Saturday, May 14, 2016

Dave MacDonald and Fan Club

I found out yesterday that Dave MacDonald, of the legendary Brighton band Fan Club, has died. Fan Club existed before punk started, but Dave and Pete were people who were punks-in-waiting- probably like a lot of us.
Their 'gig home' was Brighton's Alhambra, that ramshackle and warm-hearted venue on the seafront that defied the weather and had an almost Venetian patina of homely wear and tear. It was demolished on the same day the cat killed my budgie- one of those awful ground-shattering changes (I'm going through something similar at the moment).
Dave and Pete (Smith, a window cleaner by trade) were defiant, poor (they lived in a house that had no hot water and not even a sink- a tap sprouted out of a wall in the 'kitchen' and yes, it was rented from a private landlord), and were ferociously friendly or unfriendly, depending on who you were. They loved dolly birds who dressed from charity shops and wore red lipstick (their song Deptford Bike Dollies was written about my friends Kim and Charlotte) but hated female sexiness and any sort of pretension. They had a big black bin bag of things like leopardskin cashmere jumpers and Dave would delve into it at random moments and present you with an item of clothing like indulgent uncle.
Around those times,  Dave worked as a breakfast waiter in a B&B.
They were really, really good song writers. I remember the first time I saw them; I'd never seen a Vox Teardrop guitar before and that was what Pete played. He would race across the stage, tossing his lank hair out of his eyes, while Dave roared into the microphone, a mad gleam in his eye.
Once, in the Alhambra, Dave had a whole load of iced sticky buns, which he threw around the place with abandon and managed to land one on the bar manager's head. Ahmed took it all is his stride; they packed venues because they were so entertaining. Dave didn't give a flying f*ck about anything and his richly-embroidered language strung their songs together exquisitely. They brought out a single called Night Caller which I still have a 7" vinyl copy of. They were far too anarchic and abrasive to appear on Brighton's Attrix label, a fact that gave them a certain cachet; by far their best song was a song called Moonbeam, which at a time of general hatred of guitar solos, had an absolutely heart meltingly beautiful guitar hook played by Pete. I had a copy of it on cassette because I was supposed to record some backing vocals on it, but they came all the way to London to a party at my house to steal it from me.
I managed to get a year's lease on a flat and they decided to move in with me, using a pincer movement. Using Pete as a lure (he became my chaste boyfriend for a while), followed up by Dave turning up after his morning shift at the B&B with a foil-wrapped package of hot bacon, half a loaf of sliced white Mother's Pride bread, a box of eggs and a pint of milk, they homed in on me. As soon as I realised what was happening I moved one of my brothers in instead!
I lost touch with them soon after that.
About ten years ago, Helen and the Horns played a gig at the Komedia in Brighton. When I got to the soundcheck, I was told that there had been a call from someone called Dave, and to call back.
It was him- I was so pleased to hear from him. He was working as a cleaner in an office and he had been throwing away that day's copy of Brighton's Evening Argus when he saw the gig advertised. I was delighted to put him and Pete on the guest list.
They sat a table on their own; Dave had changed very little- he was still the same cheeky Scot, cocking his head and smiling his lopsided smile. Pete had been living on the street and had lost a lot of his teeth, but he smiled and chatted as though no time had passed between then and then.
Oh that moment: simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. It was so touching that they had come along, and such a privilege to sit next to them, yet so sad that life had had so little to offer such talented people. Dave and Pete, I salute you, love you and treasure your independence of spirit and the ability to be both bad lads and completely charming at the same time.
This year, lots of our generation's icons have died. I have felt ambivalent about some of them- those remote pop stars that we didn't actually know (though we felt that we did) who sound-tracked our teenage years. Ari and Poly are the people from those times who I would have liked to grow old with, both making new music before they died, and I mourned them along with other people who I now realise belonged to a niche subculture.
But the most important people are the people we have shared the ups and downs of our lives with- the people we chose as family when our nearest were not always so dearest. I wrote about Vi Subversa a few weeks ago, a woman who was a real treasure and who ultimately touched a lot more people with her music than Dave did. But I am writing this because to me, and to the Deptford Bike Dollies and all those other people who packed the Alhambra out on wet and windy Brighton nights, Dave MacDonald was a joy to know- a rogue, a catalyst, a waiter, a songwriter, an adversary, a bright spark and a wonderful friend. Goodnight Dave.


Rich C said...

Lovely words Helen

Helen McCookerybook said...

Thank you Richard. It was his funeral this afternoon in Brighton. What a character he was, completely of those mad times.

gwrichardjones said...

My Venezuelan suit, crinkly, shining silver, slightly flared, came from Dave's Alandin's cave, and is still talked about in moments of bemused reverie.

Helen McCookerybook said...

Dave would have been delighted to know that in the space of 24 hours, 300 people looked at this post- more, in that space of time, than anything else I've written in the ten years that I've been blogging, regardless of how important or famous a person was.