Well, now. . .
Here we are, already approaching the middle of the first month of 2014.
I’ve been returning to some of my favourite older tracks such as ‘Homenaje A Mi Peublo’ (the first track from the FRESHET CD), Anouar Brahem (Le Voyage de Sahar) and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ altho I’ve also swooned when hearing ‘The Rose in the Middle of Winter’ composed by Bob Chilcott (www.bobchilcott.com) – what a beautiful piece of choral work. That was before Christmas on BBC Radio 3 and it’s still with me.
I’ve been decluttering somewhat, these past 6 months, and going through all sorts of things, including photos and deciding what to throw out. It makes you very aware of your age and relive some great memories. Some friends (Will and Helen Willcox) surprised me with a biography of David Sylvian which I’ve been reading alongside Alan Rickman’s life story. Fascinating.
I remember the first time I heard Japan. I was about 19, on a foundation course in Art at Nene College and in the bedroom of Linda Conoboy (also on the course), amazed at her wardrobe collection which she’d collected, begged or borrowed over years. I know it’s difficult to believe but I was quite shy in those days and dressing up bizarrrely and going public was not on my agenda. She gave me confidence and a sense of fun. I was hot on the trail of Edith Sitwell at the time (having studied ‘Facade’ at A level music with Jon Rees in Weavers Comprehensive School in Wellingborough) and intrigued with eccentrics and theatrical, daring dress codes (which I thought you had to have some kind of diploma or ‘right’ to join. . . ). Only other, daring, confident. flamboyant people dressed up in public or on stage. ‘Oh no!’ disputed Linda, flinging clothes at my feet to try on. . . she’s still someone I think about when I am nervous. I think of her big eyes and dark brown hair and how she would tell me never to worry and just believe in yourself and be big, beautiful and brave in whatever situation you feel nervous about. She’s really beautiful and as someone once said of me, she could make a party out of a paper bag.
Many years earlier, one autumnal morning as I walked into Weavers Comprehensive School, at the age of about 13 and a bit, my attention was taken off my slightly large grey duffle coat and overloaded satchel to look up – someone was calling for my attention. There on the roof of the school were two builders who I came to know as ‘Tom and Gerry’ (Conoboy and Hewitt).
‘Hello girleen,’ shouted Tom – he recognised me from playing at a session in Northampton. I nearly died. No one at school knew I played the accordion, let alone traditional Irish music but I said I’d be down to the session later that week (or something trivial) and scuttled off to my classes.
There started a lifelong friendship. Tom and Gerry helped me learn, encouraged me, along with Mick Clifford (RIP) to start teaching at Northampton Irish Centre. They always gave me confidence and praised me to the hilt and Tom especially, became a great part of the family. He had a rare way of being; he was a big man and reminded me of a cross between (i now realise) Hagrid and Oliver Reed with silvery hair. A gentle giant with a brilliant and very subtle sense of humour. I recall so much laughter between him and my parents in our kitchen down the years.
He was not only kind, funny, full of stories of curious people but had a laugh and sayings that were so unique – he would suddenly stop, deep in conversation and begin as if to whisper in my ear. Out would come the most in-tune and beautifully lilted melody – full of weird incidentals and in the style of Paddy Fahy or Finbarr Dwyer – years later when I lived in Derby, he left me a (landline) phone message with just a tune lilted on it and I learned it easily – such was his tunefulness in singing a melody.
He never sang songs though; they held little interest for him. Music for him was Joe Burke, PJ and Marcus Hernon, Finbarr Dwyer and even then, only reels and jigs. His heaven was a roaring session suddenly interrupted with the oddest tune played in G minor on a fiddle. He was a mainstay at all the Birmingham sessions in the early 1980s I frequented and he gave me lifts to sessions everywhere over the years. He could be riotous and suddenly exceptionally coy; he loved his children and adored his grandkids who called him Pops. I still have endless tapes of sessions where you can hear the odd ‘HA’ which he roared when a session was in full swing – that sounds OTT but it wasn’t; it was perfectly placed, made us all smile broadly and brought us into the moment to realise that we were all so very lucky to be witnessing such amazing music around a table for fun and for no other reason.
A true luxury of life which Tom appreciated all too well.
I remember Tom meeting Ivan Miletitch and his huge eyes open wider and wider with astonishment and delight as Ivan and fiddler Terry Crehan (who was over from Dublin) started playing a set of slow reels, probably in a minor key. . . and as we drove back to Northampton that night, through the back lanes, we both excitedly relived every note, every phrase with deep joy, singing them over and over again; reminding each other of the beauty and magic that a handful of notes, played by the right people can bring. Something that no one can plan, money can’t buy and that which was, and still is, essential.
Those moments that simply make your heart soar.
Tom never drank and I can’t remember him ever talking ill of anyone. He couldn’t read music and wasn’t a technically brilliant player (of fiddle and button accordion) but for me, his taste in melodies was unbeatable. You’d always hear him coming round to the back door, singing his favourite tune and he’d always have just heard or remembered an amazing melody that no one else either knew or had remembered in many years. He wasn’t impressed with flashy playing or technical acrobatics and when put on the spot with my youthful blunt opinions of some such player or style, he’d look to one side, smile and mutter ‘Well, you know. . . it’s not the best, but you know. . .’ and once again turn it into something positive.
Tom died last Monday night. He wasn’t a youngster anymore and hadn’t been able to go to a session in too long. He was still funny and telling stories and even whistled me a few tunes when I visited him with my Dad late last summer. I’m terribly sad at the loss of Tom, for his family, especially for Linda and at the loss of someone who reminded me always that all you need is to be inspired because inspiration is everywhere you go.
Tom Conoboy was and remains an essential part of my life and music; I know he’s singing and roaring ‘HA’ louder than ever. I’m just smiling at all the tunes he’s now discovering and that makes me smile broadly. And if I ever need to see him, I can look straight at Linda because her big Dad’s eyes smile straight back at me.
Love K x x x
PS Tom Conoboy’s funeral is next Friday 17th January 2014 at 1.45pm. I’ll post more details shortly.