your dreams.

“My exposure on The Voice has given me a platform to help people just like me. People send me messages on Instagram all the time and I am so happy to reply and give advice. I think it’s because they feel a connection with me as someone who managed to get on television with anxiety. I don’t let my OCD and anxiety limit my dreams and neither should they.”

For any more information or expert advice about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, visit

To keep up to date with all of the musicians in this piece, follow their Facebook pages below for the latest music, events and other information:

Ayanam Udoma MusicHeidi Dewhirst Music, The Northern Rambler

The Fog on the Tyne is all Grime: How Geordie Boys are Stamping their own Style on British Grime

As the biggest names in the grime music industry merge genres with hip-hop and pop, are we waving goodbye to the traditional sound of British youth? After almost a two-decade existence, the future of grime music is being questioned but upcoming grime duo the North-East Dons aren’t afraid of giving the genre a new sound.

NE Dons

NE Dons: Morgan Cole (left), Will Lawton (right)

The North East is fast evolving into one of the most formidable regions in England for new and emerging music. Since forming in July 2017, Newcastle born and bred duo, Will Lawton, 19 and Morgan Cole, 20 of the North-East (NE) Dons, are continuing to impress audiences with their regional take on grime.

Sticking to their roots and letting their Geordie accents and dialect resonate, the youngest grime duo in the region have grabbed worldwide attention with their alternative grime style, although believing that the North East has a “lack of outlets” for grime artists to progress further into the world of music.

“We don’t want to sound like everyone else, we’re from the North East and we’re proud of that. We have Geordie accents so why change that? We’re different.” – NE Dons

The Dons’ relentless work rate and complex wordplay has brought the boys to the top of the regional grime scene but to them, their success has been quite a surprise. Catching the attention of BBC Newcastle’s ‘Introducing in the North East’ Nick Roberts and even making a breakthrough in the South on Radio 6’s Tom Robinson Show, the boys have received national radio play and because of this, have a dedicated track playlist on the BBC Music website.

NE Dons 2

Interview with BBC Introducing’s Nick Roberts

Raised on the sound of grime since it emerged in the 2000s, Will and Morgan expressed their love for the genre from a very young age and had always fantasised of pursuing careers in music. However, as children, they were often confused by grime lyrics that often revolved around gritty depictions of East London urban life – where the genre originated.

With grime originally tied in UK pirate radio stations such as Rinse FM, the boys expressed their understanding of the negative stereotypes that surrounded the genre.

Morgan said: “People think the genre is just shouting and that it encourages violence but that’s not the case. The biggest names in grime have had hard lives and are using their music platforms to talk about it, they aren’t trying to spread a negative message and neither are we.”

A sub-genre of electronic dance music, for a while grime was considered exclusively London based, becoming more popular throughout the UK in the mid 2000s. Considered the ‘God Father’ of grime, Wiley, in a recent interview with NME explained how the genre of grime only experiences chart success if it is “built on pop music”. However, this hasn’t stopped the Dons from forming their own unique grime sound with the help of producer Tom Roberts, who goes by the name ‘Dialled’.

In light of fellow Geordie singer-songwriter, Sam Fender, recently winning the 2019 Critics’ Choice Award, the NE Dons expressed their respect and admiration for a local musician achieving such a renowned accolade.

“The North East music scene is great and there is some really raw talent so it’s nice to see fellow Geordie’s going far. The region doesn’t get the recognition it deserves so we can’t believe the success we’ve had since starting,” explained Morgan.

As well as using their music as a platform for regional expression, the boys have found a new lease of life since forming the Dons. For Will, after having to leave sixth form due to a debilitating health condition, he believes his role in the NE Dons has given him purpose and made him feel driven again. Furthermore, after losing his dad at the age of 9, Will is proud to follow in his late father’s musical footsteps.

Their journey began after discovering they had a shared passion for grime music when they met five years ago. Spending a lot of time together, through break-ups and Will’s period of ill health, the boys began casual freestyling and rapping as an outlet for frustration. It wasn’t until 18 months ago that Will and Morgan decided to record their first song, which received 1,200 plays on Sound Cloud.

