As part of my mission to promote mental wellbeing and creative self-expression,Duncan Foster, who is a producer and musician of the Affinity Triangle & novelist based in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire wrote this enlightening, charming & candid portrait of his childhood, & how being able to express himself in negative and in more positive creative ways helped him. I want to thank, Dunc for making my job as an interviewer far too easy.
The Affinity triangle is working on multiple projects in the next upcoming week. I’ll feature them on my website.
In Dunc’s own words ” I write & produce all the music for The Affinity Triangle, sometimes featuring instrumentalists such as Liz Dever on the Violin. Although the latest release from The Affinity Triangle is a Dub Remix of the preceding release, An Saoghal Stuthach (the material world). The song has been remixed by Dark Optics a World/Dub/Triphop producer & an old schoolmate of Dunc’s. Dark Optics is also releasingmusic featuring The Affinity Triangle, the words of Dunc Foster on a track called Pilgrimage. The two hope to collaborate more in the future
His music is described as folk-pop, pop, melodic dub ( with other mixes).
Before going into this I just wanna say that I’ve had lots of fun in my life & found enjoyment in my experiences & in the people I have connected with, my family & friends who I love. Talking about issues which have a negative effect on mental health is gonna draw me to talk about my own little struggles on the path to my current situation. Everyone has different levels of privileges & disadvantages. I’m not comparing my personal experiences to anyone else’s.
Daisy: Duncan doesn’t dwell on the past. It does give me a bit of context. I am conscious that reliving these emotions can bring you down. I think it important to know /identify what you see as negative to your mental health can work in your favour because you know what triggers you and you can start to formulate an action plan to protect your privacy & to assert your boundaries.
I was a free & creatively expressive child. I grew up in a small house with a big garden in Handsworth, Darnall, East Sheffield with my Mum & Dad, an older brother & a younger sister.
We used to draw & craft & make plays & games in the garden. My parents got me & my brother nylon string guitars when I was about 5 & we made our first band, no chords…
We moved to Matlock in Derbyshire when I was about 10 years old & for me it seemed to go downhill from there for a long time… I was a sensitive being & still am, likemost people I assume, until we develop ways of dealing with ourselves & the world around us for better or worse, either accepting & developing or numbing & repressing. I used to write stories & songs & create worlds & games throughout my childhood & teens, back then it was a way of escaping but also I was exploring my experience through creativity.
My brother got a 4-track digital recorder when I was about 12 or 13 & I started using it. We had a bedroom band with a couple of mates but never played outside of it, I recorded my first album ‘Prosaic Mess’ on my own & didn’t show many people, too anxious about their reactions & it made me feel so vulnerable.It was a screechy 13 or 14 year olds voice trying to sound gruff like Kurt Cobain with drum loops from the 4-track & Grungy guitar riffs & bass lines. I was now hooked on creating tapes & album song lists, working out artwork & filling books with scribbly pictures & obscure lyrics expressing my teenage angst & confusion.
My Parents were struggling with work, marriage, drinking & their drawn out break up affected all of us.
The house we’d moved into in Matlock was bigger than the house in Sheffield but it was never decorated, I used to slide down the rolled up carpet down the stairs for the whole 9 tears we lived there. I lived in the attic room where I painted on the crumbling plaster walls & punched holes in them through to the eaves.
This became my sanctuary where I experimented with my identity, my self-expression, my creativity & my exploration of intoxicating substances.
My mates would all gather there along with my little sis’ & sometimes my big bro.
I had severe acne throughout my teens & grew my hair to cover it, I pierced my own ears, I drew spirals & flowers on my t-shirts & all over my stuff, shredded my jeans & sewed all sorts of stuff to them.
There was nothing to help explain the pain & frustration I felt at this age, I believe we pick it up from all around us with our sensitive beings & we carry it with us from trauma, whether ancestral trauma,
family trauma or mations on my dad’s computer. I never really thought about what I was doing it for at the time, I just had to do it, I had so much energy & emotional fuzz inside me & questions & sensations & reflections of the world around me & the things I heard about, that it all had to go somewhere & I dread to think what I would’ve done if I didn’t have my creative nature which my parents encouraged & I thank them for that.
If I wasn’t creating stuff I was out on the streets on my skateboard using my body.
Like a lot of youths with unstable homes I didn’t now how to manage my drug habits & keeping up with my parents drinking was enough to set me off on a self-destructive path, I don’t blame them for that as they were facing the same oppression & the beginning of the same social pressures that my generation is facing now along with all other types of problems that we face in the world on a daily basis.
