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Edition 297 – Kevin

After heading out for dinner together for the first time in months, Trish and I piled into the car to head home. As we’re chatting away, Shirley Bassey’s classic “Goldfinger” roars into life on the stereo. Her distinctive voice is only topped by that delightful brassy sound – the trumpets and trombones belting away in the musical equivalent of an exclamation mark.

Whenever I hear “Goldfinger”, thoughts turn to my uncle Kevin. My father’s older brother by almost 8 years, one of Kevin’s incarnations in life was as a professional musician. From the 60’s into the 80’s, he was in demand to support the bevy of international acts that would variously make their way through Sydney and play, amongst many venues, the ballroom of the Hilton Hotel.

Shirley Bassey, Danny La Rue and Des O’Connor are some of the artists that he played for on numerous occasions, but sadly are the only few I now remember him mentioning.

The life of a professional musician is both hard work and not financially rewarding. He topped up the tank by copywriting music scores. Kevin had the most beautiful handwriting and, again, he was in demand in an era, pre computer, where music scores for the various members of a band or concert were often handwritten. One of his biggest commitments was to write the scores for all the music played at the Sydney Opera House for the Queen’s Silver Anniversary Royal Command Performance in 1977.

Health, however, would play a part in not only slowing him down, but changing the course of his life. At the age of 39, he suffered a cerebral haemorrhage. He and my father weren’t that close – in actual fact, they were pretty much chalk and cheese. However, I remember as a 9 year old, walking into St George Hospital along with the rest of my family and there was Kevin, clearly not well, but still compassionate enough to ask after me.

Shortly afterwards, he and his first wife separated, then divorced. He remarried and in order to make ends meet, took on security work. It wasn’t what he wanted to do with his life, but Kevin was always practical and realised that music was never going to pay its way.

The 80’s weren’t kind in many ways to Kevin. His new second marriage, which started out positively, also ended. An almost tragic accident whilst he was at home on his own in 1987 (involving a circular saw) necessitated another lengthy hospital stay. Then, in 1989, having rebuilt his life seemingly from the ashes, he was diagnosed with emphysema and, dramatically, had a lung removed. 30 plus years of smoking and, no doubt, blasting away on a brass instrument in smoke filled music venues had taken their toll.

After Trish’s father’s funeral in November 1996, Kevin joined many others back at our home afterwards. Taking our then 7 month old son Callum in for a nappy change, Kevin joined us for a chat. An offer to hold Callum was made to Kevin, which he gratefully accepted, yet within 30 seconds, he asked us to take Callum back. So ill was he and so weakened by his various health conditions had he become that he simply couldn’t hold the weight of a baby without extreme shortness of breath. It was devastating to experience.

Kevin passed away on Australia Day 1998, having turned 60 the previous September. I proudly delivered one of the eulogies at his funeral. He was not just my uncle, but also my friend and, looking back, an avatar in my life.

The two things I remember Kevin for were:

  1. To chase your passion for as long and as hard as you can. He loved music and he persevered with making it work and, as such, it being his identity.
  2. To rarely complain – even in the face of incredible adversity and severe health challenges, he simply accepted that was his lot in life.

In an age when the populace turns to famous types to look up to, have you ever thought that, just perhaps, there is someone in your own orbit, that isn’t famous, whose own life and ideals are the examples you have been searching for?

This Week’s Tip

The older me wishes the younger me recorded on an old cassette some of the conversations I had with the significant people in my life.