Three weeks ago I was chatting with one of my dearest friends Alan 'AJ' James. He was the first person to step forward and offer his skills for a 'perk' session as part of the imminent Campfire crowdfund. That was Alan, through and through. He seemed in good spirits, although he had a lot on his plate and was still emerging from the gloom of winter. Less than a month later, he is dead. I'm shocked by the suddenness in which our most loved ones can be taken from us, by the fragility of life. I'm relieved that his suffering wasn't prolonged. He was dearly loved by many.
The balance of Life and death. The merry-go round.
I myself was feeling as if I was emerging from a dark winter where five friends had left this world and suddenly, a week ago I’m knocked completely off balance by the extremely unwelcome news that my dear friend Alan James had suffered a sudden and severe stroke.
A week after I heard that news, I am devastated today to hear that Alan died early this morning. I was grateful to be with him through last Thursday afternoon and during those hours, he briefly regained consciousness, enough to exchange a few words and even a joke or two. We played him two of his favourite albums, Biosphere's 'Substrata' and Another Fine Day's 'Life Before Land'. He asked after our mutual friend Tom Green (AFD). I have spent the last few days keeping in touch with many of his friends over the situation in his final hours. He was loved by so many.
‘Team Alan', who kept vigil by his bed in hospital in Worcester this past week have been amazing. As his friend Katherine Irving remarked to me just now “I am relieved his suffering is over and that he was with his friends in his last few days. It has been a long and exhausting week and we're truly grateful for the phenomenal support received, particularly from Team Alan. In death as in life he brought people together and there has been much laughter as well as sadness this past week. It has been very comforting to receive messages and to know he was loved by so many.”
Memories from closest friendships and relationships often pop up to remind you of those shared moments when you are least expecting them. Above all, it is the sense that you lived through so much life experience with that person, seeing and witnessing things together, common language, a unique take and an off-kilter humour, little insights that took on a significance.
Looking back on my 29 years of friendship with Alan, it was those moments, those conversations that will linger and give me strength, those chance remarks or amusing moments that made him unique. He certainly had a few stories to tell. I will miss them so much.
When The Big Chill temporarily lost its way in its second year after a tortuous first proper attempt at staging a licensed festival which went wrong in almost unimaginable ways, it was Alan above all others, who picked us up off the floor, dusted us down and was there for us, strong for us, chairing public meetings with our creditors, giving Katrina and I a platform to speak truth and vulnerability, to explain the whole surreal debacle and to let everyone know we weren’t disappearing.
He was a huge supporter of The Big Chill throughout and brought much to the event with his vast knowledge of music in its many genres and his experience from programming days at the fledgling WOMAD festival. Alan was at the forefront of the early 80s sprit of eclecticism when post-punk met world music and he was key in elevating artists such as The Drummers of Burundi and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to the heights they enjoyed during that golden period. He went on to programme at Mac in Birmingham before taking a position at The Arts Council of England as head of contemporary music.
He then served as Director of the Welsh Music Foundation and was Chairman of the English Folk, Dance and Song Society. He was also a Director of Cerdd Cymru:Music Wales, the partnership which brought WOMEX to Cardiff in 2013.
We enjoyed some playful collaborations. He (as Harry Lime) and myself (as Perry De Chico) started a short-lived but fun club in the mid 90s called ‘Hypnotique’ which featured the exotica of Yma Sumak, Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny alongside our newly-coined genre of ‘world muzak’ which found room for Bert Kaempfert, Ray Conniff, Los Paraguayos and Antonio and His Trumpets In The Sun.
He wrote a brilliant chapter in The Big Chill's 'Crossfade' book entitled 'Eclectic Electric - 1979-1983 - a Post-Punk Posting'
On our adventures in the Cyclades, Alan was there with me through many. He was with me the night of our Naxos event opening in 2000, when the Express Samina ferry disaster came to light (it collided with the Portares rocks off the neighbouring island of Paros) and subsequent events almost cancelled the whole shebang. When the Chillers finally did arrive after two days stranded in Piraeus, we undertook a pledge to party like there was no tomorrow. Here are Alan's reflections on that heady week, recorded simply onto mini disk over a piece of music I had just composed.
Alan was a gentle soul, tortured in some ways but full of life, quirk, and spirit. At one moment barbed and cynical, at the next tender and compassionate. In many ways a loner who suffered from depression, especially in the darker, colder months, Alan had a whole network of connections in the spheres of music and the arts. Our mutual friend Justin Adams remarked to me last week that Alan was always there or thereabouts, always offering a word of encouragement, or a suggestion, always mindful that the music biz and life itself is all about sparks and connections. Alan was never less than generous and always working for the greater good.
He chaired one session for us at Campfire 2016 at The Bridge Inn, on ‘Punk Religion’ with Nina Lyon and Soma Ghosh. He was always interested in the history and mystery around places, people and the wonders of nature. He was as much a lover of Julian Cope’s ‘Modern Antiquarian’ as he was his friend Robert Plant’s Led Zeppelin and subsequent projects. He always took delight in telling me about Robert’s favourite hangouts in and around his home town of Bewdley in Worcester, a town I hugely enjoyed visiting on several occasions over the last decade.
Alan was never short of an anecdote or a story. He was a human in the fullest sense of being and the best best friend I could have wished for.
I am full of love for a magnificent guy and a dear friend.
I guess he was right, it was time to leave...
Travel safely, AJ.
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