Campaigner, activist and ambassador for disabled people’s access to live music, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ruth Patterson has just released her debut single as a solo artist in her own right.  She is well known as the co-founder of the popular folk, blues and rock band, Holy Moly & The Crackers. Ruth has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome causing chronic pain and fatigue and takes immune suppressant drugs so she has been isolated at home for the past four months.

Sink Or Swim deals full-on with the urgent and often taboo subject of mental health, specifically one’s present state of mind, currently exacerbated by the disruption and anxiety caused by lockdown measures. It is a blockbuster of a single reflecting Ruth’s resilience and confidence in dealing with her difficulties and having the determination and character to come through them.

Such is the power of music in these situations; to paraphrase John Lee Hooker, music is the healer when you are down, “all over the world, it can heal me, it can heal you.” Songs of this depth and honesty make a difference by undoing any stigma associated with mental health issues while simultaneously helping people to understand that they are not alone.

image of ruth patterson

Ruth Patterson

Sink Or Swim starts with an atmospheric piano introduction evocative of the gentle flow of the sea, setting the scene for the calmly delivered opening lines:

Finding my feet as it closes in
Rising up to my knees, diving in
Bring me back softly I won’t give in
Time moves slowly sink or swim

The mood changes subtly and then dramatically with the string quartet’s glorious interludes of increasing virtuosity and intensity, the vocals now sounding more anguished:

And a storm is breaking in my mind
Rivers running from my eyes
And I hate to drag you down, down, down
But I know you’ll bring me back, bring me back this time
The powerful, intricate, poetic lyrics describe the cyclical and other changes occurring in the natural world:
Growing into the ground, bodies turn to clay
Heat of my heart as it flows away
Bring me back softly I won’t give in
Time moves slowly sink or swim

As the maelstrom continues throughout the middle section of the song, the sense of loss and dread are counterbalanced by the constant reaffirmation of hope and redemption reflected in the shifting ebb and flow of the impassioned vocal delivery:

But I know you’ll bring me back, bring me back
To the ground, spin me round this time

image of ruth patterson

Ruth Patterson

Patterson demonstrates exceptional tonal range, phrasing and breath control in the mesmeric repetition of Would You Sink Or Swim? her fate seemingly hanging in the balance. The pure brilliance of this vocal tour de force reaches its apogee in the climactic last verse:

Losing my feet as it closes in
Rising up to my knees, diving in
Bring me back softly I can’t give in
Time moves slowly sink or swim

Such a personal, challenging and liberating recording can only be achieved with a perfect synergy between the vocals and instrumental accompaniment. The latter was provided by Harborough Collective, an exceptional string quartet comprising violinists David and Catherine Le Page, cellist Clare O’Connell, and Charles Cross on viola. Patterson benefited from expert mentoring by Fiona Brice, one of the UK’s leading collaborative composers, arrangers and performers, who helped to shape the musical score and ensure the sumptuous arrangements of the ensemble.

The video stop-motion claymation accompanying the song is an inspirational work of genius from Los Angeles based artist and animator Rafael Bonilla Jr. The surreal, enigmatic scenes bring Ruth’s vivid lyrical imagery and creativity to life and add emotional depth, particularly the metamorphoses sequences.

Sink Or Swim and its accompanying video animation are memorable and compelling, hooking the listener and viewer completely and not letting go, the words and images becoming embedded in the psyche for a long time afterwards. Ruth Patterson demonstrates the powerful impact which music can have on our mental state and its ability to soothe troubled minds. Above all, the song offers much-needed hope, optimism and even salvation.

As Sage Gateshead Artist In Residence Ruth explains, “This song is about living with mental instability and the battle to keep our heads above water. I had a panic attack last year and I really felt like I was drowning, losing control and facing the reality of disappearing and not knowing when it will end. Mental health problems are very prominent in my family and, growing up, it’s something that we were always able to talk about. I am very fortunate to see my mental health as “normal”.

We are all a little bit nuts and I think it is part of being human. Being super sensitive, I feel everything around me in a really intense way: emotions, feelings, weather and sounds. Experiencing life in high definition can be wonderful but also destructive. At times, it can feel like an electrical storm in my head. I guess this song is me sharing my own experiences and hopefully, it will connect with other people that maybe feel the same way. It seems with everything that’s going on, the whole world is living in a state of anxiety. We’ve all lost a sense of control as our reality is so rapidly changing. Now, more than ever, we need to have these conversations.

Sink Or Swim, released on June 26th, is available on Spotify and Apple as well as from Pink Lane RecordsSage Gateshead’s Digital Stage arranged for the streaming of a special virtual concert marking the launch of Newcastle upon Tyne based Ruth Patterson’s solo career on June 25th at 20.30.

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