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Remembering Jim Cleary – Again

January 30, 2014

A while ago I wrote a tribute to a Birmingham songwriter and musician who was at the heart of my world for much of the 1970s: Jim Cleary. Jim passed away in 2012 – too young, and sadly for me, before I was able to catch up with him again after many years of no contact.

It seems I’m not the only person who deeply regrets losing touch with Jim. Here’s a new comment from Bernard Martin on the original post. Bernard knew Jim before I did.

I’m re-posting it here because Jim’s friends with whom I’m still in touch would enjoy it, I think.

A moving piece about someone who was hugely important to me at one time. Jim and I were close when we were at Matthew Boulton College in Brasshouse Passage together, 1967-68. We were among those students who were grabbing a second chance at an education for one reason or another (I’d dropped out of school prior to A levels; can’t remember what Jim’s reason was) and thought of ourselves as a cut above the poor souls – the majority – whose parents were making them retake and retake…

So as well as working for the exams we spent hours in the disgusting canteen probing the relative merits of, for instance, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan (‘Simon: better songwriting; Dylan: better poetry’ I think we concluded) of Walt Whitman and John Donne, of e e Cummings and, as Jim would have it at the end of a session, I I Going…

I started and edited an ‘independent’ magazine for the students (‘Forge’) and Jim deputy-edited and contributed a number of poems. The only way we could get it printed was via the college office (this is before access to things like duplicators, remember, let alone photocopiers!) and the college Principal vetoed certain content, including all but one of Jim’s poems. The one that finally sneaked past the old fool did so despite referring to a man kissing a boy. I had to insist it implied no sexual content… I can’t remember what the others were about. The magazine finally appeared shortly before the end of the year, so was very much a non-event – though it taught me all I needed to know about the importance of controlling the means of production.

At the Carousel (?) Coffee Bar on Broad Street, opposite the Rep, or at parties at his Mum’s flat or the flat of his girlfriend Kathy, Jim would get out the guitar and lead the singing. Not, then, as far as I remember, his own songs but folk and pop songs we all knew.

I went away to Uni, Jim stayed in Brum. For the first three years, whilst my father still had a house there I’d return to Brum in the vacations to get work on building sites. I’d seek out Jim and usually find him in one of the regular haunts – a big Irish pub on Broad Street or the back room of The Windmill (?) off Needless Alley or Cherry Street and things were just like before, with added new friends: beery and full of song.

Then I went away to Germany and different British cities and lost touch. I’d send cards but Jim was not a great one for replying. In the 90s with the arrival of the internet I began sporadic attempts to locate him without success. It was two nights ago, unable to sleep and surfing, that I tried again and discovered your blog.

Though I hadn’t seen my friend for 40 years I now feel a great sense of loss. But it’s good to know he was still surrounded by people who loved and appreciated him.

For those of you who haven’t a clue who Bernard and I are talking about, here’s a post about Jim from Robin Valk, another great Birmingham musical institution (if he’ll forgive me for saying so), which contains a video of the man in action a few months before his death.

From → Art, Music, Social, UK

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