I knew John from 1967 until the late 70s when we lost touch. I have been living in California for 20 years and haven't been in contact with anyone else who knew him for even longer. I'm deeply to saddened to hear about his illness and death. Over the last 4 or 5 years, I have been thinking about him and several other people from that time and put it down to approaching old age but I've found that others have gone too.
One of my first memories of John playing was at a church fete in Twyford where he was singing Beatles tunes and other covers with a 4-piece band. I think it was Sigi (Stephen Kay) who introduced us. Some time later, he played "Talking Daffodils" at a party at our house in Dadford (near Stowe) and had us on the floor, probably helped by the beer.
Another very funny musical moment was at a gig in a barn (I have no idea where) which was a private party. The band had set up then gone to a nearby farm where they served lethal scrumpy. On their return, it was apparent that everyone was really drunk and they played like maniacs. John, at the piano, started to play the intro chords to "Whiter Shade of Pale", the band fell in behind him and the dance floor cheered for that very popular song. But when John started to sing, the lyrics were from "Oh I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside" and I know I was rendered helpless and I'm sure many others were too. Somehow he managed to make it all fit, despite being pretty out of it. I have no recollection of who else was in the band that night, maybe some RLS guys.
When I was living in Strathmore Gardens in Notting Hill Gate, around 1972, I taped some demos of John and Peter on my little mono tape deck. I have no idea what happened to the tapes but I guess John must have taken them away with him. He seemed to write so much then but ruthlessly discarded anything he thought wasn't up to snuff. He would always try to finish a song even if he knew it wasn't going to be that good. He'd say, "That's one less bad song I'll write."
The memories are flooding back and I can't possibly get them all down here as it's difficult enough to do this much.
John was a great storyteller and could be relied on to provide some insane tales about whatever he was doing at the time. The off-license in Maida Vale, the teachers' training college, etc were all great sources for merriment and mirth. He could also be quite stinging about people he didn't like or who had upset him for some reason.
I'll always remember him as a wonderful musician and writer with a superb, dry humour and a quiet warmth for his friends. I must stop kicking myself for not keeping in touch for all those years and keep alive the great times we shared.
His courageous choice at the end does not surprise me, he was a strong man with a powerful will and a mind that was no one's but his.
San Jose, CA
Feb 27th 2008
Just a short note to register how much
I used to enjoy the sessions John played in at "The Holt"
and "Bell" run by Norman and Lena Sinclair at Aspley Guise,
especially his Turlough O'Carolan harp tunes which he translated wonderfully
on the mandolin, very happy days indeed. Also, "The Sultans of
Swing", of which he made a marvellous job .
This was back in the late 80s.
He made a big impression on me, as I'm sure he did with many others
who he met on life's rich journey.
Thanks a lot, John, hope you're having some great sessions up there
I shall always remember John.
The day I visited him and he wrote a tune just for me. His life (in
my opinion) was making people happy and he had that wonderful way
of doing it with music. He may have left us but I have his music and
can call on him any time.
In my opinion 'No More Love'
is his masterpiece.
R.I.P. My Friend John......... Johno
I met John as part of a crowd from the Royal Latin School in Buckingham
when I was a pupil at Stowe in about 1967/8. Apart from John, I
remember particularly Stephen Kay (Sigi), his brother Mark, and
someone called Fitz, who used to drive us around in a ridiculous
little Austin A35 before the rest of us grew up and got cars. There
were others, like Chris Beal, Carol Dormer (?), Fanny Horner, plus
Sue Bailey, my first real girlfriend. Sigi, John and Fitz used to
come up to Stowe of a Sunday afternoon to have tea and tease me
kindly but mercilessly for being a public schoolboy.
My parents at that time had a cottage in Hilsden, so I used to
come over quite a lot to see John at the house in Twyford. He always
had a lovely way with music and words, and he was always happy to
play me his songs. At that time (and even more subsequently) I was
pretty involved with music and singing, but John was always the
real deal. I also seem to remember that John used to come to London
a fair bit (which was where we lived during the week) and that my
parents did much piloting of John between London and Twyford at
weekends. He was always a welcome and entertaining passenger. I
saw a lot of him in those happy days, and was very fond of him.
Later, at The School of Oriental and African Studies, London University,
I became involved in the revue group with Mike Hodd. When we needed
a proper songmeister, I had no trouble in selling John's talents
as our musician-in-chief. When I left SOAS and became embroiled
in a career of sorts, I gradually lost touch with Mike and the revue
group, and that also coincided with my parents selling the Hilsden
cottage, so that connection went too.
However, in a way, John was never quite lost to me, and I often
thought about him. To start with he had taught me some of his songs
which I burgled shamelessly to impress people. He gave me a tape
of them which I'm pretty sure I still have somewhere in the basement.
