I was asked to say something today and I thought ‘Yeh. What a privilege. However difficult, however worryingly humungus the likelihood that I may just breakdown and weep, pitifully – yeh. For Rod.’
Then word came I may well be speaking after Bob Marshall-Andrews.
It made me think of Glastonbury… and I’m (say) Ed Sheeran. And I find out I’m headlining – on at midnight – immediately after David Bowie.
I’m suddenly very conscious that I’m Ed Sheeran, the slightly porky, slightly ginger, arguably faux-Irishman with 98 student-friendly numbers all of which are about my own small melancholy. Whilst he’s got ‘Jean Genie’.
Rodney, I’ll do my best.
Before I go any further one wee indulgence if I may? I’m deeply aware that I speak for my family (and maybe your family too?) when I say that Druidstone has been like the Maypole around which we have danced for forty years. I am so thankful for that – we are so thankful for that – I/we, all of us offer our love and continued support to Nick, Angus, Beth and co. especially now… but always. And yes, always, we will dance.
I have some notes to help me out. Scribbled with a bookmakers pen on the beaches or cliff-tops around Dingle, County Kerry. Most of which felt appropriate.
Let’s start with a question, for the Question Master, Jes Walton – my brother:
If I am David Byrne – what are facts?
‘Facts are useless in emergencies.’ Not that this is an emergency – it’s just a recognition.
Personally, I recognise facts as fraud, preferring (like Rod) that which is fascinating or subversive or downright hilarious. I reckon – and I reckon Rod reckoned – often there’s more truth in the style points racked up around something than in what’s actually happened. In other words I/we rate defiance… and wit… and unutterable, irredeemable cobblers.
(Stay with me people.)
So here’s some facts I choose to recognise today. You can grade them and maybe waft them under your nose for the whiff of profundity or alcohol.
Fact one; I learned about longbows from Rod Bell.
Fact two; in about 1638, Rod plus two English tourists took out the entire French nation but for some geezer called Serge le Poisson and ‘is missus – Marie Antoi-fishnet – at either Agincourt or Pont-Abraham Services, from a distance of either 600 yards or six foot two… or both… with their longbows.
Fact three; Strega is a maaaaarvellous but deadly potion.
Fact four; Rod Bell could talk, wonderfully, about architecture, wine, the Aztecs, leg-spin, boat-building and the use of chocolate in South American cuisine.
Interesting aside-fact-thing; Rod could talk but he could not sing. He scuttled around (didn’t he?) humming, on a mission.
Real Proper But Gawd’elpus Massively Flawed By Consumption of Poteen-fact; Rod sang – as did Stuart Thomas – one mad, blessed night in about 1980, when a barbershop singing group, recently peeled from a laughably tiny minibus originating in County Cork, pulled into The Dru.
We luxuriated (I think that’s the word) in the rocket-fuelled rainbow that is the craic for ten hours solid – make that liquid – and it may have been the most fabulous day of my life. Except, naturally for the advent of my children, my wedding day and the mother-in-law’s birthdays.
Rod was at my elbow – then and often. Not conducting, just being absolutely in it; sharing, chipping in, sprinkling anecdotal gems.
Fact several; shortly after this Rod and six blokes with beards invaded Ireland on a land-yacht shouting something about mackerel pate and accidentally winning gold on a beach near Kinsale.
Unfact one; (gently gently…) Rod’s father was a political agent for the Conservative Party. But this is mercifully counter-balanced by the fact that Rod, John the Ghost and Dash were all, at one stage, Sandinistas.
These are the things I have learned and here is my concluding fact. Factoid. Observation. Tribute…
I experienced Slivovic, Black Bush and Tequilla-Pop kindof evenings with Rod Bell. I learned about the origins of man, music and the internal combustion engine. I/we played fiercely magnificent darts on windblown nights in February. Often Rod got in a real groove; one had that great style points. For me, he’s still in that groove because some things – daft, quiet, remarkable things – do go right past life.