Words for Andrea

MY two year battle with cancer in 1987-88 changed me forever.

During that time I became close friends and soulmates with a fellow cancer patient named Andrea Price.

She was quite simply the most beautiful person who had ever come into my life. She tragically died in May 1990, aged just 23.

I often think about her, and how her life might have been if she had survived rather than me.

On the 27th anniversary of her passing, these poems – written at different times – try to address how I feel about her death all these years later.

More can be read about Andrea here.

 

Still Miss You (May 2017)

Twenty-seven years have passed

You were only twenty-three

You died

I cried

And I still miss you

 

Arrived a January baby

You died a May Queen

You inspired

I tired

And I still miss you

 

Your laughter is everlasting

Now you rest in a better place

I went on

But you are gone

And I still miss you

 

You would be 50 now my love

And giving so much joy

I lived

You died

And I still miss you

 

Gone Again (May 2016)

Twenty-six years are gone

Since we laughed out loud

At nonsense

We cried

You died

This is your song

 

One last breath, a whole life

A child born and scars torn

Love knot sealed and tied

Goddess cried, Goddess died

 

Twenty-six years are gone

Since I kissed your sweet cheek

Said farewell

We cried

You died

This is your song

 

One last breath, the sky is grey

The hungry earth, the empty hole

The velvet box is death’s own bed

Eve’s own kin is dead

 

Twenty-six years are gone

Since your soul passed away

To heaven

We cried

You died

This is your song

 

One last breath, a spirit shed

The heavens frown, an angel down

Spirit moaned, lick of flame

Grips the sky, she’s gone again

 

Twenty-six years are gone

Since we commended your body

To the ground

We cried

You died

This is your song

 

Pass in Time  (May 2015)

Whispering quietly

Watching the moon

Counting time slowly

Thinking of you

You were part of my life

And I am thankful for that

But your souls have crossed over

There’s no space for regret

Andrea, Father, Gillian, John

Betty and Stephen, Ramsay and Don

Once you were here

But now you are gone

 

Living life quickly

Dancing till dawn

Singing the chorus

Of each new born song

Fifty years onwards

Battle weary and tired

Now your souls have crossed over

My thoughts are hard wired

Andrea, Father, Gillian, John

Betty and Stephen, Ramsay and Don

Once you were here

But now you are gone

 

Darkness is falling

The water is high

The mist it is rising

And touching the sky

Life’s an adventure

But the road is too short

Since your souls have crossed over

The memories distort

Andrea, Father, Gillian, John

Betty and Stephen, Ramsay and Don

Once you were here

But now you are gone

 

Darkness (May 2014)

Death where is thy sting?

You came and took

Her away

And still you haunt me

In my darkest

Dreams

You sit like a cactus

At my window

In smothering

Stillness

In my darkest

Dreams

I wake in the night

Still crying

Cursing the name

Injustice

In my darkest

Dreams

You reach out darkly

And remember

It was you who died

Not me

In my darkest

Dreams

 

She’s Gone (May 2013)

I cupped her face in my hand

Gently

Surveyed her features with my eyes

Lovingly

Brushed her hair with my cheek

Sparingly

Tasted the sweetness of her lips

Deftly

Stroked the coldness of her hand

Sadly

Said goodbye

 

Final days

The brush strokes of the passing day

Paint his life in shades of grey

The clock it ticks each fading hour

As his life withers like a dying flower

 

A road less travelled lies ahead

Finding a place to rest his head

The old brown moss, the limestone comb

The wooded glen where wild cats roam

 

The final doorway to his life appears

Colours saturate the passing years

Red of anger and deep blue pervade

Under the bent willow he’ll find his shade

 

Beyond Dark Eyes

I am sat here alone and writing

The midnight moon shines on the temple gates

They’re drinking wine and talking

And my thoughts they all now separate

I live in another world

Where pain and death are iconised

My life is strung with traitor’s pearls

And all I see are dark eyes

 

I think of you sleeping so far away

Hear you breathe sweet innocence

Your face it fades into darkened grey

But your words now enter my inner sense

I can hear a desert drum

Beating beneath the poet’s disguise

Four riders watch as they come

And all I see are dark eyes

 

I was raised to be discreet

For all life’s intended purposes

They tell me revenge is sweet

Against my enemy’s twisted vertices

But I feel nothing for their game

Where beauty goes unrecognized

All I feel is heat and flame

And all I see are dark eyes

 

Sweet Jayne

Sweeping back the years

To when we were still kids

The landscape lay

Before us

Exploding dustbin lids

The hope of 20 summers

The embrace of time to come

The warmth of July nights

The beat of life’s lone drum

Sweet Jayne

 

Nostalgia lights the darkness

I am here and you are gone

The reality lies

Before me

Finding my way home

The chill of 60 winters

The memory of time gone by

The scent of damp November

The emptiness of the sky

Sweet Jayne

 

Death is Not the End – the conspiracy surrounding the deaths of John Bauldie and Matthew Harding

John Bauldie

I NEVER thought for one minute that a life-long obsession with music legend Bob Dylan would collide head on with my 30 year career as an investigative journalist.

