Tag Archives: The Blues

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.

Vigil

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I am a great fan of The Blues. Music that is, not the feeling. Although I’ve had my most profound thoughts while under the influence of the blue mood. But today I hold a vigil for one of the great players of Blues music, the king of the Blues Mr. B.B. King (aka Riley B. King). As I write this, I am aware only that Mr. King is in a hospice and I’m not sure he’ll ever come out alive. You never know. The man is 89 years old. Great innings if you ask me. I wish we all could live forever, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards. I’m not getting into any religious debate about us going on after death. All I know is that when Mr. King leaves us in the flesh….inevitably….you shall not see him again in concert.

That’s how I first saw him ‘Live’ in 1972. At a mob run hotel in north Toronto, Canada. Dinner and a show with my then girlfriend. I had BB’s records, on vinyl and cassette tape back then, and wanted to see the great man live. He would have been in his late forties by then. I followed him in the 1960s, but only on vinyl. Everyone raves about his Live at the Regal album from 1965 (recorded at the Regal Theatre in Chicago in 1964). I preferred his Live and Well album from 1969 with one side live and the other recorded in the studio. I must have played that over and over until the grooves wore through. Then I bought Completely Well when it came out a little later containing The Thrill is Gone. Had to wait years for the CDs of both to be released.

Those two albums cemented my listening relationship with the great man. They were responsible for my lifelong, from the age of 18, obsession with Mr. King’s music which goes back to the 1940s and especially in the 1950s. I knew little about the man, just his music. No internet back in the 70s that I had access to and the only info on anything could be found at libraries and in book stores. I was too lazy back then to bother. I had other important things to do that involved the opposite sex, so finding out about Mr. King came only from stories I heard here and there from super fans. That all changed in the mid 1990s when a friend bought me ‘Every Day I Sing The Blues: The Story of B.B. King’ by David Shirley. Not that well written, but factual. And just a couple of years ago in 2012, Guitarist Magazine came out with an issue all about Mr. King with an hour-long DVD documentary on his life….interviews with the great man and well-known fellow musicians adding their comments. A treasure.

All very enlightening. One thing comes through anything I’ve seen and read. B.B. King is a legend in his own time and a gentleman always. He began life in the Mississippi Delta as a sharecropper. His wanderings took him to Memphis where he honed his guitar skills while DJing at a radio station. He was known as the ‘Beale Street Blues Boy’, later to be shortened to BB. Mr. King truly paid his dues during the 1950s and even through the 1960s. Then his big hit came with ‘The Thrill is Gone’ and he never looked back. The power of his voice and his unique style of playing the guitar he calls Lucille, stand out above so many others. The power has been there even into his 80s. Mr. King is presently 89, his 90th, if he makes it, will be on September 16th. Don’t count him out.

B.B. King has not only done well himself. He has championed a number of Blues musicians and others over hisĀ  long career. Young musicians have benefitted from Mr. King endorsing them or having them play with him on stage. He has helped a lot of people. He sang The Thrill is gone with the likes of Pavarotti and many others and has released a Hip Hop version of the same tune. The man has been around. A series of albums came out in the 1990s with B.B. King hosting some of the greats like Eric Clapton. Anyone who is anybody, musically speaking, has worked with or performed and recorded duets with B.B. King. I love it all.

Blues music has been a part of my upbringing thanks to my dad. He gave us a solid foundation in the 1960s with the likes of Lightnin’ Hopkins and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. But he never liked electric Blues. That was left to me to discover and then play. The versatility of the electric guitar has given the Blues that extra push into mainstream music. The Blues today is as popular in countries like Japan and Sweden as it is in Britain and America. Blues Festivals are held all over the world each year to keep the music alive. It still has a great following. Every so many years, Eric Clapton holds a Crossroads Festival in America to raise money for a rehab centre he has in Antigua where musicians who need help can go. He invites some of the top guitarists to join him to play the Blues and its derivative music. B.B. King has played at a couple of them. He always gets the biggest applause. He is respected by everyone everywhere. A tribute indeed.

My eldest daughter is a professional singer/songwriter these days. We have sung some Blues together in the past. We were quite well-known in our local areas for me accompanying her while she sang Tracy Chapman’s ‘Gimme One Reason’. She has a powerful voice and loves singing the Blues. In 1997, when B.B. King was 72 years old, I took my daughter to see the great man at Massey Hall in Toronto. We were way up high on the left, facing the stage. My daughter was mesmerised. The man came out on stage and had to sit that night as he has for some years now because of a medical condition. His singing and playing seemed as powerful to me as they had back in the hotel years before. After the performance, he stayed onstage and greeted people who came to the front to get a closer look. That touched my daughter. She is a fan for life.

I have heard people say they were disappointed while attending one of BB’s concerts in recent years. They say he has become quite forgetful and misses cues and such. But like I always say, you are seeing a legend who keeps touring for the love of it and for his fans. Give him a break. When the great man goes, I’ll call my daughter and we’ll have a moment of reflection together. The world may never see the likes of such a man again. He has touched so many lives in so many ways and somehow remains as humble now as he was in the beginning. Not a false humility mind you. Just the kind that knows a gift has been given and ought never be abused. And so I hold this vigil for this great man. The Thrill is still with us. May he continue to be so.

EPILOGUE: It is with great sadness that I learned of Mr. King’s death. As far as I can tell, he died at his place in Las Vegas. I have a T-shirt with the logo of his Blues club in that city. I shall treasure it. It was brought back by one of my guitar students who loves the Blues. She has been learning Blues riffs from me and plays a mean solo for The Thrill is Gone. I’m sure Mr. King would be proud. Goodnight Mr. King. We’ll miss you.