Back at the dawn of time when I was running Musiclab at the Guildhall two young men turned up with guitars. George and Dan became regulars, their songs grew familiar. Dan wrote and sang the words, George (who maintains the only song he can remember all the way through is Postman Pat) arranged the tunes. After a bit they hired the cinema to launch their first album. The place was full, the music soul-wrenchingly good. I felt privileged to be of the company. I bought a CD. George - a design graduate - had done all the cover artwork too.
Dan went travelling, time went on, we lost touch. A friend was working on a panto with the women of Coney Hill Community Centre, a bit of outreach from the Cheltenham Everyman. I went along, the musical director looked familiar. We caught up with one another’s news. He’d just built a studio in his basement, I was looking for someone to run a music project with young bands. Wired was mostly an idea and a funding stream; George wrestled it into life and made it his own for half a decade. I was second unit camera on the first Wired video, interviewing bands and parents. As a wild child barked angry vocals against a wall of jagged guitar fuzz surrounded by dervish dancers I asked his mum ‘how do you feel?’
‘Proud, very proud’. Me too.
The Guildhall started to fill up with young people making music. George took over Musiclab and the noisy bands played delicate acoustic sets there, their friends crowding the cinema. The wrinkly old-timers learnt stuff from them, strange collaborations started happening, beatboxers worked with bodhran players. Dan reappeared and took over as Musiclab MC, a charismatic presence in the sonic chaos.
When we were launching the Living Gloucester website we gave George a bunch of recordings by local people talking about the city. He turned it into Tribe of Gloucester, a tapestry of beats and phrases, a danceable love letter. Against the hypnotic chanting of the Shed the town crier compared the place to a comfy old shoe, a West Indian woman made rice and peas for her neighbour, a teenage girl listed the cultural groupings of the young people who hung around the cathedral.
In time George ran out of space in his basement studio. There was, rather alarmingly, a well. First time I lifted the hatch and saw water so close to the electrics I freaked a little. He rented and kitted out a suite of rooms on the first floor of a Georgian house off the Bristol Road. All kinds of bands gravitated there, including the bunch of old bluesers I was singing with at the time. The comfy sofas and rock n’roll vibe made it worth dragging your kit up the stairs. Later he turned a disused Guildhall office into the Wired room and much magic occurred. He founded the Gloucestershire Music Forum, bringing together the University, the FE College and the County Music Service, appointing cheerleaders in every district to bang the drum for young people’s music and make stuff happen. I had a magic moment hanging out with my friends’ children attending a seminar at the University, basking in their reflected coolness.
Over the last decade or so we’ve taken it in turns to suggest random activities to one another.
‘How about setting up the technical stuff for a performance of Thomas Tallis in the cathedral cloisters as part of an art installation?’
‘How about turning up at Wychwood Festival this afternoon and playing a set in a tent?’
‘How about taking on an allotment? Even though you hate gardening?’
‘How about letting me record an album in your kitchen?’
‘How about bringing your trio to be the backing vocalists for a much younger band, entering a Battle of the Bands competition, winning it and for your prize getting to be the oldest person performing at 2000 Trees festival?’
‘How about coming to a freezing church on a winter’s night to go ‘ah!’ in a scratch choir? Even though you won’t know why for 10 months?’
Thank you George, for repeatedly dragging me out of my comfort zone, musically and sometimes thermally. You’ve given me some of the golden moments of my life.