A plumber sang along with the radio as he fixed a bathroom. His client overheard and gave him a record deal.
It was an ordinary morning for Kev Crane, working on the plumbing in a client’s bathroom as he ripped “Burning Down the House” by the Talking Heads.
The 49-year-old plumber from the UK always sings on the job. Some people in Quorn – a village in Leicestershire, England – even call him ‘the singing plumber’.
Crane takes a portable radio to work, and unless he’s politely asked to whistle, he unabashedly sings everything from Dua Lipa to the Beatles.
Crane’s unsolicited musical performances are often greeted with applause, but recent comment was really unexpected: He was offered a recording contract.
As Crane clattered to the radio while he repaired his client’s bathroom, Paul Conneally – the owner of… New reality records, a small, independent label — paused.
“I stopped and listened. And I was really impressed,” said Conneally, 62, who hired Crane to redecorate three bathrooms in his home.
The two men got to talking and Conneally asked Crane if he had any original material. Crane gave him several songs he had recorded in his makeshift basement studio during the pandemic.
A few days later, in mid-July, Conneally approached Crane and asked a question he never thought he would ask his plumber: “How would you like to release your album on my record label?”
“I was stunned,” Crane said. ‘You read about it that happened to someone else. You don’t expect it to happen to you.”
“You can’t make this up,” Conneally repeated. “It’s a strange story.”
Conneally launched his record label in April 2020, prompted in part by the pandemic.
“I went through life thinking it would be great to start a label, but it took a massive heart attack and a global pandemic to get me into action,” he said.
Conneally has always been an avid musician, having been a singer in a post-punk band in the late 1970s. Still, music became more of a passion than a profession, and instead pursued a career in education.
He worked as a physics teacher for 15 years and then became a health education consultant for several local schools. Four years ago, however, he had a heart attack that “almost wiped me out,” he said.
Then the pandemic hit and it prompted him to think to himself, “If I’m ever going to do something, I might as well do it now.”
Conneally started New Reality Records, which has signed more than 15 artists to date.
“They are all different genres on the label. What connects the artists is that everyone has something strange,” he said.
Conneally runs his label as a collective, with the goal of helping lesser-known musicians spread their work. Any profit is shared between him and the artists, although making money is not the primary goal.
“I see my role as a catalyst for people who may not realize their own potential,” he said.
That’s why his ears perked up when his plumber, of all people, inadvertently showed off his singing skills.
“It was a fully formed voice,” said Conneally, adding that he immediately approached Crane and inquired about his obvious musical aptitude.
At the time, “I knew he had his own independent record label, but I never thought he would be interested in me,” Crane said.
They quickly bonded over their shared love of the New Romantic era of music, which emerged in the UK in the late 1970s. Crane explained to Conneally that he started a band with a friend in college in the early 1990s, but life got in the way and he turned the music down.
Crane, who has been a plumber for 13 years and previously worked as an upholsterer, only recently returned to songwriting. At the beginning of the pandemic, when he was unable to work, Crane re-examined an album he started writing about 25 years ago but never finished.
“I decided to convert the basement into a recording studio and I just spent weeks trying to learn how to mix songs,” says Crane, who has two children. “That was the perfect moment, because I couldn’t go to work.”
Conneally, who also has two children, was intrigued.
At first, “I was a little apprehensive because I was just doing it as a hobby in my basement,” Crane said.
But he passed on his music anyway, and “I was struck by the songwriting and lyrics,” Conneally said. “I listened again and I couldn’t get the tunes out of my head. It reminded me so much of the sound of the 80s, but it also felt right for now.”
In the weeks that followed, Conneally and Crane refined Crane’s eight original songs, arranged distribution rights, and officially launched the album, called “Why can’t I be you?last month on various streaming platforms. The music has a retro, 80’s pop feel to it.
Since the album’s release, “people from all over the world are listening to him,” Conneally said, adding that several people in the music industry have reached out to them about potential opportunities and collaborations.
“It’s been an absolute whirlwind,” says Crane, whose ultimate goal is to write songs for other artists.
To Conneally, he felt it was his duty to publicize Crane’s work.
“Kev’s stuff would still have been in his computer because he didn’t intend to send them to anyone,” Conneally said. “I would like to see him go ahead and score some success.”
He believes Crane’s story appeals to people because “Kev is an ordinary working man. He doesn’t pretend to be something he isn’t. He is exactly what he is: a man who repairs bathrooms and writes brilliant songs at the same time.”
“It begs the question,” Conneally continued, “how many other people like him are there?”
This experience taught Crane an important lesson: “If you don’t have a dream, how can you ever make a dream come true? Never, ever give up,” he said.
When all else fails, Conneally joked, “He’s still a great plumber. The bathrooms look fantastic.”