Friday, 11 December 2009

Jack Rose, RIP

This is a man I met twice, maybe three times. I remember him like this: roaring at the noisy English crowd who'd just talked through a set by his friend and touring partner Glenn Jones. "Shut up, you fucking limeys!" he shouted, to scattered applause. Then he sat down and played the most furious set of instrumental, solo-guitar folk music I've ever heard. Could anyone in attendance that night have claimed otherwise? I suspect not.

Towards the end of the first or second song he broke a string, and had to switch to his spare instrument. This was a large 12 string, and it was hopelessly out of tune; after grappling with the pegs for a couple of minutes he gave up and embarked on a lengthy atonal improvisation. The crowd, who had quietened down after his initial harangue, had grown noisy again, and the few keen listeners drew in close around the stage. My memory of the music has long since decayed, but I remember the intensity of the experience, and the sense of camraderie within that impromptu semicircle of unfamiliar bodies.

Over the subsequent five years I saw him play twice more, and on each of those occasions he was thoroughly amiable, both in performance and conversation. Of course, his playing was always vital and propulsive, but there was more of a meditative quality to it (both concerts took place in candlelit churches), and when the atmosphere became too charged he'd break out a ragtime tune and charm the audience all over again.

I will remember him like this, also: a large, unkempt man sitting cross-legged on the floor among many CDs-for-sale; tired from his labours, but making gracious small talk with acquaintances and admirers. He'd finally begun to receive recognition commensurate with his talents; hostile and indifferent audiences were a thing of the past.

Rest in Peace, Jack Rose.

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