Kevin Patrick Westlake was born in Dublin on March 5th 1947, to an English father and an Irish mother, and grew up there and on the coast in County Sligo.
He owed much of his talent and inspiration to his mother’s family – his grandmother played the piano and accordion and sang from a great repertoire of traditional Irish songs, and his grandfather and great uncles played in pipe bands. So Kevin was surrounded by music from an early age and learnt to play guitar, banjo, ukulele, mandolin and violin.
When he was nine, his family moved to Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, and Kevin was soon playing drums in the school band. And it was as a drummer that he was first to make his mark as a musician, continuing behind the kit when he enrolled at Cardiff College of Art, and playing with fellow students and musicians Dave Edmunds and Andy Fairweather Low.
There is a well-documented link between the art colleges and the burgeoning music scene of the 1960s, and many musicians spent time as art students. Kevin was serious about art and he accordingly moved to London to study at St. Martin’s College of Art and Design. But music was becoming more and more important to him, and he soon began to frequent the Giaconda Café, the haunt of session musicians, and it was here that he picked up his first professional gig as drummer for Johnny B Great and the Quotations, the backing band for the Walker Brothers.
This was a significant success, the Walker Brothers being huge at the time, but better was to follow. One Sunday he took his kit in a taxi to Latymer School in Hammersmith to audition for the band that was to back Little Richard on his 1966-67 European tour. He got the job, and he later said that he learned more about rock and roll drumming with a ‘feel’ in those three months than he ever had before.
In 1967, now a fully-fledged professional drummer, Kevin joined the Blossom Toes, with Brian Godding on guitar and vocals, Jim Cregan, guitar, and Brian Belshaw, bass. The Blossom Toes never had the success they deserved but soon established a cult following that exists to this day. Handled by the erratic Giorgio Gomelsky (also manager of the Yardbirds) and signed to his Marmalade label, they produced the classic and quirky album ‘We Are Ever So Clean’, which, in its experimentalism and use of orchestra, was way ahead - perhaps too way ahead - of its time.
Later that year Kevin left the Blossom Toes to pursue a solo career. In 1968 he released a single, ‘Every Day/Green’ with Gary Farr, leader of Gary Farr and the T-Bones. He was also greatly in demand as a session player, appearing on many contemporary releases, including Leigh Stevens’ ‘Red Weather’ (1969) and ‘A Cast of Thousands’ (1971), Reg King’s (of the Action) ‘Reg King’ (1971), and Henry Schifter’s ‘Out of Nowhere’ (1971).
In 1971 the Blossom Toes reformed as B. B. Blunder and released the album ‘Workers’ Playtime’ before splitting up again.
Then Kevin began a long musical association with Ronnie Lane. ‘Plonk’ Lane was already famous as a bass guitarist and songwriter, firstly with the Small Faces, then with the Faces, and Kevin and he became close friends and collaborators. Kevin, now playing lead guitar, joined Ronnie’s new band, Slim Chance, for which he and Ronnie wrote the hit single, ‘How Come’, and also ‘Silk Stockings’, both of which appeared on the album ‘Anymore for Anymore’ (1974). The band legendarily toured as the Passing Show, appearing all over Britain in a Big Top, making many friends but little money.
In 1976 Kevin released his own solo album ‘Stars Fade (In Hotel Rooms)’, recorded with his friends from Slim Chance, Billy Livsey on keyboards, Steve Bingham on bass guitar and Jimmy Jewell on saxophone. The album was produced by Tony Meehan, the former drummer of the Shadows.
In the same year, under the pseudonym Abercrombie Fraser, he released the single ‘Marie’s Wedding’/’The Edinburgh Music Box’; and two years later, this time under another pseudonym, the Frankies, he released another single ‘Yoyo’ (with Caroline Quentin on vocals). The B-side was the instrumental, ‘Holiday Magic’.
Throughout the 1980s, dividing his time between London, Herefordshire and Montgomeryshire, Kevin continued to play numerous sessions and gigs and write many songs. He was also spending more and more time drawing. He produced a large quantity of highly original, very funny, sometimes savage, drawings and cartoons and staged several exhibitions in London and elsewhere. His reputation as an artist grew throughout the 1980s and 1990s and continues to do so.
In 1993 Kevin met Helen Gibb, and they married on 18th August 2000. This was the happiest period of his life, for he and Helen had so much in common, loving not only each other but also music, art, and humour in equal measures. She also provided him with the stability and continuity which he had hitherto lacked. Many friends passed through their London home and will remember wonderful evenings with Kevin, always the most entertaining of companions, at his sparkling best.
Kevin continued to produce music and art of a high standard, despite increasing ill health, until his death on 30th September 2004. He never achieved the success he deserved in his own lifetime and it must have been galling for him to see contemporaries of lesser talent gain more reward. However, his reputation continues to grow, and he is prominent among that gifted band who have to settle for delayed recognition. So, as always, he keeps good company.