Life provides you with an infinite number of paths – deciding on one is hardly easy. But eventually you will find that passion that keeps your blood flowing and your days exciting. Turning that passion into a career is very far up on the bravery scale. However, nothing in life is ever set in stone – everything is written in the sand, and sometimes the sea can sweep it away. Will Keating and Harry Glasson are two people who have been brought together after suffering from miserable consequences that turned their lives upside down, but changed their misfortunes into opportunities. Now having organised a musical project in honour of Harry and his singing career, Will and Harry are persevering every day to live their lives to the fullest.
Will Keating, who was born in Clevedon in Somerset, started playing rugby at the age of five. Influenced by his father and brother, rugby became a part of his every day life, and eventually became the dream for his future. At the age of twenty-one, that dream was shattered due to an injury.
“Growing up as a kid, you have idols and my idols were people in the England rugby team so I suppose from the age of maybe ten-years-old, I wanted to be a professional rugby player,” Will explained, “Although at the time that didn’t exist, it was an amateur sport. It was the thing I was best at.”
Throughout his time at school, Will also dedicated time to his second love, which was music, organising a band at the age of twelve and doing live performances, but rugby eventually took over.
Harry Glasson, a well-loved Cornish singer and songwriter, similarly grew up with music being a big part of his life as his father was also a singer. Just before his fifty-eighth birthday in 2009, he was diagnosed with throat cancer and had to leave singing behind.
“I was brought up with music, mainly hymns, some Cornish songs but mainly hymns. Then hearing people like Tom Paxton, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie,” Harry enthused, his love for music shone through every word, “I love songs that tell stories. When I first got a guitar, I found I couldn’t play other people’s songs so easily so I started writing my own. I’ve always written poetry, so I suppose that’s where the music came from. I loved entertaining.”
Alongside music, Harry also had a small company of his own called ‘Harry Safari Tours’, which consisted of him giving guided tours to people around West Cornwall, teaching them about the local history. Be it singing or talking to people, Harry was a solid performer who loved what he did.
After deciding on a career path, a person does not usually think about what they would do if they became unable to follow it.
So, when Will was 21 and in the Royal Navy, he took part in a rugby training session on the flight deck of HMS Ark Royal, and he snapped his anterior cruciate ligament and had a bucket handle tear of his medial meniscus. In simple terms, his knee gave up. Shortly after, he was told that a future in rugby was no longer possible.
“I was on morphine at the time, I was pretty drugged up for the pain, but I remember I was in tears. I remember phoning my dad and telling him I’ll never play again,” Will recalled, “Crying my little heart out, I was.”
After a lot of rehabilitation, Will handed in his notice to leave the navy after realising his dream of playing rugby for the navy was gone.
What do you do when you’re no longer able to do the one thing that you spend most of your days doing?
“I started swimming actually, I did a lot of swimming. Then I got a new obsession – scuba diving.”
Eventually, Will began travelling, and worked as a scuba diving instructor on a small island in Thailand called Ko Tao. That is where he began to teach himself how to play the guitar.
“I’ve always wanted to learn the guitar but I never had the patience so on this island, the generators used to go off at 9 o’clock at night and there’s nothing else to do so I bought myself a guitar when I was down in Malaysia and taught myself a few songs and that’s where that spread. So when I got back from traveling and working abroad, that’s when I set up the rugby band and we used to do a few gigs and then I started playing rugby as well. “
When Will began working at a company called Skinner’s Brewery, he met a band called the Oggymen and began singing with them after they invited him to join them. The Oggymen often performed Harry Glasson songs, of which Will was a massive fan of, so Harry himself attended a few of the gigs, and that’s how Will and Harry met.
After performing with The Oggymen for a while, Will realised that music was definitely something he wanted to do. In 2014 , Will’s long term Foster Son tragically took his own life. Shortly after this tragedy he made the decision to leave work and pursue a solo music career.
Harry, who had always been a solo performer, was a mentor figure to Will, and the respect continued to grow from there. Performing was something that Harry believed suited him most.
“I was 14, 1965, so right in the middle of all that folk revival, everybody had long hair and a guitar so it was inevitable that some people stuck with it and some people dropped it and it suited me.”
Unfortunately, in 2009 Harry was diagnosed with throat cancer.
“They said that the best way out of it would be to remove the vocal chords.” Harry explained, and so I asked him what his initial thoughts were, “What did I think – well, what’s the alternative? The alternative wasn’t that great. So I said well if it’s got to be done, it’s got to be done.”
It was soon after the diagnosis that Harry had the operation, and his singing career was in the past.
“I must admit, the first year or so it took a bit of getting used to, I had to press a button to speak, but then like everything else you get used to it.”
It was far from easy, because giving up your job is one thing, but giving up your passion is something entirely different and Harry had to do both. He recalled how often his friends would ask him if he’s still writing songs, and the answer was no, because he didn’t separate the music from the lyrics – instead playing and creating was his process, and he was unable to do both at the same time.
After having to quit music, Harry also had to stop the guided tours due to his voice.
“I drove children to school for a while as a bus driver – disabled children – for a couple of years, and then I retired. Bought myself a motorhome, so now we spend a lot of time away. I love travelling, always have. My wife is not a traveller, she never used to be. And then when I was diagnosed and had to lose my voice, she said ‘how about getting a motorhome?’ I think the only reason she said that was to take my mind off it but she’s grown to love it.”
Not long ago, Will decided to put together a project, and the idea was to record and produce a full album of Harry Glasson songs recorded by other musicians. As well as a salute to the Cornish legend, Will also hoped that this album would aid Harry financially. Although the process is proving to be much more difficult than Will had imagined, he is more than determined to get it finished.
“In lots of points in your life, where you’ve got the choice, you either crack on and you do it or you give up, and there’s been loads of things that I’ve given up on over my life but certain things I loved doing and I was that passionate about, you drive through those horrible moments and uncomfortable moments and there’s moments when you want to give up and you make it happen. It’s one of those, it’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve done,” Will explained, “I’m sure the next album will be fine!” He joked.
Harry, who described the project as ‘wonderful’, had made his way down to the recording studio at Falmouth university to meet some of the musicians and people that Will is working with, wishing them all the best of luck.
Many people lose sight of what they truly want to do because of lack of confidence, and others lose the ability to do what they want to. Harry’s advice was this:
“Try and try and try to do it because the rewards are so much better than being sorry for yourself. You can’t just sit and moan. And I’m fine I really am, I’ve got a really good quality of life. I’m lucky, I really am lucky.”
“I think life is about learning,” Will added, “I believe in fate as well, what is meant to be is meant to be so don’t be despondent because you can’t be what you feel you were born to do, ‘cause there’s always something, if you’re a passionate person, there’s always going to be something around the corner that jumps out at you.”
So perhaps one door has closed – all that means is that another is ready to open.