Realising a Dream

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Through the cancer hell that has been the last few months, some amazing things have happened.

 As a result of taking part in a BBC documentary called It’s Good to Sing about the Tenovus Sing for Life choir, I had the good fortune to meet someone I can call a true friend. He had seen me on the programme and struck up a conversation whilst I waited pick up my son from school, and he waited to collect his grandson. Quite soon we found we had a mutual love for music. His name is Rod Thomas and I was fascinated by his recording stories from back in the 60s and 70s. He suggested I write a song with him one day and I thought it would be lovely to create one for my wife Cathy - a really different kind of personal legacy. Even though I had done my grade six on piano and played drums in a few bands in the 70s, 80s and 90s I was very rusty. Armed with a basic knowledge of chord progressions I, along with Rod started to fashion a song. It wasn’t easy but with Rod’s expertise I found it gradually got easier to learn my way around intro, verse, bridge, pre-chorus, chorus and so on. We both had small, virtually identical home studios and we would ship ideas back and forth until we were pleased with the final result. Ultimately we had a demo which was finished off in a professional studio before I played it to Cathy.

The song Always It’s You was born in August 2011. It was slightly rushed as I was heading off for a three week family holiday to Scotland and Cathy knew nothing about us writing the song. I kept it secret as I wanted to surprise her. I had to leave Rod to liaise with the studio which was four thousand miles away, whilst frantic texts were flying between the Highlands of Scotland to South Wales! We were very pleased with the final result. The words conveyed perfectly how I felt about Cathy, and how she had supported me through my treatment and the effects of my cancer. The music fitted the lyrics so well. The demo was completed using a male singer and he did a superb job. The day we got back from Scotland the demo was ready for Cathy to hear and took her by complete surprise. She was delighted and moved by the fact that with Rod’s help I had created this song for her.

In September 2011 I was contacted by a producer, Greg Lewis, from the ITV current affairs programme Wales this Week. He had seen this blog and wanted to have a meeting with me and Cathy to discuss the possibility of following me for six months to gain an insight into what it is like living with terminal cancer. I was happy to do it as long as the programme was as positive as it could be. I told Greg about how important my music had been in giving me a focus on something other than cancer and I told him about the song I’d written for Cathy with Rod. He said he’d like to incorporate some of that into the programme so in November 2011 Greg started to film us and as we got to meet and talk regularly he became a good friend. He even donned a hat for our meeting after the chemo had left me practically bald.

In March 2011 I joined Twitter and began to tweet about my cancer and my life in general. I met a lady called Heather and we became the modern day equivalent of pen pals. I told her about my musical history including the fact that I had once played drums in a band with Donna Lewis. Heather was a fan of Donna Lewis and was already corresponding with her on Twitter and she told Donna that she was in touch with me. Donna asked Heather to pass on her e-mail details to me and I sent her a short message to say hi. She sent me back a long e-mail telling me about what she had been up to since the days we were in the band together, her life in New York now that she was a well known artist, and some of the people that she had been lucky enough to work with. We started e-mailing each other and catching up on each other’s lives. I told Donna about my cancer and my involvement with Tenovus and I told her I’d written the song for Cathy with Rod. I also told her it would be a dream come true if someone like her could record the song and maybe release it as a charity single. Donna was quick to say she’d love to do it as she was born and bred in Wales, her parents still live in Wales and her Mum is a cancer survivor. I also decided that I would write to Trevor Horn to tell him my story and tell him that Donna had agreed to do my song and asked him to produce it. “If you don’t ask you don’t get” is one of my mottos! I was surprised and delighted when I received an e-mail back saying that he would be happy to do it.

Donna asked if I would mind if she asked a friend of hers Gerry Leonard, who just happens to have been David Bowie’s guitarist, to play guitars on her version of the song! He was on tour with Suzanne Vega at the time but had a break in the tour and could spare the time. It all seemed too amazing to be true. A week or so later Donna sent me a rough recording of her version of Cathy’s song. We listened to it the morning of my third cycle of chemo and we both bawled our eyes out we were so blown away by it. We got Rod over the next day to listen to it and he was delighted with what Donna had done too.

Something that had been a dream was rapidly becoming a reality. I met with Tenovus and told them what had happened with the song so far and asked them if they would be happy for it to be released as a single to raise funds for them. They were surprised and delighted with what I had done and chomping at the bit to get involved. 

Two days after my meeting with Tenovus and just when we started to worry that it might be too difficult for Trevor Horn to fit producing the song into his busy schedule, a mixed version of the song produced by just the man arrived in my in-box. A day later Donna e-mailed me to say that she had asked Bob Ludwig the “Master of mastering” if he would master the track and he was also happy to get involved.

I still can’t believe that these world famous people in the music industry got behind my dream, I am so grateful to them for giving up their time to do this. I am also proud that with Rod’s help I will be able to leave a legacy of love to my wife and some much needed funds for the charity Tenovus who have supported me and my family so much during my cancer journey.
The single Always It’s You sung by Donna Lewis, is released today 23rd May and will be available to download on iTunes and Amazon for just 99p - so download it! All the famous people involved have waived their rights to the song so the money raised will go to Tenovus, the charity so close to my heart. The more of you who download the song and tell your friends to do the same, the more chance there is that the song could get into the charts - another dream come true for me!

The TV programme will be aired on ITV Wales on Tuesday May 29th at 19:30 as part of the Wales this Week series, its title is Do Not Go Gentle. Cathy and I will be watching a preview later this week. It is quite an emotional programme. We both hope it will help people to see that you can still live even when you are dying.

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