Breathwork and gig buddies: Lewis Capaldi launches fan mental health scheme

Scottish singer’s Livelive scheme aims to help fans suffering from panic attacks and social anxiety

The corridors at arena gigs are usually abuzz with pre-show anticipation and thronging bar queues. Prior to Lewis Capaldi’s performance at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro on Thursday night, there were pockets of calm as fans undertook breathwork classes to learn how to stay centred in a crowded space.

Capaldi, the UK’s bestselling musician of 2019, has rolled out Livelive, a pioneering mental health initiative for gig-goers attending his arena tour. After the 23-year-old Scottish star openly discussed his own history of panic attacks in interviews, he received dozens of messages from fans thanking him for speaking publicly.

This influx of support and shared experiences of panic and anxiety convinced Capaldi and his team that coming up with such an initiative for his biggest shows to date was essential, said Livelive co-founder Jack Williamson. “People were saying, ‘Thank you – I feel less alone.’ Or, ‘I have social anxiety and that’s stopped me from coming to your shows.’ One in 10 people have anxiety, and we saw that there was an opportunity for us to provide that support for people.”

Livelive offers an email support service so fans can inquire about facilities prior to a performance. One hour before doors open, Capaldi posts meeting points for a gig-buddy system on Instagram, designed for solo gig-goers to find company. A help desk in the foyer promotes awareness and points people towards longer-term resources. Behind this, a quiet space is set aside for anyone feeling overwhelmed. Medical staff and trained mental health professionals are on hand to provide extra care.

The team at Lewis Capaldi’s Livelive initiative at the Glasgow SSE Hydro arena.
The team at Lewis Capaldi’s Livelive initiative at the Glasgow SSE Hydro arena. Photograph: Ryan Johnston

Fan Kevin, 23, said: “Lewis is such a legend for doing it, honestly. It’s something that society needs and he’s at the forefront.”

Inspired by the work of Attitude Is Everything, a charity that improves accessibility for deaf and disabled people at live performances, Williamson says the team behind Livelive want mental health support at gigs to become an industry standard.

While their research indicates that Livelive is the first initiative of its kind at this scale, it builds on work being carried out across the arts to make venues more accessible, from relaxed performances in the theatre to dementia-friendly cinema screenings. This weekend’s BBC 6 Music festival in Camden, London, features a designated relaxation space with quiet music and beanbags.

The logistics behind Livelive are complex. Undertaking background checks, safeguarding and policy work is time-consuming and expensive, although Livelive works with volunteers from mental health organisations local to each performance. At a smaller show in Manchester earlier in the week they collaborated with 42nd Street, a mental health charity that offered support to young people following the Manchester arena bombing. In Glasgow some volunteers came from local social enterprise LifeLink.

Lewis Capaldi in concert at the SSE Hydro, Glasgow.
Lewis Capaldi in concert at the SSE Hydro, Glasgow. Photograph: RMV/Rex/Shutterstock

An extra 50p has been added to ticket prices to fund the scheme. Still, the budget remains tight, and Livelive provides any additional funding, said Williamson: “With economies of scale, it will get easier to do.”

He argued that there was a strong business case for this kind of initiative: “We did initial research on Lewis’s socials and 83% of respondents out of 232,712 people said that if this kind of support was available at other shows, it would increase the likelihood of them purchasing a ticket. To see that kind of interest is fascinating, and to see that it could increase turnout and financial generation too.”

Finding a suitable space for the initiative within a crowded arena can be difficult. For the Glasgow performances, venue sponsors were invited to volunteer to give up their place in a private lounge in order to accommodate the scheme. Colin Banks, head of sponsorship at SSE, said the response was positive. “It gives you back some faith in the human race.”

Fans attending the Glasgow show welcomed the scheme. Taylor, 20, said: “I know Lewis suffers from [anxiety] so it’s great that people can come here and get that support. I have anxiety myself, and knowing that the support is here makes all the difference.”

Angela, 59, had not heard of the scheme prior to the gig: “The more people who know about it the better,” she said. “It’s great that people are talking about this kind of thing.”

Ryan, 28, agreed. “I saw it on his Instagram. My little brother doesn’t like coming to gigs but this would definitely help.”

Williamson is confident about the longevity of Livelive. He confirms that the scheme has been in talks with other musicians in the UK and US about creating similar initiatives for their tours, as well as with other venues and promoters across the country.

“Ultimately I don’t care who does it as long as it gets done,” he says. “In an ideal world this support would be available at any venue. Even if it only helps one person, it’s worth it.”


Katie Hawthorne

The GuardianTramp

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