A week last Thursday the phone went at 7.45 in the morning, a call which I’ll never forget. My dad told me that in the middle of the night, my mum had completely out of the blue had a massive brain haemorrhage. 36 hours later she died – my spritely mum in her early 70s who we thought would be around for years yet and who just a few hours beforehand I’d been talking to on the Alexa, a conversation which ended up in laughter as she spilt a cup of coffee down her nightie and my dad scurried around to clean up the kitchen carpet. Today is her funeral, and it’s fair to say that we have been numb with both shock and grief since that fateful call, so hope you’ll forgive this personal diversion for five minutes so I can share my memories of her here.
Me and my sister had a very loving upbringing – and believe me I have reflected on it a lot in recent years and understand how lucky I am to have had that – with security and love among the challenges. We did all kinds of things despite the fact that, without invoking the Monty Python sketch, my mum and dad were fairly skint for most of it. And music was there around us all the time. We were one of those families where there was always something playing in the house. I remember going to my grandparents on my mum’s side’s house on Sundays when Sing Something Simple would be on before the charts. The Cliff Adams singers still fill with me with a kind of nostalgia now, despite the cloying awfulness. In our own house, between my dad’s love for The Shadows and death metal and my mum’s for the Beatles and Dire Straits, music was a constant companion, and although I didn’t then know what americana was, I knew that music would be a massive part of my life. I started making my mum compilation tapes when I was about 9 years old, which morphed into CDs in time (she never quite got used to streaming playlists). In fact the only reason I still have an external DVD-writer was to burn CDs for her each Christmas of whatever americana, country, fay indie-folk or whatever I’d been listening to during the past 12 months and thought she’d like. Invariably she was more enthusiastic than I could have hoped for.
As an adult, after a brief expedition for a year to Sydney and then a slightly less exciting expedition to Manchester, I managed to move all of about 5 miles as the crow flies from my mum and dad. And being honest, they were a huge part of the reason I decided to not live far from where I grew up. I still wanted my own life in the city but was happy to be just a few minutes away from them – I loved their company, and never felt happier than when we were doing something together. I know that families can be close wherever they are, but there’s a particular Northern thing probably best exemplified by the TV series The Royle Family, where the boundaries of different generations are kind of nebulous and it just feels like one big extended close-knit collective. That’s how my relationship to my mum and dad feels. There’s like a visceral connection there that I can’t really explain easily in words.
My parents were always very political – my dad more explicitly, but my mum through her faith always had a great sense of responsibility when it came to injustice. We would often go on demos together, whether they were CND, anti-war more broadly, or protesting against whatever horrible welfare cuts governments of all hues brought in. I was always really proud of the fact that when some of my mate’s mums and dads were huffing over whoever was on the Daily Mail’s latest hate list, mine were out there defending them. My mum couldn’t walk past somebody who was homeless on the street without giving them something, even if she’d just given to 6 people in the last ten minutes, and even if it happened every time she walked past. She’d sometimes buy multiple copies of the Big Issue just to give without making someone feel awkward.
When I started to develop the americana site and promote gigs, my mum and dad were a huge support right from the start. I think they attended every gig I ever put on, and there must have been dozens over the years. They were there for the 2 americana festivals I put on here in Liverpool. They particularly loved seeing Barry Jones play either on his own or as part of his Southbound Attic Band with Ronnie, and they became familiar faces to all the regulars – they loved my mum because she was until the day she died one of the kindest most generous people you could hope to meet. If you were playing, she’d check you were OK for a drink. But also if you were the stranger in the corner, she’d also check you were OK. She never used to like to see people left out or going wanting. At last year’s americana awards, everyone else had these really cool muso tables while I had a couple of good friends and my mum and dad, and I couldn’t have been prouder of them.
She also had a brilliant sense of humour – in fact she was a bit of a nightmare as she’d the get the giggles at completely inappropriate moments, which started off when we used to go to confession when I was 7 and would be rolling in the aisles by the time we were next up to see the priest. That was basically the first confession every time. She made any situation fun, even when it wasn’t meant to be.
One of the worst things about someone dying suddenly I’ve discovered in the last 2 weeks is that you don’t get a chance to say goodbye properly – to prepare yourself for the end, and to say those things you always wanted to say. It sounds trite to say I’m devastated – it’s an overused word – but I can’t think of another which describes the way I’m feeling right now. In a small way anyway, if you’re a reader of this website, I just wanted to let you know how much she meant to me. I know there’s pain ahead, and I know in this terrible period of history we’re living through, so many people are going through their own kind of pain, but I feel so blessed to have had her as my dear, beautiful, kind mum. So much of my life today I owe to her.
Oh and finally – our favourite song we used to sing along to together in more recent years. God how we loved this song. As I’d text every day, “Good night bestmumitwww.”