Vin Garbutt: Colossus with a Heart of Gold

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Vin Garbutt
Vin Garbutt: As I will always remember him, smiling.

Vin Garbutt: The hardest obituary I have ever had to write

Colossus with a Heart of Gold

I’ve penned a few one-liners, I wrote a few good songs,
I’ve met a few good people and some that did me wrong
But once-a-while there comes a smile that holds you in its grasp,
That shakes you to your boots and forces you to ask

If you are lucky, once in life, you’ll meet this kind of man
The type of guy that made me ask exactly who I am
I met that man so long ago, when we were young and daft
We laughed and laughed oh how we laughed, we laughed and laughed and laughed

Some beliefs were miles apart and yet we never fought
Just recognised our differences in answers that we sought
But values bound and stayed with us; will be forgotten never
Like family and love of life and songs we’ll sing forever

That voice, those words, that cutting wit, the messages prevail
The fun, absurd, the joy of it, the devil in the detail
The stumblings and the mumblings, as big as any song,
Even tuning his guitar would pull the audience along

So generous of spirit, an open hearted guy
and when I met his family I instantly knew why
He shared his house his home his food, his everything, his kin
but before I stayed the night I had to put the windows in *

Farewell my friend I’m broken now, but heal I must, and will
Forget you, Vin I never could, and though your heart lies still
It beats within the ones you’ve touched, and they are not a few
But thousands all around the world; they’re better because of you.

* This line needs a little explaining.

I stayed with Vin, Pat and family along with my then wife Janet and our two sons, when we played the Redcar Festival together. Vin, in his inimitable manner, had been pondering the fact that there was no ventilation in the spare bedroom. He’d had sash windows made and decided that the perfect day to fit them was the day we arrived. He had been “working” for hours getting it ready when we turned up. Drinks in the back garden were taken and the stories began. Vin was completely forgetting the time and Pat constantly reminding him that there was no window in the spare room. He resumed his task and after a further hour or so had managed to glaze two of the sixteen panels in the sashes. In the end I finished the job for him and we went upstairs and fitted them, together. I ribbed him for years about the fact that I had to finish the bedroom before we could go to bed. As always, we laughed and laughed and . . . 

Vin Garbutt, Dave Tearney and Keith Hancock
Me and Vin together with our Geordie, Dutch Agent, Dave Tearney. Somewhere in Holland a lifetime ago. So many happy memories.

Anecdotes of times with Vin Garbutt

. . . the first time I met Vin Garbutt, we hit it off immediately. I did a floor spot at his gig and he complimented me on my songs, one of which of course, Absent Friends, he went on to record. The day after the gig we met up for lunch and went for a walk along the canal near my home. There was a fair bit of rubbish in the canal and a huge block of polystyrene floated past. Quick as a flash, Vin looked at me me and said, you know, three quarters of that is beneath the surface. 

He didn’t think like any other person I have ever met. He was constantly playing with words in his head, even my name became Kee Thanh Kok, and he would joke on gigs that I was from Thailand or Vietnam, ironic now considering where I live. 

Author Keith Hancock with Vin Garbutt
Keith Hancock and Vin Garbutt together in Bangkok around 2011

Another story I remember was when somebody mentioned Princess Anne. I could see the cogs start to tick. He suddenly said, “She was a chiropodist, you know, but that was a long time ago.” we all waited with baited breath until eventually someone in the group could stand it no longer, “Go on, explain.” “Oh Yes”, Vin carried on, “She worked in the middle East.” “There’s a very famous song about it.” Silence . . . “It’s called Jerusalem.” I was so in tune with his humour that I immediately got it and was in fits of laughter as the others looked on baffled. Vin eventually summed up, “Anne did those feet in ancient times.” 

Razor Sharp Wit

Once in our house he phoned a mate who had been down on his luck. “Great news”, said Vin, “you’ve got a job?” . . . “ Wow, Selfridges? Have you sold any yet?”

The strange thing was, that I was funnier when I was in his company. For days after we spent time together my wife would comment that I was really funny and should use more humour in my act. But it wasn’t easy for me, whereas for Vin, it was simply who he was. I don’t use this term often, but Vin Garbutt was a genius. There is no other word for it. He could hold an audience in his thrall, have them helpless with laughter one minute and in tears the next. A Vin Garbutt gig was an event, you went home tired. Emotionally drained with your ribs hurting; but ultimately better for having spent two hours in his company. 

I was lucky for I have spent weeks and months in his company. He was the greatest friend I’ve ever had and the greatest man I’ve ever met. I will miss him until I join him. . . though we still won’t agree on where that will be. I love you, mate.

Keith Hancock. June 7th 2017.

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Following a highly successful 25-year career as a singer/songwriter and musician, Keith pulled out of the rat race and moved to Southeast Asia in 2008. First living in Thailand, he moved to Cambodia and then relocated to Ho Chi Minh City in early 2013. Keith has had work published in magazines and websites in the UK, Europe, USA, Australia and Asia. He has written for the BBC and has appeared on TV and radio in many different countries. His great loves are music and travel, but he writes on a whole range of subjects.
  • Gordie T Geordie

    A fantastic tribute to a fantastic bloke. Sums him up perfectly. Although I first saw Vin here in South Shields (45 years ago), I actually met him properly in Bangkok when he stayed with me during a visit to do some workshops and shows at the school I worked at. There was something about Vin and SE Asia that just seemed to fit perfectly and that has been reflected in some of his songs. He wrote ‘City Of Angels’ after I took him for a tour of the nightlife and my (Thai) wife’s favourite song was always ‘Filipino Maid’. I will have a pint for you on Friday at his wake, and a few for myself.

    • Thanks Geordie, I remember Vin speaking of you. When I lived in Thailand I had a serious spinal surgery that almost did for me. Vin was on his way back from Australia to the UK and changed his travel plans to come and see me. The measure of the man. I too will be raising a glass on Friday at exactly 12 noon (6pm) here in Vietnam.