In April 2013 a delightful young man, Sam Harper took part in the Brighton marathon. It was his first and destined to be his last. It was a warm day and through a combination of uniquely awful factors Sam died. It was pretty much instantaneous and we are told that is a consolation. Well. Maybe. For the deceased perhaps in that they know not what is about to happen. But for those left behind it is terrible. He was 23 and a hole the size of his generous heart appeared in the lives of those many who met and knew him. The Lawyer was one such. They met at senior school aged 11 and remained firm friends throughout. He was a regular guest at our house (as the Lawyer was at Sam’s). I have many memories of Sam – not that I ever called him Sam for there were too many Sams in his group – he became Marco. He would be found, long after others were in bed or well before they were up attacking a bowl of cereal at the kitchen table. He could conduct a meaningful conversation with someone his senior while the other boys had lost the power of speech and resorted to simian grunting and sniffing of armpits. He had the singularly smelliest trainers in Christendom – they spoke for themselves from the hallway. He left enough clothes at ours to fill Primark twice over and we held a set of his house keys for at least a year.
But the thing that stood out was his love, and knowledge, of music.
And not just the current fad, the Eminem, the Quetus, or the current rap nightmare or whatever it was ( I know I’m well out of (dub) step with current trends) but also Carly Simon and Frank Zappa, Grace Slick and Marc Bolan, musicians from my era. He was modern and old school at the same time and as with any teenager with a passion his knowledge was better than my memory. I’d mistake Clapton for Hendricks and he’d put me right. Nicely, pretending to be a little uncertain, not wanting to embarrass me (I suppose he might have worried I’d remove the cereal supply but I’m pretty sure he didn’t have the ego to boast).
He was like me, a bit of a klutz at times, and I loved that in him; at his memorial service in Dulwich a set of balloons were released. They soared into the pure blue sky, and wrapped themselves round the church steeple. Marco’s hand at work.
Marco was a delight, in part, because so were his friends. You know, come senior school, that your youngsters will now be making their own way more and more. All you can hope is that the guidance you have given means they choose their peer group wisely. The Lawyer did and the evidence of this weekend suggests Marco did too.
You see his friends, led by his sister Grace, have put on a music festival in his name. S.Harper Sounds. It took place near Westbury in Wiltshire over Friday and Saturday attended by 350 plus of his friends and supporters. Music of all kinds was available to both the discerning and junk palates and the atmosphere couldn’t have been bettered. The Lawyer did his bit, of which as a parent I am hugely proud but the others who sweated the blood – Sam Eade, George, Jam, Frostie and others I have forgotten or never knew need a shout out too – a major thank you and HUGE congrats for what you did.
I’m not a religious cove – I would love to have it in me to believe Marco was watching on while devouring some heavenly Rice Krispies – but I do know that for those left behind any death, but especially such an untimely one, is both painful and damaging in both obvious and subtle ways. That loss, that hole is never filled and the idea that time is a healer is, to my eyes, hogwash. All the passage of time does is bind that grief with other experiences to make the griever a different person. The grief is there, it can still bite with just the same intensity and impact as it did originally. It’s just that other experiences are now added on top to distract from that grief.
And that is what these brilliant twenty somethings have done for us. They have given us a new and rich experience in the knowledge that Sam would have loved it. They have wrapped their loss in the memory of fun and joy and escape. The pain hasn’t been pushed away but taken and absorbed and used to drive a better memory than the one that comprised the shock of hearing the news, the reality of the funeral and the numbing realisation of his absence at his wake. It couldn’t stop there; that couldn’t be the last collective reminder of a life well, if shortly, lived, of a friend much loved and missed. No, something bigger better more appropriate was needed and this more than met the case.
When my dad died my last memories are of a hospital bed and a funeral. But then we had a memorial service that served as a smoothing of the last memory. Happily for Sam’s friends and I hope his bereft family there is now something else, something tangible added in the memory bank.
I couldn’t stay late on Saturday but these lovely people provided a glorious finale before some serious music appreciation well into the night.
Here are some pics of the event.