I lost a very dear friend this week after a long, brave and hard fight against cancer. As well as being someone I counted as one of my closest and best friends he was also my wife's beloved Dad and grandfather to my kids who absolutely adored him. As well as my own pain and grief at losing someone so close it has been devastating to watch my nearest and dearest going through the agony of loss. Seeing a man we loved so much be cut down by such a cruel disease at an age when he should have been enjoying life to the full and reaping the rewards of years of hard work has been almost unbearable at times.
After saying my goodbyes I left my wife with her Mum & sister and came home to give the kids news that I knew would devastate them. After lots of tears and hugs I settled the kids to bed and sat alone with my thoughts. Knowing sleep wasn't going to happen despite being exhausted I tried to occupy myself. I don't drink so drowning my sorrows was out. I tried putting the TV on but couldn't concentrate and found myself getting angry at the glib shite that passes for entertainment on the TV. So I opened the cupboard and took out a box of records.
As well as sharing a close friendship and the love of a family I was lucky enough to share an interest in music with Stew. I got my love of ska & reggae from the 2Tone era which coincided with the time in life when I started buying records in any number. My LP boxes are full of albums from the early 80's onwards; Stew being a few years my senior had a record collection that made me weak at the knees when I first saw it. While I was in nappies he was buying the albums that inspired the very movement that would come to have such an influence on me years later. Such was the generosity of the man that over the following years every birthday or Christmas he gave me an extra present of an LP that he just knew I would love.
None of the records Stew gave me are what a collector would class as mint, or even good in most cases. These were records that did the rounds at parties, records that were bought to be played and enjoyed with friends and not just stored in polythene slip cases and handled with kid-gloves. To me this makes them even more special. Their value to me isn't something that can be measured in pounds and pence. As well as the music in those grooves, every hiss & click, every scratch and jump on that imperfect vinyl is a little link to the life of a wonderful man who I am going to miss so much.
I sat up until 4am the other night, just playing the records Stew has given me over the years. I've often heard the term 'music therapy' but know little about it. What I do know however is that when I eventually went to bed I still had a great sadness weighing on me but I also had tears of joy in my eyes having been transported by those vinyl gifts back into the company of a very special bloke. Ta Stew.
As a postscript, a few months ago I was asked if, when the time came, I'd write something to be read at Stew's funeral. I haven't put pen to paper on that yet so don't know where that will take me, but I do know that Stew chose this piece of music to be played. It says it all a lot better than my ramblings ever could I think.