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How having a son with Down’s syndrome changed rocker’s music

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Cormac Neeson with his son, DabhogImage copyright
Cormac Neeson

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Cormac Neeson with Dabhog, who is now five

The Northern Irish rock musician Cormac Neeson says having a child with Down’s syndrome has changed his life in a “joyful and positive” way.

In 2014 Neeson was, in many ways, living the rock ‘n’ roll dream. His band, The Answer, had sold hundreds of thousands of records and had toured the globe with the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Who and AC/DC.

But the singer’s world was shaken to the core when his wife, Louise, gave birth to a very premature baby at just 27 weeks.

“It was an unbelievably dark and troubled time,” says Neeson.

Their son, Dabhog, was born weighing just 1lb 12ozs (0.8 kg) and was immediately taken into intensive care. He stayed in hospital in Belfast for the next four months.

“For a large portion of that time we weren’t sure on a daily basis whether he was going to make it through,” Neeson adds.

Two weeks into that time they had to deal with the news that Dabhog had Down’s syndrome – a genetic condition that typically affects a person’s learning abilities.

“That was something else that just added to the whole very intense experience.”

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Cormac Neeson

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Dabhog underwent heart surgery aged one

Around that time The Answer were releasing an album.

“I would have to take myself away from the incubator for 20 or 30 minutes and do interviews to promote the album.

“I had to pretty much pretend I was in a place where I was comfortable releasing good time rock ‘n’ roll music. It was a complete collision course with where my head was actually at,” Neeson says.

Dabhog did survive and was discharged from hospital, although he had to have surgery aged one to fix a hole in his heart.

The experiences have had a profound effect on Neeson’s outlook on life and his music.

“Whenever the dust settled and Dabhog was home and his health started to turn and life settled down a bit I realised that creatively I was not in a place where I could genuinely write the kind of music we had spent the last 10 years writing,” he says.

He went to Nashville where he worked with American songwriters and musicians to put together a new album. “The result was really a collection of songs that was so introspective and intense and so truthful that they really could only be part of a solo project.

“It’s a world away from the stuff that I had spent my career making up till that point.”

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Shona Cutt

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The title of Neeson’s solo album, White Feather, came from an event during his wife’s pregnancy

One of the songs, Broken Wing, is a tribute to Dabhog.

“It’s a good opportunity to talk about Down’s syndrome and normalise what Down’s syndrome is, but also to celebrate my son for being the individual that he is,” Neeson says.

He says he wanted to get over in the song that raising a child with a learning disability has a unique set of challenges, but “it’s unique in a really great and powerful way”.

Neeson says he also wrote the song to help new parents of children with Down’s syndrome.

“I was kind of placing myself back in the hospital whenever we were told that Dabhog had Down’s syndrome and I was thinking that if I’d heard this song back then I might have taken some comfort from it.

“If your child has Down’s syndrome that is not what defines your child. Your child is unique and amazing like every other child. I’ve never met a person like my son, Dabhog.

“The joy that he brings into our lives is something that I could not have anticipated when we were just worrying day to day about his health and getting him out of that hospital alive.”

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Cormac Neeson

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Neeson has chromosome 21 tattooed on his arm. The most common form of Down’s syndrome is Trisomy 21, when there are three copies of that chromosome instead of two

The album’s title, White Feather, is a reference to an incident early in Louise’s pregnancy with Dabhog.

At around three weeks they were told it was as an ectopic pregnancy, when a fertilised egg is implanted outside the womb, often in a fallopian tube. The egg cannot then develop into a baby and the pregnancy has to be terminated due to the risk to the mother’s health.

After taking Louise into surgery the doctors realised it was not an ectopic pregnancy, but said they would have to wait another two weeks before being able to scan for a heartbeat and confirm if the baby was still alive.

The night before the scan, Neeson went for a walk by himself in the hills near his hometown of Newcastle, County Down.

“A lot of soul searching went on. I said out loud, ‘I need a sign’. At that point I was stopped dead in my tracks.”

He had spotted a white feather in the trees. “In Ireland a white feather represents life,” Neeson says.

The next day the scan revealed a “gigantic” heartbeat.

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Shona Cutt

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Neeson’s band The Answer have released six studio albums

Dabhog is now five and in September started school, where Neeson says he has made friends and won certificates for being pupil of the week.

“Just to be able to experience our little boy thriving like that and being so communicative and being such a life-affirming character and for him to bring so much joy into our lives, it’s a massively positive experience for us and we’re thankful for that,” Neeson says.

Dabhog now has a younger brother and Neeson has become an ambassador for the learning disability charity Mencap in Northern Ireland. Dabhog attended a Mencap centre in Belfast for specialist learning and early intervention support.

“Before my wife became pregnant with Dabhog I suppose my sole focus in life was essentially myself and I think you become much less selfish when you have a child,” he says.

Looking back to 2014, he adds: “There are moments in your life when you don’t know how you’re going to get past these obstacles that are set, but you do.

“Whenever you come out the other side there’s a real sense of victory and that’s where we are at now.”

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Jimmy Tarbuck: Comedian reveals prostate cancer diagnosis

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Comedian Jimmy Tarbuck has revealed he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

The veteran Liverpudlian comic told ITV’s Good Morning Britain he would “try and beat it”.

Tarbuck said he received the diagnosis the day after his 80th birthday earlier this month.

“Right now I feel great. I’m on the telly and I’m having a good time,” he said, adding that the cancer had not spread.

He was inspired to get checked by Sir Rod Stewart, who announced in September that he had received treatment for prostate cancer.

“All men out there watching, and all wives, get your husbands to go for the tests. I think after 50, just have a test, let them have a look at you,” Tarbuck said.

