THE DRUMMER Kevin Wilkinson was at the height of his career at the time of his death.
Rated as one of the finest of his generation and in demand on both sides on the Atlantic, he had seemed content in his dual role of doting father and high-flying rock star but apparently took his own life last weekend. He played with many of the big-name bands, including China Crisis, Squeeze, Marillion and the Waterboys, and was even in a position to turn down work with the American rock star Bonny Raitt.
Just seven weeks ago Wilkinson organised a KosovAid concert at the Oasis Leisure Centre in his home town of Swindon, in which he persuaded friends from the rock industry such as the original Band Aid member Midge Ure to take part. Former XTC members Barry Andrews and Dave Gregory, and the Eighties pop star Howard Jones, with whom Wilkinson recently toured the United States, also answered his call. Even the former Waterboys leader Mike Scott made a rare public appearance to support the cause, which raised several thousands of pounds for aid in Kosovo.
Wilkinson caught the drumming bug at a young age, tapping a beat on upturned Tupperware boxes in the family kitchen. His father placed the young Kevin on a drum kit at the age of seven and from there he taught himself. By his mid-teens he was in a dance band and enjoying regular session work.
During the late Seventies he was part of Stadium Dogs, an "art punk" band in the Swindon area which achieved cult status locally. At that time leading record labels were signing all kinds of post-punk bands in the hope of finding the stars of the future. As Wilkinson wryly admitted: "We weren't it. XTC did it better."
In 1979 he recorded an album called Vittring with the Swedish artist Magnus Uggla, an anti-establishment singer whose style was a hybrid of rock, punk and new wave. This led Wilkinson to the big time, as he once explained:
Uggla sang in his own tongue and the Swedes preferred him to [David] Bowie. He sold records by the shipload and the tours were a sell-out. I discovered large shows . . . being immortalised on vinyl had pushed me over the edge and any serious ambitions I held of a proper job were immediately thrown from a speeding tour bus. I had become a professional musician.
By now established with his long-term partner, Marilyn Fitzgerald (later his wife), Wilkinson graduated to his first well-known group, China Crisis. He said: "My destiny now realised, I moved to London to further my career and hang out with better-looking people." He appeared on four of China Crisis's five albums and made regular television appearances with the band on programmes such as Top of the Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test. The band's success - which included 10 Top Forty singles in the UK - took him on extensive tours across Europe and the United States.
After China Crisis split up in 1989, Wilkinson worked with other musicians such as the Liberties, Ultravox and Nick Robertson before teaming up with Fish, the former lead singer of Marillion, who had left the band to pursue a solo career. Between 1991 and 1993 they appeared at festivals and arenas in Europe as well as on television and radio.
Celtic music then began to feature in Wilkinson's life. He appeared on BBC1's Hogmanay show in 1993 and again on the last three New Year's Eves. The call to join the re-formed Seventies band Squeeze, whose founding members had included Jools Holland, came in 1995, and Wilkinson's first album with the group was the best-selling Ridiculous, which built on the band's legacy of turning out inventive and memorable material.
Following a recent US tour with the Proclaimers, Bonny Raitt asked Wilkinson to return and accompany her, but he declined, saying he did not wish to be away from his family for so long.
Those who knew Wilkinson testify that his was not the typically debauched life of a rock star so often depicted by the tabloid press. He took time out of his hectic schedule to renovate the family home near Swindon and perform in local pubs. He was also talented on the mandolin, bass guitar and bazouki.
Open-hearted and completely reliable, he was not prone to calling on favours from fellow artists. However the tragedy in Kosovo moved Wilkinson so much that he sought - and was given - support from his colleagues in the industry to make KosovAid an outstanding success.
Last summer he undertook an Eighties revival tour of the United States, with stars of that decade including Culture Club, Human League, and Howard Jones, which played to capacity crowds. In his diary he looked ahead to the future with seeming optimism: "99 projection - more touring and malarky with Howard [Jones] . . . possibly the Far East and 40-date US tour with the Go Gos in the summer . . . and will continue to record and perform with other artists (when asked of course). Who knows what will happen?"
Kevin Michael Wilkinson, drummer: born Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire 11 June 1958; married 1986 Marilyn Fitzgerald (one son, two daughters); died Baydon, Wiltshire 17 July 1999.
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