Leon’s Gift – crowdfunding for creative older people

When musician Luke Escombe stopped to pick up a hitchhiker just outside Bridgetown, WA in November 2016, he could never have dreamed that it would be the start of a life-changing friendship.

The stranger who climbed into his car was wearing motorcycle leathers and sporting a wispy, tobacco-stained beard. He introduced himself as Leon. They talked about music for twenty minutes on the way into town. As Luke was dropping him off, Leon reached into his black leather jacket and gave him a CD.

Three days later, on the drive home from Sydney Airport, Luke listened to Leon’s music for the first time. Within seconds, he knew he’d been given something special.

Luke and Leon started a friendship via mobile phone and Leon sent him several more of his albums. Luke uploaded them to his Bandcamp page, where they soon became more popular than his own music, with renowned American bluesman Charlie Parr numbering among Leon’s fans.

Leon was delighted that people were listening to his songs at last. He told Luke he’d been giving away his CDs to truck drivers for years and had never heard a word. Any money Luke got from downloads he sent to Leon. They talked long into the night about life and friendship – two men from different worlds, at opposite ends of the country – united by their love of music.

Then, in March this year, Leon called to tell Luke the devastating news that he was dying of cirrhosis of the liver, and the doctors had given him only a matter of weeks to live. Luke asked The Ageing Revolution (The Ageing Revolution is a profit-for-purpose that aims to shift perceptions of ageing – their event at Vivid in 2017; “Ageism – The Next Frontier’ featured Luke as a performer) for support to get Leon a new Zoom Recorder to replace the faulty machine he’d been using to that point. This meant Leon could start writing and recording music again.
Then something quite amazing happened.
Leon gave up drinking, and his body recovered enough that he now qualified for a new medication.
A local photographer named George Stewart took some stunning photos of Leon. Luke’s sister Melanie turned them into some cool album artwork. Leon has been inspired by the artwork and the interest in him to record two EPs worth of new material in the last three months. The latest is called “Love is Gonna Come”. It’s a song dedicated to Luke and all the other people whose kindness has empowered him to keep living. He calls them his “Enigma Family”.
It’s been eight months since Leon was told he had three weeks to live, and he says he’s never felt better. He’s creating new music, that he knows will be listened to, and feels that his once-lonely life is now full of love, purpose and inspiration.

Leon has also entrusted Luke with the honour of picking his ten favourite songs for a compilation album. We’re going to get it mastered by Grammy Award-winning engineer Willy Bowden and combine it with lyrics, George’s photos, and Melanie Escombe’s artwork to make a beautiful album package.

Our hope, if we get this right, is that we won’t just be helping Leon, but others like him who have a talent and a story that deserves to be heard by the wider world. Imagine how many more people might benefit from using the Zoom recorder, or a similar piece of technology, to reach out and connect with the rest of Australia.

Our aim is to turn this into a great ‘pay it forward’ project that shows:

  • Creativity doesn’t die because you’re older. In fact, it may be the thing that keeps you young.
  • Small acts of kindness can make a huge difference
  • Music makes the world go round

Here’s the link to our crowdfunding project – right now, we’ve reached our goal, we’ve got a rough cut of the documentary and we’re working on the CD and download.

And here’s the link to the great story the ABC did on our project!

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