The Erskine Bridge is the polar opposite of This Club Is For Everybody, Even You. It’s a sincere, empathetic song on a difficult subject, suicide.
My first journalism job, over 20 years ago, was in Clydebank, just a few miles from the Erskine Bridge, and I quickly learned the correct protocol for reporting bridge-related deaths; there were several in the year and a half that I worked at the local paper. I would hear a lot of awful stories, off the record, about the circumstances that led people there, and the families’ heartbreak and confusion afterwards.
In particular I got to know a Clydebank man called Alex, whose brother had been going through electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Since his brother’s death Alex had become a prominent campaigner against the use of this treatment. Families and friends often find themselves desperately searching for answers. Why did this happen? What could we have done differently? How did we not see it coming? Alex channelled his search for answers into a campaign, and in some ways this was a positive thing for him, but you could also see how painful it was.
Long after I moved on from that job, I thought of Alex’s brother, and all the others, whenever I drove over the bridge on my frequent trips from Glasgow, where I lived at the time, to my parents’ home in Helensburgh. I was in quite a dark place myself when I started writing the song, but the finished lyric was about getting through that and finding a way forward – hence the chorus line “I will be leaving but I won’t go that way.”
I’m not going to dwell on living with depression here – I’ve written about it elsewhere if you’re interested – but I was pleased that this particular piece of music was later used in a trailer for the 2015 Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival. The song’s subject matter was not the reason it was chosen – the filmmaker who made the trailer just happened to choose it from a selection of instrumental mixes from Swimmer One’s first two albums; I’m not sure they’d even heard the lyrics. While Swimmer One were credited at the end of the trailer, the title of the song wasn’t mentioned; the feeling was that using the words ‘the Erskine Bridge’ out of context would be inappropriate and potentially triggering.
Sometimes I think it’s Swimmer One’s best song. Hamish did a fantastic job of producing it, turning a rough piano sketch by me (which might otherwise have ended up on the first Seafieldroad album) into something quite epic. The string arrangement by Pete Harvey is pretty great too. In fact, even reviewers who never normally liked our stuff were complimentary about this song. We should probably have released it as a single, but hey ho.