Amongst my group of friends at the time I enjoyed a certain amount
of notoriety as I was the singer with a well known society band
called Chance, and whenever they asked me to perform privately,
my staples were always The Flasher (M. Hodd) and Going To Paris
(J. Close). I also remember others employed to raise my standing
amongst my friends - Daffodils (wonderful) and a send-up on the
country and western genre whose title was something like Country
Then there was "It's the Drink", which lives on to this
day. This is the most wonderfully adaptable song, and I duly adapted
it. For some 20 years or more I have played cricket for a New Forest
team called the Lobsters, which I used as light relief from the
heavy programme of gritty league cricket in Surrey. They are a wonderful
piss-taking lot incorporating everybody from high-flying QC's to
the local fence-erector. There is a dinner every year down near
Fordingbridge, and a few years ago, on a whim, I took "It's
the Drink" and instead of John's characters (eg. Manny, the
tailor) I inserted rude lyrics about the members of the Lobsters.
Performing this at the dinner over a number of years, it grew and
rather took on a life of its own. To the extent that this Easter,
there is a book due to be published (privately), in which I believe
The Lobster Song (to all intents and purposes the basis of John's
"It's the Drink") will be featured. It is funny the guises
in which people like John live after themselves.
That is enough rambling for now, but I remember John well and very
fondly, and I am very happy that in a funny kind of way he has come
back into my life, albeit posthumously.
My time with John
John died on Bank Holiday Monday 26 May 2003. This in itself is
another story but I loved him all over again through this experience.
We met in 1989 and within 3 weeks we had a repertoire. It was so
easy to sing with John. He only had to hear the song a couple times
and he had it. Then we could just concentrate on refinements and
arrangements. Like me, John could harmonise easily so we could enhance
each other's songs. I felt so confident in his ability that I was
able to relax and sing my best which was anything from light classical
to blues. In a short while he introduced me to his own songs, and
these are the ones we chose to record at that time apart from the
last three. These were recorded sometime later and found quite by
chance on the last day that I was to see John.
As was almost inevitable, over time we got closer together and
spent four years living together. John encouraged me to take up
running again and more shakily go biking with him. As with everything
John did, he would take it to its limits. As much effort as he would
put into his music, he would do the same for running, biking, poetry
and more. It was as if he knew that time was short and he raced
to get it all done in time.
All that energy could very often have a negative influence on John.
With the same force of power he used in being creative, he could
also use through anger and resentment stemming from his childhood
and early adult years. He would try numbing this with alcohol and
pot, neither of which had the desired effect.
This, for me, can never detract from his amazing talent but in
the end we could no long live together. Besides his gift for writing
songs, his expression and interpretation in his accompaniment on
guitar was exceptional. The two of us and just one guitar were enough
to make a song sound complete.
We did carry on singing for a while but the hurt of parting did
change the dynamics of our very special musical partnership. Much
later after we'd both gone our separate ways, a very dear friend
came to tell me that John had been diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease.
I wrote to John and we became good friends again. I had more or
less given up singing by then. How could I ever find anyone who
could play and sing like John? The heart had gone out of me as far
as singing was concerned.
In the early days of John's diagnosis he could still play guitar
but singing stopped quite soon as the MND took hold. For a while
we could still talk together on the days that I took him out in
his wheelchair but as time went by, the computer became the only
medium with which we could communicate. He now composed entirely
through this medium and filled most of his time writing tunes. It
seemed now that the words just did not come so he sent his tunes
across the waves for others to write the words. They were never
the same though.
Eventually, the time came when John was so tired and weak. It took
all his effort just to hold his head up but he was so graceful during
this time. I brought along a book to read to him so he didn't have
to try and make conversation via the computer. I read to him "The
Hobbit" and he loved it. Sometimes he would cry spontaneously.
With MND you have no control over your emotions so I had the real
John, so fragile and sensitive. It took so much energy just to appear
normal and not be overwhelmed by my own emotions, to stop myself
from crying and just hugging him. He needed someone near him who
didn't dissolve, someone to keep his spirits up. So with all the
strength I could muster, I continued to read to him each week until
just the week before the 26th May. We had just a few pages left
which we completed and I knew that that would be our last private
John chose his own death. If life had just dragged him along all
his life, he now finally took matters into his own hands. Months
before he had searched the internet for Dignitas, the organisation
that supports assisted suicide. Now with his increasing pain and
immobility he knew he had to act before he was too weak to do so.
With the help of Lesley, his sister, it was all arranged through
Dignitas and the date was set for the 26th May 2003. The only thing
now was to say goodbye to all his friends and slip quietly away.
But not for John, there was no quietly slipping away. We had a singsong
the Saturday before and everyone, who could find the courage, came
along and even managed to sing and play a tune or two. But at the
end, when Lesley wheeled him away for the last time, there was an
intense moment of truth. The realisation that I would never see
him again and an overwhelming sense of loss.
I challenge anyone to say that assisted suicide is taking the easy
way out. John took on the responsibility for his own life and died
with grace and dignity, and with the blessing of his family and
Life has its own agenda when it brings people together and when
it drives them apart. I believe I'm still learning and wondering
and struggling with the concept of life having a separate agenda
from my own and trying to accept it more gracefully. This I would
say is the last lesson I learnt from John just by being near him
over the last two years of his life.
Time and reflection will no doubt bring other lessons to mind,
but just for now I take heart in having been selected by life to
play a significant role in John's life - to have been touched by
his music and to have been the inspiration for at least one song.
31st October 2003
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