An email from Neil; there’s a message on his answer-phone. I’m always shocked and saddened when it’s someone younger than me. Doubly so, when it’s someone I know. Steve Hollier, one-time accordion player with Fat Freddy’s Cat, passed away very suddenly last week. There was far more to Steve than music – he was a true Renaissance Man. But music was where our particular worlds collided.
As I write this I’m struck by how quickly an ‘is’ becomes a ‘was’. The sudden reference to the past tense seems indecent. And quite unnatural.
FFC was an established band when Steve joined. His first rehearsal was a tense affair; but Steve was one of life’s smilers and any nerves he felt were managed well. As we finished he remarked; “this is the band I’ve been waiting for all my life”. Little did he, or we for that matter, know that FFC was simply a transit camp – a place to be – until he met the woman he’d been waiting for all his life.
Joining a gang can be difficult; established hierarchies, relationships, jokes, codes – all need to be interpreted and negotiated by the newbie. But it works both ways – Steve brought new music and a new audience and as a result we started playing tunes we wouldn’t have thought of before. To people we wouldn’t have thought of before.
Our repertoire expanded and so did Steve’s role in the band, displaying, in addition to his proficiency on the accordion, a hitherto unknown flair for fruit-shaped percussion. (What possesses someone to go into a music shop and buy pieces of fruit that are in fact musical instruments I don’t know. Or why anyone would make them, for that matter. But it always made the audience laugh when Steve got his pear out).
And then he met Sandra. Sandra is an itinerant English Language teacher, travelling the world wherever work takes her. It was clear to all that she was ‘the one’ and her long absences meant Steve would eventually choose between the girl and the band. A no-brainer really. And off they went – first Egypt, then Namibia and finally Azerbaijan. Steve documented their life together in writing and photographs, leaving a memorable audit trail for friends and family.
We last met in June 2010, during a brief trip back to the UK. Sitting in my garden on the very day I was to go into hospital for the lung resection, we talked about one-lunged singers, never imagining that we would not replay this scene again.
Death and taxes are the only certainties in life, according to Benjamin Franklin. I’d add one more – because with death (and perhaps taxes) invariably comes regret. Regret at a life not lived more fully or regret at letters unwritten, emails unsent, phone calls unmade. The Universe seems full of regrets – perhaps the shooting star we see on a starry night is not the soul of the dearly departed, as many like to think, but the manifestation of someone, somewhere bemoaning an action not taken.
But that could not be true in the case of Steve; he was not someone given to regret. His life was lived to the full with energy and enthusiasm. And a smile.
RIP Steve Hollier; you will be greatly missed. And thank you for the music.