Photo courtesy of Philip Morris
The untimely passing of one of this country’s finest and most respected musicians has shocked and saddened Australians. Tributes to the much loved guitarist have poured in to the Facebook page ‘Send Your Love to Harvey James’, which was set up by his three children, Gabriel, Alexandra and Joshua last October. The outpouring of love and support in recent months did much to lift his spirits during the last months of his life and the messages of sympathy since his death are testament to the enormous impact Harvey had on all those who knew him either personally or through his music.
Some months after his diagnosis, Harvey finally made the decision to share the news with his fans and the public. We agreed the announcement should come ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’ (in Harvey’s words) and he decided to write an open letter to Rock Club 40 members, breaking the news and telling his story. But, due to circumstances beyond our control, Harvey’s words will never see the light of day so I think he would want me to share this story with you now.
Harvey James was known to us all for his legendary guitar playing…. most notably, I dare say, for his time with Sherbet and, most famously, for that oh so recognisable solo on their smash hit Howzat. But, to me, Harvey was so much more than a musician… he was a dear and loyal friend and one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. If you were one of Harvey’s many friends, you don’t need me to tell you how blessed you are.
Harvey took a special interest in Rock Club 40 last May following the interview I did with him and that appeared in this website. He believed in what we were doing, what we were trying to achieve and made it his mission to help in any way he could, coming up with innovative ideas to improve the site and spreading the word on our behalf. Many of our members have joined us due to Harvey’s conscientious efforts. I quickly learnt that, if you wanted something done, and you wanted it done well – and NOW! – Harvey James was the man for the job! He was excited about the prospect of joining our team, writing his own column devoted to his greatest passion – the guitar. Sharing his vast knowledge of the instrument, he planned to conduct interviews with other guitarists, presented with his own unique ‘Harveyesque’ brand of humour. I’ve no doubt it would have been a hit! But just as we were making plans to embark on this new venture, Harv received the news that would, in his words, ‘put the brakes on’ all his plans. ‘I have a battle ahead’ he told me and he would need to focus all his energy on the fight of his life…
I took this journey with Harv for the next six and a half months, as he shared with me his hopes and dreams but never so much as acknowledging his fears… ‘That’s a negative’ he said. ‘I don’t deal in negatives.’ I am not too sure who was keeping whose spirits up as Harv (or Harry as I often called him) always found the positive in everything. ‘You folk who don’t yet have a use by date are missing out,’ he told me. ‘God should word you up before you start life’s journey. That would be a great help! Instead, he leaves it up to you to decide what’s important!’
And, to Harv, his music was very important! Even before his diagnosis, we had talked a lot about trying to get him performing again. That is what he wanted more than anything… it was his dream and, in spite of his diminishing energy levels due to radiation and chemotherapy, he worked hard to make that dream happen. When it finally did, it was, ironically, at a benefit concert in his honour last November. After that concert, Harv looked at me and said ‘OK Shaz… so what do I do now?’ This concert had been the focus of his energies and he now needed something else to focus on. I smiled. ‘You do another one,’ I replied. And so, in the last few months of his life, he turned his energies toward another benefit concert, this time in Sydney. Again, he needed to be involved in putting it together and, again, he threw himself into it. In spite of the progression of his condition, Harv was determined to keep moving. ‘One thing is for sure,’ he once assured me, ‘as long as my bum is pointing to the ground, I will keep on going.’ And that’s exactly what he did…
Harv and I reminisced a lot about our mutual friend, Ted Mulry, about the days on the road with the Sherbet and TMG ‘family’. Ted was a dear friend to us both. Harv and the rest of the guys from Sherbet even reformed to play at Ted’s benefit concert in 2001. As we discussed plans for a benefit concert after Harv’s cancer diagnosis, the irony of that memory was not lost on us. ‘I miss his presence,’ he said. The time Harv spent on the Around Australia in 80 Days tour in 1976 was one of the best times of his life, he said. The memories had stayed with him forever.
Harv was, of course, a brilliant musician with an impressive resume and he left us all an amazing legacy of music. He was also a wonderful friend who treasured his many friendships as I‘m sure a lot of you would know. He was funny, witty, talented… a generous and caring man with a heart of gold… a truly beautiful soul.
But, by far, the most important gig in Harvey’s eyes was that of a loving father to his children, Gabriel, Alexandra and Joshua. He was always bursting with pride when talking about his kids and felt closer to them than ever before during the last six months of his life, something that made him very happy and he felt very blessed. ‘God works in mysterious ways,’ he told me.
I could probably go on and on sharing stories, telling you all just why there is such a plethora of love and respect for this man throughout the music industry that meant so much to him, among the friends he cherished and, most especially, the family he loved with all his heart but I think you get the idea.
And, if Harv has taught me anything, it is in these words he said to me when starting out on this very tough battle: ’One thing I have learnt from my condition is… don’t stress over bullshit. It’s not worth it and it’s a waste of time… smell the roses!’
When all is said and done, Harvey James was one of the best. I feel blessed to have known him and to borrow the words of the man himself…
I miss his presence…
Rock on Harvey…
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © 2011 Sharyn Hamey All Rights Reserved.