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The Canterbury Blues Man

Remembering Dan Venes

This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you - Don McLean

In the fourth decade of the all-out war against music, as the autotune barrage intensified, the world lost another blues man. His name, Dan Venes. Dan, a talented musician and painter from Canterbury, was last seen alive on Margate's seafront promenade, at around 7pm on August 14th 2021. Approximately 24 hours before that final sighting, he'd arrived in an ambulance at the bustling A&E department of Margate's Queen Elizabeth Queen Mother hospital (QEQM). The ambulance had been called by British Transport Police officers at Sturry railway station after they'd found him there, in obvious distress. It wasn't the first time that Dan had been taken to the QEQM over concerns for his wellbeing. On a previous occasion he fled the hospital soon after arrival and was later found 'submerging himself" in the sea - you would expect, in this day and age, that a detailed report of the incident would have been attached to Dan's medical files. On August 14th he was bought in by an ambulance crew, and there he remained, 'largely unobserved' for the next 22 hours, at which point he walked out again without anybody noticing. Dan made his way down to the seafront, and then seemingly disappeared into thin air.

Over the next six months, a Find Dan Venes Facebook page attracted thousands of concerned followers and, as interest in the story grew, the BBC evening news programme broadcast an appeal for information. Hopes were repeatedly raised and dashed as possible sightings came to nothing. And then in January, Interpol contacted Kent Police with news of the worst case scenario. French police had found Dan's body on a beach five miles from Calais, little more than a week after he'd gone missing. For reasons unknown, it took them six months to establish his identity. Meanwhile, in the UK, family, friends and an increasing number of helpers had continued searching high and low. A GoFundMe page quickly raised the money for Dan's flight home. He'd been given a funeral in France, and received another in Canterbury.

I chanced on this heart-rending, and vitally important story while researching something else online. After a couple of days spent listening to Dan's songs, and reading through various posts on his Facebook accounts, it became clear to me that he was a beautiful, sincere human being. His best mate Ricky Twyford, who spearheaded the search and appeared on the BBC evening news appeal, described him as "a kind, private person with a profound appreciation of the natural world around him."

It's amazing how much you can learn about someone from a social media profile. Dan Venes, lived as a creative soul and a man of peace, as honest and open as the day is long. Honest and open, even when broaching the impossibly difficult subjects of his childhood trauma, subsequent alcohol addiction, substance abuse, and crippling psychiatric issues. He felt most at ease out in the countryside. And, in this era of autotune pop and knife-crime rap, he was the rarest of things - a dedicated blues man, steeped in the old school tradition. His songs 'No One to Live For' and 'Devil in My Dreams' mean a whole lot more now. There's a 10 track album entitled 'Dead Broke' on Spotify, and a shedload more songs on YouTube and Facebook. It's suggestive to imagine that, in any decade pre-1980, he'd have been signed by a decent label, and touring all over. Dan was also an accomplished abstract artist. His striking acrylic paintings have attracted buyers from around the world. Speaking in an online radio interview, he said: "My subject matter is dark and damaged, that's why I use bright colours - to show that light can come from darkness."

Reading through the Facebook comments Dan posted in the weeks leading up to his disappearance, it's clear to see that there were periods when his anti-psychotic medication wasn't working for him. Despite prolonged bouts of chronic insomnia and paranoic torment, he strived to remain friendly and creative. Right to the end, a humble, courageous soul, kind-hearted and true - the world could do with more people like Dan Venes.

When all is said and done, good souls live forever. And as long as the internet survives, we'll have Dan Venes' music and art. Although, for the time being at least, it's all laced with heavy melancholy. My current favourite is his YouTube video entitled 'Sunrise of The West'. There are no lyrics, but if ever a picture spoke a thousand words. I clicked play and sat spellbound by the atmospheric, spiralling acoustic riff. Alone somewhere in the Garden of England, it's as if Dan and his guitar fuse into complete resonance with nature. Of course there is birdsong - the Venes surname derives from the Germanic word Vogelsang, which translates to 'birdsong'. In that moment, Dan Venes is vibrating in perfect alignment with the universe. Behind him, away in the distance, a council service truck pulls into view, it's flashing lights offer the faintest inkling of impending peril.