Morgan said: “We were literally just messing around, it was a laugh at first and we didn’t expect anything to come of it. Looking back at the song now, it was quite terrible but we were buzzing from the response considering it took us around two weeks to write and record it.”

From then on, the boys began attending an open mic night in Gateshead. It was here that they discovered the North East grime scene and began catching the attention of fellow rappers. Both working full time, the boys would often work long shifts and then put hours into writing lyrics and recording music when they got home.

To date, the boys have 15 songs out including their debut EP ‘Nang’ that features tracks with other popular grime artists such as MrTraumatik, Eyeconic and Blitz. A lot of their early work can be found on Sound Cloud but their most professional and latest work is available on Apple Music and Spotify with ‘Levelz’, ‘Pick ‘N’ Mix’ and ‘Nang’ being their most popular. Watch ‘Nang’ here:

“We don’t get a lot of money from the songs we make. On Spotify, we receive 0.007p per play but it’s not about that. We are getting recognition in over 17 countries and having national radio play is more than we ever expected,” said Will.

Their humble attitude has aided their support from people across the region. Videographer Jack Craggs has helped the boys bring their music to life- filming and editing music videos for the Dons’ latest tracks which are available to watch on YouTube.

At the moment, the boys are performing at a couple of gigs a month all over the region and have supported the likes of Tremz, Annix and SHY FX. They performed at the Meet the North Festival in 2018 and are also the resident MC’s for Asylum Events who specialise in both grime and drum & bass events.

Ne dons 4

Over the last 4 months, the boys have received recognition on the streets of Newcastle but their main goal now is to get bookings outside the North East. As well as working on solo EP’s they have a line-up of new music to share with their dedicated fan base across 2019.

Will said: “If it wasn’t for the genuine kindness and dedication of our friends, acquaintances and fellow musicians, there is no chance we’d be where we are today. We’re taking every day as it comes and can’t wait to see what the future holds for just two average Geordie boys.”

Keep up with the NE Dons’ journey on their social media: @NE_Dons on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and listen out for new music on their Youtube, Sound Cloud, Spotify and Apple Music pages.

By Lucy Clayton

*All information accurate as of January 2019.

O’ Come All Ye Makers: Festive Fair Highlights Manchester’s Creativity

Event Poster Courtesy of Carbooty.

Bringing Manchester’s greatest talents together for yet another creative showcase, Carbooty’s ‘Festive Atelier’ didn’t fail to impress. Upon arriving at Queen Street on Saturday 2nd December, a balloon-lined pathway guided you to a rather insignificant looking warehouse. From the outside- nothing special, yet inside- a world of imagination.

Encouraging the growth of local, independent and community based work, Carbooty is a maker’s fair that is organised and produced by Charlie Booth, Liz Wewiora and Tasha Whittle. The event boasts the talent of makers, designers and crafters, allowing individuals to share and sell their work to members of the public. With a specific focus on up-cyclying, the fair tends to attract business owners and creators that turn the old into the new in ingenious ways.

Spoonshine by Sarah- Bespoke jewellery made from recycled spoons.

“The emphasis is really on upcycling products, so you get jewellery made out of spoons or candle holders made out of bottles, that kind of thing.”Charlie Booth, Carbooty Organsier

Shadowbright Handmade Contemporary Home Decor.

The event aimed to encourage people to swap high-street, designer Christmas presents for thoughtful and handmade gifts. From bespoke handmade silver jewellery, to brand new arm chairs made out of old, broken ones, the fair had exciting crafts and gifts around every corner. With 5 hours of fun available to the public at no cost to enter, the Atelier was kept alive with a selection of hot food (Vegan Kitchen & Howlin Tacos) and sweet treats (Sarah Gee Cakes), live performances (Richard Shields, Interpretive Performer) and a DJ.

Sarah Gee’s Sweet and Festive Treats.

Having hosted annual Winter Carbooty events for the past few years, the standards were high to pull off yet another successful fair. This time held at The Artwork Atelier, just a 10-minute walk from the hustle and bustle of Manchester’s city centre. In such a unique workspace, artists from the Atelier opened their studio doors to visitors, partnering with Carbooty to give a greater insight into the thought processes and innovation behind their work.

