Like so many others, I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Paul Sartin last week. He has been mentioned before on this blog, and there are already many wonderful tributes out there to him which testify to his general loveliness as a person and to his extraordinarily versatile and accomplished life as a musician, and I wanted to add my own experience to those, partially as something I need to do and partially in the hope that those who loved and love him still might find a little of the affection and esteem in which he was held.
Paul arrived at Magdalen the year after me, and I think that it is safe to say that we got on really well. He was an Academical Clerk in the choir and I was the very (very) wayward Organ Scholar and often our waywardness overlapped in a deeply happy and fun way. Behind the fun, though, it was obvious that he was also hugely talented, bright, interested and keen to take on influences, all those things that bode well for an artist.
We briefly played together in a very disorganised band – maybe half an hour or so – and I also remember our discussing the art of writing a satisfying psalm chant, prior to us both having such pieces published in the same volume. One of my chants was based on a melody from a King’s X song, of course, and it makes me happy to know that, somewhere in a pile of music, our compositions live side by side in the same book.
After I had left college and was trying to work out what to do next I very loosely managed a barbershop quartet in which Paul sang, picking them up from Oxford and driving them in my battered BMW1602 to and from the few bookings we managed to get. I still remember quite clearly one journey back, during which we kept ourselves entertained by going round the car inventing rude verses about each other to the tune of The Addams Family, and one particular set of words (unrepeatable, of course) remains with me even now. I should also add that Paul and the others used to sing an exquisite arrangement of Rainy Days And Mondays that, of course, always made me cry, and now always will, the only performances I have ever heard to come close to the original in terms of depth and pathos.
Once I had moved to London and all that stuff had been left behind I ended up returning to Oxford for a choral weekend, and Paul was kind enough to let me stay in his house, although, when the day’s choiring was done, we inevitably retreated to the local pub which would lock us in (voluntarily) until the early hours. It was there, hazily and in an atmosphere of shared joy, that I first really experienced Paul’s love of folk music as the melodies swept around the room, people joining in and dropping out as the ebb and flow dictated, the happiest of shared endeavours.
Inevitably, as real life crept in around the edges, our communication became less regular until it dropped off altogether, by which stage Paul was touring and being hugely successful with Bellowhead and many other organisations besides, at which point you begin to wonder whether they have moved on, whether they hold any affection for the past. It was a few years ago on one of my long drives back from London that I heard Paul being interviewed on Radio 2, tweeted about it and received the reply “How lovely to hear from you!! I was playing King’s X to son no.2 this last weekend!”
I had kept an eye on his touring schedule and had genuinely hoped to catch him when he was nearby but, alas, this will now not happen, although I know that he will make me smile whenever I catch that episode of Midsomer Murders, and innumerable other times besides. Paul was immensely talented and generous, as the briefest look at his biography shows, but he was also a family man, son and father, and my thoughts and sympathies go to those who loved him the most, but also to the countless people whose world is made more empty by his loss.