Last time I mentioned the Night For Angus concert, a tribute to the life and music of fiddler Angus Grant, which takes place tomorrow at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall. Yesterday, in preparation, I listened to a live recording of a gig we had played towards the end of our three weeks in Australia, back in 2007.
In the recording, all the links between numbers had been edited out, so there was no speech except at the very end. Over the applause following the final encore, Angus took the mic and asked the audience to let us go. We had a flight to Tasmania the following morning, he explained in his Lochaber burr, so if they would all kindly ‘bugger off, that would be lovely’.
It was classic Angus, funny, warm and pithy. But it was the sound of his voice coming out of the little speaker on my desk that released the emotion I had only previously acknowledged with a kind of rationalised sadness in the three months since his death. In that moment he was in the room with me. It hit me in the chest and brought tears to my eyes.
Such is the power of sound, the unique imprint our voices leave on the world around us. And in case I needed reminding, another voice had had a similar effect very recently. For a period of three or four years in the late 70s and early 80s, I had been Peter Sarstedt’s next-door neighbour and musical partner. Although we had not been in touch for some time, I knew he had been unwell; but the news of his death ten days ago was still a shock. Suddenly Where Do You Go To My Lovely was on every radio station.
I had fallen in love with, and to, that song in 1969, my first year at university. I little knew that ten years later I would be playing the famous accordion riff on stage with him. But it was another, lesser-known song that really summoned his presence for me in the days following his death.
By way of a tribute, Tim Hollier, who had been his producer at the time we were working together, sent round a track he had suggested Peter write in 1982. English Girls was a response to the publication of Peter York’s The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook. Much beloved by Terry Wogan, it was classic Sarstedt. I had played on the recording; and again, the richness and familiarity of Peter’s voice went straight to my heart.
Peter, like Angus, was extremely witty and, once you came to know him, possessed of a beguiling charm and warmth. Both were quietly uncompromising, independent thinkers, beholden to no one; both were mesmerising performers and deeply dedicated to their craft, though neither courted celebrity; both were greatly gifted and both had their share of demons. I think they might have liked each other.
I loved them both. Beyond the music, we shared real friendship, moments of great intensity and great hilarity, as well as the adventure of touring overseas, to South Africa with Peter and, a quarter of a century later, to Australia with Angus. I can see in retrospect that they both owned a particular quality, their genius perhaps, that invited you to rise up to meet them: in order to get the best of them you had to give the best of yourself.
Is that what the people we love require of us? I think so. And even if they don’t, it’s surely what we owe them.
So many people made contact after I posted last week that it’s been impossible to reply to all the messages and comments. I’m incredibly grateful and rather humbled by the show of appreciation for A Few Kind Words – and of course it reminds me why I do it. So thank you all for your kindness. It’s good to be back!
And a note of two upcoming events. On February 16 I’ll be giving my Tales of Don Roberto talk at Winter Words, Pitlochry Festival Theatre, booking details here. And our next The Stories We Tell Foundation weekend takes place here in Birnam, 11/12 March, booking details here.