Kevin Adams, prolific and treasured composer of so many songs for Living Archive Milton Keynes - as well as for many other projects of his own creation and for other musicians - has died, aged 66.
In mid-October 2020, Kevin was taken to hospital for MS-related problems.
These were dealt with and he was recovering; but because he had been lying
prone for so long, he needed physio to get stronger. Then his ward was infected with Covid, which caused his demise.
Kevin’s wife Ruth was with him when he died: she had been his carer for ten
years, with MS confining him to a wheelchair and severely limiting his dexterity.
As he said in 2015 in the introduction for his album Sheltermore: ‘Poor health
ambushed me in 2010. I survived cancer but was then diagnosed with MS.
I am now in a wheelchair, but worse, my hands can no longer manage stringed instruments. Thank heaven for computers!’
With Ruth’s care and encouragement in those ten years, Kevin became a formidable music producer in his home studio, StudioBlend, creating eight out of the 12 albums which feature online and as CDs. These include three classic albums of songs written for Living Archive MK productions and performed by The Living Archive Band; and five albums created for his own projects. (More details on them can be found on The Kevin Adams Discography which follows this.)
Kevin had been a highly accomplished instrumentalist himself – on guitar, fiddle, and mandolin. He performed and recorded widely across the UK and abroad for many years, playing traditional dance music for two ceilidh bands – Stocai and Stömp
In later years he said: ‘Though I am now unable to play any stringed instruments, I am still writing and recording with samplers, employing a limited keyboard technique in combination with the editing and programming power of the PC.’
There are three Living Archive songs that are quintessential of Kevin the man: the humour and cheek of 1960s London settlers to Bletchley in What do they think we are?... the warmth and delight of 1930s courting rituals in Stony Stratford’s Bunny Run… and the affecting hymn of loss and restitution in the 1st World War that is Bright Battalions - a masterpiece.
Perhaps Kevin’s epitaph – as an artist unbowed by seemingly insuperable trials - lies in his final creations: over the last couple of years, he produced two new albums of his own compositions incentivised by stories of people surmounting unknown challenges: in Bletchley Park with A Crossword War; and in Mary Anning – The Mother of Palaeontology.
They are as yet unrecognised either by their heritage caretakers or by the world at large.
But they will be…
(Marion Hill, LAMK Trustee, Living Archive Band member)
What Kevin said… … about his ‘doppelgänger’, Dave Makins
(an apparently new partner for his productions - which unsettled some fellow musicians, until they realised that it was an anagram of Kevin Adams!):
‘Dave Makins and I go back a long way, and nowadays I rely heavily on him to help me realise my music. Like me, his main instruments are guitar, fiddle and mandolin, but he adds piano, keyboards, woodwind, brass and percussion to that list. Give him an instrument and he’ll probably get a tune out of it, but most importantly, if he can’t he’ll go off and find a sample library to replicate it. A useful chap to know.
‘Born in Kent, he went to school in Hertfordshire before returning to Canterbury to study and to and work as a teacher. Relocating to Milton Keynes in the 1980s he became more and more musically engaged in folk music and has played in several well-regarded ceilidh bands. He has also written and performed songs and music for local community projects based in north Buckinghamshire. In much of this Dave’s life and CV runs curiously parallel to mine!
‘Dave says of working with me, “…he’s a bit of a perfectionist, and very inventive. He’ll come up with an idea to add something to a song, and say to me, Can you play Flemish bagpipes or ... harp, or something?... and usually, thank goodness, I’m able to say, yeah, I’ll give it a shot.” ’
… and what Kevin said about writing songs for Living Archive musical documentary drama:
‘The great thing about writing songs for the theatre is that someone else (the playwright) short-circuits all the decisions about style, content and mood, and the songwriter finds himself a long way down the road already without having to lift a pen or instrument. The pay-off is the responsibility one feels to get it right. All these songs are based on the life experiences of real men and women. Some are no longer with us, it is true, but some are sitting there in the front row of the audience!
‘Once the source material has been absorbed, I will start by listing words and phrases that I would like to get into the lyric, looking for obvious rhymes and trying to find a metrical pattern that suits the song. With a guitar I will look for a chord sequence and my melodies usually derive from wherever my fingers can get to from within those chords.
‘Then it’s revision after revision to find the neatest way of saying things, poetically and musically, until the deadline forces you to stop. Once the song is written and given to the band something special happens - if they like it - when they take the song and do the magic on it. At that point it escapes and is no longer ‘my song’. It’s an indescribable feeling.’