A bank of artists and makers often attend the Carbooty events regularly due to their popularity, however the fair is open to talents of all different ages and backgrounds. For the Festive Atelier, there were 30 slots for creators which were given as first-come-first-serve to those interested, once word was put out.

Particularly intrigued by the work of BBC’s Money for Nothing upholsterer, Simion Hawtin-Smith of Reloved Upholstery, gave a greater insight into his work. With a love for vintage furniture, fabric and interiors, his work specialises mainly in the restoration of mid-century chairs- offering a bespoke upholstery service throughout the UK, based from his studio at the Atelier.

Additionally, the work from visual artist, Meg Woods, intrigued all visitors. Inspired by her mental health and how it has encouraged her to turn her feelings and emotions into art through engaging with bright colours and humour aims change the misconceptions of mental health. Click here to listen to an interview with Meg and see her work.

Greeted with this light-up Artwork Atelier sign as you enter the warehouse.

Spreading the creativity across Manchester, Carbooty has also been held at Islington Mill in Salford and during summertime in Ancoats at Unity Radio. Bringing the community together just in time for Christmas, this atelier not only highlighted Manchester’s greatest makers but also inspired many to get involved in the future.

Make sure to follow CarbootyMCR on Facebook for further details about their upcoming events or email the organisers at Seek and Yee shall find, wonderful things to open your mind!

Pups in Pubs: Has Time Been Called on Dogs in Your Local?

You will be missed: Pups now banned from their favourite pub.

It’s hooch or the pooch.

We are a nation of dog lovers. With 8.5 million dog owners in the UK, it can be quite a controversial topic as to where we can take our beloved pets. New Kennel Club research finds 98% of dog friendly pubs believe four-legged customers improve business. However, as hygiene and social reasons continue to play a huge role in the popularity and success of a business, many pub landlords are making the decision to ban dogs from the premises. With no laws preventing dogs from being in areas where food is being served, it is up to the individual business to determine their own policy. Click here to see an Infogram on The Influence of Dogs in Businesses (Statistics from The Kennel Club).

A sad reminder to customers that dogs are no longer welcome.

The Red House Farm Bar and Restaurant located in the North East of England has recently made the decision to scrap its dog friendly title after welcoming them for 8 years. The action took place on Sunday 1st October and shall stay in place until further notice. After a recent increase of dogs in the bar area, landlord Chris Bremner felt the decision would aid the management of such a small environment.

With the number of dogs coming in to the establishment tripling over the past 12 months, Bremner felt that the mixed ratio of dog lovers to dog haters played a huge role in the decision and wanted to cater for both the needs of his customers and bar staff. Additionally, after speaking to waitress Annabelle Hill, she also agreed that the decision would be best for the future of the pub.


The RHF beer garden was once a PUP-ular hotspot for dogs on summer days.

Although the pub was popular with walkers due to its location near the coast and acceptance of dogs, in the long term, the advantages of being dog free would hugely benefit the pub. Since making the decision, there has only been a slight decrease in the number of customers, with sources saying that during weekdays previous dog-owning customers have swapped to another dog friendly pub nearby but still visit on weekends. However, with recent refurbishments, the banning of dogs shall maintain the high-quality of the interior and therefore bring new customers looking for a more luxury local. Click here for a Story Map of 15 Dog Friendly Pubs in the North East of England.

With over 187,000 members around the world, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) believe that well-run pubs play a critical social role in UK culture as the centres of community life. After contacting Katie Wiles, Communications Manager for CAMRA, she gave a greater insight into this matter on behalf of the society:

“We’d say that its up to the individual landlord to decide what is best for their pub. Some pubs hugely benefit from being dog-friendly, particularly if based in the countryside along walking routes – others that serve food may prefer to say no to dogs. At the end of the day, pubs are local businesses and have to be run in the way that best suits their community.” 

