It speaks volumes of the man and his impact on music in Hebden Bridge that I heard Mick West (aka Michael Linden West) far before I ever saw him or got to know him. In the summer of 1999, having just moved to the Nutclough, I started to hear the most marvellous live music performed from an adjacent house’s cellar. Lengthy, spiky Balkan instrumentals, played at breakneck speed by a cast of many with audibly consummate musicianship – I never got to hear them play in the flesh, nor get their name, but it didn’t surprise me to find out later that they were one of the many outfits Mick was playing with. Mick must have been involved in scores of bands over the years but most of the onesI got to hear him with seemed to have slightly bonkers names: Beastfish, Abrasive Pheasants, the Electric Brains – all suggesting punk sensibilities to go with his effortless command of a range of instruments and styles.
I got to know Mick at the weekly Open Mic Nights at the Stubbings in the mid-2000s , a glowering, moody presence (or at least that’s how he liked to portray himself), who combined an off-the-wall choice of songs with superb delivery and a wicked sense of humour. I discovered that in amongst his encyclopaedic musical interests we both had a compulsive obsession for all things to do with the Canterbury music scene, Gong and Van der Graaf Generator. So much so, that although we never exchanged many words at the time, on more than one occasion I’d be completely disarmed by a track he plucked out of nowhere to perform, which would have meant little to anyone present except me. On one occasion it was Daevid Allen’s ‘I Am A Freud’ (original here), a satire on psychiatry, transposed from its original fairground organ to Mick’s acoustic guitar and containing the memorable line ‘It’s rather naughty to be forty and still not sold’; the other Peter Hammill’s ‘Time For A Change’, (original here) where Mick’s falsetto acted out the role of a headmaster asking a little boy what he wanted to be when he ‘grew up’. I can still remember the shivers going down my spine.
Beastfish, 2017 – Mick West is far right
Mick performed at mine and Georgina’s engagement do in 2006 – making light of a haphazardly arranged musical evening to croon away over a dodgy PA with his usual blend of soulful singing and crazed tunes, with his trademark cover of ‘Poisoning the Pigeons in the Park’ taking centrestage. Returning to the tapes of these earlier this week, I realised he’d also performed equally inappropriate material including the theme tune to Prisoner Cell Block H, plus another Tom Lehrer tune extolling the perils of marriage! They brought the house down… He later performed a duet (on violin) with old friend and collaborator Paul Weatherhead. In what seems now doubly poignant, another performer that night was Josh Phillips, a good friend of Mick (they recorded music together as the Tropes), who tragically died, also way too young, a couple of weeks later.
Lots of things make me smile when I think about Mick – Saz’s ‘glam’ party on the Nutclough in 2005 when half of the Hebden menfolk turned up in drag – I have an indelible memory of Mick fast asleep in a chair in the early hours, his ‘skirt’ ridden up around his knees. Or when he recounted the tale of confiding to a fellow Hebdenite about being worried that he displayed many of traits of Asperger’s syndrome, only to be approached the next week by a friend concerned that he’d been given an Asbo, the Hebden rumourmill having gone into overdrive. His self-appointed ‘office’ at Marcos cafe where he’d enjoy a morning (or afternoon) coffee. Or at the height of the Happy Slapping fad – when tagged by a few strangers in Hebden, Mick, being blissfully unaware of the meme, had taken it at face value and slapped back even harder!
photo 2017 by Pam West
Mick was an understated musical genius – there will be many musical projects I simply didn’t hear about from his many years as a performer – I saw him mostly as keyboard player with the Electric Brains, performing in a variety of guises with the Ukrainians (for whom he is credited with playing mandolin, guitar, piano, trumpet, duda, oud, cello and euphonium!) and heard more recently that he’d worked with Damo Suzuki from Can, and allegedly turned down a job as bassist with New Model Army. When I did finally did get to see him again it was with the wonderful Beastfish at Kozfest down in Devon, reviewed here. In fact he was due to play with them again over Easter in Glastonbury. He was so versatile and creative.
I didn’t get to know Mick as much as I’d have liked to – other people I know had that real privilege. There were always plans to swap more tapes, books, and go to gigs together that due to my own disorganisation didn’t materialise. But we’d chatted recently and were equally excited about him playing at Kozfest again this year. He had a clever, sardonic wit that showed not just in conversation or when performing but also in his postings on a variety of forums and social media outlets under a series of pseudonyms – showing a wry, generous, self-deprecating humour that was very much the antithesis of today’s keyboard warrior. As has been said elsewhere, you’d struggle to find anyone with a bad word to say about him. Mick, you will be missed in so many ways…
Mick in Abrasive Pheasant mode
posted by Phil Howitt, April 2018