Tears & Laughter: Commemorating an Itinerant Free Spirit

Share Article

Originally planned as an autobiography by Neil Thomas Lewis, this wide-ranging collection of correspondence, poetry, prose, songs and sharp observations was compiled and edited by Cambridge, Ontario writer and editor Lea Porter, a good friend of Lewis from 1996 when they met in The Golden Kiwi pub in Cambridge, until his death in 2009. Neil left Lea all of his archival material.

Welsh-born Lewis was a multi-talented singer, guitarist, songwriter, actor and comedian. He started out on BBC Wales writing music and by the time he was 12 years old he was already performing in the working men’s clubs throughout South Glamorgan.

In his early twenties Neil joined Max Boyce, (now Sir Max Boyce) as his lead guitarist and for the next 15 years travelled throughout the world to exotic places such as the Middle East, Thailand, China, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, USA, and Canada to mention just a few. He was the opening act for Max Boyce when they played for members of the Royal Family several times in the 70’s and 80’s at the Royal Albert Hall and the London Palladium.

A friend, Peter Lewis introduced Neil to Bermuda and he quickly fell under the spell of the island staying for 10 years until he discovered Canada. In all, Lewis has spent 45 years on the road playing clubs and concerts to expats and others who shared Lewis’ love for Celtic folk standards and original soft rock songs.

But the road is a hard life, and like many others, Lewis succumbed to its destructive allure. At age 17 when his father died, Neil became very sick losing almost half his weight. He was diagnosed with Addison’s disease – a slow destructive process where the immune system attacks your organs. Neil suffered Barrett’s Esophagus, followed by removal of his gallbladder and spleen. His stomach collapsed and he had to be fed through a line with tubes in his stomach. He had several pancreas attacks and endured pain on a level that few ever experience. Many of the anecdotes included in this book are hilarious. Like a cat with nine lives, Lewis continued to beat the odds, bounce back and restart his career. His body finally gave up the ghost when he was performing in Bermuda and he contracted E.coli, but this time he couldn’t beat it, this time he lost his fingers and toes to gangrene. In a much weakened state, he boarded a plane back to Wales where he died at Morriston Hospital near Swansea a week later.

As Lea Porter makes abundantly clear through her careful selection and juxtaposition of material, Lewis never felt sorry for himself. Far from it: Neil Lewis was not only the life of the party, he was the party. Witty, self-deprecating, a natural performer, he went through life as a musical vagabond, a Keith Moon of the folk world. Here today, gone tomorrow, and leaving a smile on the faces of whomever he met along the way. One could argue that Lewis’ life was tragic, but reading Tears & Laughter leaves no such impression. He loved life, he loved music and he loved good companionship. Sadly, perhaps, he loved it all too much. Yet, as Porter’s labour of love points out more than once, at least he did it his way.

Author Biography: Lea L. Porter is a writer and editor living in Kitchener, Ontario and was Neil Thomas Lewis’ best friend. She is the author of “A Cambridge Journal – Stories From the Food Bank”, sponsored by the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank.
Tears and Laughter
ISBN: 978-0-9939241-0-1

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Jennifer Sallans
Visit website