A week ago Big Al was felled by a heart attack. I, like many others, will miss his warm-hearted company and he has loomed large in my thoughts this past seven days.
While not a regular attendee at Wild Hare Club events, Alastair helped quite a bit over the years, not least by always being happy to take a bundle of flyers and posters and distribute them around Hay and beyond. Whenever he did roll up, I knew immediately that the night would be all the better for both his company and an ever-helping hand. One birthday he presented me with a rope bag filled with heavy duty builders’ clips – incredibly helpful for putting up drapes and banners – and now an essential piece of kit. A life of putting on events, meant that he spotted things that needed doing and addressed them without a fuss.
I am trying to remember when and where I first met Alastair and can’t pin it down exactly, strange for someone so striking but it was a long time ago - close on 40 years I reckon. Alastair was a friend of my sister, Gilly and her other half, Dave, and a regular at their flat in Bristol close to the Old England pub. I remember him coming around for a second, leisurely breakfast and having a long chat about Greenpeace (an organization I would later spend over 20 years working for) and Bob Dylan. Dylan’s record Infidels had just come out, signaling a return to the secular we hoped, which makes the year 1983. (Sorry can’t help it, music is how I mark the passing of the years, I can pretty well remember where I first heard any tune). I suppose that’s the point when it felt he became my friend too: I liked it that he always had time for me and indeed everyone else. Except for ‘the man’ that is of course, for Alastair’s life was defiantly anti-corporate.
It’s odd that first proper memory is of Alastair indoors, because most of my time spent with Alastair was outdoors at festivals and parties or him pulling up to see Dave about something needing the expert woodworker’s help and usually to do with one of the many individual vehicles or trailers that passed through his hands over the years. There was no guessing who the primrose yellow pick-up with the silver painted chassis – (to make it easier to see what’s happening underneath) - might belong to. Stained glass skylight for the Merriweather fire engine? Help with a Wall’s Ice Cream trailer which was brushed down to the aluminium and served as a great DJ booth for me for Gilly’s 50th birthday. Whenever he rolled-up here, I would down tools and shoot the breeze for a bit because I loved his stories and the dream of whatever was next on the horizon. Travelling circus aboard a barge down the broad, majestic Shannon anyone?
Sitting, chatting round the fire at any number of festivals, pouring tea at Spring Greens, digging a trench in the clear-up after a hurricane washed out Preseli Folk Festival (see here), this is how I will remember Alastair.
He also helped with Stas’ and my ‘100 years of Richard and Stas’ bash a few years back, providing a tent and an ingenious fold-out bar that set the scene and was the heart of the party. For various reasons this particular party - though enjoyed by many - proved to be hard work, but the day after the day after is the one I remember as a halcyon one. Alastair, my old school friend, Wol, (though known to most of the world as Bill) who was over from New Zealand and I took our time and chatted as we packed up the tent and other bits and pieces. It was a glorious September day as we drove through the aptly named Golden Valley to stash all the gear in his lock up on a farm near Hay. Swallows swooped around us and there was a dusty glow to the whole day. Wol and I marveled at all the odd bits and pieces that could transform a field or hall -such as the green velvet curtains that I later bought off Al and that provide instant glamour to the back of a stage. Once everything was safely put away, we drove into Hay where we stopped to have a drink and bask in the late afternoon sunshine outside Shepherds. Friends, generous and kind, they count for a lot in this world, that is what I remember thinking then.
A bear hug from Alastair stays with you and I am thankful for that.
Picture of Alastair courtesy of Richard Shakespeare.