Kevin’s compositions inspired by the LAMK archive:
All Change (revised); Bernard Groom; Bright Battalions; Bright Battalions orchestral version; Calverton incidental music - Autumn jig, Spring polka, Summer Waltz, Calverton Overture; Eclogue; Emberton; Field Song (with Rod Hall); Little By Little; Masters and Servants; Pegasus; Prayer for Ikram Malik; Rover; Settling In; Sheltermore; Smiler; Snowflake; The Ballad of Bobby Bunn; The Bunny Run; The Flies; The Ghost of Lady Bennet; The Night the Stones Rolled into Town (with Neil Mercer); The Permanent Way; Tom Worker’s Song; Waltz for Alice Gear; What Do They Think We Are; When Dick Met Alma (with Rod Hall and Godfrey Yeomans); Who Could Want For Better; Worksong.
The Kevin Adams discography
With the Living Archive Band (https://livingarchiveband.bandcamp.com )
Real Lives (released February 2000; includes 3 songs written by KA)
The 9-piece electric line-up of the band coincided with the revival of LAMK’s 'All Change' – which was the first drama performance to be put on at the newly opened Milton Keynes Theatre.
All That’s Changed Vol 1 and 2 (released June 2009; 11/28 songs by KA, one with Neil Mercer)
A freshly recorded selection in two CDs of the best 28 of over 100 songs written for LAMK projects since 1975, performed by a six-piece acoustic band.
The Horse and the Tractor and Calverton: songs (released 2014/15; 8 of 13 tracks involving KA)
A blend of recollections - of four people who grew up and worked on Calverton Manor Farm, North Bucks 1930 -50 - and of some of the music inspired by their stories; a 2nd CD focuses on the music.
A Bob a Bloody Day (released August 2019; 15 tracks produced by KA with Brad Bradstock)
The composite collection of songs – 8 newly recorded - inspired by 1st World War soldiers recorded by LAMK for Your Loving Brother Albert and Days of Pride - except Here Is Jack, Kevin’s grandfather.
Kevin Adams’ own albums (see https://kevadams.bandcamp.com )
‘Blending traditional folk music with a love of other genres- classical, jazz, folk-rock, prog-rock, pop… music, music, music…’
The Common Land (released June 2002; 13 of KA’s own compositions and performances )
Written for various LAMK theatre and radio productions and for the village of Maids Moreton’s Millennium Pageant in 2000.
Waiting for the Word (released June 2006; 13 songs arranged by KA, 11 traditional, 2 LAMK)
A collection of English folk-song favourites performed by KA that ‘exude a sense of place and unruffled continuity’ as well as personal and social upheaval.
Sheltermore (released Sept 2015; ‘a mix of 15 traditional and self-penned songs’ )
Described by KA as ‘The last of my acoustic recordings, from 2006 to 2010… a bitter-sweet experience’ to produce a CD of songs that been ‘rescued and finished off’.
Shining (released December 2016; 7 instrumentals, one fully orchestrated; and the title song by KA )
‘Mainly instrumentals, less folky, more arranged: two are very personal to me; two are new, post-MS instrumentals; the remainder are the last of the pre-MS projects mixing real and virtual instruments.’
Winternight (released June 2017; 3 songs, two of them by KA)
‘Reflecting the relationship between 'Gentlefolk' and their tenants. One entirely true story, one traditional song and one wholly imagined.’
A Crossword War - Bletchley Park Remembered In Song (released July 2018; 14 songs by KA)
‘'BP' was about far more than Enigma and the codebreakers who were supported by a huge workforce, both civilian and in uniform – 10,000 of them: Here are imagined snapshots of life there.’
Leaf on a Windy Day (released January 2019; 15 traditional tracks of music and songs performed anew)
‘Back to the folk tradition, based on demos and unfinished projects made before I lost the means to play my instruments. My original audio has been embellished by multi-instrumentalist Dave Makin…’
Mary Anning – The Mother of Palaeontology (released June 2020; 8 linked tracks all composed by KA)
‘Lyme Regis, Dorset. 1847: Mary is hovering in a laudanum mist between sleep and waking, between land and sea, between past and present. She hears her father Richard (long dead) and talks with him. She herself is not long for this world, but at the age of 47 she has achieved so much more than most women of her time could have even dreamed of - and she from such a humble background.’
