If you’ve watched our music video The Tree, you’ll have heard spoken word artist Craig Neesam using some very powerful lyrics over the music to recount chapters of his life story; lyrics such as these:
ADHD, OCD, PTSD
Autism spectrum as far as the eye can see
These do not define me and assign me
To a label that does not let me into my sense of place that calls.
So here’s to the rebels, the heart sick originals,
The ones who won’t conform, back down or step aside,
To the ones who are not born to fit in but to gloriously stand out.
Here’s to the wild ones!
A qualified painter and decorator by trade, Craig first heard about New Note through the recovery grapevine and for the past five years has been a kind of honorary member whose voice is his instrument.
Recalling that first meeting at an open mic session at St Luke’s church, Craig says: “I saw that the orchestra was doing great things. I knew 90% of the members already and was tempted to join because I could tell that they had a really strong bond”
Diagnosed with dyslexia at school and then with conditions like ADHD and PTSD in later life, Craig is the first to admit that he sometimes struggles in large groups. “But I’ve always felt completely welcomed and comfortable with New Note,” he says, “even if I’ve got a bit of self-doubt going on. So when there’s a new gig coming up, I get set on fire with it, even if it’s two or three months down the line, it really helps me with my recovery because it gives me a little goal.”
A difficult early family life and trauma as a child started Craig off self-medicating with drugs and alcohol at the age of 15. At 16, he was sent to prison for four years and served a second sentence when he was 27. On his release, he underwent treatment for addiction and spent eight years “completely clean and sober” to use his words. Overwork and a series of court cases relating to his seven-year old daughter in Liverpool who he hasn’t seen since she was 18 months old then led to a breakdown and a short relapse, but Craig is now in his fifth year of recovery and attributes writing to having helped enormously with his recovery journey.
“I started writing in prison as a form of escapism,” he says. “I didn’t pick it up again then for about 12 years and it became part of my therapy.” Since then, not only has he gone on to publish two books of his spoken word poetry through the community group Invisible Voices of Brighton and Hove, but he also performed alongside the hugely talented spoken word artist and musician Kae Tempest when they curated Brighton Festival.
“The word poetry for me can separate a lot of people,” Craig explains, “because you almost think that poetry has to come from a more educated, private school kind of thing whereas spoken word is quite down with the kids. In reality, everyone’s a poet, everyone’s a spoken word artist.”
Being able to perform his work with New Note in public and in front of his friends and family has proved a real turning point. “I don’t want to sound cheesy,” he says, “but it certainly makes me feel warm and proud, productive. It’s like being part of a lighthouse, welcoming in other people that have maybe had addiction or mental health problems. It’s as if we’re telling them ‘get some help, we’re here for you’.”
Craig is keen to tell his story because he feels that it could help other people who have experienced similar challenges to the ones that he’s faced over the years. “It’s about letting the world know there’s people being creative that have had and have still got problems, and getting the word out there that this bonding and this creativity is certainly a great therapy in life.”