We’ve been friends now for over four decades, and I may have spent more time with you than I’ve spent with my wife or my kids, literally thousands upon thousands of gigs, trekking from city to city, country to country, and enough long haul flights across the planet to reach to the moon and back.
It was you, the tour manager, who got us all there safely. We never missed a gig, always on stage promptly at whatever time we were advertised, two hours on stage, into the van and on to the hotel for a drink in the bar and a night’s sleep, and then up early the next morning for another round and yet another destination. This has been our life for over forty years.
You’re a big man billy, that always helped, with that distinctive white head of your’s leading us through the chaos of airports and railway stations like a straggling line of ducks chasing their mother.
None of us were ever late, we didn’t dare to be late, we knew you’d leave us stranded there if we were to fall behind. Surely you wouldn’t leave me, nonetheless even me, the de facto boss, was unwilling to take the risk.
You’re a tough man Billy Francis, but you never raised your voice or your fists to command respect, you didn’t have to.
That’s the discipline of an army, and we were like an army, a tight little band of guérrillas, no excess baggage, no fat, no bloated entourage of camp followers, just the bare minimum of personnel, no frills. These were your rules, and we gratefully accepted them.
It has to be said though, that this toughness was always leavened by a subtle sense of humour that could in truth veer towards the wicked at times, and the stories of your ‘lessons’ became the stuff of legend, ingenious, salutary and head-shakingly hilarious.
So now we are following you again, to a new destination. A destination none of us have visited before, your obedient ducklings once again lined up behind you. As always you’re up there ahead of us dealing with ground staff, emigration formalities, customs, handling agents, but this time with no baggage, not for this one. No more lugging or weighing of heavy cases, only the passport that declares a life lived, a life lived to the full, of joys, of sadnesses, successes, the odd failure but all of them acknowledged with that resolute discipline of yours, and that unflappable humour.
As ever we are watching, watching and learning, for our own exits will follow yours as surely as night follows day, you’re just a little further down the line than we are. I’m watching you now, drinking in your courage to fortify myself for the journey that I too must take.
I couldn’t have had a better teacher, big brother, protector, mentor, confidente, or companion for life than you my friend. I love you, I’m immensely proud of you and the friendship we’ve forged together over the years.
Know this, I’ll be with you until kingdom come, until that great cosmic gig in the sky, the gig to end all gigs.
How the Hell did we get here?... we’ll ask. Billy got us here, no one else could have done it.