Eric's Funeral

Yesterday was Eric Roche‘s funeral. I was hugely grateful to Thomas Leeb for forwarding the details to me, and I drove up to Haverhill yesterday lunchtime.

The turnout was amazing – hundreds of people including the great and the good of the UK guitar scene turned out to pay their respects to a musician we all loved and admired so much.

The service itself was lovely – the vicar did an amazing job, helped by the fact that he’d known Eric for over a year through his illness, and had spent a lot of time with him talking about his plans for the funeral.

The eulogies were very moving, particularly the ones from one of Eric’s oldest friends who’d been with him since he was in his early teens, and the one from guitar legend Martin Taylor – Martin had produced Eric’s last album, the truly brilliant ‘With These Hands’. The job of playing one of Eric’s tunes – the title track from that album – fell to Stuart Ryan, who did an amazing job of it. That was a role that no-one in the room would have relished, and Stuart played beautifully.

Funerals are a mixed affair generally – it’s often difficult to get past the mawkish hyperbole about what a great person the deceased was, but in Eric’s case, the vast majority of people there were just repeating what they’d been saying for years – he was a deeply inspiring person, amazing musician, hilarious to be around and hugely encouraging to his students and peers.

The get-together afterwards was an amazing gathering – guitarists and writers from all the UK’s major guitar mags mixing and chatting about eric, about guitar about gigs – all the things that Eric did so well.

The more I chatted to people the clearer it became that we were running a parallel course in so many ways – for years we were both teaching at music schools, writing columns for magazines, releasing solo CDs, playing at tradeshows and mushing it altogether into a career. Eric was way more marketable that me, and an even better self-publicist, and was, tragically, on the edge of moving into much bigger things. He was already selling out in provicial theatres, and was the star attraction at guitar festivals across Europe, even visiting China earlier this year. It would surprise me at all if he became the Eva Cassidy of the guitar – though it will be tragic for all the people who from now discover him through his records not to be able to see him live.

Still, you’ve got to get With These Hands – it’s genius, it’s beautiful and no CD collection is complete without it.

The main thought I had going through my head during the service was how unfair the whole thing was – some people live who seemingly don’t deserve to, and others die needlessly due to the genetic russian roulette of cancer. But that’s just it, I guess. Life isn’t fair, never has been. The world is a lot of wonderful things – it’s beautiful, inspiring, funny, there’s music and art and love and nature and rain and the sea and cats and mint tea and friends and family and all kinds of magical beautiful unfathomably wonderful things. But it isn’t fair, and we can’t earn our health, or the right not to get cancer, or the right not to get run over or mugged or blown up on a tube-train or… We can limit the chances by taking care of those things that we have control over – eating properly, not smoking, avoiding situations where people might run amok with an automatic weapon. But we’re not in control, and there’s no system of fairness that apportions tragedy to those who deserve it and witholds it from those who are ‘nice’ or ‘clean living’ or whatever.

I was looking at Eric’s parents and thinking that no-one should ever have to bury their own kids. It’s the great injustice. The order’s all wrong. Eric was only 37, which is no age at all. Two little kids and a wife. A family full of love. It’s too much to even think about, really.

But some things live on. the music definitely, and the memory and the inspiration, in big and small ways. Eric’s most well-known peers have expressed a desire to do something to help, to organise benefit gigs for the family. Some are already taking place (Martin Taylor is playing in Cambridge in October, and we’re talking about getting something to happen in London in January). And we can spread the world about the music – that’s the easy bit, it spreads itself.

There are small things that live on – Eric inspired the best tune I’ve written in a long time – and there are big things, like the ACM in Guildford renaming their guitar course after him (Eric was head of guitar there for years, and wrote the guitar course).

And you, you can go and buy his CDs – start with With These Hands, it’ll blow you away. Go on, you’ll discover some great music, and his family will benefit too.

So all in, the funeral was a fitting tribute to a much loved guitar genius, and a testament to his influence. On Radio 2 yesterday afternoon, Billy Bragg – who has been working on a songwriting project with terminal cancer patients – commented that the one thing that cancer gives you is time; time to get things in order, to plan your funeral to say what needs to be said, in a way that a sudden tragedy doesn’t.

SoundtrackKT Tunstall, ‘Eye To The Telescope’; Kris Delmhorst, ‘Songs For A Hurricane’; Juliet Turner, ‘Season Of The Hurricane’.

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