Neil was born in Northfield, Birmingham, the youngest of four. At the age of 9 he moved to Castle Vale and a new school where he began to develop such an overwhelming passion for music, it became his whole life. He excelled at school during his guitar lessons and also showed a flair for the violin. His school friend and fellow musician Aiden Forde remembers how they used to skip woodwork lessons on Friday afternoons so that they could practise together.
When the school was unable to nurture his talent further he began classical guitar at the Birmingham Guitar School where he eventually became a teacher, but at home he preferred listening to blues music and, after hearing Doc Watson on tape, began to practise his flatpicking style. At Guitar School he met John Wharton, another flatpicker, with whom he played many gigs over the coming years and with whose encouragement he began to excel in public performance.
Neil joined The Ian Campbell Folk Group and became involved in another area of music from which he gained great satisfaction, teaching music to special needs children at local day centres. Ian observed the pleasure both Neil and the children gained as he gave them the chance to explore and enjoy music together.
His prowess at flatpicking was acknowledged during a tour of Canada with Ian Campbell where he received great reviews after playing to an audience of 3,000 at one of Canada's major music festivals.
Neil's talents on the guitar didn't go unnoticed by his colleagues and he was asked to accompany Finbar Furey on a UK tour. Finbar, himself a great musician, became firm friends with Neil and once described him as a "genius on the guitar." Playing with Finbar lead to his being invited to stand in for the guitarist with The Dubliners on one of their tours. He had come a long way.
Despite his all-consuming passion for music he found time to study Psychology at Fircroft College in Selly Oak where he made many friends.
Around this time he also struck up a friendship with Seamus Mallon and formed a band called 'Sham' (Gaelic for "friend"). Between them they wrote and recorded fine music, some of which is still played by Neil's friends on the folk circuit.
Neil's last couple of years were spent playing with The Steve Gibbons Band and he remembered one of his most enjoyable but most exhausting gigs as being at the Isle of Man TT Races. He also set up a Guitar Studio which was becoming very successful but sadly he was forced to close it when his health began to fail.
Despite the deterioration in his health, Neil continued to do a resident spot at "The City Tavern" in Birmingham, a local haunt for musicians, where he played with an exceptional all-round musician, Phil Bond. The couple had great empathy and their friends remember the brilliant shows they produced during that time. It is perhaps the love and respect Neil's friends felt for him, not only as a musician but as the generous and caring man he was, that brought several of them to St. Mary's Hospice the night before he died. They brought their instruments with them and sang and played to him all through that night.
Neil's funeral was indeed a celebration of his life. Arranged by his closest pals, they played joyful music, sang soaring songs and shared their personal recollections with the many friends and family crowding the Crematorium. Nobody will forget how Neil's last journey began to a haunting tune called "Mo Chuileann" played on the pipes of Finbar Furey. Finbar had flown in from Ireland to play for his "sham."
You were a beautiful, gentle guy, Neil. We all loved you and always will. Play on.
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|I will always remember your incredible talent on the guitar and your sense of humour,and the few times we played together-fondest memories of a superb musician-love from mike forde (Aidens brother)-R.I.P.|
|Town, Country:||bristol||Date:||Sun Jul 29 22:41:47 2001|
|Castle Vale will remember a person of such talent and pays respects for the tribute he made during his life, however short it may have been.|
|Town, Country:||Castle Vale Birmingham||Date:||Sat Mar 17 22:40:29 2001|
|Descanse en paz|
|Town, Country:||Mx||Date:||Thu May 4 19:58:00 2000|