Biography: 5. Final Months

In March 1989, Kevin returned for a short visit to the UK. One of the reasons for the trip was to finalise plans with his musician son Michael for setting up a studio together, an idea they’d been discussing for over a year. Michael was at that time Music Director of the Drake Music Project, and had his own music studio. The idea was to invest in new equipment and share common resources – studio space, microphones, mixers, monitors, outboard equipment – each working in his own field. Soon after his arrival, Kevin and Michael paid a visit to Cambridge to visit CEDAR Audio, who together with the University of Cambridge had developed a computer restoration system, designed for cleaning up old recordings. It was a stunning demonstration. The computers, although still in early stages of development, could remove up to 2,500 scratches every second, with no audio loss. For Kevin, it was a sobering experience. As they left, Kevin remarked ruefully, “It makes everything I’ve done sound like shit.” It wasn’t true of course, but there was no doubt that the days of razor blades, editing blocks and ‘destructive editing’ were drawing to a close. It was concluded that the costs were so prohibitive as to make using CEDAR impossible; Kevin had no choice but to heroically continue his grinding, monotonous editing, hunched over his Revox tape-machine, knowing from now on he would no longer be producing the best remasters it was possible to achieve.

For some months, Kevin had been suffering with pain in his lower back, and after a mis-diagnosis with a London GP, finally had a scan to determine the problem. The results were devastating – Kevin had lung cancer, and the back pain was caused by secondary bone cancer which had already spread extensively. In mid-August, he met with his sons to tell them the news. There was nothing to be done in terms of a cure – there were two bouts of radiotherapy on his back in early September, in the Brompton Hospital, a stone’s throw from the old Argo and ASV Fulham Road offices, but after that, no more treatment was given, save for pain-killing drugs. He never discussed his illness in the short time he had left, and he was never told he had only months to live, though it must have been obvious. Kevin was a man who would far rather let such painful things be left unsaid.

The final months were, inevitably, very hard. Kevin continued to work until the pain and discomfort caused by his illness, and tiredness caused by the medication prevented him. His spirits were briefly lifted by visits from a new member of the family, Robert – Kevin’s grandson, who had been born in June – but as time wore on, he could do little but sit, sedated, until his coughing would wake him. In early December, good friend and jazz musician Keith Nichols came to visit with a small band to serenade him. Less than a week before his death, he was visited by a deeply upset Deben Bhattacharya. Kevin wanted to spend time alone with him, so the house was cleared for several hours. Kevin confided to Deben that he knew he was dying, and the two men had some final, precious, private time together. A few days later, two days before he died, Kevin managed to somehow rouse himself from his bed, and spoke to Iain Churches on the phone for the last time. It was his final conversation.

Kevin died, surrounded by his family, at four minutes past midnight on the 21st December. He was forty-seven. At his funeral, the small band who had serenaded him just a few weeks earlier played a few numbers. After the service, Peter Handford approached Kevin’s son Michael, and after expressing his condolences, told him how tragic he felt it was that Kevin hadn’t spent more of his life writing. Handford had always been a staunch supporter of Kevin’s writing projects, offering encouragement right from their first meeting twenty years previously, and could see in Kevin a great writing talent, a potential sadly never fulfilled.

Kevin Daly was one of the record industry’s great talents, a superb recording engineer and editor, a sympathetic and innovative producer, and an astute manager, of both people and resources. He was a highly intelligent man, with wide-ranging interests and skills. He hated snobbery and “pretentious wankery” with a vengance, which caused difficulties in his dealings with men who invariably had less talent, but bigger egos than his own. Of one of his fellow directors he privately remarked, “He couldn’t direct piss into a bucket.” Kevin was invariably warm, friendly and quietly confident, completely at ease in the sealed world of the recording process, surrounded by top-class talent: recording engineers, technicians and musicians. These were the people he felt at home with, his extended family, and with whom he created some truly memorable work. Outside that world, in a non-creative business environment, he was distinctly uncomfortable, having neither the temperament or inclination for pointless politics and aggressive posturing. As a writer, he had many ideas, and longed to allow historic ‘ordinary’ people’s voices to be heard – through folk and popular song, pamphlets, written records and even commercials of a given period. He has left a lasting legacy of recorded music, of reissues of 78s, and superb pieces of his own work such as The Wonder of the Age and Let’s All Go to the Music Hall. He left copious notes and several chapters for the books he was writing at his death, which will be completed and made public.

As a father, friend, and colleague, he is sorely missed. But instead of regretting his early passing, let’s instead celebrate the legacy he left; as his plaque in Hampstead Cemetery, very close to his father Daniel’s final resting place says, “His passion for the music he loved lives on in the work he created.”