On the April 15th 2008 my 5 year old daughter lost her battle against a nasty childhood cancer called Neuroblastoma. Despite trying to remain positive until the end, I was now left with the realisation that I had lost my little girl forever and turned to music to help me deal with my grief.
A song called Tank Park Salute by Billy Bragg helped me through a difficult time more than I could ever express in this short post and when feeling low one night, I emailed the organisers of the Glastonbury Festival advising that it would mean the world to me if Billy Bragg could sing the song as a tribute to my little girl on Sunday night when he was performing in the Leftfield tent at the festival.
I thought nothing more about this until the Sunday of the Festival several months later, when my phone rang early in the morning as I was eating my full English Breakfast which was lovingly prepared on our camping stove by my Kerry, as I answered the phone call, I was greeted with a familiar voice from Barking saying “Hi Neil, Its Billy Bragg here and wanted you to know that I will sing Tank Park Salute as a tribute to your little girl tonight if you fancy dropping by”
Billy was incredibly nice and we chatted for a good 10 minutes like old friends with no hint of awkwardness at all, for me this encapsulated the very essence of the Glastonbury Festival. All too often people think of music festivals as being big corporate affairs with no heart or soul. However what Michael and Emily Eavis family have built is like nowhere on earth and there is a community of over 170,000 people who quite literally fit the demographic of new born babies to 70 year olds with a common love of music and making a difference.
That Sunday night, I went to see Billy Bragg and with minimum fuss he said this song is for those that have lost someone and subtly changed the lyric.
Some photographs of a summer’s day
A little GIRLS lifetime away
Is all I’ve left of everything we’ve done
Like a pale moon in a sunny sky
Death gazes down as I pass by.
Everyone has a Glastonbury story and being on the front row of the Leftfield tent in 2008 with tears streaming down my face whilst Billy Bragg sang Tank Park Salute is something that I will forever be grateful for and it helped me so much in dealing with the unthinkable, the loss of my little girl.
A few years later, I was waiting at Derby station and who should get out of a cab and walk towards me? It was Billy Bragg and I had the chance to thank him for what he did that night and shake his hand in what I thought was a poetic moment of closure. Imagine my surprise when 8 hours later I returned to Derby station to board a train to Birmingham when I bumped into Billy again. I assured him that I wasn’t stalking him but must admit I was a little spooked by the bizarre coincidence.
Life can be quite bizarre sometimes and I have always thought about posting my story, but I never actually got around to putting it down in writing.
My little girl would have been 10 years old today and my biggest battle is not forgetting her smile, her voice and all those little things that a parent takes for granted so as a thank you to the people that made a Sunday night in Glastonbury very special and as a tribute to my little Princess Samantha on her Birthday I have finally wrote it down.
A massive thank-you to the Eavis family and Billy Bragg for a truly special moment that I will never forget and a big Happy Birthday to my princess in heaven.