Kevin said of this album: The idea of having Mary's father with her in her imagination was actually inspired by the necessities of lockdown. I had originally intended that Mary would be talking to someone who was nursing her- possibly Mary Buckland. I had various people in mind for the speaking parts, including one of our oldest friends, who is Dorset born and bred, to play Mary Anning. Then Covid came along and we couldn't organise the recording. I was fretting about getting the project finished and realised that Ruth could be Mary and I would be her father, as I already had been in the opening sequence. Ruth did very well once we diluted the RP slightly, but I got a bit Mummerset at times!
The Milton Keynes Songbook: https://www.mksongbook.org
Ten of Kevin’s compositions – and one that he co-wrote - can be found in this first accessible collection of home-grown music, a scored collection of 36 songs – ‘original music about Milton Keynes people’. Their special heritage is for sharing throughout Milton Keynes – especially in local schools and community choirs. The website includes the background story behind each song along with a free download of the song scores. Alternatively the printed version can be obtained directly from Living Archive MK.
In addition to the wealth of songs and CDs for Living Archive, Kevin also produced CDs for Jenkins’ Ear, Kobold and Dave Jolly. He recorded incidental music for BBC Radio 4 drama, for The Open University and for Crimson Cats Audiobooks.
Tributes to Kevin Adams:
Terry Brown, Kevin’s sister
We had a really happy childhood. Kevin would spend time out on his bike with the lads from next door mostly with me in tow - playing football or camping in the garden out playing in the nearby fields; we enjoyed being out and about in the countryside. We used to disappear and amuse ourselves for hours which was OK back then as long as we were back in time for tea!
We had some lovely, simple family holidays as children, at the sea-side, touring the south west, walking in the Lake District, on boats on the Norfolk Broads and once to Ireland. One memorable time when we went to North Wales with our Nan and Grandad and we, all six of us, squeezed into our Morris 1300 car!
Music was an important part our childhood, not in a forced, showy sort of way but just relaxed and ‘normal’; an eclectic mix of classical music from Mum’s piano playing and Dad’s love of the more upbeat music of the times. Kevin started singing more formally in the Church and Grammar School choirs and we eventually all caught the ‘choral’ bug! In the 1980s and ‘90s one of our family highlights was singing The Messiah ‘From Scratch’ at the Albert Hall each year with Sir David Willcocks conducting. Apart from his training as a chorister, Kevin didn’t have any formal instrumental lessons. He got a guitar when he was 16 and just learnt to play it himself – just as he did with all the other instruments he took up!
Kevin and I both developed a life-long love of bird-watching; we found that we were able to identify birds by their calls and song, something that was another spin-off from our musically enriched childhood.
He met Ruth his second year at the University of Kent at Canterbury, when she was in her first year. It was in his university days that he got interested in folk music, started to write music, and perform. They were ‘just friends’ for many years before finally deciding they really liked each other! They both took up teaching and married in July 1978 at Lymm, Cheshire, Ruth’s family home at the time. A change in teaching jobs brought them both north, initially to Milton Keynes, in 1983 where they got involved with the Morris dancing scene – Ruth to the dancing and Kevin to the music and the violin! And then he discovered the Living Archive project!
Kevin excelled as a composer and song writer.
He was, very fortunately, able to carry on with his musical projects after he had to give up playing his beloved stringed instruments. By using the PC and mastering very technical software he carried on making his music come to life. I was very fortunate to contribute to two of his projects – The Crossword War and Mary Anning of Lyme.
Unlike Kevin, I’m used to singing with music and words to look at; he was very kind and printed both words and music for me to use in our recording sessions. I’m also used to singing as one of a choir and not on my own and certainly not singing with headphones on and into a mic! I was very much outside my comfort zone, but Kevin was very patient and encouraging whilst we did quite a few takes to get the music, the words, and the feel right. But best of all we had such a laugh and I really enjoyed these recording sessions and I’m immensely proud to have been involved.
The last bit of recording we did was in September on the vocals for his song about Bobby Bunn – we laughed such a lot, and I will never forget his obvious delight and sense of fun on that day. I do hope the song gets ‘released’ for everyone else to be able to sing along with us!
Roger Kitchen, co-founder of Living Archive and LAMK Chair
It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of Kevin Adams who made an enormous contribution to Living Archive’s work over the course of nearly 30 years. He was an accomplished musician and was a member of the Living Archive Band, but in addition he was an incredibly talented songwriter whose songs ranged from The Bunny Run - which told of the courting rituals in Stony Stratford in the 1930s - to the amazingly moving hymn to the fallen in World War 1, Bright Battalions.
