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Family members: Douglas Noble

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

I met Douglas Noble, Live Music Now's Strategic Director and Balearic Breakfast Family member, for a chat! Let's find out how much Music is important in people's lives!


1) Dear Douglas, thank you so much for joining us here on the Balearic Breakfast blog! During the 147th show, Colleen and Matthew Halsall exchanged a few words about the healing force of music. You then shared your experience on the Discord channel, explaining that you work with musicians in health and care settings to support people's health and well-being. Can you tell us more about your musical journey and how it impacts the people you meet?

Thank you so much for inviting me into this interesting conversation, Artur! I work with Live Music Now, a social impact charity across the UK. With professional musicians, we harness the power of music to bring about positive change for people facing challenges. We reach older people living lonely or isolated, people struggling with mental health challenges, people in hospitals, Disabled young people facing barriers to expressing themselves, developing and being creative, and people with Dementia needing to feel safe, connected and to express themselves.

At the heart of this is that we are all musicians with our own musical identities. Music connects, builds resilience, reflects, processes and contains emotions, supports us to feel better at the moment and gives us tools to move on, progress and develop.

2) What brought you to this?

I have a life-long love of and relationship with music. I started buying 7-inch singles aged 8 with my pocket money at jumble sales in the small seaside town of Dawlish in Devon. I was already attached to vinyl from my parent’s record collection (Marley, Floyd, Dury, Dylan, Cat Stevens, etc.) and was soon spending my weekly 50p pocket money on post-punk, New Wave 45’s in Woolworths (Clash, Lene Lovich, Members, X-ray Spex, Skids etc.).

In Autumn ‘79, Two Tone exploded into my life through the Thursday night TV window of Top of the Pops. I knew reggae through Marley, but Ska was something else, mixing the excitement and energy of Punk with protest, conscious messaging and upbeat Caribbean and R&B rhythms. I bought the clothes and danced the dances but also took in the embedded message about music's role in bringing about a better, fairer, more equal society. This came through the lyrics and, crucially, the make-up of the bands, Black and White people making music together, in itself, intrinsically anti-racist.

In the ’90s, I worked in London as an Asylum, Immigration and Human rights lawyer, still picking up vinyl, moving through Synth, and Electro to Indie, Dance to House, Hip Hop & more & DJing at house parties (starting in the late '80s with carefully curated C90 mixtapes!).

I was a regular at the Mambo Inn night at the Loughborough Hotel, Brixton; Max and Rita DJing a genre-hopping blend of West African, Samba, Zouk, Latin, Hammond Grooves, etc. This uplifted me. A euphoric Friday night dancefloor refuge from the frontline of my desk. It inspired me in my charity shop and second-hand vinyl shopping, going into my sets, including at the Disco Biscuit nights I hosted with long-time DJ-pal Georgie Brendon at the Windmill on Brixton Hill.

Buena Vista Social Club took me to Cuba in 2000, bumping into Eliades Ochoa, sipping a Cristal in the Plaza Vieja, Santiago. I picked up a fistful of somewhat mouldy Egrem records and Son, along with Boogaloo, Salsa, Cumbia, Bossa, MPB, Samba & Nueva Yorkian sounds, bringing the Latin vibe to the collection.

I moved to the Whitstable in 2002, leaving Law to have some time at Art College, and I set up the High Life Nights with Alvin Kirby-Brown, who bought a heavy dose of Afrobeat, Rhumba and Jazz, and we mixed live Latin and West African percussion (thanks Jorge Santo and Lucky Moyo!). This ended when Alvin emigrated to Australia. With Imogen Noble and Anne Day, we set up Samba Pelo Mar, Whitstable’s’ Samba Band. In around 2015, my DJing picked up again through the Feet To The Floor (FTTF) grown-up disco nights with co-DJ Bear Richards; get the babysitter in, £5 on the door, bring your own booze and dance your ass off (laughs)!

Music For Change was my first job in music and social change in the early 00s. A project supporting newly arrived asylum seekers and the local host community working with an amazing group of International UK-based musicians, into Hear Me Out (music with people in Immigration detention) and then Drake Music (music technology and Disability Equality). I joined Live Music Now in 2013 when my mother was sadly dying prematurely from cancer. Some of her last moments were spent with music that she and my Father loved together (both committed amateur Folkies - him an accordion player and her a singer).

I’m the Strategic Director of Adult Social Care and Health, working with a committed team of colleagues and musicians across England, Wales & Northern Ireland. My job includes finding the money, building partnerships, designing programs, capturing and understanding our impact & sharing what we learn, as well as advocating for progress alongside the growing Creative Health movement (not replacing medical and clinical treatments but as part of a whole-person integrated approach to health and care). Right now, we are recruiting musicians in London (deadline 16th October), so if you know anyone, please pass this on as we grow to reflect better the rich and diverse musical and identity landscape of the UK!

