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Billy Connolly’s guitarist friend pens song to raise funds for Parkinson’s

Musician Matthew Fagan, who toured Australia with Billy Connolly, has a show in the Edinburgh fringe this year
Musician Matthew Fagan, who toured Australia with Billy Connolly, has a show in the Edinburgh fringe this year

BILLY CONNOLLY was so impressed by his support act’s guitar skills, he gifted him a banjo he’d played for 20 years.

Now Matthew Fagan is using the instrument to record a special album, A Song For Billy, to raise funds for Parkinson’s after being touched by the Big Yin’s bravery in fighting the illness.

Matthew, from Melbourne, supported the comedian on his 53-date Australian tour and struck up a lasting friendship.

“We used to have a law in Australia that every international act performing here had to have an Australian support act,” Matthew explained.

“I was told it was between me and a dancing poodle act and, thankfully, they chose me!

“Sometimes when you go on tour with a big name you never get to meet them, but Billy loved the 10-string guitar I play and we jammed together every night before I went on stage, with him on banjo.

“He made me feel part of the touring family and every night, after he’d done three hours on stage, he would invite lots of us back to his dressing room and would talk for another three hours.

“At the after-show party on the final night of the tour, at the Sydney Opera House, he presented me with the banjo that had been his touring companion for 20 years.

“I teared up – it was like receiving a gold medal.

“Whenever anyone asks me what sort of guy Billy is, I tell them that story.”

That was in 1999 and each time Billy returned to Australia he’d catch up with Matthew.

Musician Matthew Fagan, who toured Australia with Billy Connolly, has a show in the Edinburgh fringe this year
Musician Matthew Fagan, who toured Australia with Billy Connolly, has a show in the Edinburgh fringe this year

“He became a mentor to me and would invite me backstage and ask about my mum,” Matthew continued.

“Billy was last here in 2013 and his health issues were evident. I could see his energy had changed, but he would still come out and talk to everyone.

“He hasn’t let his condition stop him, despite it not being easy. He’s shown real bravery.”

Matthew realised he could use Billy’s banjo to do a little to help people with Parkinson’s.

“I decided to use his banjo to record A Song For Billy. I played him one of the songs the last time I saw him and he asked me to send it to him when it was finished.”

Matthew is fundraising online to finance the album, which will raise money for Parkinson’s Australia.

And he hopes his project receives a boost when he comes to the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time next week,to show off his skills in Lord Of The Strings.

He added: “I can’t wait.”

Lord Of The Strings is at C scala, Aug 14-29, at 9.10pm


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Billy Connolly: ‘Parkinson’s is the first thing I think about in the morning, so I make the second thing more interesting’