In the end it was a CD that took me to it, part of an attempt to listen to the dustier discs on my shelves, and it was the Hamelin recording of Roslavets’s otherworldly piano works that led me there. I was reminiscing about the time that the disc came into the shop where I used to work in Notting Hill, how I put it onto the player and then decided to buy it. It is clear that I made the decision quickly, for there is no sign of a price sticker ever having been applied to its cover.
The train of thought took me back to Jeff Pountain, who used to run the shop and with whom I had spent countless hours, either in shop or pub, discussing art, music, life, everything. We were, as we never tired of reminding ourselves, not just the the fin de siècle but, in the wonkiest of French, the fin de millennium. We saw Janowitz at Smith Square, revelled in long and boozy lunches, luxuriated in historic recordings, rejoiced in each other’s small successes. We were just passing through on our way to greater things.
Jeff was an extraordinary man, though. A guitarist in one of the earliest punk bands, who did a Peel session as far back as 1978 when they really mattered, art lecturer, fork-lift driver, raconteur, intellect, and a magnificent artist, and I mean really magnificent. He offered to draw my portrait, something he said he never did (the offering or the drawing of portraits), because he felt that he knew what drove me, and the portrait sits above my composing desk to judge me still. The black leather jacket, the T-shirt, the long hair, the Finzi score, the Tuscan landscape, the ruins of something from another time, the demon at my shoulder driving me to write – they were all there then and they are still here now.
Jeff also painted the Blind Man At Golgotha triptych, which I pursued until it was mine, although it currently hangs in my neighbour’s house until I get a place that is big enough to show it in, and a picture for my god-daughter, signed, a rarity for him. He introduced me to many classic recordings – Collins conducting Sibelius particularly – and also turned me on to Thomas Hardy novels and, most joyously of all, the poetry, and it was eventually over a book of Hardy that we fell out, stupidly and abruptly and nonsensically, as these things go.
Jeff was a rare and brilliant person in so many ways, and was very much an oddity in that he was utterly impossible to track down on the internet, even though I tried many times to find him, to get back in touch, and then this morning I finally found him mentioned in an obscure Facebook post, the news that he died last year, quietly and peacefully, they said. It seems grossly unfair that a man who was so widely read in so many areas, a real Renaissance man, omnicultural, should have so small a memorial, hence my tiny gathering of memories here to the gent who forged so much of my musical listening and my life’s pleasures.
Jeff often said that he wanted me to set Afterwards by Thomas Hardy, that he wanted it performed at his funeral, but that did not happen, nor have I any idea even if it was read. Anyway, he particularly loved the image of the hedgehog, and wanted it noted that he was definitely a man who noticed such things, allowing the reader to answer the poem’s central question, as far as Jeff was concerned, in a happy affirmative. He really was a quite remarkable man, vivid and vibrant, and I can see and hear his chuckle as I write this, but even he was just passing through. It’s much wine, wine from the bottom of the list, and Janowitz’s recording of the Vier letzte Lieder tonight, my wonderful friend!