Tag Archives: Motown

Hannah Northedge

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We never met. We had planned to a few times, but nothing worked out. She was terribly busy and I had commitments that kept me on the go. We had one main thing in common. Music. We shared stories about our musical adventures and the kinds of music we loved most. Blues and Soul were our common denominator. She was a woman born too late in time. And time finally ran out.

We met on Facebook, as so many do, 3 years ago. A friend of mine had taken some singing lessons with her and we connected through him. She graciously accepted my friend invitation and off we went. I enjoyed her wit and humour. Her posts were audacious and full of satirical commentary on today’s world. Hannah would love to have lived in an earlier era from the 1930s to the 1960s. She loved the clothing of those days. Vintage clothing shops were her niche.

As was her passion for coffee. Many of her posts were either of her drinking coffee or talking about it. We both love Costa Coffee. Even as a fitness buff, going for walks or a run, she would have a cup of coffee in her hand, videoing the journey and chatting to us about this and that. She loved certain areas of London. Her walks and runs through the park around Crystal Palace were memorable for her love of the place. It was like going on the jaunt with her.

We shared a love of music, the old stuff mostly. The Blues, Motown and Jazz and some of the older, wartime songs. She was over 20 years younger than I am at the moment but she talked as if she was even older than I am. Very youthful and in tremendous shape. She had a way of showing her elegant and sexy self without flaunting it or going over a line. Hannah seemed to me to be as conservative as she was sassy. Such a vivacious personality.

I taught guitar lessons from my garden studio in Kent. She taught vocal lessons. We both had problems with students who refused to pay our fees, hers being considerably more than what I charged. But the principal is the same. Fair price for good services rendered. We bitched about our no-shows and people who took advantage of our good natures, our sense of fair play and all that. Often she mentioned a piece of music that I had either recently played or taught. That would spark another lengthy discussion on Messenger.

Apparently, our Ms. Northedge was a bit of a celebrity. She acted in a film with Elijah Wood and John Hurt, ‘The Oxford Murders’. She sang before the Queen and Tony Blair. She was a trained Classical singer who started up a Blues choir, recruiting local singers to join and enjoy singing classic Blues and Motown tunes. I knew about the choir. She asked me once to come along and try out. But lazy old me never bothered. The rest of her celebrity status, including being a judge on a TV show called ‘Live and Unsigned’, had to do with the gigs she played with her trio at many venues around the country. I knew nothing of this about her. She was, at least to me, never low-key, but down-to-earth as the expression goes and always accessible. It was almost as if she both craved attention and detested it at the same time.

Somewhere along the line, she began talking about an illness that caused her pain and required a complete change in diet. Some may have been privileged to know what it was. She never identified it by name. I imagined it was some form of Crohn’s Disease. She asked advice online from all her followers for things she could eat, recipes for certain foods and later sought advice on how to manage the pain she experienced.

The last year was the worst. She began fretting about her condition and the pain she was in. She said doctors told her she was imagining the illness, but Hannah insisted to us all that it was not in her imagination. She said she needed to have it resolved soon or she would die. Her last posts were a cry for help. She was convinced she was going to die and would anyone please write her story and share it with the world. In one of our chats, she had remembered that I had written 2 books. She said she also enjoyed my Blogs about the boating life. Would I please write her story.

I wasn’t sure at this point if Hannah was losing it or was genuinely ill and undiagnosed. She had a madness to her approach to certain things, like claiming that men followed her, shouting lude and suggestive things to her in public. It all became quite worrying. I was never sure about the mental state of Hannah at times. But I promised her I would tell her story. She gave me the name of her dearest friend, begging me to get hold of the friend if anything happened to her. Then there was silence.

Hannah could do that sometimes. She would come off Facebook and there would be no posts for a time. Then she’d roar back as if it were her fans who had been away. After one of these times, I thought I’d check. I went on her Facebook site and saw that the last Post was the one in which she had more or less said goodbye to all of us. I was reading the many comments added to her post, including mine. People were saying how sorry they were about her being gone. Gone where? Did she leave the country to seek medical help elsewhere?

As I read more comments, things took a sinister turn. I decided to Google her, and there it was. All the newspapers were saying that the female body found at the bottom of the cliffs at Beachy Head was that of Hannah Northedge. I was stunned to say the least. Couldn’t believe it. The articles all said that she had been staying at the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne on the south coast of England. Beachy Head has always been a spot where people go to end their lives. The cliffs are high and there is no barrier at the edge to stop would-be jumpers. The hotel is a couple of miles from the cliffs.

Hannah must have been that desperate to have done such a thing. But, if nothing else, it was as dramatic an exit as her life had been lived. Was it mental illness? Was it a disease the medical profession could not detect? A bit of both? I have no idea. I can only hope her family received some answers to those questions after the fact.

I sent a message to Hannah’s best friend, stating that she had asked me to contact her for information for the book I had promised to write. I have not, to this point, heard back. I have the feeling I never will. As far as I’m concerned, this chapter in my own life is concluded. I wish we had met. We had so much in common. Hannah was a force of nature to be sure. Those who spent time with her knew what an amazing person she was. A great sense of humour and a good heart. She shall be missed.

