Familiar tune positive sign after surgery

Graeme Downes
Graeme Downes
Graeme Downes awoke from the haze of general anaesthesia singing one of his own songs.

It was a great sign for The Verlaines lead singer, guitarist and songwriter, who had major surgery to remove an oesophageal tumour in Wellington last week.

Wife Jo Downes said she recognised the tune, but could not recall the title.

The main thing was the 58-year-old would eventually be back to singing — hopefully sooner rather than later, she said.

"It’ll take a few months to get his diaphragm back together because it’s been cut open. It’s going to take a while to get some strength back.

"But that probably won’t slow him down once he gets out of hospital. He’s just somebody that sings.

"He’ll be singing again — you won’t be able to stop him."

Mrs Downes said Dr Downes was doing well after the nine-hour surgery, in which his chest cavity was opened up to remove a large piece of his oesophagus.

While it was still too early to say if the surgery was a success, she said he was now out of the intensive care unit and was recovering on a ward.

"We don’t know when he will get out yet. They’re taking it day by day.

"They’ve got him trying to eat ice cream because that will show if any of the surgical sites are leaking.

"He likes ice cream, so it’s not so bad for him."

Dr Downes told listeners on his popular radio show, Music with Graeme Downes, on RNZ last November that he was signing off for the last time and was unlikely to return.

His band first appeared in 1982 on the ground-breaking Flying Nun Dunedin Double EP, and went on to become one of Flying Nun’s most lauded and long-lived bands, touring extensively and releasing several well-received albums in America.

He also lectured at the University of Otago Department of Music, Theatre and Performing Arts, where he introduced courses in composition and musicology, and developed New Zealand’s first degree in rock music.

He took early retirement from the university earlier in 2020, and has since moved to Otaki, on the Kapiti Coast, to be closer to family.


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