When “the last man standing” stood down

Jenna Cesar remembers Kevin Gleeson

This article first appeared in modified format in The Australian Songwriter Issue 117, July 2016 (view the original here).

On the 19th of April, when Kevin Gleeson died… people noticed. Maybe not across the oceans, or even too many across the narrow sea. But in Kevin (Kev to those who knew him)’s island home – in the State of Tasmania, and in the region’s music community – the ripples rocked us hard and heavy. Our local network of musicians stopped what they were doing for days. There was little talk of much other than Kev. Not even the death of musical monolith Prince, two days later, did much to interrupt the flow of tributes that flooded the Facebook pages of all those who knew this unassuming man.

FullSizeRender

I wanted to write this article earlier, but somehow writing this down gives it the unpleasant weight of truth, and the truth is, I didn’t want to really believe that Kevin Gleeson is finally gone. Though I have changed with the years, ‘moved on’ you may say (as have many of my friends), Kev was one constant on which I could rely. I always knew where to find him. No matter the day, no matter the year. He would always be seated at the counter of his favourite bar of the time, most oft with someone seated beside him, and for three good years that someone was I.

IMG_1050
Original artwork by Josh Durno. Photo supplied.

Although I met Kev several years earlier, it was around a decade ago, in the years I attended the UTAS Conservatorium of Music (along with many of our compatriots here at ASA) that he became someone with whom I can never disentangle the fibres of my memory. Kev would become synonymous in my mind with a lengthy period of time. It would become impossible to think on an expansive list of places, people, and poetry – the poetry of sound – without those memories being tainted always with his presence – a nurturing and ever-present spectre. Kev was my roommate for at least three years, and my daily dining and drinking companion for all of them. My moving abroad failed to end our friendship, because Kev is not someone with whom friendship ends.

Kevin Gleeson is probably the only person who will ever get away with chastising me “you old tart,” (of which the memory brings a warm smile to my newly aged face) because for Kev malice could never be deemed to be the intent. Julie Michael, a friend of Kev’s much longer than I, described him to me as “so open hearted, genuine and Mr kind bear,” and her comments are unremarkable because this is how everyone remembers Kevin Gleeson.

IMG_2259
Graffiti at music venue The Brisbane Hotel honours Kevin Gleeson’s legacy. Photo by Jessica Dix.

Little Miss Music Tasmania aka Jessica Dix (who was kind enough to interview for this story) has worked with Kev over the years and tells of his devotion to the local music scene.

He inspired many artists and mentored them by either booking them [himself] or helping them get their first gigs.

She also charges him with inspiring her own music booking career.

Kev was the one who introduced me to the music scene.

ASA Tasmanian regional coordinator Matt Sertori felt a similar breadth of support from Kevin Gleeson. Speaking with me shortly after the news of Kev’s death broke, he opined:

People fall away. They get married, they have kids, they stop going to gigs. But Kev, he was the last man standing. He just kept going out and kept supporting the scene.

Perhaps Kev saw himself as a father figure to the young musicians he mentored? I can certainly remember, on more than one occasion, him laying a blanket over me when I fell asleep on the couch, or picking me up from the pub when I was too drunk to make sense of the taxi listings. Some might say he was married to the music – but by the time I met Kev he’d already been married for longer than my life-time. For over 20 years Kevin Gleeson was married to his first love Kerry. He didn’t speak about her often, but when he did it became apparent he would never marry again.  They would always remain friends, but the local music community would become his second family.

IMG_2237
One of many tributes posted to Kevin Gleeson’s wall in the hours after news of his death broke.

