A TROUBLED but talented Irishman in Leeds whose incredible rendition of Summertime became a YouTube sensation last year has died.
Brian ‘Bernard’ Davey, known as The Belfast Child in a nod to his home city, passed away before Christmas over the weekend of December 11-12.
His body was discovered by a member of the local council in the sheltered housing where he had been living.
It featured him dueting with busker Jonny Walker who joined him on guitar for a rendition of the Gershwin jazz classic Summertime.
“As a busker, I spend a lot of time on the streets and had seen this man many times over the years, but didn’t know he was singer, and, as the years had gone by, his health and well-being seemed to have worsened a great deal,” said Mr Walker at the time.
Battling poor health, alcohol problems and homelessness throughout his life, Bernard was a well-known character in the West Yorkshire city – both for his singing abilities and his commitment to the Irish community.
He has once been a successful singer on the Irish and folk scene. He had also worked as a shop fitter and on building sites in Britain and Europe.
He recently featured on Radio 4’s 50th anniversary update on the Cathy Come Home documentary, which launched the homeless organisation Shelter.
Bernard, who was a father-of-two and had been married twice, was also one of the cast of the ITV Harry’s Game series in 1982 featuring in a music session.
Over the years he had been under the care of Leeds Irish Health and Homes (LIHH), who had provided regular support to him over the last 18 years.
Ironically, the Irishman had been one of the protagonists in forming the organisation in the early 1990s when he was in a better state of health.
“Like many people who endure mental health difficulties, life is never simple,” said Ant Hanlon, LIHH CEO.
“Like far too many other Irish men and women easily do, Bernard found himself treading a path of poor mental and physical health, propped up by alcohol and displacing himself from society, often with nowhere to turn. LIHH were a place he came to in his time of need.
“The Leeds Irish community alongside his family have spoken very highly of the support that LIHH provided over the years, particularly managing to keep supporting him when support seemed well-nigh impossible due to his lifestyle and conditions.”
Born in Belfast on April 9, 1950, Bernard, who had been wheelchair bound for the last two years, passed away in a council flat last month.
His death has been ruled as inconclusive by a coroner, most likely dying as a result of poor health finally taking its toll.
“He was a tough character,” Mr Hanlon said describing how Bernard’s demons had sadly kept him from realising his true potential.
“He was so talented, proud. He was a dynamic and enigmatic character,” he added.
Described as a loveable rogue, there are now hopes to release some of Bernard’s music using recordings of him singing over the years.
“He was a gifted folk singer and could, and many a time did, silence a noisy Irish pub with his haunting renditions of Carrickfergus and the like,” said LIHH’s Shelagh Dixon.
Stories have this week emerged about the Irishman’s kindness to others with one highlighting his paradoxical nature.
One Leeds University student who remembered meeting Bernard said: “He asked me for a quid one time, I said ‘I’m skint’ and so he gave me a tenner and said ‘God bless’.”
Bernard Davey’s death comes at a time when funding at Leeds Irish Health and Homes is most vulnerable.
The recent loss of two major contracts providing housing and health support will see a third of its income disappear after March.
“The generosity of the Irish community who recognise the unique service we provide here in Leeds becomes much more important to us each year,” CEO Mr Hanlon added.
“They know that their donations go to help people who really struggle with life, are lonely and poorly and provide them with warmth, care and independence through our care, culture and community ethos.”
Bernard Davey’s funeral arrangements are yet to be announced but will take place in Leeds, where he is also due to be laid to rest.