More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Dave Gregory

Dave Gregory was someone I was aware of for many years, but didn't really know. I used to wonder who the interesting-looking man with the big beard was when I'd see him walking into town along Bootham. Later, when I learnt he was a luthier, I took my guitars to him for set-ups and services. But I only got to know him a little better after I began to play guitar with Susie, his life partner, when we would practise round at theirs or ours. Usually he'd be beavering away in the workshop, but he would sometimes come in and ask if I'd like a cup of tea, or something stronger. Susie always said that he'd like to play with us, but didn't want to muscle in. I always thought what a great idea, as I instinctively knew he'd be a wonderful addition whatever he was playing. Sadly for me, because of one thing or another he never did get round to playing with us.
Dave with one of his mandolins
P and I were looking forward to seeing the two of them at our anniversary party. So you can imagine how shocked we were to find a note from Susie a couple of days before, saying they wouldn't be coming as Dave had died. I knew that his health had been up and down recently but never imagined for a moment that anything like this might happen. Sadly, he suffered a massive brain haemorrhage on the previous day and had died early that morning. Needless to say, our thoughts went immediately to Susie, and Peter, their son, and the rest of their family. At the same time though, I felt deeply affected by the news. I asked myself was it because I too had nearly died at precisely this time last year, and yet, here I was a year later.  Life is a lottery and nothing hammered this home more than the news of Dave's tragic and untimely demise. Life can be such a brute for many people, and there but for fortune go all of us.
The chapel at York Cemetery
I dropped Susie an email asking her to call in if she needed to talk or even just a change of scenery. I remembered from experience how lonely the time before a funeral can be. P and I were so pleased when Susie came round a few days later, as it's hard to know what to do to help when someone dies, especially as I'm not well enough yet to do practical things. Susie discussed the arrangements she'd been making for the funeral - a private cremation in the morning, a public celebration of Dave's life in the afternoon at York Cemetery, a magical, old Victorian non-denominational graveyard (one of only two in the UK), and culminating in a buffet and a few tunes in the Golden Ball, the community co-operative pub that Susie has a share in.

We decided we would aim to go to the celebration of Dave's life, but not the buffet at the Golden Ball as I'm good for nothing in the evenings and one event per day is as much as I can manage. So if anyone who went and has photos or something to add to this post, I'd be very pleased to insert it.

It was a lovely walk up to the chapel yesterday, with the daffodils, hellebores, euphorbias, primroses, pussy willows and several other spring flowers in bloom. Although the sky was grey, the verdant opulence of the ancient site more than compensated.
Spring flowers along the wayside on the walk up to the chapel
Some of the old gravestones, over time leaning away from the prevailing wind
Although we arrived a good fifteen minutes early, the chapel was already jam-packed, eventually being standing-room only with 200+ people. We managed to get a couple of the last seats and settled down with a friend to await the start of  proceedings.
Inside the chapel
Everyone had been asked to bring along any Gregory instruments they had, resulting in upwards of thirty on display at the front of the chapel. Pete Mitchell, an old friend of Dave's and partner in crime in Los Yobos and the Hot Not Bothered Ceilidh Band, did a great job as master of ceremonies. As the occasion was completely secular, the celibratory music was provided by The Lennanshees singing It Must Be Love and Mike Taverner, Gil Stapleton, Burt Sawdon sang and played Going Home, with an enthusiastic contribution from the congregation. The exit music was a selection of Dave's mandolin playing compiled by Pete Mitchell.
There were moving and sometimes amusing contributions from Susie, Peter, Dave's mum, and his sister, as well as many spontaneous recollections from the floor. It was truly a massive tribute to the man to experience the genuine and sizeable love and admiration that Dave inspired in so many people.
His spirit shines on through those twinkling eyes
Cut to the guitars. I couldn't begin to guess how many hours had gone into the making of all those beautiful instruments. Many things were said about Dave, but one of the most telling was the legacy he has left in the instruments he made. Dave Ashworth said that every time you pick up a Gregory instrument, it's like playing a duet with Dave, the point being that all of them have the unique Gregory sound that will live on as long as they're played. 

Of course, Peter also is a wonderful living legacy. I'd never met him before the funeral, when I couldn't help thinking what a handsome and confident son Susie and Dave had raised. Also Dave was an organ donor and his kidneys and liver are now keeping three other people alive. 

These photos give an idea of the craft and artistry of the man:
My concert ukulele sitting proudly on the left. Photo © Pete Mitchell
Photo © Pete Mitchell
Photo © Pete Mitchell


Photo © Pete Mitchell
When Dave heard I was ill and was too weak to play guitar, he sent his proto concert ukulele round with Susie bearing the message, please play it in and hang on to it as long as you need it. Although I'd never had any aspiration to play the ukulele, I took Dave's message to heart and indeed did play it every morning and it became an important part of my recovery over the following months. I looked forward to my sessions teaching myself the chords and learning a few songs to play with Susie. I grew very attached to it and asked Dave several times if I could buy it, always met with the advice that I'd be better buying one from the local music shop, Red Cow. When at last I did manage to persuade him to sell it to me, instead of singing its praises as any other maker might have done, telling me what a great instrument I was getting, no, Dave mumbled uncomfortably, Well I suppose you'll never find another uke with a lacewood back and sides!'
.
I'll remember Dave as a true master craftsman, but also as the modest and kind human being he undoubtedly was too. Just one other thing: On my final guitar session with Pete Mitchell before I got ill, he gave me the tab for Richard Thompson's Beeswing. I'd been working on it recently and on the morning of the funeral I woke up with a couple of lines from the chorus ringing in my ears. I remember thinking that if the song was about a man, it could easily be Dave - He was a rare thing, Fine as a bee's wing. And that, for me, says it all.

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