Precious memories, how they linger

dadTODAY rings with remembrance… it is five full years since my beloved father died.

My dad was part of me and I part of him in every way. He is never far from my thoughts and often inhabits my dreams.

He was not the perfect father, but he was my father and the best there ever was. He taught me so much about optimism, overcoming setbacks and being myself… and much more about living.

His own life was full of obstacles. At four years old, he was knocked down by a car – one of only a few on the road in 1934 – suffered severe head injuries and had his left ear sewn back on. After three months in hospital he had to learn to eat, read, write and talk again.

Later in life, he ruptured a kidney in a motorbike accident, came close to death with hepatitis in Egypt, was rushed to hospital for an emergency appendectomy while working in Munich and suffered osteoarthritis, glaucoma, temporal arteritis, cancer and a series of mini strokes. His later years were plagued by health problems… but he never complained, even when he was dying with Parkinson’s Disease.

On the counter-side, he enjoyed so many successes. He was one of the junior designers of Concorde, helped design many other aeroplanes too; he rebuilt windmills, worked on the earliest electronics for rechargeable batteries and later the development of ground-breaking microwave engineering.

At home, he made several small fortunes renovating houses and lost small fortunes with his obsession with buying and selling some perverse motorcars.

He took risks, made mistakes, won and lost and won again… he never gave up.

But more than that he was my dad and full of love, which he often found difficult to show.

As an adult, I had to wait until I was battling cancer at the age of 31 to really understand my dad more fully. Over those months, we bonded as father and son and shared many emotions. He was always there for me.

I will never forget the day, about eight years later, when I won my first major press award. At the awards dinner in Edinburgh, dad and mum shared a table with me. After I received my award I returned to our table and dad was the first to stand and hug me and say “well done, son”. That moment always stays with me.

Ironically, I could only repay him after he had passed away. The proudest moment of my life was conducting his funeral service in front of our family and friends.

Some of the words from my eulogy to him I recall now:

“When I think of Dad I think of a man of no compromise yet someone who would do anything and compromise for anyone. And if ever there were regrets in his life, he rarely if ever voiced them.

He always had time to live, laugh, love and work so incredibly hard for his home and his family, whom he adored.

Dad was, at times, the most annoyingly anti-social man you could meet.

With a vengeance he hated Bob Monkhouse, Bruce Forsyth, Margaret Thatcher, the man across the road with a twitch, those bloody long-haired pop singers, the guy with the beer belly who had more hair than him, the happy next door neighbour who would ask after his health, David Beckham, Eastenders, Terry Wogan, Prince Charles… the list could go on and on.

But he also had heroes, golfer Jack Nicklaus, Nat King Cole and Doris Day, and probably his biggest hero heavyweight boxing champion Mohammed Ali – so it is sadly ironic that this magnificent sportsman too is fading with the same disease that took Dad.

Ain’t life a great leveller.

But despite dad’s pretence at anti-social behaviour, he was the most sociable and likeable man anyone could ever meet. In fact anyone who met him was immediately touched by him and loved him.

Count how many thousands of times we caught him happily chatting at the garden fence with a complete stranger, or the times he made a bird table for a neighbour or helped someone decorate or do their garden, or the dozens of times he helped us kids move house, knock down a chimney, lay a carpet, fix a roof, mend a car, drive us to a date, cover for our indiscretions … again the list goes on and on.

And now dad…. as we say goodbye, we will always remember you with love and so much affection… love and affection which we tried to bestow on you whenever we could.”

And we played out his coffin with Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable”

He is gone and I miss him.

But he left his mark on this Earth and, yes, he lived.

Lou Reed… magic and loss

HPIM1604.JPGTHE death of Lou Reed yesterday hit me harder than I might have expected.

It has taken me the night to fully understand why.

I came to Lou Reed via David Bowie, in much the same way I discovered Bob Dylan… or to be more exact, the 1971 Bowie album, Hunky Dory was my conduit to them both.

For while Song for Bob Dylan provided a highway to my lifetime obsession with His Bobness, another song, Queen Bitch, led me to Lou Reed and by dint of passage, to my career in journalism.

I was a 16 year-old teenager trying to find my musical muses and heroes. I had been fed a diet of Nat King Cole and big band swing by my parents throughout my childhood before discovering The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks and Marc Bolan and T Rex for myself.

I had only recently been turned to David Bowie via his single Starman. Sometime during the summer of 1972, I bought my first proper LP, the now timeless, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. Suddenly I was besotted with Bowie and through my local record store in Lancing ordered his back catalogue of Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory… all at £1.99 a time. I was listening to Bowie back to back throughout that summer and autumn.

Through the pages of weekly music newspapers, I had heard mention of Lou Reed and his recent collaboration with Bowie. So when his album Transformer was released in November that year I rushed out to buy it, without ever hearing a track.

From Vicious, you hit me with a flower through Perfect Day, Andy’s Chest, Satellite of Love and New York Telephone Conversation to Walk on the Wild Side and Good Night Ladies, at 36 minutes 40 seconds, it just wasn’t enough.

His voice and his lyrics had me hooked, even if I didn’t yet know what ‘giving head’ meant!

So I returned to Bowie’s Queen Bitch and the oblique reference to Lou Reed’s first band The Velvet Underground.

I trotted back to my local music store and asked a bemused middle-aged proprietor if he could order any album by the American group The Velvet Underground.

He scoured his catalogue and suggested a recently released Best of the Velvet Underground. I waited a full week before I had the LP tucked under my arm and headed home to get it on the turntable as soon as possible.

From the first track it blew me away. Here I had everything Bowie had delivered but much more. This music was raw, invigorating and loaded with lyrics that took a lifetime to unravel. It was nothing like Transformer… it was better!

Lady Godiva’s Operation, White Light/White Heat, Venus in Furs, Waiting For the Man, Heroin and Sister Ray all battled for my attention. This was the real Lou Reed. Added to that, there was the warmth of Nico’s flat voiced psalms Sunday Morning, Femme Fatale and All Tomorrow’s Parties.

The LP didn’t leave my turntable until about Christmas, when, for the umpteenth time, my father yelled: “Turn that bloody racket down”.

I had never written to a newspaper before that point. But something persuaded me to pick up my pen and write a scrawl to my favourite music paper, Sounds. My letter eulogised the Velvet Underground to the point where I described them as more important and better than The Beatles. It was a teenage rant and I never expected to see it published. But a week later my letter was there in all its glory in 9 point Times Roman with a single column headline Better Than The Beatles.

I was in print. It was my first ever published piece of writing and I still have a yellowing copy stuck in a scrapbook in a cupboard in my study.

As for Lou Reed, I became a lifetime fan and rate his 1973 album Berlin and his 1989 album New York as two of the greatest rock albums ever produced by anyone. His later album Magic and Loss is, in my opinion, one of the most moving single pieces of music and poetry ever produced.

The Velvet Underground never achieved commercial success during their 1960s existence, but their influence on music since then is unparalleled.

Music producer Brian Eno once summed up their influence by saying: “The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.”

And they also helped create a journalist.

Rest in Peace Lou, you were larger than life and your creative genius will never be forgotten.

* A beautiful video of Lou singing I’ll Be You Mirror, with his wife Laurie Anderson in 2009: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUr8oRfG1AM