RIP HEATHCOTE WILLIAMS XXX

 

To St. Barnabas Church, Jericho, Oxford for the funeral mass of Heathcote Williams. What a beautiful service from first to last. It started with Heathcote’s own deeply sonorous voice, as fine as any in Theatreland, reading the opening of Whale Nation, where the author looks at Earth from space as if for the first time and sees it is blue, the colour of its oceans and thus presumes that the master of the oceans, the whale, must be the main player on the planet… then we got a classic Heathcote Williams moment of magic, he had written a hymn especially for the church we were in (In The Heart Of Jericho) which simply describes its physical and spiritual beauty on a warm summer’s day (which Friday was) and it was sung by family and friends up at the altar very beautifully…

‘Whenever you come to St. Barnabas
You’re bathed in a golden glow
The church at the end of Cardigan Street
In the heart of Jericho… ‘

This was followed by a welcome from Fr. Johnathan Beswick who noted how Heathcote had in his life pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in many fields of behaviour and yet he always retained a respect and wonder for St. Barnabas as a place of worship worthy of the name… Then we sang Jerusalem by Heathcote’s psychic cousin in positive vision William Blake
which is one of the perennial treats of churchgoing in England.

‘Bring me my bow of burning gold
Bring me my arrows of desire…’

An apposite reading from the revelation of John (Heathcote’s christian name) by Prue Cooper, Heathcote’s sister, about John being urged to write by God, being urged to overcome himself and thus inherit all things… was followed by Grey Gowrie’s eloquent and moving critique of Heathcote’s unique place in English letters and then we had Alan Cox’s dryly funny reading of Henry Woolf’s excellent tribute to Heathcote which ended with the great line; ‘… he was one of the angels that are sometimes sent among us to remind us that happiness is not a crime’… this got right to the heart of Heathcote the man. He was a genuine renaissance man who loved life and reveled happily in its myriad delights from womb to tomb…

Next was the most moving section of a funeral masterpiece as China and Lily and Heathcote’s beautiful grandchildren Freya, Albi and Wilf all gave personal testimonies of how such a great blazing light of English Letters and Politics was to them simply a father and grandfather of pure love, endless surprise and boundless knowledge and how much they were simply going to miss him… tears welled in many somehow still smiling eyes…

Roy Hutchins, the leader of Poetry Army, a team of reciters devoted to performing Heathcote’s work around the country in schools and festivals, recited a recent and pertinent piece of Heathcote’s ‘Dying Is Annoying’ which perfectly and poignantly summed up the deep sadness of mortality when faced by such a vivacious spirit and prolific artist such as H. For some, death is a release, a relief from suffering. For Heathcote it was the all too quick ending of a boat ride on The Serpentine…

‘Come in Number 1…. your time is up…. No.1! Come in!…’

After prayers Heathcote’s son Charlie recited the final great soliloquy from Shakespere’s mind-blowing auto-biography The Tempest, (by Prospero, who Heathcote so magically played in Derek Jarman’s sexy punk film version) …

‘… Our revels now are ended….
… and our little lives are rounded with a sleep…’

Then Ciaran Walsh blew the church away with his personal and political eulogy to England’s finest in the most raw eloquent indescribable way…

Boff Whalley’s ‘Never Yours’ sent us out into the sunshine of Jericho and we repaired to a warehouse where an anarchistic cabaret MC’d by the legendary Tony Allen featuring ME and Tymon Dogg and my perfectly annoying brother Niall and many other beautiful fully conscious artists as we got frankly pissed out of our heads and toasted the memory of the greatest dissident artist and greatest human being of our time in Albion in a very merry hair-down justified life lusty abandonment! RIP HEATHCOTE WILLIAMS XXX

 

Roddy McDevitt
Photo Max Crow Reeves


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5 Responses to RIP HEATHCOTE WILLIAMS XXX

  1. Mary Finnigan says:

    Thank you. I cried. I loved him. I respected him. Sorry not to be there.

  2. Niall McDevitt says:

    Nice elegy Rod. Almost completely accurate. And it doesn’t go on all night.

    • Niall McDevitt says:

      P.S. Should you require a blurb: “Roddy McDevitt is the one-armed pallbearer of contemporary poetry”.

  3. Editor says:

    Great summation Roddy.

    Just to add, the exit music from the church was:
    Tubthumping by Chumbawamba
    This Blessed Plot by The Albion Band
    Days by The Kinks
    Home by Edward Sharpe & The Mighty Zeros
    Justified and Ancient by KLF and Tammy Wynette

  4. Pingback: Straight Up | Herman | A Great One Died Today

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