But it has done… in the most unexpected way imaginable.

It is a story of a common love, friendship, a sudden and tragic death and an ongoing murder conspiracy.

A conspiracy which may touch the highest levels of British society.

My love and obsession with Bob Dylan has now spanned more than 40 years.

But it was back in 1987-88, while I was hospitalised in Cardiff with cancer, that a new world of Dylan was unexpectedly opened to me.

And with it an equally unexpected friendship.

To while away the hours and weeks of radiotherapy, my mother bought me a copy of Robert Shelton’s definitive Dylan biography No Direction Home.

I consumed the book in a couple of days. And while meandering through the appendices I noted mention of a quarterly Bob Dylan fan magazine, simply titled The Telegraph.

With an annual subscription of just £10, including delivery, I wrote off and subscribed to the magazine instantly.

And so began the expansion of my world of Bob Dylan and an enduring friendship with the magazine’s editor John Bauldie.

John was an ebullient personality, sometimes sounding dour with his native Lancashire drawl, but always enthused by anything to do with Bob Dylan and his hometown football team Bolton Wanderers.

And as a fellow journalist, we automatically had a lot in common.

John was one of the world’s foremost authorities on Dylan’s music. He wrote several key books on him as well as – since 1981 – editing and publishing the superb Telegraph.

Yet there was nobody less like the stereotyped “anorak” than John.

A former lecturer in English literature he was a dapper and cultured man, who brought a well-rounded intelligence to his quest.

His vocation was to amass the data and win for his hero the serious appraisal due to an outstanding 20th century performer.

He only met Dylan once, and that was by accident.

Following a US tour, he was passing the singer’s tour bus when Dylan sauntered out.

The two men held a brief and genial conversation, in the course of which John won a much prized endorsement for his magazine.

“The Telegraph?” Bob murmured. “I seen a few issues of that. It’s pretty interesting.”

That was all the recognition that John required.

Then in 1987 – coinciding with our first contact – he left his teaching days behind him and joined the small team at the newly-launched Q magazine, as a sub-editor.

Meanwhile, I quickly became a regular contributor to The Telegraph and would often engage in long telephone conversations with John at his home in Romford, swapping his immense knowledge of Dylan with my suggestions for magazine lay-out, typography and style.

He seemed like a god to me and was always the first person I turned to for tickets to Dylan gigs – usually after he broke the news of the great man’s next tour.

John loved to travel with his longstanding partner, Penny Garner, and would invariably plan his year around Dylan’s interminable tour itineraries.

And he always cut a memorable figure at those gigs. You’d spot him, immaculately turned-out in his camel-hair coat as he shared his insights and a few drinks with fellow fans.

And it was wholly due to John that I joined him on a flight to Brussels in the summer of 1989 to follow Bob Dylan around Europe, and witness Dylan’s greatest gig at the Statenhal in Den Haag.

When I moved to Scotland in late 1990 to begin a full-time job as a newspaper editor, our telephone conversations became less frequent, but we still had time to meet for a chat before Dylan’s gigs at Glasgow’s SECC in February 1991.

And my quarterly copy of The Telegraph still arrived promptly every three months.

So, it was in total shock and disbelief when I discovered that John, aged just 47, had been killed in seemingly freak helicopter crash in Cheshire.

It was the same crash which killed Chelsea multi-millionaire vice chairman Matthew Harding and three other people on 22 October 1996.

Harding had given John a lift in his private helicopter to watch his love Bolton Wanderers, defeat Chelsea in a Coca-Cola cup tie at Burnden Park.

Ironically it was their mutual love of Bob Dylan which first brought John and Matthew Harding together.

Some months later I wrote to John’s widow Penny, expressing my condolences and deep sadness at John’s death.

Penny replied almost immediately and I have treasured her hand written letter for the past 20 years.

And there my grief and memory of John Bauldie should have remained.

But, last month my investigative senses were stimulated by a chance conversation with another Dylan fanatic at record fair in my local town.

