The 'Bard of Hackney' dies aged 70

Bard of Hackney Frank Bangay reading poetry.

"Bard of Hackney”, Frank Bangay has died at his home, aged 70. - Credit: Courtesy of Core Arts

Frank Bangay, known to some as the “Bard of Hackney”, died at his home aged 70 on January 25.

Frank combined mental health activism with poetry, going on to establish and work with numerous organisations throughout his life to support others experiencing mental ill health.

His friend, Kim Bennett, said: “A great many people have heard and seen Frank over the years and will remember his unique performance style, and the humour, depth and wisdom of his verses."

Born in Wandsworth in 1951, the poet grew up in south London but lived and campaigned in Hackney for most of his adult life.

His campaigning began in his early twenties and in 1972, he helped create the London Mental Patients’ Union, a forum to challenge abuse and the poor treatment of those receiving treatment for mental ill health.

He later became involved in what was then called “Mad Politics” in the 1970s and 80s, joining the Campaign against Psychiatric Oppression (CAPO) which ran a crisis phone line and public campaigns for more inclusive treatment.

Hackney poet Frank Bangay outside holding his cane.

The Hackney poet dedicated his life to challenging discrimination against those experiencing mental ill health. - Credit: Courtesy of Core Arts

He fostered a love of expressing himself through poetry in his early 20s and went on to run poetry gigs in aid of CAPO in the 1980s, the first of which was at The Metropolitan pub in Farringdon before the event moved to Earls Court.

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Kim added: “Before Covid struck, he suffered a fall, but he came to events first with a cane and then a Zimmer frame.

“He would slowly hobble to the stage, then an extraordinary transformation would take place. 

"All trace of infirmity disappeared as he came to life – wheeling his arms in circular movements while creating a wreathe of words."

Frank founded Survivors’ Poetry in 1991, helping others to express themselves through rhythm and song, and worked with the Hackney Core Arts charity until his death last month.

Frank loved gospel and blues music and was a keen naturalist, with a particular love of succulents.

Frank Bangay playing harmonica.

Frank loved gospel and blues music and was a keen naturalist. - Credit: Courtesy of Core Arts

Kim said: “He felt the spirit of all living things and depicted those ideas in his many watercolour paintings.

“For him, all nature is imbued with positive energy and love."

Frank is survived by his sister, and lots of friends and admirers.