Memories of Matthew. Part One.
In the period 1967 to 1986 I had a fish and chip shop in the heart of the Headingley student area close to the Oak and Skyrack pubs. At that time it was a much more mixed environment than the predominately student population of today. A very cosmopoliton mix of artists, musicians, sportsmen and lecturers and professors from the University formed a large part of my customers.
That was an amazing period of alternative culture and I was used to every kind of outrageous behaviour and appearence in and around the shop, so when I first began to see… be aware … of Matthew with his Mohican haircut and then when he had the star shaved in his hair he just seemed to be another part of that culture.
I can’t remember the first time we met, he just became part of my Headingley experience. At first it was just the sight of him schlepping through the streets carrying or dragging (he had a kind of shopping trolley for his sax at one time) his alto around; always with his alto… going to busk or on the way to a gig; or just in case. Then I would see him at gigs in the pubs around there, the Royal Park was a regular venue of his and it didn’t have to be his gig either… he would just turn up and start to play. This was before the Works was formed.
One vivid memory of this was once at a gig at the old Tartan Bar in the University Students Union. The Don Weller Quartet had been booked for the night and Matthew turned up at half time and he asked Weller if he could sit in with the band. Don was less than enthusiastic and politely said no. Matthew, undeterred, after the break, sat down in an empty seat on the front row and took out his sax and played along, totally absorbed. It didn’t take long for Weller, a big dour guy, to suggest that maybe Matthew should take his sax and leave, in the strongest possible terms. He just shrugged and smiled, he had a wonderfully disarming smile did Matthew, and he left.
Once he came into my shop and asked me to put up a flier for an event he was he was organising. He wanted to set up a jam for 200 sax players at the Belle Vue Community centre close by. “Just imagine” he said “200 saxes, all blowin’ like mad, all in one place… I’ve written some music for it too”. When I saw that the date for the proposed extravaganza was April 1st, I queried it, but was met with, “No, honest, it’s gonna be great”. As I was heavily into photography I just thought what a brilliant opportunity it would be for maybe some great shots and I turned up at the appointed time.
He had put fliers up all over leeds asking for people to come and play and on the day, a fair number of local saxophonists did turn up, including Chris “Snake” Davis, the now quite famous soul sax exponent and quite a few people from the Leeds College of music.
He didn’t turn up himself of course and when I him asked why the next time I saw him, he was quite unapologetic and said… “well, it was April 1st… what did you expect”.
After 19 mad years in that fish and chip shop, I sought what I thought would be the comparitive peace of working with my wife Joan in the more pleasently perfumed surroundings of a flower shop we opened near the University which was to play a part in a poignant sequel to the Xero Slingsby story, but of that, more later.