Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Close those Big Eyes: Lay Your head on the Down

    I've thought a long time about whether to do this or not. But 24 hours on I guess feelings are a little less tender now. And I'm very conscious, reading lots of tributes elsewhere, that many people would have liked to have paid their respects yesterday, but were unable to. So this is a little word picture just for you.
   I've been to too many funerals at The Crem. As we all grow older together I guess I'll be going to a few more. But never have I been to one as moving, or as well...enjoyable. We all have to go sometime, there's no use trying to avoid that fact. Having lost both my Mum and Dad, I know all too well the emptiness and loss which grief and bereavement can bring. But Rod was a Good Old Boy and I think there was a lot of determination from many of those there yesterday to say goodbye to him properly.   I've been in that chapel too many times. But I've never seen it so full. Every seat taken, people standing all round the walls and in the aisles. The guy conducting the service said he'd been doing these services  for 20 years at Canley, and he'd never seen a turnout like it.
  One of Roddy's guitars was on a stand in front of  the dais, with a set list nearby. As we queued to file in, " And I Love You,"-one of Rod's was playing. With so many faces from the Folk world there you'd expect the singing of "Morning Has Broken" to be magnificent, and it was. There was a bible reading from Ecclesiastes-the One The Byrds employed in "Turn Turn Turn". To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven.  It was very apt, especially the line " a time to weep,and a time to mourn and a time to dance," with there being so many ex-Morris Men in the House!   
  John McIntosh delivered a eulogy with all the right attributes. It was irreverent, funny, touching and simple. I have seldom heard the Lord Prayer delivered so loudly afterwards,  and in such a baritone. We were then invited to listen together to what I think has always been one of Rod's best songs-the classic," Curly." Now, I've learned this song off by heart and since Roddy died, I've tried to sing it in public a few times. But it's hard! I've tried to get close to that powerful vocal delivery, that haunting mix of soft low notes and the bluesy voice he made unique. I don't think I've ever done it justice. But yesterday, those powerful guitar chords filled the Chapel, and to my delight, the congregation took up the lyrics, especially the Choruses.
    Then Rod's sister Jan read a funny little poem she'd written in that whimsical style he so loved to weave into his lyrics. A Canon-Dax Johnson-filled the chapel as the curtains began to close around Rod's beautifully-decorated coffin. This is always lump in the throat time for me, but someone behind me called out " Go Get 'Em Rod!" and that dried some of the tears that were welling in many eyes. The curtains closed, and after a blessing, we queued to exit as Alex Campbell's version of "The Wild Rover," played over the sound system. And most of us sang it as we waited to leave. It was a big crowd and a good gig, with most there singing. And that's how Rod Felton liked his audiences.
    Outside in the garden the rain had stopped. There were more greetings between old friends and a look at the Floral tributes. Perhaps, as the company divided thereafter,  this is a good time to recall some of those present at the service or the wake. I didn't know a lot of them, and vice-versa, I suppose. But I spoke to, or recognised, Norman Wheatley and his partner Viv: Malc and Brenda Gurnham, Dave Parr, Gill Gilsenan and her daughter: Phil Benson, Kevin Dempsey, Sean Cannon, Pete Grassby, Pete Willow, Rob Armstrong and Sheila, Keith Donnelly, Dave Sampson, Alan Stocks, Dave Cooper, Dave Webb, John McIntosh, Des Patalong, The Bennetts, Neil Parker ,Pete Clemons  and Nigel Ward.
   Some of those gathered then made their leave and the rest of us made their way into Town, to The Whitefriars Alehouse. Coventry's oldest pub and one of its best. It was fun watching the faces of those who arrived and had not ever seen this fine old building before. It was one of Roddy's favourite pubs and his favourite tipple- a Guinness and a whisky-were lined up poignantly on the bar, at his favourite place, where he liked to sit or stand, and chat. Everyone was treated by the family to a first drink, and later we were offered a dram to share one last time with the Old Feller. There was a lovely buffet laid on, but I was talking too much and by the time I could reach it, the Gannets amongst us had cleaned it out! This proved to be a bit problematic later on, as being diabetic, I really should have been sensible enough to nip round to The Subway and top up! 
   Instead, I  got  talking to Jan, and  shared with her how Curly was my favourite Rod song. I wondered aloud where Curly was now. Jan gave me  a conspiratorial look. Later she would introduce me to the young woman who had inspired the song. That was a very special moment for me. The crowds thinned a little inside and as the sun came out,The Whitefriar garden  filled with laughter and chat and people having a good time. Roddy would have loved it.
   I grew up in the Gosford Street area and I went to school at the bottom of the road. It felt like I was back home yesterday afternoon. It all felt right. It's a pity we had to lose him. But this was the best way possible to celebrate his life and to say goodbye.

                                                               Rod Felton 1942-2014