“You will be relieved and be with your families for extra years.”

He said men can be too “shy” to get tested, but urged them not to put it off. “Boys, go. It is embarrassing. Especially when the fella said to me ‘We’re going to give you the thumbs up’. I said ‘I hope not’. He roared laughing.”

Speaking about his treatment, he added: “I’m having injections and taking tablets and then I take a yearly cycle.”

Tarbuck, who rose to fame in the 1960s and was known for hosting variety shows including Sunday Night At The London Palladium and Live From Her Majesty’s, is now planning to go on tour.

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Brits 2020: Pop meets politics

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Highlights from this year’s ceremony included performances from Billie Eilish, Dave, Lizzo and Stormzy.



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Brits 2020: Dave wins album of the year and calls PM ‘racist’

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London rapper Dave won album of the year at the Brits, moments after calling the prime minister a “racist”.

The star took home the night’s main award for his provocative, personal album Psychodrama, which also won last year’s Mercury Prize.

But it was his fiery performance of the single Black which stole the show.

In a newly-written verse, he called out the government response to Grenfell and said: “The truth is our prime minister is a real racist”.

  • Brits 2020: Full winners list
  • Brit Awards: Red carpet in pictures

He also attacked tabloid coverage of the Duchess of Sussex, and made a reference to London Bridge terror attack victim Jack Merritt.

Two years after Stormzy demanded “where’s the money for Grenfell?” on the Brits stage, Dave updated the lyric, saying: “Grenfell victims still need accommodation”.

“And we still need support for the Windrush generation / Reparations for the time our people spent on plantations,” he added.

The lyrics were added as a final verse to Black, which talks about perceptions and experiences of black people in the UK.

The 21-year-old is now only the second act to win best album at the Brits and the Mercury Prize for the same record. The first was the Arctic Monkeys for their debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.

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Billie Eilish won best international female and premiered her new Bond theme song

Aside from Dave’s show-stopping performance, the 2020 Brits also saw Billie Eilish give the live debut of her James Bond theme, No Time To Die, backed by a 22-piece orchestra, Smiths legend Johnny Marr and composer Hans Zimmer.

Lewis Capaldi was the main winner, taking home two prizes: best new artist and best single, for his breakout hit Someone You Loved.

“Contrary to popular belief, [a lot of] people think this song is about my ex girlfriend, who you can now see every night on Love Island,” said the star, “but it’s actually about my grandmother who sadly passed away a few years ago.

“I hope to God ITV don’t contact her to be on a reality TV show.”

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Lewis Capaldi won new artist and best single. and enjoyed a beer or two in the process

Mabel won best female artist, and was congratulated by her mother, Neneh Cherry, who took home two Brits exactly 30 years ago.

Billie Eilish choked back tears as she accepted the award for best international female, having been overwhelmed by the audience’s response to her performance minutes earlier.

“I felt very hated recently,” said the 18-year-old, who told the BBC she had recently stopped reading comments on social media.

“And when so was on the stage and I saw all you guys smiling at me… It genuinely made me want to cry. And I want to cry right now, so thank you.”

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Stormzy won best male artist and then closed the show with a medley

Best male artist went to Stormzy, who performed a stunning medley of songs from his second album, Heavy Is The Head, accompanied by more than 100 performers, including a gospel choir, a saxophonist, and Nigerian artist Burna Boy.

The night opened with a brief tribute to Love Island host Caroline Flack, formerly a backstage presenter at the Brits, after her death on Saturday.

“She was a kind and vibrant person with an infectious sense of fun,” said the show’s presenter Jack Whitehall.

“I’m sure I speak for everyone here when I say our thoughts are with her friends and family.”

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Host Jack Whitehall paid tribute to Caroline Flack

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Harry Styles performed his ballad Falling

Earlier, Harry Styles, who briefly dated Flack while he was in One Direction, appeared to pay tribute by wearing a black ribbon on his jacket on the red carpet.

The star performed the delicate ballad Falling during the show, but made no further reference to Flack’s death.

Other performances on the night came from Lizzo, whose irrepressible energy lit up the O2 as she roamed through the crowd performing the hits Cuz I Love You, Truth Hurts, Good As Hell and Juice.

Mabel opened the show with an athletic version of Don’t Call Me Up, set in a call centre and featuring two dance breaks. And Rod Stewart brought proceedings to an end two hours later, reuniting with The Faces to play Stay With Me.

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Mabel answered the call to open the show and then won best British female

There were several references to the lack of female nominees at the ceremony; with Paloma Faith and Foals saying they hoped for better representation at next year’s awards.

Whitehall also acknowledged the imbalance as he introduced the award for best female, saying: “Environmental issues have been a big theme of awards show this year. And in the spirit of sustainability the Brits has been recycling all the same excuses for why so few women were nominated.”

Dave wasn’t the only artist to make a political statement; with Tyler, The Creator referencing the fact he’d been banned from entering the UK in 2015 over some of his lyrics.

“A special thank you to someone who made it impossible for me to come to this country five years ago,” said the rapper as he picked up best international male.

“I know she’s at home [peed] off – thank you Theresa May.”

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Reuters

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Dave is only the second artist to win album of the year at the Brits and the Mercury Prize with the same record

Dave capped the night off by winning best album – a prize many had expected to go to Lewis Capaldi, whose debut album was the UK’s best-selling record last year.

But voters responded instead to the rapper’s candid, soul-baring reflections on his upbringing in London and what it means to be a young black Briton.

He dedicated his trophy to anyone hoping to follow in his footsteps, saying: “All my young kings and queens that are chasing their dreams, I am no different from you. You can do anything you put your mind to.”


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