Sunrise of The West

Modern society is a mental health minefield, a neon lit shopfront racked with violent computer games, skunk-weed, cocaine, instant pornography, zombie knives, shit music and unemployment. Around the back, alas the bins overflow with broken people, shattered minds and wasted lives.

Core Arts is a charity funded Mental Health Care project based in Homerton, East London. Founded in 1992 by Paul Monks, Core provides a college-like environment for creative people with enduring mental health issues. It's members are referred by social workers. The project, based in a Victorian era school building on Homerton High Street, comprises a large art workshop, and a fully equipped recording studio with an adjoining rehearsal room. There are also horticultural, landscaping, multimedia and sports departments, all staffed by super-friendly, highly professional tutors. Down the years Core Arts has provided creative sanctuary for thousands of vulnerable people. I volunteered there some years ago, for the music department. Over that eight-week period, the rehearsal space remained in constant use as a steady stream of singers, poets and musicians came, jammed, and left with lifted spirits. The musical coming and going was marshalled by two tutors, both multi-instrumentalists. I'm honoured to have played percussion, on a couple of occasions, for the legendary performance poet and dedicated mental health rights campaigner Frank Bangay (RIP). Core Arts prides itself on providing best practice, and best value in mental health care. Their policy statement says simply: Our mission is to support and promote recovery, social inclusion and mental wellbeing through the arts.

Just imagine there was a Core Arts in every city and town across England, like there are McDonalds fast food outlets. Mental health patients with creative leanings could be referred directly into artistic therapy. Dan Venes would certainly have benefitted. Instead we've got Ronald McDonald, the new-age pied piper, luring children into poor dietary habits.

Paul Monks, founder and CEO of Core Arts, Homerton

Mental health is the final frontier on our journey to improved social awareness. The Coroner's inquest into QEQM's grave failing took place at Maidstone County Hall in August 2023. Coroner Sarah Clarke stated: "What I can say is, having read the evidence and heard it, I don't think it will be of any surprise to those in Daniel's care to hear me say that while he was in QEQM hospital, the care from the acute team and mental health nurses fell far below the care that should be expected. I have no doubt systems have improved, investigations have been undertaken on a multiagency level and lessons have been learned. However there remain concerns that I consider trigger a Prevention of Future Deaths (POFD) order."

Grave failings

Jane Dickson, chief nurse at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, offered her "deepest condolences and sincere apologies" to Dan's family. "The safety of those we care for is our utmost priority and we accept that we did not provide the correct level of observation." The inquest also heard from Jennifer McBride, a matron at QEQM, she said: "Capacity for enhanced observation of mental health patients has been increased since Mr Venes' death." She also announced plans to have "safe houses" for mental health patients in operation by autumn that would be attached to emergency departments to look after such patients while they await referrals.

The prevention of future deaths, safe houses - Dan Venes did that. His darkest moment has given birth to a light that will guide QEQM's mental health team in future. He is free now to be one with all things. As he was in the beginning, so shall he be for eternity: a spirit in the woodlands, high winds blowing through tree tops. The scent of wild flowers in spring, and that sense of freedom in a summer breeze. The ice-cold mist hanging low over the English Channel. The angry gale howling across the open sea - that nobody hears. He is birdsong by a stream. He is a stream by a gridlocked motorway. He is free now from anxiety, pitch-dark solitude, systematic failure, human error and negligence. He is me, he is you. He'll live on in despair at incompetence, and will be remembered as the catalyst for change. Sarah Clarke's Prevention of Future Deaths order must now do what it says on the tin.

"If the world was full of Dans, there would be no wars and no hate and no tears. Just love and appreciation for what's beautiful that surrounds us."

- Ricky Twyford.

Final word must go to the man himself: "It doesn't matter anyway, because we're all going to die. And hopefully we'll all go to Heaven where we can live in peace at last."

- Daniel Guy Venes, The Canterbury Blues Man

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