It’s at least two decades and more since I last attended a play at Oldham’s Colisseum Theatre, but in the last century I went to half a dozen and more very different productions and always enjoyed myself immensely. They were a brilliant local theatre, a nice, compact, warm venue that neither atttracted, nor needed star talent.
Now it is to close in March, and has no idea if it will ever open again. The reason is here. Compared to all the rest of the shit that’s going on in this broken country, this is the least of our worries, a shame as opposed to a tragedy. But it’s yet one more blow.
The title is obvious, but not ironic. I’ve just this minute learned of the sudden death of Jeff Beck, electric guitarist, the middle of The Yardbird’s trio of astonishing lead guitars, iconoclast, inventor, and someone who will be missed immediately. Twice, under his own name, he hit the Top Twenty with a silly singalong song a million miles beneath his dignity as a musician, and was still one of the most compulsive choruses of a decade of compulsive choruses. I’m not going to attach ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ to this brief moment recording our irresolvable loss, though out of all the choices available I’m still going to go for something from that same era that he resented even having to record, because we each of us have our moments that stick in the heart.
George Cohen, the Fulham right back who George Best described as the best full-back he ever played against, vice-captain of the Boys of 1966, has died aged 83. That leaves only Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Geoff Hurst who shared that sunny Saturday afternoon. I remember when Alan Ball died, the youngest man, the first to depart. I remember when all our heroes, even the unsung and humble, were still here to remind us that there once was a day. Sadly, such people are immortal only in the minds and hearts of we who cheered them.
I hate this. I hate waking up and learning, almost first thing, about the death of another figure who brought light and life and joy and amazement into my life. Especially if it’s someone who’s music I loved, someone who arrived in a n ebxplosion that changed the course of things, and someone who was younger than me.
It started with John Peel, as so many other things did, playing and replaying ‘Gangsters’ by The Specials. I bought it, and I was not buying that many records back then because I was on a low wage. I bought it and I bounced to it, and it opened the door to Madness and The Beat. I knew and was familiar with reggae by then, but this was different, this was a harking back to ska and bluebeat. I saw the band live in Manchester. I raved to ‘Too Much Too Young’, and like everyone I was in awe of ‘Ghost Town’.
Terry Hall, immobile whilst Neville Staples, Lynval Golding and the rest were in perpetual motion, sang all these songs. He was the anchor on stage, holding the band in place. He was the voice. Dammit, there goes another fragment of my soul. This wasn’t a single but it’s my favourite Specials track, closing out that astonishingly fresh first album.
We’ve already lost Julee Cruise and now Angelo Badalamenti, composer of the music that permeated TwinPeaks, has followed her to the White Lodge. Badalamenti was 85 so no-one can say he didn’t get a full share of this mysterious thing we call life, and his mark will be felt forever. It’s thirty-one years since we first heard that awesome, head-warping music, saw that endless waterfall, but that music is still something from a future we haven’t experienced yet. Into the night, lit by lamps that cast long shadows before him.
When I commemorated the passing of Greta Tomlinson, former assistant to Frank Hampson and model for Professor Peabody, I thought then that she was the last of those who contributed to Hampson’s studio and the incredible work they did on Dan Dare. I have now learned that I was wrong, but sadly only because another of those creators of magic has passed away. This was Joan Porter, formerly Joan Humphries, a very private person, who has died aged 96. If any still remain, I am not aware of them.
Joan Porter was one of the first assistants brought in by Hampson when first organising his studio, when Eagle and Dan Dare were still a secret not to be unveiled. Apart from a break when she got married, Joan – or ‘Humph’ as Hampson called her – stayed with the studio until it was disbanded by Odhams in 1959. She began as primarily a colourist, but rapidly became the effective studio manager, overseeing supplies, resources and reference material. She was the photographer who took the photos of Hampson and Co modelling panels from the ‘roughs’, to help produce a finished image that was wholly realistic as to light and shadow and the folds in clothing.
And she was the chief supplier of Rennie’s indigestion tablets to the perpetually overworking Hampson.
After Dan Dare, she was reunited with Hampson for the astonishing ‘The Road of Courage’, leading to him writing not just his thanks but a commitment that, whatever he did in future, he would want her to do his colouring. As we know, tragically, there was not to be anything else for her to work upon.
She kept away from Eagle fandom for the most part, refusing interviews, put off by the amount of misleading information being spread about. How she spent her life I don’t know but I hope and trust it was happy for she deserved it, as did everyone who was part of the incredible work they produced under Frank Hampson’s genius and leadership. That is one unbelievable art team they now have up there, and no need to keep the Rennies at hand.
In the battle over just who is the Greatest Footballer Of All Time, we’ve spent years on the argument as to whether it is Lionel Messi or Christiano Ronaldo without coming to any conclusions, nor will I weigh in with my opinion. How do the Argentinian and the Portuguese match up against the Other Argentinian or the Dutchman? Should we broaden the category to include the German? Diego Maradona, Johann Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer. Do we argue for Michel Platini or Zinedine Zidane?
If you’re of my generation, there is no question. We were brought up to believe that the Greatest Footballer Of All Time had but one name, one that the whole world knew him by. His real name, which I could only ever guess at pronouncing, was Edson Arantes do Nascimento but the world knrew him as Pele.
No, he’s not died, not yet. But it is only a matter of time, and maybe not a lot of that, and for once I wanted to say these things whilst the hero I’m talking about is still in the world. Not for him to read them because he never will. But because I want to speak them into the world whilst he is part of it, and because he was, is and always will be Pele, and he needs no other words, just Pele. And because for once I want to salute the light before the world is dimmed unmercifully forever.
We’ve known her for decades as Christine McVie, because of her marriage to Fleetwood Man bassist John McVie, but before that she was Christine Perfect, and she sang and played piano with another British Blurs Band, Chicken Shack, including on their only top 20 hit. She was too good for Fleetwood Mac, frankly, their best singer, and writer of some of their best songs. Now she too has joined that ever-burgeoning band in the stars, at the age of 79, and we won’t hear a voice like hers again any time soon. I’ll remember her this way.