I’m now back living in Devon, just outside Totnes, with FTTF events at Things Happen Here, regular shows on Soul Roots Radio and Sound Art Radio, South Devon Sound with Radio High Life and a Feet to the Floor show (the latter back with Georgie). I play what I like to call international good grooves, where Latin, Brazilian, West African and Caribbean grooves meet Funk, Soul, Disco, Dance and Jazz. Content comes from digging into my collection and constantly discovering gorgeous new music. You can hear my shows on Mixcloud and SoundCloud, where there are a few edits, too!

3) It is believed that some frequencies, when applied to the body, can heal (I am thinking about the singing bowls) or at least help in the relaxation process. Did you experience such treatments or talk to people who tried them? Do you believe this "pure frequency" approach is still valid when listening to music since several frequencies are blended?

Interesting thought, Artur, but I can’t respond directly to that idea as I do not know. However, the science behind it matters in my work, as does evidencing and understanding the difference it makes. Music is a powerful ‘healer’, as I said, but it’s not magic. There are good reasons for this, and our understanding and evidence on these matters is growing.

In my work, there is something extraordinary about people experiencing live music in one place, in a sharing experience. As a DJ, I see that happening through the recorded music and the unity and connectedness we feel on the dancefloor, too!

We know that music is a social bonding tool that human apes have used in our evolutionary journey, pre-dating spoken word, as a means of strengthening bonds, communicating ideas, keeping us collaborating, and reaffirming our identities (all essential to our survival and success in social groups). This plays no small part in why music makes us feel safe and seen, helping us to communicate when spoken language may not be possible because of cognitive or physical impairment or decline.

Thanks to Dr Teppo Särkämo, we also know where and how music works across the brain, with his work mapping how various elements of listening to and playing music connect with different parts of the brain. So, for example, the part linked to emotion, pleasure and reward, or the part that connects playing, singing and moving to the beat and motor function, or keeping track of music and our episodic memory. These and other stimulation points are located right across the brain. Hence, we experience music as a whole-brain, multi-faceted, neurologically active experience.

This helps us understand why music seems to ‘wake up’ people with Dementia and the emerging evidence that it can support mobility improvement after Stroke or Parkinson’s and even reduce pain.

4) I love listening to music in the dark, closing my eyes, and drifting away. How do you listen to music? Do you think music can reveal something about our true nature?

I touched on this above with my thoughts on musical identity. I am very interested in our musical identities, how they communicate and how they are shaped by our stories, lived experiences and life journeys. They powerfully reflect us as individuals and our cultural contexts and are valuable and important.

For me, music is a connector. I do listen to music alone a lot… In the car, when I’m working and sitting relaxing at night too! But I love to share it through radio shows and DJing and value how it brings me closer to others. This was a significant thing for me and my mental health struggles during the Pandemic, when we were separated by necessity, and I couldn’t DJ or socialise around music.

I love live gigs, getting up close to the stage, watching musicians in the flow, and immersing myself in that experience of communication and connection. Festivals are great for this, and I am a festival veteran, having started at the age of 8 being taken by my parents to Folk festivals.

I love listening to other DJs to discover new music. Like all DJs, I follow threads in Bandcamp, jumping from track to track, searching for the perfect groove. I love this constant potential for discovery and novelty and that rare but very special moment when I get that intense sense of excitement and elation in a new musical discovery, just like I did when I was 10!

5) As a member of the Balearic Breakfast Family, how did you discover Colleen? What attracts you to the show?

During the Pandemic, I started listening to WWFM, following the Giles Petersons Brownswood Basement shows, and hunting for new DJs and music. I discovered Coco Maria, Haseeb Iqbal, Charlie Dark, and Colleen.

I love her positive energy, excellent selections, and thoughtful, gentle and enthusiastic presentation. She has a deep love for and knowledge of what she plays. She is a connector, not least into her own musical identity right back to a particular and important strand of the emergence, development and growth of Dance music and Dance Cultures, and the role of the DJ in that. Thank you, Colleen!

6) Colleen always ends her shows saying, "And remember, just be Balearic". According to you, what does it take to be "Balearic"? Do you think that questioning how we interact with life/people is something we should always do, helped in this quest by the vibrant forces of Sound, or do you think that letting go and concentrating only on ourselves is the way to go?

The word ‘Balearic‘ always takes me back to the first time I heard Grace Jones’ La Vie En Rose, dancing under the stars, in an open-air Disco in Southern Crete, circa1985.

I think I have, in some way, already largely shared my position on this question in what I’ve said above. However, it may be summed up like this: “Discover what we share and celebrate what makes us individuals”.

Congratulations on all that you do, Douglas! Thank you so much for sharing your passion for music with us!

Great to chat, Artur. Thanks again for including me and for your interest in what I do!

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