Time is pushing on and the sound man is keen to pack down the remaining microphone. The PA and stage lighting has now gone. The audience is still standing, following ‘Life Begins’ and I continue my story without staging or amplification…
To celebrate my 40th birthday, I gathered friends together for a camping weekend near Bath. This prompted me to contact Fergus Read – who’s was the first friendship I struck up as a student in London. Fergus was an amazing musician and played just about every instrument you could think of.
Through Fergus, I got to collaborate with some of London’s finest jazz players. During our time as students, I was lucky enough to play gigs with the likes of Jean-Marie Fagan, Alan Barnes and Malcolm Earle-Smith. And being accepted into such exulted company went a long way towards helping me overcome some deep-seated self doubt.
Fergus declined the invitation to my party. After I described the planned children’s games, tai chi, yoga, barbecues and campfire sing-alongs, he declared that I was a f**king hippy and that he would not be attending. He said he would, though, come and visit (together with his wife, Ulfet) me and my family at our home in Bavaria.
And so they did. It transpired they had both become quite serious wine buffs since we last saw them. They arrived in a car laden with everything France had to offer, from fine wines and cheeses to – ahem – fois gras. Every night became a banquet and the proposed one-night stay extended to eight.
After this, our friendship was rekindled. So too our working relationship. Fergus helped provide the expertise for a ‘vintage-jazz’ track I composed for a short animation. On it, he played – with skill and expertise – guitar, piano, trumpet and clarinet. Fergus’s dear pal Malcolm played trombone; tuba was provided by our mutual friend Sarah Waterhouse… and I hit some things.
The following year, Fergus and Ulfet reprised their visit to Bavaria. During that stay, Fergus made me promise I would visit when over in England for an up-coming theatre production. This I did – but, when I got there, it was clear something wasn’t right. Fergus’s speech was slurred and he revealed he had undergone a biopsy.
Shortly after, Fergus was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He declined quickly and by the time I was next in England was already in a hospice, barely able to communicate. The chemotherapy and radio therapy did give him a reprieve. However, on my next and final visit to see him, he was once again in decline and now in denial about his situation.
So, I never got to tell Fergus what he really meant to me. It is a source of lasting regret that I hadn’t forced myself to say how grateful I was to have known him, both as a friend and fellow musician. So, of course, I wrote him a song. Actually, I wrote the bulk of it in the departures lounge of Saltzburg Airport, waiting for my flight over to see him. But, of course, he never got to hear it.