A family member’s passing reminds us that music plays a role in our lives far beyond entertainment – it’s a link to the past, a bond between families and a healing force. Simon reflects on one of the most important Bella Union releases yet – an incredible collection of his father Ivor Raymonde’s work.
My mother passed away last year, and while it will come as no surprise that a very sick woman of 92 was unable to hang onto this fragile thread, it was utterly heartbreaking to see her ultimate demise. Genetics prepares a lot of animals for life – think of the wondrous sight of foals standing and stumbling around within seconds of birth – but our abilities to cope with death aren’t as compelling to witness.
It got me thinking about my own mortality, and that final chapter that has so many alternative endings. My mother’s life, and of his sons’ and daughters’, too, but died suddenly in 1990, leaving us all bereft. Mum never dated again, nor ever expressed an interest in it. For sure, he was an amazing husband to her, and a lovely sweet man to have as a father.
Growing up, I was always fascinated by his work, and knew the headline names he worked with from the 60s in his heyday; writing songs for Dusty Springfield, arranging orchestras for The Walker Brothers, David Bowie, etc. But it was only when I got to about 50 myself I felt I needed to know way more about his work than I did. Mum knew some stuff, of course, but her memories weren’t as reliable as they once were, and during some late-night trawling of YouTube and Discogs, I started to discover not just a few more records he worked on, but literally thousands.
It was a revelation and an education. I began collecting as much as I could, and now have a whole shelf in my record collection dedicated to his vinyl.
My good friend Kieron Tyler, an excellent writer for Mojo, The Arts Desk and others, is also an expert in reissues, having worked on so many; and he knew a lot of the pitfalls and obstacles. He helped me enormously with making this compilation idea a reality; I wouldn’t have managed to do it without his help. The licensing and sourcing of the original material took forever: his patience was beyond the call of duty. It feels special to finally be able to put out this well-overdue retrospective of my father’s life’s work in music, on my own label.
When my brother came over to the house last year for my birthday, he came into my music room – and while he knew about the compilation, he hadn’t seen the tracklisting or heard it in its entirety, and we had a marvellous time listening to the tracks and talking about mum and dad and our own memories of them both.
With my sons Stan and Will over as well, this day was, despite the sadness we all felt about mum, one of the best we’ve ever had as a family. We laughed a lot and, listening through this double album of some of dad’s work (even a double album is just scratching the surface), we shed a few tears, too.
Music has dominated my life, my father’s life before me, and is looking likely to dominate at least one of my sons’ lives, too, and what an honour it is to be able to spend your life’s work doing something you love.
Recognising my old man’s catalogue of work feels like one of the most important releases of the last 21 years running Bella Union, as it allows me to publicly acknowledge the massive debt I owe him. Not just musically, but in his wisdom. “Don’t ever do a job you don’t feel a passion for,” he’d say. “I don’t care what you do, as long as you enjoy it. If you love roadsweeping, then be a roadsweeper, and I will be thrilled.” That always stuck with me.
It doesn’t come naturally to me to express sad emotions, and while I hope to steer clear of just posting a sad-face emoticon to articulate my state of mind, I had wondered why – whether it was just the ‘stiff upper lip’ thing, or if there were other things going on? I also realised recently I’ve always been drawn to melancholic music, as a writer and a listener, and looking back at the 21 years of Bella Union, clearly also as a curator. During that time, I’ve often thought: ‘Why am I doing this?’, and now I think I know.
Losing both parents is something none of us are prepared for, but most of us will have to go through, and for sure, I’m still figuring it all out. But I’m starting to see that by working through the pain, there comes an understanding. I listened to Cocteau Twins’ My Truth while I wrote this, and if you listen to it now, you will understand why.
Paradise: The Sound Of Ivor Raymonde, a double-vinyl compilation of his work, is out now on Bella Union.