A personal message to Roger Williams, a friend and colleague, who passed away on Thursday 19th January 2017.
I first met you in September 1974 when I started at the Royal Academy of Music. You were extraordinary. Mildly eccentric, bubbly, enthusiastic, friendly, kind, thoughtful, generous, seemingly always laughing, slightly old-fashioned and child-like in your love of music. At 18, coming from the north where emotions were kept on a tight rein, your individuality and rather bohemian approach to life was something quite new. In short, I hadn’t really met anyone like you before.
During that first week you befriended me and invited me back to your flat in Bayswater to see your record collection and hear some of the recordings you had made on your reel-to-reel recorder. You cooked fried eggs and we listened to composers I’d never heard of and whose names I couldn’t pronounce. You seemed to speak of these composers as personal friends. At the time I couldn’t thank you enough. That’s how I feel now. So, here are a few more reasons why I need to thank you again. Thank you Roger for:
playing me the 13 versions you had of Adolph Herseth performing the opening of Pictures at an Exhibition. That sound, so noble and majestic, defined for me how orchestral trumpet playing should be.
dragging me along on cold, winter nights to the evening sessions of contemporary music at Morley College conducted by Michael Graubart to play music by Second Viennese School composers. I thought you were both nuts but you convinced me to be open-minded and to explore the unusual.
introducing me to James Blair and the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra to play -you guessed it – Pictures at an Exhibition. You were so supportive, so enthusiastically positive, always reminding me to have Adolph’s sound in my head during rehearsals. Your confidence in me even convinced me I could come close to that glorious sound of the great man.
inviting me to play with Richard Bernas and Music Projects/London in crazy, avant-garde programmes in strange venues. You convinced me that playing the trumpet whilst rotating in an office chair on stage at the ICA could be great art if you believed in it enough. I did it and you were right.
still retaining your incredible optimism when sitting in an open truck travelling to Warsaw overnight in temperatures of -20C after our tour bus broke down in the snow and we had to hitch a lift to catch the flight home. You said everything would be fine and it was.
for being the enthusiastic cyclist who thought it was perfectly normal to attach your bass trombone behind your bike and ride around London to your gigs – years before Boris had thought of his bikes and was still behaving like a prat at Eton.
for all the copying you did for me as I churned out brass arrangements, always behind schedule, always illegibly written, probably receiving better performances than they deserved because you presented the parts so beautifully.
introducing me to the world of folk music, playing at rain-soaked festivals in out- of-the-way places, allowing me to work with some of the most creative musicians imaginable and to reignite my love of community-inspired music. That’s where I came from after all.
for never losing your boyish-ness, your extrovert-ness, your playful approach to every situation, your eccentricity, your love of reading and podcasts from unheard-of music stations, and, of course, your love of music
for your fabulous playing, the humility and sincerity you brought to your professional career, your goodwill and sense of humour amongst your friends and colleagues and for your support and encouragement to just about every musician with whom you performed.
for showing how to balance the difficulties of a professional career with family life, for being a caring and loving father and husband and for always having time for everyone whenever they needed it.
for the final years of your life. For the grace in which you carried your burden, for the dignity you displayed throughout the slow, relentless march of your cancer, for the bravery you showed in the face of a terminal illness and for the zest for life that you maintained through to your final hours.
Thank you Roger, thank you, thank you, thank you….
Take your rest now my dear friend and know that you made a difference. You made your mark and you influenced all of us.
Thank you Roger