Kevin’s living the dream in China

Kevin Bennett playing his guitar in the Croft Garden, Headland. Picture by FRANK REID
Kevin Bennett playing his guitar in the Croft Garden, Headland. Picture by FRANK REID

SAT in a five star hotel in China being introduced to local businessmen – quite a surreal moment for any up and coming musician.

But for Kevin Bennett it was something he had to get used too – and fast.

For the 24-year old from the Headland it was part of his daily life for four months.

That – and music of course.

The Crowne Plaza hotel, in Shenzen is a long way from St Hild’s School, in King Oswy Drive, Hartlepool, or Henry Smith School, as it was known when Kevin, aged just 15 and a pupil there at the time, first strummed a guitar.

But the luxury facilities, the fantastic surroundings and the celebrity treatment became the norm for Kevin as he and his guitar made themselves at home.

Kevin, along with six other members of a seven-piece pop cover band were booked up for a four-month residency at the hotel.

Every night for four hours, the band, assembled from throughout the North-East would take to the stage for four hours of pop variety.

From Rihanna to The Beatles, Guns N’ Roses to Iretha Franklin, the high-class residents and businessmen were treated to the lot.

And for Kevin, it was his first taste of life as a professional musician.

He had gave up his job as a music technician at English Martyrs School and Sixth Form College, in Hartlepool, to pursue his dream and came back to town with a whole host of experiences, stories and memories.

“It was absolutely amazing,” said Kevin, who lives on the Headland with his mum Tracey, a driving instructor in the town.

“I was really excited before I went out there but I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was such an experience.

“Obviously I don’t just want to play other people’s music in hotels for the rest of my life but it was such a good starting point.

“It was a great way of improving as a musician and I got to see the world.”

And seeing the world was exactly what he did.

After rising from bed in his suite at around noon most days, Kevin had the opportunity to go out as a tourist – that’s when he wasn’t rehearsing of course.

The “fantastic” temples, the local shops and a whole host of other landmarks were regular haunts for Kevin and the rest of the band.

Then it was back to the hotel to relax to ensure he was on song for the performance on the night – all 110 of them.

In the four-month period, Kevin and his band performed to tens of thousands in the audience, many of whom were regulars so it was vital to ensure Circus kept their set topped up.

“Most of the audience were Chinese and a lot of them were businessmen,” said Kevin, who has an older brother, Christopher, 23, and two sisters, Vicky, 22, and Rebecca, 16.

“It was really quite surreal, the businessmen would try to impress each other by wining and dining them in the hotel while we were up on stage performing.

“Then in between songs we would go down and meet them and have a chat, that kept people coming back.”

The opportunity to play music on a daily basis and to meet dozens of new friends was a fantastic opportunity for Kevin.

But the period in China also acted as quite a sobering experience.

For on a night Kevin would find himself performing to super-rich businessmen who would spend as much as £3,000 in one go.

Yet just five minutes down the road were the slums of China and families living in extreme poverty.

“It was such a contrast,” said Kevin.

“In the hotel was one gentleman who was spending thousands of pounds but the families down the road wouldn’t earn that much money in a decade, it really brought it home.

“On a few occasions I took a step back and you realise just how lucky you are.”

After the unforgettable experiences of China, Kevin is back home – for now.

Speaking to the Hartlepool Mail ahead of a gig in Scarborough with a friend, Kevin said the band are already planning to play around Europe later this year.

And they aren’t ruling out the possibility of going back to Asia or even the Middle East next year.

“To be able to play music and meet so many fantastic people was just brilliant,” he adds.

“It really is a great life, we are all quite keen to get back out there.”