‘it says for everyone to wear Hawaiian shirts’

‘It’s in the paper’, said my mother, reading the obituary column on the other end of the phone, ‘it says for everyone to wear Hawaiian shirts’. Hawaiian shirts! Whose funeral is this, Steve McGarrett’s? ‘That guy’s wearing a suit, book him Danno.’

I can’t be having that, so off I set for the old homestead of Swansea with my pressed suit and tapped and shining shoes. Walking deserted streets on Wednesday afternoon I come across Bernard, a chap known to me, well, forever. ‘I’ve come down for that funeral, you know Sully.’ Bernard knew about it. ‘Can’t place him myself’, he said, ‘but the wake is in The George. I’ll see you there’, and before I could say ‘why are you going to the funeral of someone you don’t know?’ he’s disappeared into the pub.

On the phone with Hank later I mentioned Bernard and the funeral. Hank said, ‘Oh, he loves a funeral, does Bernard’, and of course I realized I was back in the Town of the Dead, where a funeral isn’t some morbid, tear-stained dirge. No, on the contrary, it’s a flat-out Beach Boys song, and Swansea is a two-funeral, one-wedding suit town, where death is something to have with your pint.

Approaching the Morriston Crematorium, Dougie remembered the time when, as part of a project for college, he’d been allowed access backstage to film how the whole death thing operated there. He mentioned a box used to house pieces of metal (titanium, platinum, etc.) that had escaped the heat and flames. Death Metal? ‘Someone nicked it in the end’, he said with not a trace of irony, a statement you were kinda waiting for.

Inside, the MC, direct from non-religious Death Inc., did his best to show compassion about a person whom he’d never met, and certainly won’t now, and revealed to the audience the deceased’s full name. Many among us were hearing this for the first time. This is a town of 10,000 nicknames, and I’ve already forgotten Sully’s full title, for Sully he’ll be to me ‘til it’s my turn.

As a last minute substitute (that’s what I’ve been told anyway) Maudie T, a good friend of Sully, rose and talked about him in both poignant and happy tones. Sterling work indeed, and all of what she had to say was as I remembered

him. I would have added, never a waster of people’s time too. This was proved in spades soon afterwards when the music started. There was no Dylan’s ‘Desolation Road’, Velvet Underground’s ‘Sister Ray’ or the whole B side of ‘Ummagumma’ by Pink Floyd; no, Sully’s friends knew there was drinking to be done, so it was kept to the minimum. ‘Sail on Sailor’, the Beach Boys song (to go with the shirts?) but not sung by them, a version by a local lad, Mickey Jones, Man Band stalwart and, sadly, recently deceased himself, who didn’t miss a note. Mr Death got up for a few more words, then Sully’s coffin, his favourite Panama hat atop, and a smiling picture of him on the front, quietly slipped from view to the strains of The Kinks ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’.

I’d known Sully since 1967, and if asked about his character I’d revert to the reverent statement ‘He was one of the boys’ which, if you’re from Swansea, is as fitting a tribute as anything said or read at the funerals of the great and the good of science, the arts and politics from the pulpit of Westminster Abbey. The Sully I remember was at the forefront of attitude and fashion change in the 1960s. He used to walk the dark streets in his gabardine raincoat, with hair cascading down his back. Nothing in that you may think, but it was at a time when that ‘look’ was still thought of as dangerous in some quarters, and certainly anti-social in all the others. But of course Sully, being a gregarious soul, had his confederates. Owing to its geographical position Swansea has never been a top priority for touring musicians, so if anyone with even half a ‘name’ condescended to entertain the culture-starved youth of the town, all factions would attend: skins, rockers, hippies, mods, scooter boys and surfers.

And so it was to The George for the drink after the cremation. OK, so the skins will never need to ask for a ‘number one’ again, and the hippy types have long forgotten the words to ‘Almost Cut My Hair’, but they were all there. I produced the camera, maybe a bit ‘party’ for a funeral, but I took the edge off that when I announced, ‘You’ll all be dead in a minute, and I can’t be coming backwards and forwards from London for your funerals, so I want a few photos to remind me of the lot of you.’ Then there was Curry and Rice or Curry and Chips or Chilli and Chips, all good stuff. Hope my send off is as good.

Would you believe it? While I was there I picked up on another death; Caroline, who used to sing in our group Page 3. She was booked in for 24 hours after Sully. I was on the guest list for that, but had to get the train back to London. It’s a long ride, back through the foot of the valleys, across the Severn, and into the land of Edward Longshanks. Anyway, you know what they say, you can have too much of a good thing.●

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