Everyone has different opportunities in this world & I’m more privileged than a lot of them so I’m not complaining but just because the opportunities are potentially there it doesn’t mean we’re taught or we know how to make the most of them or even realise they are opportunities or privileges, especially when mental health isn’t talked about or dealt with.
So mapping out our experiences & the different energies at play which have an effect on our hearts & minds can really help us to realise why we struggle & what can be positive or negative in our lives & the most progressive ways to deal with it all.
I carried on making music & album artwork year after year, just for myself, it gave me s
couple of days later I got it checked out & the twig had pierced my eardrum & dislocated all the tiny delicate bones which vibrate & send the messages to my brain for hearing. I was finding it impossible to socialize or concentrate on anything, the tinnitus was so intense & my hearing was half missing.
I couldn’t sleep because of the sound & the feeling of dread & every time I started to drop off, screaming dark spirits engulfed the left side of my head & I woke trembling in fear & confusion. I couldn’t enjoy anything for a long time & nobody really understood, I couldn’t communicate my pain & experience & there was nothing for outsiders to see except me twitching out & looking depressed.
I was already more of an introvert than extrovert & this caused me to sink deeper behind my own skin.
My brain slowly got used to my damaged ear & hearing & listening slowly became possible. I had 20% hearing in the damaged ear last time I got it checked, & the tinnitus remained, like a constant reminder, billions of tiny angry voices screaming at me from inside my ear, warping & ringing with different frequencies, turning into words sometimes & shouting at me, really freaking me out. Loud noises would make it crunch & squelch & do all sorts of distracting & nasty stuff.
The lymph-vessel behind my bad ear would pulse intensely & swell up giving me headaches & dizziness. I’d constantly be trying to pop my ear & trying to crack it with jaw movements or just giving into its distraction & fading into it staring into nothing. My mates didn’t believe that there was anything wrong with it, I became full of self-doubt & lost a lot of confidence.
I managed to pull myself out of my self-pity enough to get my sen together & went inter-railing round Europe with a couple of mates & my brother which helped give me some vitality back. I took a little nylon string guitar & got properly back into writing songs which I recorded when I got back, on the same 4-track recorder. The music I produced now was more subdued, still with beauty but sorrowful.
All my mates went to University but I couldn’t relate to any of the courses so I became a self-employed dry stone waller in Derbyshire.
I had found academic subjects pretty easy but none of it meant anything to me. I remember saying to one of my mates, “why can’t there be a science of life? I’d study that.”
I loved the work & being outside all the time, writing songs & ideas for films & stories in little books while I worked but had no understanding of running a business or managing money or myself.
Without my creativity to focus my mind I would’ve only have dark & sinister thoughts pounding my head, loneliness can really mess you up & I felt like I was being surrounded by dark spirits & energies. Matlock wasn’t a good place to live for me, you are looked down on for being ‘different’, there aren’t any opportunities or support for creative people.
The only outlet for the art I was producing was local open mic nights which I slowly build up the confidence to perform at & this gave me more of a reason to work on & refine my songs & performing skills which gave me more purpose creatively & really helped to lift my spirits. Throughout my early twenties I spent a lot of time alone, not really connecting to anyone properly except through taking recreational drugs & drinking, I didn’t have a computer or a smart phone so I didn’t have the internet & didn’t get into connecting online until much later. But somewhere down there I started seeking for whatever was missing, through my creativity I felt like I was touching the edges of it, whatever it was that was lacking from my understanding of life.
I found a book in a bookshop while waiting for a bus back from walling near Bakewell, called ‘the human touch’. I was looking for something to start making sense of the creative ideas I was having & feeling but was afraid of religious looking books. I didn’t read much of it but it blew my mind & made me realise that there were other creative people with different ways of perceiving reality & I felt less alone.
One concept from it stuck with me, ‘the great theatre of space & time’, I took this idea & wrote a film idea based on it & songs inspired by it. I had just read Alex Garland’s ‘The Beach’ & was inspired by this to write the story about a traveller who hears rumours of this great theatre of space & time & tracks them to a coffee shop in Amsterdam.
The idea was that the owners had found a formula to the big bang & therefore were able to simulate it, moving backwards or forwards in time through a computer simulation, but by smoking a specially grown weed you could tune into the system & travel between dimensions or multiple universes. It was like a hippy version of Alex Garland’s ‘DEVS’ which came out this year funnily enough.
