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Neil Hannon and Tim Wheeler unite for Alzheimer's benefit

By Maureen Coleman

Tim Wheeler has told how he was driven to organise a benefit concert for the Alzheimer's Society after his father passed away from the disease earlier this year.

The Ash frontman said he believed the charity gig would be a fitting tribute to his father George Bomfforde-Wheeler (78) and would provide some closure for his family.

Wheeler has teamed up with The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon to stage the Ulster Hall event during Belfast Music Week.

Hannon’s father Brian is currently battling the condition.

The Undertones have also signed up for the concert, with support from local singer/songwriter John D'Arcy.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph at the Oh Yeah Centre in the city’s Cathedral Quarter yesterday, Wheeler said he had thrown himself into organising the gig to help him cope with his grief over the loss of his father.

“My dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2008 and spent the last six months of his life in the Psychiatry of Old Age Ward in Downe Hospital,” he said.

“I spent a lot of time in the hospital with him, but felt pretty helpless as there was nothing I could do, except visit him.

“I was in London, on my way back to New York, when I got a call to say that he wasn't going to make it, so I turned around and came back home.

“I got to spend that time with him before he passed away, they were a few very powerful days and I am glad that I was able to be there. My brother asked me to sing at dad's funeral, but I couldn't do it.

“I just didn't think I'd be able to handle it at all, so to be able to do this concert will be a fitting tribute to him and will bring closure for me and my family. Once I spoke to Neil about it everything started to come together, and being involved in the gig has definitely helped me.

“It was one of my goals for this year and I'm so pleased that we can help the Alzheimer's Society through our music.”

Hannon's father, a retired Church of Ireland clergyman and former Bishop of Clogher, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's several years ago and has used his position as a public figure to talk about the condition.

Hannon said: “As a family |member it's hard to watch, of course, but I'm astonished by my father's refusal to get dragged under. I try and talk to my dad as normally as possible, it's important for people with Alzheimer's not to be written off or left to rot.

“It is a debilitating and frustrating condition, but with early diagnosis and the right medication it's possible to live an enjoyable life.

“It's important to be open about it and not to be scared of it, and by speaking out about it I think my dad has helped de-stigmatise the condition to some extent. He's done his bit for the cause, now I'm doing mine.”

Wheeler also revealed that he had received a message of support from local actor James Nesbitt. His mother May suffers from Alzheimer's.

Nesbitt is currently in New Zealand filming The Hobbit, but has offered to send a video message on the night of the concert.

Carer Margaret McKenna, who was at the Oh Yeah Centre with Alzheimer's sufferer Una Maguire, said that dementia was still treated as a “taboo” subject and that more needed to be done to maintain the quality of life for people diagnosed with the disease.

Background

The concert will take place on November 3 and will feature Ash and The Undertones playing their debut albums (1977 and The Undertones), while Hannon and a string quartet will perform the 1994 album Promenade. Tickets for the gig go on sale tomorrow at 9am from the Ulster Hall box office, Ticketmaster and Crowdsurge. Donations can be made at www.justgiving.com/ulsterhallmusicbenefit

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