Monday, 5 April 2021

Nine years later, some things still make no sense

Most years, at this time, I've written some sort of reflection for the season. As I've been too busy at work, I'm a bit late this year, but here are a few thoughts on life, death and what our purpose here is. 

This month sees the ninth anniversary of the death of one of my very best friends and collaborators. Paul Hircombe, who played bass with The False Dots for 27 years passed away after a year long battle with cancer of oesophagus in April 2012. Paul had been with the band in its heyday, when we toured Scandinavia and played some of the best of the London clubs. He'd been there for the recording sessions, for the talks with dodgy management companies, labels and other characters. He'd stuck with The False Dots when better offers came. Years later when I asked him why, he said "why wouldn't I, this was where it was at". The tale of the early incarnation of The False Dots was one long tale of misfortune, missed opportunities, false dawns and dodgy individuals. But there were also some amazing gigs, some awesome recording sessions and a massive craic. I doubt that there is a band that had a better craic over a  longer period, whatever we were or weren't it was never dull. There seemed to be a revolving door for other members, but Paul was the constant feature. His presence meant that there was always a band. For that I will be eternally grateful.

In the mid 1990's we had a hiatus for a period. Fil Ross and Tony Cavaye, who worked for me at the studios persuaded me to have a jam. I dug out a stack of recordings, called Paul, asked if he fancied a rehearsal and we were back on the train. When we played, it seemed like we'd never been gone. The gigs were great and we started working on a retrospective album. It never materialised. We had done most of the work, but two things happened. Paul moved to Portsmouth for work (in reality to join a gang robbing gaming machines at motorway service stations) and the False Dots started working on new material with the amazing talent that is Sudanese British singer Connie Abbe. At the time, I wasn't too concerned, I assumed that Paul would get whatever was going on out of his system and would turn up. He always did. But he'd got overwhelemed in a very chaotic lifestyle. He ended up in prison, then on release found he had terminal cancer of the oesophagus. I thought we had all the time in the world, but the sands of time had run out. 

Over the years I've had a recurring dream that Paul has come back to life and wants to start rehearsing again. I always wake up feeling very down whenafterwards. He often imparts nuggets of wisdom, usually passing these on when I remember he's dead and ask him what he's doing. Annoyingly, I seem to forget these as soon as I wake up. I recall one time when I say "Hey, how come you are here, you passed on". Paul replied "No one is ever really as dead as you think they are Rog". There are many schools of thought as to what dreams really are. In the Bible, Christians base our concept of the divinity of Jesus Christ on a dream that St Joseph  (his stepfather) had, where an Angel tells him that the baby is the son of God. When we are going through times of great stress, we have vivid dreams. In our modern day age of science, we dismiss dreams as constructs of our own minds, helping us to work out the challenges and problems we face. Generally my dreams about Paul do not help me, they disturb me and make me question the reality we exist in. It is strange that I have other dear friends I've lost but none ever come back to impart wisdom in my unconscious psyche in the way Paul does. The only other people who I dream about who have passed on are my parents. They rarely have much to say of interest. Usually we are at a party and I suddenly realise that they've died and I'm probably dreaming and I feel rather sad. But it is different. With Paul, I always get a sense of unfinished business. It isn't with the band, it isn't with our friendship. It is something rather deep and intangible, that makes little sense to me. It is a feeling that there is something vitally important that Paul wants me to do, but I am not getting around to doing. Paul was also one of my original partners when we got the studio together. I don't think it is anything to do with that, as it is fair to say we massively over achieved on our original plans. I feel almost as if there is a holy grail somewhere that will make it all make sense.

Given how Paul passed away, it is ironic that the last gig Paul played with the False Dots was in 2008, a benefit for MacMillan Cancer relief. It featured rock legend Chris Spedding and Lee Thompson of Madness up at the Old Bull Arts Centre. We raised over £5,000 and gave away a free compilation album featuring all of the artists music. The highlight of the album was a special remix of Speddings 1970's hit Motorbikin'. At his court hearing in 2010 after being arrested for robbing the gaming machines, I was asked to give a character reference. When I spoke to his barrister, I mentioned about the cancer benefit gig and the dozens of other ones we'd done. I brought the letters of thanks from the charities. The Barrister suggested that they weren't credible, given that "Paul was a bit of a scumbag and the Judge would find it to not be credulous", so I never mentioned it at the trial. I never felt good about this. I am probably the only person to give evidence at a trial who deliberately underplayed what a good bloke the person I was trying to help was. Paul wasn't a saint and did a few bad things when he was at the height of his addiction problems. The worst in regards to me was to sell a bass guitar at a boot sale that I'd lent him. When he got his act together, he promised me that he'd repay me. Given what happened he never did. I could afford it so it didn't bother me. When he was first diagnosed with terminal cancer and thought he might beat it, I promised that if he got better, I'd write off the debt if he played with the band again. I said I'd even lend him another one. Sadly that didn't happen. 

In truth, Paul's passing brought home to me that none of us really knows why we are here, none of us knows if we have a 'mission', none of us knows how long we've got. Easter is the time of a religious festival commemorating the "Victory of Jesus over death". For me it is ironic that it falls at the time of Pauls death most years. The truth is that we aren't going to get a second chance. Whatever it is that we are supposed to do, we have to sort out for ourselves. In what passes for reality, our mates don't rise from the dead to tell us our mission. Some things still make no sense to me, but I do know that whatever my path is, it is for me to find and I don't know how long I've got to get there. 

I thought I'd share this track with you, it was the last thing Paul wrote and recorded with The False Dots. We turned it into a monster, guitar based instrumental, we added lots of guitar afterwards in tribute (Paul played bass on it). I hope you enjoy it and get some idea of the talent of the flawerd genius that was Paul Hircombe.

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