On a cold Monday morning in February I walk into my studio and notice the accordion packed away in its box by the bed. It’s been nine days since Chris proudly showed me how to operate it. It was one of four bits of musical equipment that he had brought up on the bus from London. He told me he wouldn’t be needing them as he had planned to end his life. I had hoped to give the equipment back to him in better times .
When you think of suicide you think of someone ending their life in bleak, lonely circumstances but the days Chris spent with me were filled with fun and laughter. After he told me his plans I had no idea how to react. Part of me didn’t believe him, another part shut it out but as I dropped him off at Leeds Bus Station another probably more realistic part knew full well that I’d never see him again.
It maybe is here where I should talk about what a great guy Chris was. I can’t honestly say hand on heart that we always saw eye to eye. I could find him unpredictable, in need of attention, unstructured. He probably found me strait laced, unwilling to take risks and impatient. We had a few arguments in the time I knew him and he had upset me on enough occasions to make me reticent to keep him close at hand. However when we clicked, we clicked. We shared a dark humour that often seemed to revolve around seeing me as a once successful person who had given up on all their dreams and was reduced to trading on past glories. Our final major conversation was a lengthy flight of fancy detailing a future where I live in a caravan off the A64 working on an opus entitled ‘Cold House 2 (Cold Caravan)’ that I mistakenly believed would rekindle past glories. The previous night we had been to see some bands at a local venue one of whom we ripped the piss out of mercilessly. Chris was happy to accompany me to the gig and was especially delighted when I told him that it would probably be bad.
This is not to say we didn’t have some difficult conversations. He was so raw and honest that I almost didn’t know where to put myself sometimes. He once, in the middle of a busy pub and in front of his wife told me he had problems ejaculating. So I was kind of used to him being filter free. He skyped me to tell me his plans to end his life in January of this yar and I just didn’t know what to say. On his final visit I attempted to talk him out if it by simply saying “don’t do it”. In truth I thought if I showed him a great time he might…..might just see that there was stuff in life to live for. But I was hopelessly out of my depth, his pain was too ingrained, his suffering too deep. he was too far gone for reason. There was though a peace about him in those final days that I’d not seen in him before. He was less manic, less on the edge and softer somehow.
When I was talking to him about his plans I said to myself that I’m going to feel pretty shitty if he actually does go through with it. It was the only thing in this sorry story I got right. I feel unbelievably shitty. I stood by and watched it happen, I failed to intervene, I failed to contact other people who might have been able to help. I failed to convince him that there are other options, that living a ‘normal’ life wasn’t too bad. If I dare ever look back through Facebook messages I’ll see that Chris was there for me when I needed him. I’m ashamed that I wasn’t there when he needed me.
I’d like to say two further things before I go.
One is to thank all Chris’s friends in London who did everything possible to save him. They know who they are and I hope they know who much they are appreciated.
Secondly, you absolutely have to listen to Chris’s music. ‘Nails Through Birds Feet’ is an absolute master work. Chris could wind me up to the point that at times I almost didn’t want to like his music. I tried to hate it but I couldn’t. I fell totally and helplessly under its spell and I hope you do too.
He also contributed hugely to two musical projects of mine. He played on several tracks on the ‘Fragment’ EP by The Declining Winter. this track ‘Shore Leave’ was going nowhere until Chris added the accordion and banjo.
He contributed the wonderful soundscape that opens and closes this track by my other band Memory Drawings. I remember the utter chaos of him doing it, the engineer getting increasingly angry with him then when he got it going the realisation we all had of how great it was.
My final collaboration with Chris will be released later in the year. It’s a remix that I was due to complete for the band the Leaf Library. Chris wanted to help with it and took it in a direction I could never have imagined. It is absolutely totally insane and it’s all due to him.
Finally I’ll leave you with the note I found Chris had left me after he got his bus home. This emerged after a conversation about oneupmanship in years gone by where people were judged by the cleanliness of their front step.
I’ll keep that step scrupulously clean.