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St. Paul Park man flies singing English grandson to Minnesota

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English singer/songwriter Simon Kindleysides performed June 29 at Broadway Bar and Grill in St. Paul Park. Kindleysides uses a wheelchair due to an inoperable brain tumor, but continues to pursue his music career. His grandfather, local resident Pat Bric, paid for his trip. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

The Englishman hoisted himself out his wheelchair and onto a high swivel chair next to the karaoke machine. He tested the volume on his mic.

"Hi, I'm Simon," he told the audience at Broadway Bar and Grill in St. Paul Park. "I arrived in the country about two hours ago."

With that, Simon Kindleysides, 33, made his American concert debut June 29. He overcame nerves and a wonky sound system to deliver a set that included a heartfelt version of "Imagine" by John Lennon.

Paralyzed from the waist down since 2013 by an inoperable brain tumor, he continues to pursue a singing career in his native England.

His biggest fan that night? That would be his grandfather, Pat Bric of St. Paul Park, who sat with friends at a nearby table. Bric paid to have his grandson fly to Minnesota from his native Norwich for a two-week vacation.

"Since being in a wheelchair I'm not really confident when it comes to performing," he said later. "When I went into the bar, the reception I got, the feedback from people, it's kind of boosted my confidence a bit more."

His condition, known as functional neurological disorder, also impairs his short term memory. Kindleysides said he'd like to try acting but wouldn't be able to remember his lines. His laptop contains the lyrics to his songs; he uses it as a prompter during performances.

With three children of his own, he's keen to prove that obstacles can be overcome.

"If you've got a dream and ambition, (don't) give up no matter what happens," he said. "You want to be role model to your own children and other people in the same situation."

The singer's connection to St. Paul Park goes back decades, when Bric was stationed in England with the U.S. Air Force. He met an English girl whom he would later marry. The union was short-lived, but it produced a daughter, Marie. Born in Minnesota, she would eventually move back to England with her mother.

Bric wasn't about to let an ocean come between him and his daughter. They stayed in touch. He traveled to England to get to know her three children, including her eldest, Simon.

"I divorced the mother when my daughter was 3 years old," he said. "I just took it upon myself to get to know my daughter as much and fast as I possibly could."

Kindleysides made his public singing debut at age 5, when he sang "Little Donkey" with the church choir. He sang in a boy band called Eye Candy. An advocate for the disabled, he went on a British television program to demonstrate a full-body robotic suit that allowed him to walk.

His first visit to the United States originally was going to take him to Hollywood. His two-man group, Harmony Duo, were asked to represent the United Kingdom at the the World Singing Championship. But there was a catch: they would have to pay the 8,000 pound ($10,279 U.S.) tab for the Tinseltown trip.

"They would go out and busk and try to get the money to save up to go to this Hollywood gig," Bric said. "They went to Birmingham. They went to London. They didn't make ends meet."

He decided his grandson was going to see the United States one way or another. In addition to footing his airfare, Bric also booked a short "tour" of St. Paul Park, including a performance at American Legion Post 28.

Kindleysides wasn't expecting that.

"He said, 'While you're here do you want to do some gigs?'" he said. "I thought he was joking."

Kindleysides, who flew back July 12, said he plans to record an album that will feature five of his original songs and five covers. More recently, he auditioned for "The Voice UK" and "Britain's Got Talent." He's waiting for callbacks from both shows.

His Minnesota odyssey included a trip to Duluth with his grandfather and his girlfriend, Mary Johnson. Bric also gave him a spin on his Honda Goldwing three-wheeler.

"I've never been on motorbike before, so that was pretty amazing," he said.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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