Two days after his death, ABC Radio aired a segment on Kev interviewing local musicians (and good friends of his) Katie Warren and Debra Manskey. Three days after that, Kev was given over a half-page write-up on page seven of the Sunday Tasmanian, by music journalist Kane Young. The headline read “Local music loses a champion.” These were not unexceptional feats for a man as humble as Kevin, but there was more to Kev than he presented. I was once drinking with him at our regular haunt Irish Murphy’s, when it became known he was a highly-skilled pilot. The only reason he saw fit to mention this is because another punter was talking some technical jargon that Kev corrected him on in passing. In the ensuing conversation, said punter bet that if Kev could produce his pilot’s license he would put $50 over the bar. Kev was swiftly able to produce a picture of it on his phone, but didn’t carry the license around with him (he explained). The stunned punter apologised and bought our drinks. It was the first I’d heard of this in many years of friendship, but that was just the kind of guy Kev was. So diffident it took me nearly a decade to acquire much knowledge of his achievements, and even after, I still read things I didn’t know about him in Kane Young’s story.

IMG_1067

It was Kev’s genuine, self-effacing and semi-subservient nature that garnered his death the level of attention it received. The tangible loss our community felt, not the fact he was an aerobatic pilot, rescue diver, major network videographer, highly successful graphic animator, and the best damn sound guy I’ve ever worked with. Kev was all of those things, but mainly, he was just Kev. He was always there, and we thought he always would be. But the ‘last man standing’ has finally been forced to take a seat, and the Tasmanian live original music scene will always be the poorer for it. Like Violent Femmes bass player and fellow local music supporter and enthusiast Brian Ritchie said:

Music heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

Even big cuddly Kevvy-bear shape and size.

This is also musical heroism – Brian Tairaku Ritchie.

IMG_1066.JPG
Kevin Gleeson and Jenna Cesar at Sydney Tower in 2008.

4 Thoughts

  1. One of the most genuine people in the music scene that I’ve ever met. It was a pleasure to know him and hear his stories. I’ve lost how many people he has put me in touch with over the years and the way he’s helped me and so many others in such an unconditional way.
    The picture Josh Durno drew was of the film clip of our band where he asked to play a cameo in. He also did a fair bit of the filming and we had a great day at the Royal Oak In Launceston that day.
    Rest in peace mate. Kev was definitely loved by many.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I met Kev at Coven back when it was held at The Trout in North Hobart. I was young (technically too young to be there at the time) and loved his energy from the day we met. I learned a great deal from this wonderful man and just having him around was a joy. Even after I packed up and moved to the mainland we stayed in touch, whenever I came back for a visit I’d always do my best to find the time to swing by for a beer or two with Kev. My greatest regret is that I couldn’t have one last beer with him. I’d been down in Tasmania just a few weeks before he died mourning the death of another and in the buzz of organising the funeral and the wake I just couldn’t find the time. I was also unable to return for any of the tributes to him in the weeks after. I am however happy and proud to have known him for just over a decade and that friendship and the wisdom he shared will stay with me for life. We lost a truly great man when we lost Kevin and in a brutal hit to the soul of our community we’re learning to move on. Kevin you are greatly missed but happily remembered. Play some Slayer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know how you feel Calleigh. The last time I saw Kev was at farewell drinks I’d organised for myself after spending some time in Hobart. There were quite a few people there. I’m happy Kev was sitting at my table in my inner circle, but I wish I’d spent more time talking to him. Kev was just the kind of guy you thought would be there when you got back though…

      Like

  3. Thank you Jenna for all your kind words and memories to share. I’d known Kev since the late 80’s. We first met when he was my TV commercial editor at Tas Film Corp in Moonah, which later became Southern Cross. Also at the Film Corp at the time was Grant Wilson, George Goerrs and Paul Yeomans. Like me they all thought the world of Kev and even back then he was very talented on the mixer desk. He went on to becoming an even better animator (back in the days of Lightwave being the new kid on the block) working for himself before going off to work in England as an animator and then later at Blue Rocket. Yes he had a pilot’s licence, he was also mad keen on motorbikes.
    But most Tasmanians would know him for his unrelenting passion for the local music scene. My son Rhys (aka Milo Bean) also got a leg-up from Kev when he starting playing gigs, which is when I met Jess Dix and caught up with Kev again.
    He will indeed be sadly missed.
    Colin Anderson

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s