Obituary: Carey Lander, keyboard player with Camera Obscura

Carey Lander. Picture: Anna Isola Crolla
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Witty keyboard player and backing singer with Glasgow indie band Camera Obscura

Born: 1 March, 1982, in Maidstone, Kent.

Died: 11 October, 2015, in Glasgow, aged 33.

Carey Lander was the keyboard player and backing singer in Glasgow indie band Camera Obscura for 13 years. She recorded on four of the group’s five albums and contributed to the substantial cult success they enjoyed. Although never a huge commercial force, Camera Obscura are as closely associated with the sound and style of Glasgow’s West End music scene as their friends and contemporaries Belle & Sebastian. Their blend of pristine, emotive guitar pop and a lyricism which toys with themes of wry melancholy has ensured them a dedicated international following.

As much as Camera Obscura have helped define the sound of Glasgow in the past two decades, they also contributed to its look, particularly through the creatively classic style of Lander and the group’s singer Tracyanne Campbell.

Lander oozed old-school glamour and “granny chic”, says Campbell. She wore Chanel No 5 or Jean Francois Laporte’s Ambre Precieux with an arsenic-coloured cardigan. She drank cheap fizz or gin and tonic and ate second helpings of Sunday dinner and takeaways from Mother India. She enjoyed taking a bath with a candle, a book and a glass of wine to hand, and she loved to see snow falling.

“She was a bright, beautiful and courageous bookworm,” remembers Campbell. “She was sharp, extremely witty, super-sarcastic and at all times dignified.”

Along with music and fashion, books were Lander’s other joy. “She was a massive book reader, never without a novel to hand,” says Camera Obscura’s bassist and co-founder with Campbell, Gavin Dunbar.

“When we filmed the video for (the band’s 2013 single) Troublemaker, it was great to be able to give her a wee bookshop to be working in. She’d have been an amazing librarian if music hadn’t been her life.”

Lander loved the Southern Gothic style of writers like Carson McCullers, and also read Patrick Hamilton, Sylvia Plath, Lorrie Moore and Richard Isherwood. Among her favourite novels were Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude, Hangover Square and 20,000 Streets Under the Sky, and Nabokov’s Lolita.

Born in Maidstone, Kent in 1982 to parents Eileen and Bob, Lander’s older brothers are Ross and Nathan. She moved to Glasgow from her home town in 2000 and soon became a familiar face in the circles in which Camera Obscura moved.

The band knew she played piano, and when their previous keyboard player Lindsay Boyd left in 2002 she was invited to join. Her first engagement as a member of Camera Obscura was playing the band’s debut John Peel session in the summer of that year: “a baptism of fire”, says Dunbar.

She toured Britain and the United States with the band following the release of their 2003 album Underachievers Please Try Harder. When the band’s third founding member John Henderson left shortly afterwards, Lander, Campbell, Dunbar, Lee Thomson and Kenny McKeeve became the core of the group, releasing the albums Let’s Get Out of This Country (containing what many consider to be their signature song, the cheerful, elegiac Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken) in 2006 and My Maudlin Career in 2009.

In 2011 Lander was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of bone cancer most commonly found in children and teenagers. Receiving treatment for it, she continued to tour and record with Camera Obscura, including working on their 2013 album Desire Lines, but in August 2015 the group took the decision to cancel an upcoming tour of Mexico and California when Lander’s illness returned and she sought treatment for it once more.

Frustrated by a situation where the rarity (around 150 cases in the UK every year, 15 of them in Scotland) and lack of profile of this type of cancer meant there had been few advances in treatment for osteosarcoma in three decades, Lander decided to use her profile to raise awareness of the condition and funds for Sarcoma UK, the only charity in the UK focused on fighting it.

“It’s probably too late to help me,” she wrote with poignancy on her justgiving.com fundraising page, “but it would be great if we could find something in the future that means children don’t have to undergo such awful treatment and have a better chance of survival.”

Her words caught the attention of music fans across the world. By the time of her death the appeal had gathered donations of £50,000; within 48 hours of her passing another £15,000 had been added.

All of this was helped by endorsements from figures including the broadcasters Lauren Laverne and Dermot O’Leary, writers Caitlin Moran and Jon Savage, comedians Chris Addison and Robin Ince, and the film star Zooey Deschanel, with whose own band Camera Obscura had previously played.

Had Lander known that her death would make news across the UK’s mainstream media and in the international music press, further raising the profile of her cause, it would surely have brought her some satisfaction.

At time of writing, her appeal is still accepting donations on justgiving.com. “The support has been overwhelming and it is a real testament to Carey,” said Lindsey Bennister, chief executive of Sarcoma UK. “The funds will make such a huge impact and help transform the landscape for everyone affected by sarcoma.”

The day after she died, Lander’s parents made a statement on her fundraising page. “We have been deeply moved by all the gifts and messages on this page,” it read. “They have brought real comfort to us. Please keep spreading the word and keep giving, so we can carry through her resolve that no other families experience this heartache and sadness.”

Carey Lander is survived by her partner Kenny Macleod, Camera Obscura’s sound engineer, who she met on tour and lived with in Glasgow’s West End since 2011; and by the music of the band she loved playing with.

“Being able to record the album we had started working on before my diagnosis, and to travel and play shows again has been amazing,” she said in her final statement, “and I’m very grateful to everyone that’s bought out records, come to our concerts or supported us in some way.”

DAVID POLLOCK

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