In memory of Gary

This time yesterday I went to the funeral of my old friend Gary Watson. This could be him…

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…but actually it’s not. This could be him…

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…but actually it’s not. But it is in essence – sharp dresser, a bit of a geezer, totally committed to music, tall, swept back black hair, a wild side – these are him.

My favourite memory of him is at a party at a squat where he was living in Stamford Hill. I got there early evening and not much was ready – it was the end of a fine summer’s day and so a barbecue was in prospect. But the transformation was nigh on miraculous. First the speakers went out into the garden to get the groove going. Then the couch and all the living room furniture was taken outdoors. Next Gary and John Hand between them built a whole set of tables in a horseshoe around the garden – from scratch, off-cut timber. As they went about their work little heads started to appear over the fences and in the windows of the surrounding houses which were mostly home to orthodox Jews. Who are these strange men with their hucking and knucking and their music, living life to a different beat? Every kid in the neighbourhood started to come out of the woodwork. The tables and temporary furniture were constructed so swiftly and a fire lit with typical Irish efficiency (John using tried&tested techniques from Athlone of rolling and folding newspaper to help get the flames established) that there was plenty of time for artist and set constructor/designer John to also construct wooden sculptures on the trees to complete the outdoor decor. In under an hour an entire outside room was created for the evening’s shenanigans. As the sun set dozens of little bright eyes looked on with amazement and pleasure.

I got quite fucked up that night. In a good way. Didn’t sleep a wink. Had to go see my dad in Brighton the next day, when one of my favourite photographs of myself was taken. I’m standing by the breakwater wall of Brighton Marina with my dad, leaning on the concrete in a nonchalant way in a lilac jumper and tan austen boots. He’s beside me looking pretty relaxed. Little does he know how fucked up I am inside but a broad smile belies that. And I was happy thanks in large degree to Gary’s party.

I have only one thing connected to Gary – a beautiful thing. It’s a second-hand Frank Sinatra record he bought me – a propos of nothing I think. Not only had he clearly chosen the music with care (60s bossa nova Sinatra which I like for its cool stylish swing) but he’d decorated the cover with great care with a collage centred on the word “Incognita” from an old map. ‘Terra Incognita’ is ‘unknown territory’ in the world of cartography. And that’s where Gary is now.

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The last time I listened to this record (before using it to herald the funeral yesterday) was the last time I saw Gary, when he came round to our place for dinner. Una and I had been out for a walk along the canal near Clapton and I’d parked at Watermint Quay, HQ for the best of our partying in our late 20s with a Hibernocentric crowd of friends. It was through John’s sister that Gary came into our lives. As we walked from the car down to the canal past the door behind which all those parties took place the door swung open to reveal Gary. We promised to pull by for a cuppa on returning from our walk and then invited him over that same Christmastime evening to join our dinner with friends. A lot of talk was talked, a lot of drink was drunk, Frank sang and it was a fine night to go out on as things transpired.

At the funeral yesterday one of Gary’s brothers sang one of Gary’s songs – beautifully, full of the kind of feeling you can only get on such an occasion. And a recording of Gary singing was also played – he had real talent, even more obvious now. The event was enriched with a variety of stories about Gary’s generosity and kindness, things even his parents didn’t know about because he was quiet and no-nonsense in his giving. The single mum’s house he did up across the road at his own expense and effort. The Rolex he gave away to a waiter just because it made the man so happy. The muslim co-worker he joined on fast for Ramadan for 28 days as soon as he became aware of the rules (no tea etc.). But the story I liked most was Gary lying in the middle of a long straight road in the middle of nowhere in the north of Scotland as his pal sped by on his huge motorbike just feet away at 100 mph so Gary could experience the Doppler effect in a big way. So Gary. Risk life&limb for a good sound effect.

We finished the funeral day yesterday at a concert by Wynton Marsalis’s jazz big band, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, at the Barbican. The encore turned out to be an old-style New Orleans funeral march. Meant to be. Music, soulful, sharp suits – very Gazza.

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