Friday, September 24, 2010

Don Partridge 1941-2010: In Memoriam

So: where to start? After the initial shock of the phone call from our mutual friend Patrick – to relay the news of Don struck down by a massive heart attack – the re-grouping, the business: people to be informed across networks which might not be immediately available to the family, so you distract yourself by being busy. With words: which are useless, but you go through the rituals and realise as you do so – yet again – that rituals – the informal rituals of bereavement - have a purpose. To distract... Then a fitful night and more phone calls and the process of the human placing of death into something that can be manageable. Which of course it never is – which is the awesome power of death. Hence the rituals. But the force of it all finally drops down enough for you to decide that something should be written, especially as you have spent so much time over the last couple of years digging back into the past with Don and Pat as we slowly created the manuscript we called 'Don Partridge and Company,' our on-going project, a three-way chronicle (Don, Pat, me) of the sixties busking years culminating with the famous Buskers Concert at the Albert Hall in 1969. With suddenly a final chapter...

So you place yourself in the futile position of trying to apply measure.

So: how do you measure a person? Specifically: Don Partridge, such a unique character in the myriad groupings of your friends which comprise so many characters possessed of strength, talent, creativity, belief in themselves, humour, love and that blissfully undefinable sense of – FUN. Because Don was FUN to be with. So many people who knew him - read the testimonials already and at the funeral there will be a legion more prepared to step up and say: here was someone whom we enjoyed the company of greatly, who made an impression on our lives - maybe the the link between them all will be that sense of FUN as a counterbalance to the loss. A deep FUN, manifesting in a joy in life, despite the recent tragedy that he had to bear and the resultant dark hours, the loss of Pam from the ravages of cancer last year. When I was with Don a few weeks ago, the sadness and grieving were still there but he made me welcome as usual in his house as we worked on the book and took a drink or two and laughed over our reminiscences, the triumphs and absurdities all recounted with his good humour - and his wry, hard-won wisdom. That welcome he had always provided – from the crowded flat in Archway he shared with Alan Young, Jester and Joker, his oldest perhaps sidekick, where I slept on the floor with Barbara in 1966 before we found our first apartment off the Fulham Road where we reciprocated in equally cramped conditions. The house in Hastings where he wrote 'Rosie' and drove us all mad with the first drafts of the song that would propel him to fame – to the extent that when he came into the old 'Earl of Sandwich' bar, back of Leicester Square and said he had recorded it, the general consensus was: 'Bollocks, Partridge!' So we were wrong... in spades... that song we mocked, recorded in E.M.I.'s Studio Regent B for six quid, at the instigation of the man who found him in Brewer Street market and became his manager, Don Paul, that took him to the hit parade, a certain measure of fame and money which provided a bigger house in West London we dubbed the 'Mansion' where more welcomes were offered amid mucho craziness – the first time I went he somehow drove us back from central London (both of us and Paris Nat having been thrown out of the 'Troubadour' for alcoholic crimes against folk music), despite the onrush of the acid we had both taken as a chaser. Which freaked Nat out when he realised, somewhere down the Uxbridge Road... Those were the days, as they say... That house where I heard some of the nascent formations of 'Accolade,' the folk/jazz/rock band he formed with Gordon Giltrap that should have taken him beyond the One Man Band/novelty/variety act that the Biz saw him as and which he was rapidly wearying of. And not to blame the Biz too much for that, because that was the game then and they did not have the measure of many a musician who stepped across boundaries, let alone one as idiosyncratic and wilful as Don. A band who never got the launch, maybe, they deserved, for whatever reasons, but who stand up pretty well now against much of the crap and the twee of the time, something more than hey-nonny with a clumpy rock backbeat. Pentangle aside - English folk-rock: jeez. But he eventually turned his back on the Biz to follow his own footsteps that led back to the streets. Scandinavia and back, criss-crossing Europe, Canada, hitch-hiking down the 'Trans-Canadian Highway.' One of his better songs and it should also be put down here that he was a musician of talent way beyond the sometimes stifling if necessary repetitions/confines of the busking arts, beyond the confines of the Biz as stated above. A very good songwriter when he felt the muse, a brilliant arranger of others' songs and traditional material into different formulations – because Don was incapable of copying after he had acquired his mature style early on. For a recent example of skilful adaption: dig 'The Highwayman' if you can find it, his long riff on the old Alfred Noyes poem which works so well because he gets inside it so well. Maybe he was never truly captured on record – and for all that, you could say his art was that of the busker, which is transience, a song on the wind that produces enough temporary pleasure for the bung to the bottler or the open guitar case – and the larger the better, please. We have thirsts... Don said that ultimately he preferred the natural lighting of the streets, daylight and sunshine, streetlights and shop illuminations at night, the backdrop of arenas filled with people and bustle, to the artificial sets and lighting of the Biz and the compromises that go with it. That was his true stage, his realm. Remember this: he was The King of the Buskers. Others were buskers before him and others will no doubt aspire to the crown he has sadly vacated – but he was the first to get there, by the sheer chutzpah of self-coronation and he held his kingdom down the years, against all comers.

