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The Cruel Sea Guitarist/Keyboardist James Cruickshank Passes Away

9 October 2015 | 8:41 am | Staff Writer

The veteran muso had been battling cancer for some time

James Cruickshank (second from right) with The Cruel Sea in 2008

James Cruickshank (second from right) with The Cruel Sea in 2008

Revered Australian musician James Cruickshank, a long-time member of iconic local indie outfit The Cruel Sea, has passed away at the age of 53 following a "long, hard" battle against bowel cancer, it has been reported.

Tributes have flooded in for the late performer on social media overnight, coming from as far away from Europe as contemporaries from around the country and the globe pay their respects to the venerated guitarist and keyboardist, who built a nigh-legendary reputation for himself over the years not only with The Cruel Sea but as a contributor to outfits such as Beasts Of Bourbon (also with Cruel Sea mainstay Tex Perkins) and ex-Bad Seed Mick Harvey's touring/recording band.

On Facebook, Edward Abbiati, of Italian outfit Lowlands (on whose debut LP, The Last Call, the Aussie muso played every piano part), described Cruickshank as an "incredible musician" and "a true gentleman", and his albums as "beautiful … somewhere between Gelb/Waits and Byron Bay".

Cruickshank was born in Melbourne in 1962, moving to Sydney at age 23 to pursue music but also — astutely — complete a bachelor's degree in communications, during which he formed two bands — the forgotten-to-history Gargoyles and cult indie outfit The Widdershins. Four years after arriving in NSW, in 1989, he joined The Cruel Sea, aged 27, on guitar and keyboards. 

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Cruickshank was a fixture of the band throughout their storied tenure, contributing to each of the band's six studio albums, including the classic one-two punch of their debut and follow-up efforts, Down Below (1989) and This Is Not The Way Home (1991). After their split in 2003, the band reunited in 2008 and 2010 — for which Cruickshank was present both times — while Cruickshank spent his remaining years of activity pursuing his own "post-folk experimental blues" interests (in his words) as well as continuing to collaborate with Perkins, and keeping up a presence as a valued and versatile member of the Australian music community. His third and final album was 2011's Note To Self

Close to home, industry veteran Stuart Coupe said he was "extremely saddened" by the news of Cruickshank's death, while Tall Tales & True founder Matthew de la Hunty described it as "a great loss", and acclaimed Brisbane-based producer Magoo lamented the passing of an "incredibly gifted man and one of a kind". 'Disturbed-folk' luminary Jeff Lang recounted "marvell[ing]" at Cruickshank's acceptance of his diagnosis, and former Bad Seeds touring member Edward Clayton-Jones remembered a "dear friend … [who] never lost his sense of humour even where so many would whine and complain" who made the most of his final months by signing on with Harvey's Serge Gainsbourg — Intoxicated Man European tour.

"He was sweet, he was naughty, he did great things, he did shit things, he was a Mensch — a real human," Clayton-Jones wrote.

"I'm gonna miss him badly but I'm so glad that I had this friend called James who was a magician who one day just disappeared."

See below for further tributes from Twitter.

Amendment: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported that Cruickshank had passed away from brain cancer; this was incorrect and has been changed.