Earlier this week I received the very sad news of the death of David Wragg AKA ‘Long Dave’, with whom I traversed the country in the Nineties in search of our common love of Canterbury scene music. His wife Kate contacted me over the weekend to say that Dave had had a short but serious illness and was in the final stages of his life. Sadly he died the next morning. I thought it might be a fitting tribute to Dave to muse over some of the times we spent together as it’s also almost a diary of my own live Canterbury education and will hopefully encapsulate a lot of the excitement of, as Kate put it in her note, sharing a musical journey together over the years.
In the early days of Facelift I left a communal house in Manchester, surrounded by the detritus of 4 years of student excess, to live in a bedsit in West Didsbury, paying £25 a week (and it was literally that, the landlord took great delight in intruding every Saturday morning to collect his rent in cash). In somewhat grotty and claustrophobic surroundings I was probably going somewhat mad, and initially my sanity was only really maintained by the fanzine. This was 1990, and not only was the world of fanzinedom pre-internet and mobile phone, but I didn’t even have a landline. Even post wasn’t safe, as I found out when I discovered that another bedsit resident was routinely rifling through the post downstairs and emptying envelopes of the cash which correspondents often sent from foreign climes for their subscriptions.
Into this gloomy world a few people rescued me from my introspection by turning up announced without any prior connection. All became good friends. Martin Wakeling, who was on the point of starting his Kevin Ayers fanzine ‘Why Are We Sleeping’; Nick Loebner, who would carry out several of Facelift’s interviews; … and Long Dave. They all tracked me down, somewhat bravely, through the address printed on inside the front cover of Facelift. Dave turned up one day, all 7 foot of him (or so it appeared), a decade older than me with long straight hair and slightly unsure of what to say. He didn’t seem overly phased by the chaos surrounding me and we chatted about our common love of music, most probably National Health and Steve Hillage who he’d seen gigging together in the late Seventies. Dave was working over at Whalley Range High School as a science technician, as he was to do for a number of years, and continued to regularly pop by after work thereafter – he was actually then living over in Mossley, right on the edge of the Pennines.
We started to go to gigs together. I can’t remember which would have been the first one, but I assume we saw some jazz gigs together at the Band on the Wall, maybe Keith Tippett? We certainly saw some of the many Gong Maison and later Gong gigs together elsewhere Manchester. We went a lot to the Witchwood, an extraordinary lowkey club over in Ashton-under-Lyne which seemed to be like a social club which periodically went psychedelic: mutually interesting bands seemed to appear there regularly: Daevid Allen, Mother Gong, Arthur Brown, Here and Now all played there. We laughed our heads off (Dave had a quite distinctive guffaw) at the various Wizards of Twiddly gigs both there and PJ Bells. When we met up for gigs in Manchester with some of my younger Gong-head friends, Dave would sort of deliberately merge into the background, whilst at smaller more jazzy gigs he would make a point of going to speak to the musicians playing. He had a lovely down to earth manner which enabled him to talk to musicians as peers, unlike my own tongue-tied tendency to put them on pedestals.
Dave had a trusty if rather ancient van, I think it may have been an Bedford estate or something similar and this opened up new avenues for me. We travelled far and wide in search of gigs in the early Nineties: Wolverhampton to see Caravan in 1991 for my 25th birthday, a Daevid Allen solo gig in Stoke where a tripping punter ruined the performance by ranting throughout the night, (his misplaced love for Daevid degenerated into shouting all over his ballads and poetry), Richard Sinclair’s RSVP in Chester which teamed up Richard with a dream band including, I think, Patrice Meyer and Didier Malherbe, and much later on with Brainville, back in Stoke, where Hugh Hopper and Pip Pyle joined us at the bar between sets. Wherever the gig was, Dave always had it meticulously planned: details of the venue, likely start time of the band, suggested pick up time for me, and nominated CAMRA pub we would visit pre-gig, because Dave also had an encyclopaedic knowledge of real ale hostelries and what guest beers would likely be put on. The pubs weren’t always particularly salubrious: the era of widescale microbreweries and craft beer gentrification was years ahead, Dave just wanted a good pint and was prepared to put in the hard yards to track it down. I was blissfully unaware of the merits of decent ale when I first met Dave, but have taken it on as a personal mission to self-educate myself thoroughly in the intervening years.
