Now that emotional moment, a video of which became a viral hit garnering nearly a million views, is set to be recreated as part of a festival celebrating Gill’s passionate life.
The St Anmoré (Stanmore) Festival of Music will feature more than 60 diverse acts, including the Richard Gill Allstars, a brass band being organised by SSO Associate Principal Trumpet Paul Goodchild. It’s Goodchild who was behind the original impromptu performance on October 27 last year.
Goodchild has issued an open invitation to all brass players to play the Dambusters March and a selection of other pieces at the November 16 festival.
The festival, in which all musicians perform free, is the brainchild of Simon Chapman, the high-profile public health academic and near neighbour of the Gills. He got the idea while living in Lyon and witnessing the annual Fete de la Musique, a day on which tens of thousands of musicians take to the streets around France driven only by the joy of performance.
“We came out of our apartment one night and the Fete de la Musique was all around us,” says Chapman. “I hadn’t even heard of it, but it was just stunning. I remember seeing Django Reinhardt trios, Malian kora players, jazz bands, string quartets, rappers … every kind of music. It was really festive and participatory.”
He contacted Gill, who agreed to lend his name and support to the concept. However, when the pair approached the now defunct Marrickville Council, they were met with a list of requirements about security, toilets and neighbour notification.
“Richard and I looked at each other and went, ‘F**k this! That’s not what we’re on about’,” says Chapman. “We wanted them to say, ‘We get it and we’re so pleased you two people are willing to do it’.”
The idea was shelved. Then when Gill died aged 76, Chapman and others revived it as a tribute to his life and work, giving it the St Anmoré monicker as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the festival’s inspiration.
This time the response from the new Inner West council, particularly its mayor Darcy Byrne, has been much more positive.
“I was very moved by the outpouring of grief from the community when Richard passed away,” says Byrne. “I think it’s been important to throw the council’s resources behind it and not put up roadblocks.”
For Maureen Gill, it will inevitably be an emotional occasion as so many people gather to celebrate the life of the man who, as well as being such a well-known and gregarious figure, was her husband.
“He was one of those personalities that really clicked with people and he always found something in people that he could relate to,” she says. “The outpouring of grief and love for Richard is really driven by his generosity. He was generous to a fault. If he knew something in music, he was desperate to share it.
Among Gill’s many passions was an unwavering commitment to the importance of music education in early childhood.
“He believed if everyone was informed on music our society would be so much better,” says Maureen.
Several projects that are continuing include the establishment of the Richard Gill National Music Academy in Muswellbrook and the National Music Teacher Mentor Program, which offers music mentoring to teachers of K-2.
“He’s got us all working,” smiles Maureen. “He said to everyone as he was dying – don’t give up the fight.”
“He certainly didn’t want to talk about dying. He just wanted to keep doing things and to feel alive for as long as he could. He was a very decent man.”
The St Anmoré Festival of Music takes place around Stanmore on November 16 from 12.30pm. See stanmoremusicfestival.com
Nick Galvin is Arts Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald