I was on my way to a funeral yesterday when I received a text announcing that Andy Newman had passed away at the relatively young age of 73. A highly innovative maverick and oft proclaimed musical genius I really got into his material through Pete Townshend who put together and produced his band ‘Thunderclap Newman’ back in 1969.
I never met him but he had a small part in my life when I first heard the magical intro to ‘Something in the Air’ on the radio age 11 while still at Kings Park Primary School. It had enough of an impact on me at the time to influence it’s inclusion on the ‘Internal Exile’ album as I thought it was in line with my ‘homecoming’ when I was rediscovering myself and my roots and my family.
I’d got to thinking about what we leave behind for people in the shape of memories and achievements when I attended the funeral on Friday at Borthwick church near Gorebridge where my mother’s side of the family came from and where my great grandfather is buried in the dark yew shaded cemetery . The last time I had been in this church was for my mothers cousin’s funeral about 10 years ago. Sadly there are few remaining members living there that I know and over the years we have drifted as younger generations don’t have the same ties as our parents did.
The service was for Brian Aitchison, the son of my mother’s cousin, who I’d regrettably met only a few times during his life which had been brought to a short and tragic end through cancer at only 52 years old. As I listened to the eulogy read by an army chaplain in a packed church I couldn’t help but admire the way Brian had lived his life to the full and achieved so much, winning the respect of so many people and capturing so many hearts on the way right until the end.
An ex Scots Guardsman who’d served in Northern Ireland and in the Falklands conflict, piping the troops to Tumbledown and beyond and finishing his military service in the regimental band traveling the world earning a reputation as a formidable musician and pipe major he was some character. He ended up as the ‘Macer’ in the High Court in Scotland defending judges, witnesses and jurors from ‘unwanted attention’ before moving into the records department which he ran meticulously and as with throughout his varied and colourful career had earned many accolades.
Another beautiful eulogy from Lady Paton, a judge he had served, together with a rendition of a Burn’s song, ‘John Anderson’ by two local musicians; as he was a true devotee of the Bard; added to what was a wonderfully touching memorial service.
Most of what I heard in the kirk I had no idea of as I mostly knew Brian as the person who sent my parents detailed history of my grandfather’s service records during WW1 including photos he’d dug up in archives as he was a fervent genealogist.
At the funeral service it was like being introduced to a stranger at times and I deeply regretted not having been in touch in recent years. I stood at the back of the church with Simone among people who knew him far better than I did and who had been profoundly touched by his life.
The sound of the pipes playing the lament outside the windswept kirk and the sight of military flags born by ex soldiers all gathered in respect of this man were truly humbling and moving.
Simone and I walked to the car parked on the hill outside the church with scores of others that had partially blocked the road to Borthwick with my mind birling with thoughts.
We didn’t attend the burial as my back was in agony from standing throughout the service but as I drove past the assembling mourners at the Harvieston cemetery towards Dalkeith I was reminded that you don’t have to be a media celebrity to leave behind a legacy that has profoundly touched people.
Brian William Aitchison RIP
Andy ‘Thunderclap’ Newman RIP
and today, Dr Spreng , my ‘voice doctor’ in Karlsruhe who’s looked after me for the last couple of years RIP