For Blair Snr - My Ol Friend (in) the Blues...
Updated: Nov 29, 2022
I have an image in my head of a tall, big in stature , big personality, wide smile , baseball cap (with hair sticking out in the gap in the back) and briefcase in hand record company rep who used to call on the record store (Compact Sounds) where I worked in the late 80's (yes record store & yes 1980's). It wasn't just that Blair Allchurch (aka Blair snr) was a Sales Rep - he was the Sales Rep for Warner Bros..or more correctly WEA which comprised Warner, Elektra, and Atlantic records . Make no mistake this was the cool label to work for; Bruce, the proprietor and I (merely the worker) used to tell him often "Mate you represent the greatest music ever made and still being made" . I can't for the life of me remember if he had the Slash label also - that wonderful roster of American post punk artists that first emerged in the 80's out of LA (Los Lobos, Bo Deans, The Blasters) but in my head it seems he represented those too . Not forgetting the great Peter Case who he definitely had in his catalogue (we were such music nerds that Bruce bought all the NZ stock of the great PC second solo album (which Snr and I still plundered from for our Blair's material), made a huge mural display window (wish I had a photo) and it must have sold all of 3 x copies.
Music mattered for us and for all of you here reading this as Blair Snr had a unique talent which matched his outlook on life . It was so great to meet up with him again a couple of years back (more like 26 years rather than the 30 he used to say at most gigs) . Early on I knew there were constraints in what we did in the last couple of years as "The Blairs" - (I never told him this) .We would be seated, surrounded by guitars to choose from, no more than 4 x chords (ideally 3 ), hardly anything in a minor key, nothing outside of 4/4 , no key changes during a song, no practicing or over thinking anything . We never really discussed guitar parts , harmonies or had a set list we would follow , yes there was a master list but he always carried an out of date version (!) .. It was just fun ,and seemed to work.I may have muttered no Led Zeppelin or Uriah Heap but he ignored me ..in fact when he started tuning his 12 string down a whole step or two for the great Peter Case version of "Charlie James" he would head straight for his take on the Led Zep tune called "Thank You" ..so there I am with my regular tuned 12 string having to figure out what the bloody hell was going on ..ah yes can laugh about it now in fact we laughed about it during the song and after too…
On a related note , he was very particular and regimented when it came to playing and this is significant when I think about the only time I ever saw Blair Snr lose his sh*t .It was at a Blues festival on McLean's Island, with 40 Blue Fingers around 1990 and Snr was extremely unhappy with the onstage sound - really really upset . I had a cassette of the gig (yes a cassette) afterwards from the sound desk and distinctly recall hearing the full range of expletives he was muttering all through the gig. Barb was telling him to not worry about it and calm down but honestly he was ropable and split straight away afterwards with him and Barb continuing to argue. But that was the thing , he liked the audio mix to be precise much like the timing and precision in his playing - this was handy in the Blairs because I always played too fast and too much & had no patience in learning any accurate riffs (case in point "Guitar Town"
, ah yes sounds simple but try playing it, I gave up but he nailed it )
During our last gig I had a good listen to the sound during "You Ain't Goin Nowhere" early in our set , this is Bob Dylan, via The Byrds in full country mode - all 4 x chords , yes a minor chord in there but we were all good with that and I listened to the blending of parts & harmonies and what he was doing ..and I thought " this sounds really good" - I was meaning to tell Snr that the next time I caught up with him but didn't get the chance.
All of which brings me to last Sat, Nov 12. I went to ChCh hospital as I heard he was able to have visitors and our mate Jimmy told me Ward 8a room 20. So as someone who had visited the hospital a lot over the last couple of years for my deteriorating mother , I knew exactly where to go -the old hospital , crumbling River View block Ward 20 something , Room 8 . Tick , tick, tick in my head and of course all completely wrong.
So when I eventually found where I should have gone at around 4.45pm in the lofty and striking heights of the new hospital I realised the alert that I could hear walking around the corridor on the Stroke ward , 8A going was out of Seniors room with an accompanying flurry of activity from the staff. I caught a glimpse of his hair first and could see the side of his face and he seemed very peaceful and at ease. I didn't know what to do so I found a chair down the corridor from his room . A nurse came up to me and said "Is he your Dad"…I had to smile despite what was going on I said "well he is Blair senior but no he's not my dad , just a dear friend" (if my macabre humour had been with me I would have said -" just checking he's fine with arrangements for our gig tomorrow.")
We know the rest but I've thought about this some more and came to the conclusion he was a father like figure for me and he seems to be that for everyone he met . Someone that would always share a laugh and ultimately make you feel better afterwards from talking or being with him.
Anyway I was also late for the last Blairs gig at Evil Genius and to this our last gig ,
which was just to shoot the breeze in his room - I'm really sorry my friend for not making it..
So I bid Blair Snr farewell, I don't think it is "The Big Sleep" for him more like "The Big Easy" - a chair waiting in the "Great Gig in the Sky" where Barb won't be faraway either , not forgetting a slide and a bottle of red wine.…thanks for everything my friend...
Blair (Junior) - Nov 20, 2022