As we celebrate Down’s syndrome week, musician Simon Kent tells Shelley Marsden how his daughter, who has Down’s syndrome, has inspired his life and music…
“The last track on my new album kind of ties everything together”, says Hampshire singer-songwriter Simon Kent. “Dreams and Memories was the first song I ever wrote, and it explores the idea that you can plan things and think you know how life is going to pan out, but it can actually end up completely different.”
Simon, who has family roots in Roscommon and Galway, knows all about the surprises life can spring on you. When his wife Jo was 20-weeks pregnant with their first child Evie, now 7 (they also have a son too, four-month-old Ethan), they were told the baby they were expecting had Down’s syndrome.
It was a horrible shock, says Simon, but they had time to plan for the future and get their heads around the news. “The thing is, I’d never met anyone with Down’s syndrome before we had Evie”, he said. “You go around taking notice of disability but it does hit home when it becomes part of your family life. Now my daughter is one of the biggest inspirations in my life.”
Evie, who attends a mainstream school where she is fully integrated and has her own set of friends, even has a cameo on the keyboard on track four of dad’s new album: “Yeah, we’ve put some of her percussion and noises on there. It’s a cool track in a really weird time signature, so her contribution fits in really well.”
Simon’s debut album Pillo was recorded in just over a week, and this one was the opposite, taking three years to finish. For Simon, part of that was his perfectionist nature. He says: “At times it felt like it was never going to reach completion, but it did.
“I wanted to do the opposite of what we set out to do with Pillo, which was very deliberately an organic project. Dreams and Memories is more electronic, with more texture and a lot more polish. Pillo was mainly piano and guitar, whereas this has a lot of keyboards, weird percussion going on. It’s more intricate.”
Music, unsurprisingly, has been a huge part of little Evie’s life since she was in the womb. Her parents sang to her then, and continue to sing to her, about everything from how to get dressed to helping her with her maths homework, a subject she doesn’t find easy.
“There’s always music – usually loud music – in our house anyway”, said Simon, “but we were always singing, while she was still in Jo’s tummy. It just felt like a nice, natural thing to do. Then from day one with Evie we were reading and singing to her, you could see how much more engaged she was when you put something to a melody, instead of just talking at her.”
Things like getting dressed, washing, going to the toilet and all the household chores, all those things will be sung in a tune in the Kent household. “If we sing it, we make it fun, a game. It’s a sensory bombardment; she’s taking things in from more than one area of instruction.”
Bearing her condition in mind, Evie is doing exceptionally well at school. Her reading is well ahead of the national average for her age and in other subjects she is keeping up, and hasn’t dropped behind.
Simon is justifiably very proud of Evie, and he sincerely hopes his family’s story can inspire others. With Down’s syndrome week happening this week, how important is it to Simon that stories like his are seen in the media?
“It’s crucial. The more visual Down syndrome is in the mainstream, the less side-lined such people are from society, and they are not seen as some separate group outside of normal society. People have a fear of the unknown, so let’s make people with Down’s syndrome ‘known’.
He’d like to see more happen though, and one worry is what happens when Evie becomes an adult. “I’d really like to know she’ll have a meaningful path into adulthood, that’s what’s concerning me now, because I don’t see many people with Down’s syndrome working, not in the places I go to.
“I know there are things in place to help that happen, but it’s not happening enough. I hope that changes a lot in the coming years. But more simply, my hope is that Evie and Ethan are able to live fulfilling lives. And whatever they want to do, we will be 100% behind them.”
Dreams and Memories is released on April 4. For more on Down’s Syndrome Awareness Week, see our feature in this week’s Irish World (22 March 2014).