I feel like this was the beginning of my spiritual seeking & evolution, I only needed a tiny bit of information, a slightly different perspective & it was like the sluice-gates were opened & possibilities came gushing in.
If you have a kind & wild creative heart but suffer from loneliness & depression in a spiritually & creatively stagnant place like Matlock in Derbyshire (or probably most of the country…) then the easiest thing to do is self-destruct. An opportunity came up for me in West Yorkshire where my Da’ had moved to, he’d settled into a new life & after suffering from depression he was going back to teach again for the money, even though it was part of the reason for his depression, the pressures on the curriculum & not being free to teach properly.He’d been working for British Waterways in West Yorkshire & had bought an empty narrowboat after him & my Mum split but couldn’t afford to keep it much longer. So I managed to get a job as the lock-keeper on Tuel Lane Deep Lock in Sowerby Bridge & rented my Da’s empty narrowboat in the Marina at Todmorden, which I made homely with wall-hangings & fairy lights & a blow-up mattress & electric heater.This was an amazing escape from the gloom of my existence in Matlock & even though loneliness & booze were my friends it was a step in the right direction & a sense of adventure & change helped me to keep my creativity flowing & therefore my head from imploding.
I saved up to go to Australia & took my demons with me for a year of adventure with music & meeting people & letting myself go crazy with mind-bending acid trips & creative epiphanies on the other side of the globe, ignorant to the state of the culture in Australia (but recently went back with my head screwed on to see it with open eyes & feel it with an open heart).
I didn’t last long back in Matlock after returning to Britain before the darkness crept in & I got myself into some awful states & situations. So I left back up north to Manchester where I crashed around for three months before finding a shared house, knocking on doors for charity fundraisers ‘Home’, which helped crack me out of my shell. From Manchester to Germany to work at a travelling medieval beer festival, then hitch-hiking North Spain & South France with a good friend. People take the piss out of us ‘hippies’ for ‘finding ourselves’ while travelling around but it is a real experience which helps us to get closer to our truths if we are willing to listen & acknowledge the symbolism of the experiences, & to just find out how we react in different situations (recently I walked with a mate from Matlock to Hebden Bridge wild camping over four days, it was physically & mentally challenging & spiritually empowering & the closest thing to a pilgrimage I’ve done. I recommend this wholeheartedly).
Everywhere I went I took an acoustic guitar, I’m self-taught so I learn through my own song-writing & exploration of patterns & ideas so people are always either disappointed that I can’t give them an oasis fix or blown away by my originality. Playing the guitar with no constraints is such a therapeutic practice & one which I will always value, the process of writing a song is always insightful & rewarding, flushing out trapped emotions & finding a wholeness where everything can flow satisfyingly.
Having this community of creatives was so good for me. It allowed me to have a real purpose to my art & an audience who actually cared & wanted more.
I still had lots of mental health issues, still suffering from my damaged ear & problems with drugs & alcohol & went through a big wave of deep paranoia through this time. I think it was all a bit overwhelming, I didn’t feel up to date because I’d been alone for all those years, I thought I was being left out of the bigger picture & everyone was in on something behind my back, smartphone technology freaked me out.
It all sent me off the wall. I pick up on so many little nuances, expressions & body language & symbols in every day experiences & during this paranoia I was hyper-aware & didn’t know what to do with it. The writing was the only way of dealing with it, it was like I was writing my way inside, in through my mind & communicating with my subconscious, searching for my soul which I hoped would have some answers ( definitely more questions & deeper understanding).
I was struggling with my damaged ear while playing loud music too, it took me a while to discover earplugs & by then I’d done a bit more damage than I needed. But either way, rehearsing & playing gigs & getting feedback for my creativity was keeping me going but still, we had no mentors & had no idea how to manage this band or ourselves.
Through my upward struggle with mental health, it was like I delved into the core of my creative self & found a way to bring all my creative ideas together & out to the surface. I called it The Affinity Triangle & developed this concept & my ideas over the years as a solo project. It was a big overwhelming project which I kept trying to simplify into something tangible, something I could work with & interact with & use to connect to other people.
I kept it on the back burner while dealing with the band & everything else going on in my life.