– Katie Giles, CAMRA Spokesperson

The Kennel Club’s ‘Open for Dogs’ Campaign aims to persuade more UK businesses to be dog-friendly. With motives such as a yearly competition to find the most dog-friendly business, aims are high to make everywhere accepting of our pooches. Although the decision is up to the owner and what they think is best for their business, surely you can’t say no to those big brown puppy eyes!

Lottie and Rory will have to find a new local.

The Fun’s in Reach at Sunny Beach


Not your average girls holiday destination, Sunny Beach still ticked all the boxes. With the majority of teenagers hitting hotspots such as Zante, Magaluf and Malia, I was surprised to see Bulgaria on the long list of summer 2017 vacations. Armed with a small budget, myself and 2 of my lifelong friends were delighted to see 7 nights in Bulgaria for just £167. Our hotel and flights covered in such little cost, we thought we couldn’t go wrong with what appeared to be the bargain of the century!

As a celebration for completing our A levels and finishing 2 hellish years at sixth form, we truly deserved to splash out and enjoy a girlie trip away. Beginning on July 14th 2017, we entered Newcastle airport collectively bringing 45kg of makeup, clothes and toiletries on our travels. After a bumpy, turbulence-rich flight, we finally landed at Burgas Airport in the early hours of the morning. Welcomed straight away by our club 18-30 rep, we knew that we were in for a week of alcohol fuelled shenanigans.

Arriving at our 3 star hotel, Zornica Residence, first impressions seemed rather satisfactory. We were immediately approached by our ‘hosts’ for the week, offering a package deal for 430 Lev (£195) which included a boat trip, free entry into night clubs and bars, a pool party and much more… we obviously signed up for it! Bulgaria is notoriously known for being ridiculously cheap with regards to food, drink and general shopping so we presumed we would be able to survive on the rest of our spending money (this proved to be a struggle).

With previous weather reports portraying Sunny Beach as a scorching hot summer haven- hence living up to its name, we were disappointed to be greeted with several cloudy days. This however, didn’t stop the fun. We had cocktails on the go all day everyday as we lounged around the pool soaking up what minimal rays we could. In saying this, it was probably for the best as sun stroke mixed with alcohol wouldn’t have been a good concoction.

We found ourselves taking to the main strip for our evening meals and stumbled across a few amazing yet affordable places. From pizza to pasta to kebabs, we didn’t even get the chance to taste the traditional Bulgarian cuisine. The majority of the events we had signed up to began around 8pm, when the huge herd of hotel guests followed our reps to the strip like animals to Noah’s arc.

The first night was a ‘back to school’ party where we were all given a t-shirt with rules on the back in which we had to follow. We ended up in a huge nightclub called ‘Iceberg’ and had the best time playing drinking games whilst being plied with drinks from a free flowing bar. We definitely got our moneys worth on night number 1…



The next few days were full of activities, from a boat party to a UV night, Bulgaria had it ALL. We decorated our faces with glow-in-the-dark paint for a full-moon beach party and danced every single night away to a fantastic array of DJs. Being from Newcastle, it was a coincidence to bump into a few familiar faces from the popular MTV Show Geordie Shore- from Joel Corry (boyfriend of Sophie Kasaei) being a DJ at our beach party to sitting on the table next to Chloe Ferry in a popular restaurant.

Besides struggling to live off the minimal Lev we had left, none of us ended up with cheap tattoos, infected piercings, alcohol poisoning or sun stroke so all in all it was a huge success! With memories to last us a lifetime, a bunch of new friends and hilarious photographic evidence, this girls holiday was certainly one to remember!

Top 5 things to do in Sunny Beach:

  1. Sign up to a club 18-30 event package.
  2. Take advantage of free flowing bars.
  3. Spend a day/ night at the beach.
  4. Explore the strip: try the food, buy souvenirs, go in every club.
  5. Even if you get sea sick, go on a boat party!

Top 5 tips for surviving a girls holiday:

  1. Make sure you take enough money to last you a week.
  2. Stay hydrated, in the shade and wear suncream (nobody wants sunstroke.)
  3. Stick together, this is your substitute family for a week!
  4. Try not to injure yourself… hospitals can be expensive!
  5. Laugh, take pictures and make lifetime memories.

Link to 1st Image