Musical tribute as Shoreham singer-songwriter enters end-of-life care

Musicians have rallied to write a song of love and friendship for Shoreham songwriter, musician and music promoter Gary Penalver as he enters end-of-life care.

Wednesday, 3rd February 2021, 6:00 am
Gary Penalver

The Last Encore – recorded by friends under the name The Coastal Collective – comes from fellow singer-songwriter Mark Bruce who lives in Hassocks and works in Shoreham.

The track is being used as a fundraiser for Macmillan Cancer Support. You can listen to the song on YouTube (search The Last Encore Coastal Collective) and donate to Macmillan on https://bit.ly/3a35OTg​

Gary, aged 56, said: “I am absolutely flabbergasted. It is an amazing song. I have known Mark a few years since when I was promoting music and he and his band were one of the bands that I worked with. I have always been a massive admirer of him.

“He asked my wife Mel whether it was alright to do this but she didn’t really know what to expect or what was going to happen. We got a message that he had done the video and he said ‘Would you like to take a look at this?’ and we were just blown away. He got so many people together and such high calibre musicians. It was just mind-boggling.”

Last year, Gary was hoping to celebrate 25 years of recovery since his first cancer.

“We were going to have a big celebration that I was 25 years cancer-free.”

But in June/July he got a diagnosis of lung cancer. Then, just after Christmas, he had two seizures, one following the other: “It turned out that the cancer, despite treatment that they thought had been successful, had spread into my brain. All of a sudden we were looking at a very different diagnosis.”

The prognosis is now “could be three months, could be six months.”

“It is all compounded by the fact that I am a musician and I am just about to publish my own EP. But I am just now in the situation where I am amazed by the genuine heartfelt wishes and talents of the people that have put Mark’s single together and not least Mark’s own efforts and talents. I am going to be using it as a vehicle to raise money for Macmillan.”

Mark is similarly delighted with the result. The song features members of Bird in the Belly, Hatful of Rain, Ian Roland, SongBox, The Self Help Group and many more.

Mark has got to know Gary through music over the past four years: “And knowing Gary I know that he would be putting on a charity gig if this was happening to somebody else. He really would be rallying the troops for anyone else. But we can’t go and see him in person, and I just thought I would like to do something. I knew he had a little group on Facebook.

“I wrote a song and I went to the group and looked at the musicians and pulled a little Facebook group together and said would anybody be able to help me do something. We got together about 15 musicians. I sent my track out with my playing guitar and singing, a rhythm track that everybody could follow, and the stuff that came back was just fantastic. It was just brilliant. I think the gravity of the situation and the fact that he is such a good guy meant that the stuff that came through was just lovely. Everything fitted so well. I told them what the chords were and they did their own thing.”

The finished track led to the video – and the decision to use it as a fundraiser.

“The way I tend to write in general is that my songs are about other people. I don’t feel I am very interesting to sing songs about! I pick stories and I inhabit these people and their stories.

“But with Gary, I was just thinking about Gary and Mel and them facing up to what is coming. The second half of the song is really just about all of his friends saying ‘Let’s have one last hurrah!’ and come and join us on the stage to let him know that we are all there for him.”

“It’s been hard work, alongside a real job, and emotional for all concerned but we are really proud of it.”

Gary will be releasing his own EP, Plough Your Own Furrow on Long Way Home Productions, early in 2021.