2nd Annual Village Idiots Convention

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2nd Annual Village Idiots Convention

What’s in a name? Lots, I think. Especially if you live with a moniker all or most of your life. I’ve had a few over my lifetime. I won’t put most of them in print. My best friend calls me Lazbo. I don’t mind that one. Friends I’ve had and have, have had and have monikers. Can’t remember them for the most part. There was a guy called Mouse I seem to recall. One of my favourite films is The Sandlot. I love the monikers the young lads who play baseball in their local park give each other. Everyone has to have one.

Every culture has them. Some characteristic of a person screams out a name, complimentary or derogatory, that depicts the person’s personality. It may also be a name an individual takes on for him or herself, usually after a fictitious character or a hero of the past. “I am Sparticus” comes to mind as one. But that’s more a joke than anything.

People change their names for all sorts of reasons. I had a friend in Canada whose last name was Greedy. He had it changed to Grady. Showbiz folk are notorious for taking on different names. John Wayne’s first name is really Marion. I would have changed that too. Michael Keaton was born Michael Douglas. That change makes sense too. Michael Caine is really Maurice Micklewhite, which would probably work today. Elton John is Reginald Kenneth Dwight. Ben Kingsley is Krishna Pandit Bhanji. Woody Allen was born Allen Konigsburg and Bruno Mars was born Peter Gene Hernandez. My favourite is the one taken by one of my music heroes, Elvis Costello. He was born Declan Patrick McManus.

Monikers are something else entirely….nicknames given to friends and family members. When Madonna was younger, she was known as Little Nonnie. Brad Pitt is Pitt Bull to his friends. Al Capone was known as Scarface, but never to his face. His friends called him Snorky. I wouldn’t have. When I went to high school in Canada, I had two friends who were known as Vic The Wop and Steve The Greek. You can guess why and they never minded.

Another old high school mate was visiting England recently. He came to see his daughter who lives over here. Then he visited our boat. Wanted to see what made this lifestyle of mine so attractive. He was born Jim Pitkin. But I have always known him as Virgil Scott. We distinguish ourselves from the herd by giving ourselves the moniker of 2 Village Idiots. We met up in London last year for the 1st Annual Village Idiots Convention. This was the second annual event.

The convention involves drinkng beer and making frequent visits to the loo. We are old Village Idiots you see. A village from our own warped imaginations. We have both seen and experienced enough in our lives to know that only true idiots can survive the nonsense going on around us. And we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Well, I don’t anyway.

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2nd Annual Village Idiots Convention at Apsley, Hertfordshire.

Virgil came by his name from a band he fronted back in our high school days, ‘The Innocence of Virgil Scott’. I think he, or one of the other members of the band, told me long ago that the band name came from a book or a poem. The closest reference I can find is Scott’s long poem about Virgil called ‘The Innocence’. Who knows? The band later shortened the name to ‘The Innocence’ because, I suppose, Jimbo had taken on the name Virgil Scott.

Since high school, Virgil has had a long and mad adventure in the music industry in Canada, working with some of the top people in the business. After high school, he improved his singing voice by taking vocal lessons from a professional voice coach and going to college in a music program noted for putting out some of the best in Canada. Virgil has written songs, jingles and the like and is known for his love of the old Motown music. I once played sax in a band that was the Toronto equivelent to the Dublin Commitments story. I love Motown too. We share that love, Virgil and me.

We took different paths after high school. Virgil did some theatre, studied music and then went into the music business. I went into business, then became a missionary and then a preacher. When I woke up from that nightmare at age 53, I went back into music (and writing). Now I am about to busk and he says he’s retiring. “Tired of lugging everything from gig to gig,” he says. He’ll continue to play small venues now and again, but that’s it. And he is always looking out for that next great act to promote.

Virgil was one of the cool guys in high school who hung around with the cool crowd. I hung around with the jocks even though I wasn’t one. I did play a season of football (the American type Canadian style) but I was rubbish. I studied music in high school too and that was my connection with Virgil. We’ve kept in touch in recnt years on Facebook and at a couple of high school reunions we’ve attended.

I’m not sure how we got going with the village idiot stuff. It began at a funeral we attended for another high school mate a few years ago. And it stuck. Others have tried to join but it is an exclusive club, if you can call it that. During this visit, Virgil regaled my best friend and me with tales old and new, all with the aplomb and colour of a sports commentator and always entertaining.

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Virgil relaxing on our boat.

I think Virgil was impressed with my living conditions. He even said as much. He was very comfortable on our sofa and stayed quite a while longer than he had first expected. He’ll be back next October to visit his daughter and preside over the 3rd Annual Village Idiots Convention. Not sure where we’ll be with the boat by then, but we’ll meet up somewhere, have a brew or two and reminisce. And, while I’m on the subject, here’s to village idiots everywhere.

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Virgil alongside the Glad Victor.