He told me that Penny had died homeless and destitute a few years after John’s tragic death, and both their deaths were not as they might seem.

On arriving home I quickly found online a copy of the official report into the helicopter crash which took John’s life.

The report, dated November 1997, said that the pilot of the twin-engined French Aerospatiale AS 355F1 Squirrel had neither the qualifications nor experience to control the aircraft after it got into difficulties.

Michael Goss, 38, had gone off route on the night of the crash and headed for an area of high ground which a weather forecaster had advised him to avoid.

The report said that after taking off from Bolton after the match, the flight had to operate below an overcast cloud layer which was below the minimum safe en-route altitude.

But, 20 years later there are now allegations that Matthew Harding and his fellow passengers died, not because of an incompetent helicopter pilot, but because of their knowledge of police and local council corruption in property development schemes within the London Borough of Havering.

And it was the friendship between Harding, John Bauldie and his partner Penny, which now may explain the conspiracy surrounding their deaths.

Penny Garner was a Biology lecturer at Havering College of Further and Higher Education – not far from her and John’s home in Romford.

She prepared her students for their A-levels and future careers in Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy and Industry.

During the mid 1990s Penny witnessed criminal issues at the college, created in a failed attempt to close the college for property development.

She struggled with these issues not least due to the wayward management of a faculty head who failed to deal with staff who had purchased a machine gun with live ammunition on college premises.

The machine gun was fired on college grounds with a resulting flood of calls to Havering police.

The college had a large number of students from Irish backgrounds and with the Northern Ireland troubles still flaring many feared there might be links to IRA terrorism.

But witnesses later swore that a Conservative councillor encouraged the sale of the machine gun at the college, via a party intermediary resident in Lake Rise, Romford.

The gun was later resold, by a science technician in Penny’s faculty, who was encouraged by a well-known local Tory activist involved in the property development plans.

Allegations soon surfaced that the firearms sales, random assaults and thefts were part of a dirty tricks campaign by local Conservative activists and councillors in attempt to close the college.

There were further allegations that their friends in the local police had full knowledge of this campaign.

Penny made John aware of these events.

John and his editorship of The Telegraph was already being investigated without just cause in an attempt to find “dirt” against those opposing the closure of the college for property development.

The corruption involved was such that the attempt to close the college was stopped for fear of official enquiries into the conduct of the Romford, Hornchurch and Upminster Conservative Parties and associates in Havering Borough Police station.

Shortly before his death, John told Matthew Harding about the events at the college. Matthew Harding took a keen interest to find out more and promised to look into the matter.

Harding also had a political axe to grind as he disliked the Conservative Party and recently donated funds to Tony Blair and New Labour.

But the conspiracy gets deeper…

Just two years ago it came to light that murdered BBC Crimewatch host Jill Dando had been probing the death of Matthew Harding and his four friends.

Ms Dando was gunned down on her doorstep in Fulham, south-west London, in April 1999. The killer has yet to be caught, but much evidence points to police, MI5 and political corruption at the highest level.

“Jill told me she was investigating the death of her friend Matthew Harding and money laundering claims,” said a BBC colleague.

“She was killed after ignoring two warnings to back off.”

The source claims Harding first told a friend, Irish investigative journalist Veronica Guerin, about his fears about corruption and money laundering over property developments.

But Ms Guerin was then murdered in 1996 while working on a drugs inquiry in Dublin.

A panicked Harding then repeated his concerns to BBC journalist Ms Dando.

He died just four months later.

The source added: “Jill told me she had begun investigating Matthew’s death and the concerns he had shared with her.

“Somebody tried to warn her off but she persisted in her inquiries.”

The conspiracy remains unsolved, but as someone once said: “This can of worms only opens from the inside”.

Watch this space!

 

Dave Swarbrick RIP – the Passing of a Legend

IT has taken me the whole weekend to get my head around the death of the most wonderful and idiosyncratic of all British musicians: David Cyril Eric Swarbrick.

Even now, some three days since his passing, I am still struggling to find words for Swarb – or just Dave to his many friends.

How do I find the right words for a man who died twice and has occupied an iconic status in my life for nigh on 40 years?

And a man regarded by many as the greatest fiddle player these islands have ever produced?

Although short in stature, he has always been larger than life with his high octane virtuoso fiddle playing, wit, banter and infectious personal charm.

A legend in every meaning of the word.

I first met Dave at the bar of Fairport Convention’s annual Cropredy Convention sometime in the late 1980s. A pint of beer in one hand and obligatory cigarette in the other, he giggled and gently spat jokes with us mere mortals, before asking politely: “Whose round is it?”