The Tiny Minds finally got our album mixed to a listenable standard after 3 years of having it recorded, struggling with money & organisation. We got some attention from a small label in Leeds, Dance to The Radio, who put one of our tracks on a vinyl compilation & got us 3 support slots with the pigeon detectives, the best gig was at The Leadmill, Sheffield to around 900 people which is still one of my favourite half hours of this life of mine, the crowd loved us & playing songs I wrote to a willing audience dressed up with my hand-painted peach guitar will always stick with me.
The band split up due to fall-outs & creative differences & not having a manager not long after. Since then I have been developing The Affinity Triangle, as much as it is possible to work on my creativity while still being a slave to the system, squeezing it in the gaps of free time. Being an artist who doesn’t come from money in this society is extremely difficult. It’s a full-time job on top of the job you work to survive in the system.
The role of an artist in society is totally undervalued, we are used & abused, art is a huge part of everyone’s human experience, it is our connection with spirit & soul & the invisible things. It teaches us valuable lessons & takes us on journeys to discover parts of ourselves we would otherwise neglect, it reflects our times & shows us visions of the future or ideas from the past. Our perceptions of art are personal, it can reflect our inner worlds so we can better understand ourselves & what we need, to enable us to spiritually evolve & become better people.
In a small thriving community like a tribe, the role of the artists is respected & honoured & they are encouraged & supported in exploring their art as deeply as possible for the good of all the people, as it is naturally known that art is an essential part of the community & vital to the spiritual & mental health of its people.
I feel a big responsibility to never give in to the pressures of this soul-sucking society, I will be an artist for the rest of my life & develop & explore my art as deeply as I can take it, for Peace, Love & Truth.
I am developing an interactive storytelling game, I have finished writing my first book which is a fable inspired story & the first part in a trilogy for people of 12 years & over, the songs I am writing, recording & releasing now are inspired by the concepts & characters in the story & reflect its environment. The process of developing & creating all these ideas which are all intertwined is my spiritual exploration & evolution. I didn’t know about spirituality of any kind until the last eight or nine years when I began to seek it out.
It is always going to be a personal journey but through creativity & development, we can share & inspire other people to find their own way. It is not an easy thing to have feelings & experiences & conversations about something which is taboo in our culture, & often we can feel like outsiders, especially when the majority is sucked in to the religion of ‘modern science’ & technological progression & dogmatic atheism, or the major religions such as Christianity which are just an older means of controlling the masses, but there are people & communities & events which support us on our spiritual explorations.
There is also so much fake spiritual stuff out there too & so much extreme religious dogma that people can be easily put off & mistake creative spirituality for dogmatic religion.
My creative journey & development leads me to research all sorts of beliefs & possibilities & helps me to develop my own ideas about existence. The more I develop it & understand myself & my place & purpose in the world the better condition my mental health becomes, creativity can be a process of nurturing & through it we can learn the values of love & respect & empathy & the symbiotic nature of life, I become more positive the more I explore, my fascination & wonder only grow & I want to find the best way of sharing this experience with other people.
It gives me purpose & a reason to stay healthy & in tune with nature & the universe. I live creatively in every way I can & I’m always learning. I forage for food & plants to make tea from in order to balance the bacteria in my gut & maintain a strong immune system, amongst all the other many health benefits which nature & plants have to offer.
I eat a vegan diet & love cooking, which I have always loved but nowadays I make food-based more on how it makes me feel rather than just the taste.
I practice yoga & breathing & meditation & mantra & speak to my ancestors, all of which helps me to deal with my tinnitus & social anxiety. I approach life with compassion & wonder & a feeling that everything is possible, I believe in everything, existence is multidimensional & it’s all happening at the same time, from billions of different perspectives, which are all a part of the whole as we, ‘existence’, explores itself.
Life is amazing & it can be a struggle sometimes but if we let our hearts be free then we can find positive connections & create better realities. I have faith in the infinite possibilities of the great mystery. All this means that my problems are no longer real problems, there’s always a solution & I live in the moment & deal with them.
I can clearly see now that it was spirituality which was missing from life as a youngster. Education meant nothing to me because there was nothing holding it all together & giving it purpose. The subjects were segregated & meaningless, everything was just about being a part of the system & getting a career to work for it & make money for it. Life is about finding truth wherever we can uncover it & spiritual creativity is my way of doing this.
Duncan Foster has published his debut novel.
My hearts in my gut
My tears already fall in that tropical fashion
My body already heaves with my breath like a speedy version of listening to the tides pull back and pull in -pushing my head under the ocean and forcing me to taste the entire body of it’s salty tears