Belfast Telegraph

How Glen Campbell's daughter Ashley will be keeping his musical spirit alive in Belfast

On what is her first visit to Belfast for the launch of the 14th Panarts Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival, Ashley Campbell, daughter of legendary country singer Glen, talks to Laurence White about her much adored father's battle with Alzheimer's and deciding to launch her own music career

Just before interviewing Ashley Campbell, daughter of the late legendary country singer, Glen, I listened to the song she co-wrote two years ago as a tribute to her dad. Called Remembering, it is a poignant, emotional song moving from her early memories of her dad to his final years when she and others had to do his remembering for him as Alzheimer's disease tightened its awful grip.

Ashley, who will be a headline act at the Panarts Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival in Belfast next March, admits that singing the song can sometimes be very difficult: "I wrote it to bring some comfort to him and to me, but that doesn't always ease the pain."

It is clear that the 30-year-old, who is now just launching her own country music career, was very close to her father, who had eight children from four marriages.

On the day he died, August 8 this year, she released on Twitter a touching photograph of her arm intertwined with his and accompanied by the words: "Heartbroken. I owe him everything I am, and everything I ever will be. He will be remembered so well and with so much love".

Certainly love seems to have been a central part of her relationship with her dad - whose string of hits included Galveston, Wichita Lineman, Rhinestone Cowboy and Gentle on My Mind - and mum Kimberly, who were married in 1982.

So what was it like growing up as the child of a country music legend?

Ashley stresses: "My parents wanted me and my siblings, Cal and Shannon, to grow up as normally as possible. We had a pretty normal childhood living in Phoenix, Arizona, and a pretty quiet life.

"Dad was still doing some shows which would take him away from home but he was mostly around the house. He also had a theatre in Missouri. Yes, it was cool to be around the music industry but we were far from totally immersed in it.

"Our parents did not want us to grow up with any sort of inflated ego."

What about the dynamic with Glen's other families. "In those days it was pretty good," is as far as she ventures.

In Glen's final years that was far from the case with at least two of his children, Debby and Travis, who sought legal action claiming that Kimberly had prevented them participating in his care at the facility where he spent a considerable time.

Ashley is scathingly dismissive of that claim: "That was a complete lie. They just liked to be in the spotlight".

Glen's condition first became noticeable in 2009 when his forgetfulness became more and more apparent. "He would forget where he put things and he would ask mum things like 'Where are my golf clubs?' When she said they were in the garage he was ask 'What is a garage'.

"There were other times when he would forget how to get home when he was driving back from playing golf. He would also ask the same questions over and over again and became more and more reliant on me and mum."

Initially the singer was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment but in 2011 the dreaded news that he was suffering from Alzheimer's was delivered.

In previous interviews Ashley has been full of praise for his decision to go public with this news, noting how other celebrities had decided to withdraw from public life on receiving a similar diagnosis.

Indeed, he took a much braver step in deciding to go on the road for one last tour. Ashley, Cal and Shannon, were among his backing musicians.

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The young Glen Campbell

Ashley had previously appeared on stage with her dad on several occasions, starting in 2009, but during his final tour he relied more and more on her and the backing band to get through each set.

For Ashley a life of country music - even given her background - is something of an accident. At university she was a theatre major, taking improvisation classes in Hollywood and studying comedy.

"There was a play I was involved with which called for me to play the banjo. My school bought me one and paid for my lessons. It was an instrument I fell in love with. I had started playing the piano when I was about five, progressing later to keyboards, and learned the guitar at age 15."

With that range of musical skills and the opportunity to appear alongside her dad it was inevitable that she would ditch her acting career. The decline in his health was another factor.

After graduation in 2009 she moved in with her parents in the country music capital, Nashville, and has lived there ever since. "I wanted to take care of dad and be a support for my mum. But now I am planning to move out into a place of my own next year. It's about time given my age," she laughs. Next year, on March 9, the day after she plays her Songwriters Festival gig in Belfast, she will release her debut album. She co-wrote every song on it including the title track, The Lonely One. "This is the theme of the album and the songs reflect the different kinds of loneliness that a person can go through".

Ashley admits she is looking forward to the release with both slight trepidation and great excitement. Hopefully, she says, a promotion tour will follow as she seeks to build her own reputation, although as someone who has appeared regularly at the Grand Ole Opry - the mecca of country music performers - that should simply require fine-tuning. She describes her music as an amalgamation of influences from traditional country to contemporary Americana with dollops of rootsy folk and country-pop mixed in. Obviously growing up to the soundtrack of her dad's career had a big influence but she also cites Dolly Parton and Merle Haggard as other country heroes.

And just to show that she has an eclectic taste in music, she admits to "being really into just now" Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire.

She admits that the past three months since Glen's death has been difficult for the family. "Mum had a difficult time making the transition. However, we did not want to watch dad continue to deteriorate."

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Ashley with (from left) brother Shannon, mum Kim, and her late father Glen

Ashley, Kimberly and a cousin, Matthew, shared most of the caring duties when Glen was still at home. At one stage a motion sensor was installed to alert them if he decided to wander out of his room at night.

His final illness was spent in a specialist care home in Nashville where he died at the age of 81.

"It was sad, but we knew that Dad's confusion - he didn't know us for some time before the end - and his suffering was over. However, it must be said that for a long period when he was ill he bore it with great good humour.

"I find it difficult to put the emotion of being with Dad during his final illness into words. Having to help out someone who was previously the master and ringleader of our lives was very difficult to experience. However, it was my honour and a privilege to assist him in any way that I could.

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Ashley Campbell on stage

"It is still not easy for mum but she is channelling all her energies into a website, Careliving.org, and blog aimed at other caregivers. Hopefully our experience will point others towards the resources that can make life a little easier for carers and for their loved ones. That would be a fitting legacy for dad."

As we spoke Ashley admitted she was just about getting back to normal after being heavily jet lagged for a couple of days after flying from the US to London.

This is her first visit to Belfast and one of her first ports of call was the city centre Christmas market, followed by some fish and chips and a pint of Guinness.

Even stars, it seems, have the same tastes as the rest of us.

The Panarts Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival will be held at the Clayton Hotel in Belfast from March 7-11, 2018. There will be a total of 30 concerts over the five days and Ashley will headline on March 8. For details go to www.belfastnashville.com. Tickets can also be bought at Dawson Music, Belfast, tel 028 9027 8555

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Glen Campbell, his wife Kim Woollen and daughter Ashley Campbell
 

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