So: you come to the measure and find, as with all great people – and I choose my words carefully – that the idea of measure, however human and hot-wired into our heads, is a paltry thing, when we consider such a man. Yes he was fickle, infuriating at times, faithful to something beyond conventions of faithfulness, yes and that is romantic and could be seen as a cop-out but Don did not, in my experience at least, ever cop-out. Wherever the road led him, he was true to its directions and imperatives. Not an easy life, as all who have travelled it know well enough. Not an easy life perhaps, for family and friends at times. The King was no saint. But when he looked down that road he saw it clearly and followed it with no small measure of courage. And love. In the end, he overflows any measure you can make and that is the plain damn truth. He was too damn big to be defined easily. He leaves a large hole in our hearts and memories as we here extend our condolences to the family - and all who knew him. He was a true friend and I loved him and I will miss him.

'If you don't see me next spring, I'll be in Berlin.'


Dave Harris said...

Great tribute Rod! My condolences to you on your loss. RIP Don Partridge - King of the Buskers and truly one of the most influential one man bands of all time! Please do let me know when your book is available (and thanks for your support on mine!).

Rod Warner said...

Book - pretty much finished... but not the time to figure the next move. Thanks for your thoughts...

Anonymous said...

RIP Don. With all our love, Mary Murphy and Cathy, Hadyn and family. Sadly missed.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this obituary, and for giving us this insight into the life of an amazing man. His legacy is his music, although anyone who ever knew him will know, enigmatic though he was, that the world has lost someone who was simply undescribable. It was indeed a privilage to have known him, played with him, laughed with him and argued with him. Still I know - I´ll never meet his likes again.

Dave Cartwright said...

Hi Rod

Lovely tribute.
I supported Don a couple of times during his brief flirtation with the folk clubs here in the Midlands, post-Rosie. He was clearly a man who ploughed his own furrow, and his down-to-earth honesty raised a few eyebrows amongst the die-hard folkies. But his musicianship and warmth shone through.
Last saw him busking in Brixham, around '96. We had a lovely chat and then it was back to the job in hand.Still that powerhouse of song.
Love and peace

Anonymous said...

Nice to read, I too would like to know when the book is out. I knew him as a child, he was a friend of my Dad's and I often passed the hat for him at Leicester Market.

I remember his Gypsy caravan, and I remember laughing with him and having lots of fun. He must have genuinely liked children because I remember he always had time for me when the 'grown ups' would rather the children cleared off ;-)

He gave me a Kazoo and a swirly thing that made incredible noises when you blew into it and he taught me to make what were probably awful noises with them both.

A good man, a kind man, and one whom I have fond memories of.

Dave Cartwright: My Dad became friends with them through the involvement with the Leicester / Midlands folk scene... In the early to mid 1970's?

Anonymous said...

living in the West Indies, I got the news a month late. I have an old tape somewhere of Don doing a guest spot with his music partner at Ken Colyers jazz club during one of the all nighters myself and my mate Ray Sone used to host. We were also "rival" buskers. Always admired his uniqueness and am saddened by his passing, Emmett Hennessy.

Rod Warner said...

Hi Emmett - doubt that you would know me as I would have been a year or two younger but I remember you very well - Ray and Emmett, nifty fingerpicking - saw you down the Cousins a few times. If you busked you must have been around a year or so before I came along. I met Don and Alan and Pat in 1966 and drifted onto the queus relatively quickly after an apprenticeship with Meg, whom I'm sure you remember well! Worked a lot with Jumping Jack/Earl of Mustard as well. I've been writing a book with Don and Pat Keene about the sixties busking years, more or less ending on the Albert Hall Buskers Concert in 1969. Sadly Don died... But I was with him in July to record what turned out to be his last reminiscences and these have now been rewritten and put in the book. At present Pat and I are looking for a publisher - the added value of the book is his selection of black and white photos that he took on the streets and at the ALbert Hall gig - never been published before.
What condition is the Partridge tape in, out of curiosity?
I remember the Colyer club all nighters as well - think Les Bridger and Alex Campbell were doing a few when I started busking.

Anonymous said...

Just read this, very sad that "The Don" has gone to the Great Gig in the Sky. He was the King of the Buskers, everybody knows that. I saw him play in Munich a couple of times, about 1980 I think. He was and is a legend. R.I.P