Saturday, May 14, 2011

Funeral for a friend

The Uppercut played at The Dolphin in Uxbridge last night. It was a great gig - hot, sweaty and noisy, just like gigs are supposed to be. We went on late as there was football on the television, meaning that we didn't finish until gone midnight; halfway through the second set we all sang 'Happy Birthday' to our drummer Roger (it was also his wedding anniversary!) and there was much dancing and merriment all round. Like I say, it was great. It was also EASY. Easy easy easy. As easy as an easy thing being easy. Well, it certainly felt easy, compared to playing acoustic guitar at Dave Haynes's funeral the day before....

I'd been up since 5.30 a.m., having gone to bed sometime after midnight. I couldn't sleep. Obviously. At pretty much every opportunity over the proceeding few days I'd picked up a guitar and played through some Who riffs, attempting to put them into a medley. I knew from many conversations with Dave what some of his favourites were - 'Pictures Of Lily' always got a mention, as did 'Happy Jack', 'Dogs', 'Substitute', all of them pre - 'Tommy', all of them classics. The more I thought about it, the more songs suggested themselves, after all he loved 'Tattoo', and 'I Can See For Miles' has to be in there - 'I know these' I thought to myself, 'I can do this'... sometime on Wednesday night 'Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere' suddenly made an appearance, as did 'I'm A Boy', making it all too long, too unwieldy, adding to the nerves that I didn't realise that I had. Each time I played the medley it came out in a slightly different way, in a different order - I eventually decided to keep the same tempo throughout rather than vary it from song to song, which helped with the overall flow of things although it still wasn't quite working. Was 'Dogs' the problem? How could I fit 'Tattoo' in without it sounding a bit 'forced'? Should I ditch everything and start again? And then there was 'Waterloo Sunset' - easily one of the greatest pop songs of them all, but how was I going to play it on solo guitar? I changed the key from E to G which let me use some different chord shapes that I felt were more suited to solo performance then, as I'd done with the Who songs, worked out the best way to pick out the melody line among the chords. Eventually I'd done all that I could - time to go to work...

With the service scheduled at midday I arrived at Balcony Shirts at 9 a.m. suited and booted and carrying my trusty acoustic guitar (I'd changed the strings sometime in the previous 24 hours 'though I'm not exactly sure when!) along with a pink heart-shaped foldaway stool. Yes, you read that bit correctly - I'd looked around the house for something that I could take with me to sit on, and with Dave being a big fan of glam rock generally and The New York Dolls in particular it seemed to me to be a appropriate choice. As always is the case when you've got other things on your mind the morning in the shop was a busy one, which maybe wasn't a bad thing as there wasn't time to dwell on what was to come. Sometime around 11 o'clock I got my guitar out of the case, tuned it and played a few chords and scales in an attempt to warm up a a bit before walking around to George Street at 11.30 to meet my Dad who was parked there. With traffic on our side we were at Breakspear Crematorium in Ruislip by 11.40 where familiar faces were already amassing. As we walked around the corner to the East Chapel the vicar came over, introduced himself as Ken and then explained that we could get into the chapel when the current service had finished - we'd then have 'a few seconds' to get set up and sorted before the doors would be opened and Dave's friends and family would enter. I became aware of a sudden increase in tension - I don't normally get nervous before playing in public (well I don't think I do!) but this was a very different situation to the kind of thing I'm used to. As we walked into the chapel I saw the previous coffin disappear into the distance as we walked towards it; I set up the stool on the left as you looked at it, with Ken assembling his notes opposite at the pulpit. I played a chord and the reverb went on for what felt like forever - an amazing sound. 'That'll change when there's a few people in' smiled Ken. Well, he should know. Then it was back outside just in time to see Dave arrive, before we all filed into the chapel to the sound of 'All The Young Dudes' by Mott The Hoople. I knew Dave had good taste! I had a chair at the front at right angles to the rest of the congregation, just a yard or two from my guitar - Pete a.k.a. Plug the original Lurkers roadie and one of Dave's oldest friends sat nearest to me, we shook hands as the song finished. 'Play it again' mumbled Plug as silence hung in the air - it came back on just as Dave's journey along the aisle began. I looked across at Esso and his family in the front row on the opposite side of the chapel, he nodded at me with a blank expression which turned to a weak smile just as Dave's coffin obscured him from view. I felt even edgier as the pallbearers stopped a couple of yards in front of me - this wasn't a gig, this was different, bigger, more important. I could feel my heart beating as I loosened my tie and sat down. As the hymn (don't ask me what it was!) was being sung I could feel my neck beating in time with my heart as I mimed the words, all the time trying to keep my fingers moving to stay warmed up. Ken spoke of Dave's humour, his love of music especially the bands of the 1960's, how he attended a Who rehearsal when he was a lad, and then I heard him say my name. It was time.

I sat on the pink stool, picked up my guitar and looked out into the chapel. It was standing room only, and they were all looking at me. Some faces were tearful, others stoic, others for want of a better word intrigued by what was about to occur - I felt the most nervous that I've ever felt in my life. Sitting here typing now I'm actually feeling shaky just thinking about it. I said something awkward like 'here's a selection of Who music for Dave', considered beginning with the intro to 'Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere' but instead started with 'Substitute'; after a verse and chorus it was into 'Happy Jack', a bit more awkward to play and I fumbled the melody line a bit, I'd played it fine so many times so that's really annoying but it's all going ok, it's 'Dogs' next which is probably the hardest one but suddenly I'm playing the chords from 'Tattoo' and I'm the only person who knows that I've now missed two songs out but it doesn't matter because 'I'm A Boy' sounds good as does 'Pictures Of Lily', perhaps I should play 'Dogs' now although that would make it too long, no it's time to end with 'I Can See For Miles', the chorus chord sequence seems to climb up the guitar neck for ever, and I play the last E chord as Esso drums on the bench in front of him. The end. Total silence, then applause. Are they supposed to do that?

I put my guitar down, turned towards Dave's coffin and nodded - I hadn't planned to do that but it seemed appropriate - and then sat down. Ken said something but I've no idea what it was. Then it was serious. Prayers. Curtains. Tears. Poor old Dave.

'And now Leigh will play us out with 'Waterloo Sunset' Oh, it's me again. The melody sounded beautiful, I ran through the verse and chorus a couple of times, then the middle section as people were leaving, then the verse and chorus again, my nerves had gone and so had most of the congregation, I looked up to see Plug still standing a yard or so in front of me listening intently, smiling slightly as I finished playing. Over near the exit the pallbearers seemed to have been listening too. I put my guitar away, folded up the stool and followed Plug outside. I shook hands with Ken, he asked where I play, told me that he has a Stratocaster, he enjoys playing but he can't play like I can. I told that I couldn't do his job. We both laughed. My Dad told him I was playing at The Dolphin the next night and that he should come down. My Dad's like that. I saw Esso just before we left, as we shook hands I thanked him for asking me to play then told him that I'd been the most nervous that I've ever been in my life. He told me that I'd 'made the whole thing' and was I coming for a drink? No, I've got to get back to the shop but I'll see him for a few beers in the next few days. And I will. You should never be lazy with your friends should you? As I left he said that he should get me something for playing, I went to say that I didn't want anything when my Dad interjected - 'you don't have to get him anything, you two have been friends for 30-odd years, you can't give each other anything better than that'. Like I say, my Dad's like that. And like I say, you should never be lazy with your friends. Well you shouldn't - should you?

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