Blind, deaf, 88yo grandfather launches music career on YouTube to beat isolation blues

Blind, deaf, 88yo grandfather launches music career on YouTube to beat isolation blues
March 1st, 2021

When Barry "Bazza" Morris took up music lessons at 84, he wasn't searching for fame.

But the now 88-year-old, who is blind and deaf, has amassed a cult following since uploading an original song and film clip to YouTube called Barry's Isolation Blues.

"I didn't want my song on a hit parade," Mr Morris said.

"But I knew that I was going to write a song, it was going to be popular and it would make people happy."

Mr Morris's song was inspired by the experience of being in lockdown at his retirement village in Lismore on the New South Wales north coast.

"I couldn't go anywhere, people couldn't visit me, and I did have a lot of time to think," he said.

"I did not want to hurt or offend anyone who had a friend or relative who had been ill or died from COVID, so I focused on isolation and the funny side of isolation."

Relying on technology

Mr Morris had some help learning how to read music and play the guitar from teachers at the Northern Rivers Conservatorium of Music.

Communication is made possible with strong hearing aids worn by Mr Morris and linked to a lapel microphone worn by the teacher.

"I can't say that anyone else that takes up music will end up where I am so quickly because I have a lot of help," Mr Morris said.

Music teacher Jeremy White said Mr Morris's persistence was key.

"He's got the best attitude of all the students," Mr White said.

"He's always on time, he's very keen, and he practises a lot."

Mr Morris also records every lesson on his smartphone so he can replay them and pick up on instructions he may have missed in person.

Musical family

Mr Morris also had some help from his children to record his film clip.

The father-of-five said he never had time to learn music when his children were growing up, but he made sure they all learnt to play instruments.

"We thought that people who played music were nice people and we wanted our children to be growing up with nice people," Mr Morris said.

"I also had this vision of my children being a little chamber music group … that didn't happen."

Instead of chamber music, his son Dave Morris went on to play in popular 1980s punk band the Celibate Rifles while his daughter Kate Feain is also an accomplished musician.

Ms Feain said she encouraged her father to record Isolation Blues after he sang it to her on the phone.

"He's an unusual 88-year-old to be in lockdown and away from his family, his friends, his music lessons, his life, and to respond like this," she said.

"I was really proud that his response to the situation was to, rather than feel limited, to think, 'There are limitations, but I'm going to do this.'"


Making people happier

Mr Morris said he hoped when coronavirus restrictions eased he could return to live performances.

Before COVID-19, Mr Morris sang and played music for crowds in nursing homes and retirement villages.

"The best part was relating to people and realising you'd made their lives a little bit happier," he said.

"That was far more rewarding than thinking I did a good job or sang properly.

"If my tune comes into their head every now and then, that's OK by me."