In recent years we maintained a good friendship through social media, sharing the same political outlook on “a world gone badly wrong”.

When his health started to finally fail in January this year – ironically at the time of David Bowie’s untimely death – I designed him a Get Well card with a picture of Bowie on the front and a “Message from God” simply stating: “you’ll have to wait, Dave”.

The juxtaposition of Bowie’s final Lazarus album, and Swarb’s final band, also called Lazarus was obvious to us both.

I sent the card to the hospital in Aberystwyth, where he was being treated. His wife, Jill, responded that he “loved it”.

His passing six months later is tragically sad, but somehow expected.

For many years Dave suffered steadily worsening health due to emphysema.

There was huge embarrassment for the Daily Telegraph in 1999, when it published a premature obituary for Swarb, after he was admitted to hospital in his home town of Coventry, with a chronic lung infection.

When informed that the musician was still alive the Telegraph’s obituaries editor and his staff were said to be “distraught”.

Luckily the piece made flattering reading, describing Swarb as “a small, dynamic, charismatic figure, cigarette perched precariously on his bottom lip, unruly hair flapping over his face, pint of beer ever at hand, who could electrify an audience with a single frenzied sweep of his bow”

After the initial shock and apologies, Dave could see the funny side, coming out with the priceless one-liner: “It’s not the first time I’ve died in Coventry.”

“After all, I’d enjoyed the text of the obit – it was very complimentary,” he explained. “And it had answered a question I’d often asked myself: whether any paper would bother when I died.”

In fact Swarb went on to turn the newspaper’s error to his advantage, admitting that “I never got half as much attention playing as by dying.”

“So, I photocopied the obits, took them to gigs, signed them “RIP Dave Swarbrick” and sold them for £1.

“After all, where else are you going to get a signed obituary? I had to stop, though, when The Telegraph got in touch and told me I couldn’t do it as they had the copyright,” he later recalled.

Dave Swarbrick, the violinist and singer, was one of the most influential folk musicians of the 20th century.

He was born at New Malden, Surrey, on 5 April, 1941.

He was first drawn to folk music after taking up the guitar during the skiffle boom of the late 1950s.

When he was 16, the pianist Beryl Marriott invited him to join a ceilidh dance band. She also persuaded him to have another crack at the fiddle, which he had played as a child but which he had long since consigned to the attic.

In the 1960s Swarb was invited to play in some of the sessions of Ewan MacColl’s and Charles Parker’s Radio Ballads — setting stories about Britain’s fishermen, roadbuilders, miners, boxers and travellers to music.

Through these he was introduced to Ian Campbell, and joined the Ian Campbell Folk Group in time to play on their first record, EP Ceilidh At The Crown (1962); he went on to help establish them as stars of the emerging folk club scene.

I still have a faded poster from a gig the group played at Kirkwall in January 1966. It hangs on my living room wall, as one of many mementos.

A year earlier Swarb had been invited to play on Martin Carthy’s first album.

Later in 1966 – just as England were winning the World Cup – Swarb suddenly decided to emigrate to Denmark and marry his Danish girlfriend. But with little money and no return ticket, he was detained at the Hook of Holland by customs, and promptly sent home again.

He ended up staying in London with Martin Carthy, with whom he went on to develop an important partnership.

The intuitive interplay between Carthy’s guitar and Swarb’s fiddle was something entirely new. Their albums, Byker Hill (1967), But Two Came By (1968) and Prince Heathen (1969) broke the mould of traditional song arrangement and opened the door for the fusion of folk and rock.

When he was asked to play on a session for Fairport Convention in 1969, however, Dave had never even heard of the band.

He was initially booked for one number only, but he ended up playing on four tracks on Fairport’s Unhalfbricking album (1969) and was invited to join the band full time.

His first album as a fully fledged member of Fairport Convention was Liege and Lief (1969), which broke new ground in marrying traditional songs with rock.

Two members of the band, Sandy Denny and Ashley Hutchings, walked out after disputes about the direction of their music. This left Swarbrick and the guitarist Richard Thompson to take their place at the core of the band.

Over the next 15 years, Fairport Convention undertook world tours and made more than a dozen albums.

After Richard Thompson’s departure in 1970, Swarb developed into a surprisingly sensitive songwriter, and also took on the role of lead singer. In 1971 he was the prime creative drive behind Fairport Convention’s most ambitious project, Babbacombe Lee, an album based on the story of John Lee, a convicted murderer who was reprieved after three attempts to hang him at Exeter in 1885 had failed.

