Frank Turner: No more silence – we must open up about men’s mental health

Singer-songwriter Frank Turner reflects on the tragedy of his friend and 9:30 Club legend Josh Burdette's suicide

Like so many things these days, the news first filtered through to me on Facebook. It was garbled at first – something had happened to Josh – but over the course of a day of increasingly frantic messages and phone calls, the rumours coalesced into the awful truth. Josh was gone, and he’d done it himself.

It was so hard to make sense of the news – then and now. Josh Burdette was a rock of a man, both physically and personally. He was the security guy at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC, a legendary punk rock venue. Everyone on the North American punk rock touring circuit knew him; he was both an imposing physical presence – massive, tattooed and pierced – and a generous, kind soul, a man who’d help out the visiting itinerants in his town with whatever they needed.

I wish I’d been able to tell him that there’s always a reason to go on

I first met him at a radio session in DC the morning before a show. He walked into the studio, towering over me, and simply informed me that he was my guy in town.

Over the years we’d become firm friends. He was a fan of my music and he saw me play in DC many times, as well as driving further afield to catch shows – Philadelphia, New York, even Cleveland. More than that, though, we were kindred spirits. He was one of the kindest souls I’ve ever encountered, he always had time for everyone else’s troubles, an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on. I talked through my troubles with him many, many times and I was far from the only one.

Josh Burdette, the head of security at the legendary 9:30 Club in Washington DC.

That’s the most tragic thing about his passing. Josh was owed, karmically, many thousands of listening hours by so many people, not least myself. He’d had a few issues over the years – a physical injury to his shoulder that had endangered his work, troubles with love – but he’d always shrugged them off and changed the subject. That he had so much weight built up on him that he took his own life was a terrible shock. It left me sad, lost and even angry. He could have called me, or anyone, to talk about it and we would have listened, repaid him with all the love and patience that he needed. He never made that call.

That’s why I’ve been doing some work with CALM – the Campaign Against Living Miserably. I’ve had my brushes with depression in my time but one way or another I’ve pulled through. More often than not it’s been because I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to break the isolation, which is the worst part of it – the feeling that no one understands or cares.

CALM do fantastic work, with their crisis helpline and website, and with their efforts to challenge the culture of shame and silence around mental health issues, particularly among young men. In 2013 male suicide accounted for 78 per cent of all suicides, and it’s the single biggest cause of death in men aged 20 to 45 in the UK. That needs to change.

When the news came through about Josh I was on the road with Lucero, a Memphis punk band who were all his friends too. I was lucky to be surrounded by people who knew the man, and with whom I could share memories, both happy and sad, and grief. Somewhere in the middle of it I wrote a song about his passing, which is centred on the one thought none of us could get out of our heads – why didn’t he just call someone?

When I played Wembley Arena in 2012 I found out before the show that there was allowance in the budget for me to have a personal security guy. That’s not something I need but I had the idea of using that money to fly Josh over to England for a week to hang out. He’d never been to London before and I showed him around my city either side of the show.

On the day itself I was a bundle of nerves – it was my first ever arena headline show – and Josh was wonderful for me. He picked me up, physically, after soundcheck, took me back to the hotel and bodily dumped me in the hot tub, ordering me to relax. I wish, more than anything, that on that night in September when he felt lost and alone, I’d been able to just show up, pick him up and tell him that there’s always hope, always a reason to go on. Hopefully, with CALM, we can get that message out to more people, and save some lives.

Frank Turner’s album Positive Songs For Negative People is out August 7. Contact CALM on 0800 58 58 58 or at thecalmzone.net