On Sunday 24 September 2017 a group of mental health service users from Mad Pride and the Mental Health Resistance Network are getting together to put on a 12 hour rock gig at The Amersham Arms in Deptford, SE London, to celebrate the life of well-known mental health activist and general mensch Robert Dellar, who died suddenly on 17 December 2016 at the age of 52, leaving a huge hole in the Mental Health Services Survivor Movement. RobertFest 2017 promises to be an excellent and memorable event says organiser Debbie McNamara.
Robert was a founder member of Mad Pride, and through his work at Mind pioneered the model for mental health advocacy projects, which is still used. He had over 25 years in the saddle as a star player in the Survivor Movement, and most recently led Southwark Mind and Southwark Association for Mental Health, from where he reached pretty much every mental health service user in South East London with his tireless efforts setting up groups, lobbying local service providers, organising demos, producing an anarchic newsletter (in a fanzine style) and offering support to individuals.
Robert had already become one of the best-known mental health professionals in East and North London. He formulated and set up the User Council for Southwark Mind, another pioneering organisation whereby local mental health service users could feed in their views directly to decision makers at the huge local psychiatric hospital The Maudsley Trust and to those involved in service provision across Lambeth and Southwark.
But he is probably best remembered by the majority of people for the outstanding rock gigs that he put on all over SE London in mental health settings like the Lorrimore Centre, Muses Café and others, which were always packed to the rafters.
In his capacity as a founder member of Mad Pride he organised sell-out gigs at high profile venues like the Garage in Highbury and the last couple of years at the Lexington in Islington, again packed with hundreds of mental health service users.
Robert also spearheaded many large public protests under this banner, and, along with the late great Pete Shaughnessy, was largely responsible for Time Out covering Mad pride with the words “Mad Pride have stampeded into the limelight” at the time of our one day festival in Clissold Park in Hackney in 2001, attended by 4,000 mental health service users, punks and anarchists, which was covered by CNN and spawned Mad Pride groups nationally and globally.
Robert had been a music journalist before getting into mental health work, and when too ill to work in a full-time, salaried capacity, he focussed again on campaigning and writing and produced a book called ‘Splitting in Two’ a couple of years ago, published by Unkant Publishers, which expands on all the hilarious and significant things he and all those who came forward to be involved got up to, both at work (including in Hackney Hospital and Brixton prison) and in his free time with Mad Pride and the Mental Health Resistance Network.
Robert was the inspiration for countless people finding a voice, and the empowering force that drew people together to organize themselves into action. I was privileged to work alongside him in Mad Pride and countless other ventures. Always completely committed, he was funny, true to the authenticity of his views, energetic, creative, charismatic and totally on point in his knowledge of the benefits system, mental health law and precisely what constitutes acceptable (and therefore unacceptable) practice. He was the ‘go-to person’, night and day, for very many people if any crisis blew up, which they often did, and when anyone needed immediate and urgent help.
The 12 hour rock gig at The Amersham Arms on 24 September 2017 will run from 12pm – 12am, and features all Robert’s fave bands and performers, who he put on at gigs for mental health service users as often as he could over the years, not to satisfy himself but to introduce a whole new audience to the music he loved.
Headlining will be the legendary punk band Alternative TV, also playing are Vic Godard (of Subway Sect) and his band The Bitter Springs, notorious mad punk band from Blackpool The Ceramic Hobs (whose best known album ‘Straight Outta Rampton’ earned them a record contract the moment it was released), highly regarded N London musician Jowe Head with his new band The Infernal Contraption, seasoned rockers The Long Decline (who will do a set with Vic Godard and Mark Perry of ATV), a set by Dave Kusworth (who fans will remember from The Jacobites days of fame). Avant garde Survivor Artiste Melanie Clifford will present a short piece, alongside many more!
The event will also showcase the inaugural Robert Dellar Memorial Lecture, to be given this year by mad academic and writer Prof Esther Leslie, another friend and fellow agitator.
Ticket prices are £5 unwaged/ low waged, £10 waged, £20 full price. Any proceeds after the costs of putting on the gig are covered will be donated to the Mental Health Resistance Network, a campaigning organisation that Robert was very involved with up to the time of his death. Tickets on the door or on Eventbrite (booking fee applies).
A book of reminiscences about Robert is currently being compiled by cartoon artist Lawrence Burton, entitled ‘Kiss of Life’.
The Amersham Arms is at 388 New Cross Road, Deptford, London SE14 6TY. It is very near to New Cross overground train station. Bus 177 from Peckham or Deptford runs past the venue. The venue has level access and accessible toilet facilities.
See www.facebook.com/robertfest2017/ for more information!