Swarb remained a constant presence throughout the numerous internal disputes which disrupted Fairport.

But continual playing of the electric violin left him virtually deaf in one ear, and in 1984 he decided to retire.

During his Fairport years he had also released three well- received solo albums, Swarbrick (1976), Swarbrick 2 (1977) and Lift the Lid and Listen (1978).

He reverted to the acoustic violin as he returned to folk clubs with fellow Fairport member Simon Nicol.

He also made occasional returns to the Fairport fold, playing at their annual Cropredy Reunion Festival in Oxfordshire.

“I’m always amazed to listen to my Fairport stuff,” he said in 2014. “It’s so fast. What was I on?”

In 1988 Swarb linked up again with Martin Carthy. They made some successful tours, and produced a couple of fine albums, Life and Limb (1990) and Skin and Bone (1992).

He also spent some years in Australia, working with the guitarist and singer Alistair Hulett, with whom he recorded the impressive The Cold Grey Light (1998), before returning home.

Then came his hospitalisation with emphysema and the Telegraph’s infamous obituary.

Almost immediately his long-time friend and drinking buddy Dave Pegg and wife Christine launched the SwarbAid appeal.

This included a fund-raising concert at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall in July 1999, and a limited-edition EP recorded live, to raise cash for Dave whilst his poor health prevented him from working.

It is a personal joy that I still have a copy of that EP.

After a relapse a few years later, they launched SwarbAid II with a similar concert in 2004 – and yes I have that T Shirt too!

Dave received his double lung transplant on 2nd October that year and a new lease of life.

In 2006, he started touring again with fellow ex-Fairporter, Maartin Allcock, and Kevin Dempsey – calling themselves, with a wink to the Telegraph’s premature obituary, Swarb’s Lazarus, producing the album Live and Kicking (2006) and appearing at the Cropredy Festival.

He also reignited his partnership with Martin Carthy, with whom in later years he regularly hit the road for an autumn tour.

In 2007 he joined his old cohorts from Fairport Convention on their 40th anniversary as a band at Cropredy to play their legendary album Liege and Lief, in its entirity on stage.

It is one of the highlights of my life to have been there and witness Swarb play as amazingly as ever.

In 2010, backed by a stellar array of guest musicians, Swarb released Raison D’être, his first solo album for nearly 20 years.

It was reviewed in more than 20 publications, the English Folk Dance and Song Society Magazine describing it as “the work of a fine fiddler who simply refuses to lie down and rest on his not inconsiderable laurels”.

In 2003, Swarb received the Gold Badge from the English Folk Dance and Song Society and the Gold Badge of Merit from the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters.

In 2004 he received a lifetime achievement award in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, and in 2006 Fairport’s Liege and Lief album was voted “Most Influential Folk Album of All Time” by Radio 2 listeners.

At the 2007 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, he and Martin Carthy won the “Best Duo” Award. In 2012 he received another lifetime achievement award at the 2012 Fatea awards.

In the summer of 2014 – following a flurry of emails – I was lucky enough to visit Dave’s home in Coventry, where his wife Jill sold me one of his beautiful old fiddles from his Fairport days.

The fiddle also hangs in my living room – next to that 1966 poster.

I have determined that the fiddle is now retired and will never again be played.

Now as I type the last few words of this eulogy, I look down on the desk at a yellowed 1980 copy of The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs – distinguished by Dave’s signature on the inside cover… it was his own personal copy.

His album English Fiddler plays gently in the background.

In so many different ways, David Cyril Eric Swarbrick will always be part of my life.

Rest in Peace, great and wonderful man.

Dave Swarbrick is survived by his wife, the painter Jill Swarbrick-Banks, whom he married in 1999, and by a son and two daughters.

Born 5 April 1941, died 3 June 2016, aged 75.

 

She’s Gone Again

Twenty-six years are gone

Since we laughed out loud

At nonsense

We cried

You died

This is your song

 

One last breath, a whole life

A child born and scars torn

Love knot sealed and tied

Goddess cried, Goddess died

 

Twenty-six years are gone

Since I kissed your sweet cheek

Said farewell

We cried

You died

This is your song

 

One last breath, the sky is grey

The hungry earth, the empty hole

The velvet box is death’s own bed

Eve’s own kin is dead

 

Twenty-six years are gone

Since your soul passed away

To heaven

We cried

You died

This is your song

 

One last breath, a spirit shed

The heavens frown, an angel down

Spirit moaned, lick of flame

Grips the sky, she’s gone again

 

Twenty-six years are gone

Since we commended your body

To the ground

We cried

You died

This is your song