Cruelly, MS curtailed his active playing career, but he continued to compose and take his inspiration from primary sources of our local history, as in A Crossword War which pictured life at Bletchley Park during World War 2. We know that his songs will live on as a significant part of our local heritage. He was a unique, lovely man.
Roy and Maggie Nevitt, producers of Living Archive musical documentary theatre
The loss of Kevin is the loss of a great musician and a great lyricist - two qualities combined in the one person is very unusual. We'll carry images of his songs and music within the context of the Living Archive Band and the documentaries, but we also remember a relatively recent visit to his house where we saw him surrounded by his music technology and began to understand how his recent albums were created.
Reviewing the recent Mary Anning album, Roy Nevitt (also co-founder of Living Archive) said :
it's a remarkable achievement. The folk music idiom serves the narrative as no other musical form could. It combines simplicity and clarity with melodic beauty and the instrumental variety is very pleasing.
The lyrics are poetry - they set the scene, tell the story, create the character and place Mary’s life in the context of history, science, gender politics, religion and, above all, in the location of Lyme Regis.
They resonate with the great preoccupations of philosophy (time, space and the nature of our little planet within the universe); there's a proper relish for the sounds of the words; some nice sardonic humour in the Bishop Ussher piece; a lovely humanity in the conceit of Mary's father being present at her deathbed and coming alive again in her memories; and you capture the rawness of the actual practice of collecting fossils in all weathers, alongside the keen excitement of discovery.
I think the album has great artistic and educational value.
Craig McLeish, professional choirmaster, composer, arranger, musical director
I am so sad for everyone who knows and loves Kevin.
I had the enormous privilege of working with him on the first book of Living Archive songs, and during that process I grew to respect massively his amazing craft in writing songs out of thin air - songs which spoke about the heart of people's lives and which kept wonderful memories of bygone days alive for so many people. HIs legacy in this alone in incalculable.
My one regret is that I only met him and discovered his songs relatively recently.
Above all he was a truly lovely man full of the good things and genuinely humble about them which I find rare these days.
Martin Ferns, LAMK Trustee for Community and Diversity
I'd heard earlier versions of a couple of Kevin’s songs through the LA Band's concerts - really good songs, but his recent arrangements for the Lockdown Lives project (in October 2020) are brilliant. I love the steam organ in A Few Coppers, in particular.
I hadn't heard Bernard Groom, which I also really like, and even more so the Ikram Malik one. The story is very poignant (what a heartless government we have...), but the music is powerful. Kevin Adams was very versatile.
Chris Mitchell Living Archive Band member
Kev was instrumental in getting me into the music scene after our move to MK and I'm eternally grateful for that. He was generous and encouraging at the various sessions I attended and latterly, I thoroughly enjoyed my visits to him where we would have wide ranging discussions over cups of tea. He was a good friend and I'm devastated that he was taken from us so soon.
I was honoured to be asked to attend a Stocai recording session to take some photos and the attached picture is now hanging in my little gallery at home.
Neil Mercer, Music Director of LAMK drama documentaries, Living Archive Band member
My thought of Kevin is of someone who was able to turn the words of ordinary people, who had been interviewed by the Living Archive, into distinctive, memorable songs. When I see young people out walking by the river in Stony on a Sunday evening I always think of his wonderful, cheerful song ’The Bunny Run’.
Godfrey Yeoman, Living Archive Band member
Although I did not know him for very long it was an honour to have known him, played with him, and collaborated on a few songs.
Brad Bradstock, Living Archive Band member
Kevin, a musician, a songwriter and an all round good bloke. I will miss our sessions in his make-shift studio at home where we discussed all kinds of things, not necessarily music based. He had a wonderful sense of humour and always politely laughed at my bad jokes. Musically I was always in awe of his talent and hated him for it!
It has always, and will continue to be, a real pleasure to sing and play his songs. Miss you mate.
A prayer of acceptance.
Inspired by a night vision in a darkened hospital ward- probably a street-lamp outside or a reflection in a window, when all is said and done, but it appeared to be far more significant and otherworldly to me, more than half-asleep and wired up to all sorts of machines and drips:
‘…Time is the coin we must spend,
None to put by, none to lend,
Days without ending must end,
Now will be never again…’