A few gigs stand out: Dave was more of a connoisseur of guitarists than myself, and with the dropped aitches of a fellow East Midlander, was never happier than when talking about ‘oldsworth or ‘illage, but top of the tree for him was Phil Miller. It was therefore a no-brainer when we got the chance to put on the Phil Miller/Fred Baker duo in Manchester, both were held in such high esteem that Dave even referred to them by their first names. Naïve to the extreme in our earliest forays into gig promotion, we managed to procure a cheap venue, better known for rocking out on a Saturday night, promising the owner that he’d make his money back on beer from the hordes who’d turn up. Charlie, the owner, took us at our word and at no point put the radiators on, clearly expecting aggregate body heat to do that particular job. We managed to assemble 50 or so extremely keen but frostbitten punters for an evening of extremely beautiful music where Dave got to put on two of his heroes. It’s a treasured memory.
Somewhat at the other end of the scale, as posted elsewhere on the Facelift website, was a journey with Dave, myself and aforementioned Nick and then wife Julie to see Richard Sinclair’s Caravan of Dreams over in Rotherham, part of a series of gigs put on by the Classic Rock Society. After an interminable journey via Snake Pass we finally got to the venue, I think for once not on time, presumably because Dave hadn’t been in charge of the itinerary, and somewhat farcically in Nick’s Fiat Uno, farcical because Dave was cooped up in the back seat, legs around his ears. Still at least for once he could properly sample the full range of local beers, as he was excused from driving for the night. At some point during the first set Julie remembered having left a pan of soup boiling on the hob back home in Moss Side, and early tracks were overshadowed by some frantic calls on a payphone in the foyer back to Manchester to people who might be able to check. At one point a friend was dispatched from Fallowfield (somewhat further south) to the house to check for potential signs of smoke, but the house appeared to be intact.
Still somewhat worried, we didn’t hang about for an encore after the second set, a shame as we’d built a rapport with Richard, wife Heather, Rick Biddulph and Andy Ward from previous gigs, and ‘raced’ back over the Pennines to ascertain the damage. Somewhere in Hyde there was an acrid pall of smoke inside the vehicle as the ‘electrics’ caught fire and we came to a rapid halt. Cometh the hour cometh the man, and after I had suggested smothering the flames with a coat, Dave more creatively offered to extinguish the tackle the incident with, as Nick later put it, ‘a stream of his own urine’. The offer was declined, although Dave maintained to the last that it might have saved the car. An hour’s wait in the cold waiting for the pick up truck later, we arrived back at Moss Side to discover a pan burnt to a crisp, but mercifully, a relatively unscathed house. The car did not survive the experience.
We went to fewer gigs together in the Noughties and beyond: I’d moved out of Manchester (ironically to the same type of bleak mill town which Dave had vacated), whilst Dave found happiness with Kate and became a proud father of Matthew and Florence, and house husband to boot. We met up at various Gong gigs (I remember the a 2032 gig with Steve Hillage in the awful barn-like acoustics of the Academy, and more recently the Kavus-fronted band at the Gorilla, where Dave struggled with the manic light show and thundering sound). There might have been others too, my memory fails me, I hope he caught Soft Machine at the Band on the Wall with me as he would have appreciated John Marshall’s drumming and John Etheridge’s guitar work. But that sums Dave up, unostentatious, unfussy and unassuming… and most often with a pint in his hand.
Postscript: I’ve just found out that Dave’s funeral is on 29 January. He’d selected 5 pieces of music to be played at his service. These are:
Caravan: A Very Smelly, Grubby Little Oik
Gilgamesh: Arriving Twice
Kevin Ayers: Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes
Phil Miller/Fred Baker: Christine
Hatfield and the North: Share It
RIP Long Dave and all our very best wishes to Kate, Matthew, Florence and family