Friday, 25 January 2013

Goodbye Andrew

Andrew Cox: 14th July 1961 - 26th January 2009

I moved to Lewisham in south-east London in August 1990. Sue, my father's second wife, prompted more by the need to make conversation than any burning interest, had asked 'has that always been your dream, Lawrence - to live in Lewisham?'

It really hadn't, but it seemed roughly like a step in the right direction, and I don't think Sue was overly familiar with the various boroughs of south-east London. Had she been, she probably would have phrased the question differently.

The overpriced rabbit hutch in Ryecroft Road into which I squeezed myself and all my worldly belongings wasn't really the sort of place you'd associate with sane people. It was a large, five bedroom house with just myself and some conspicuously and understandably unhappy guy called Greg renting the two smallest rooms. The rest of the house sat empty - all tenants driven away by a landlord who was basically a massive arsehole - and the fridge was full of ants. It was therefore nice to get away at weekends, and within a month of moving I was on the train to Norwich to stay with my friend Glenn. Historically speaking, Glenn had achieved minor notoriety as roadie to Throbbing Gristle, then as a founder member of power electronics band Whitehouse, but his main thing had always been Konstruktivists - never really an industrial band, maybe more of a krautrock deal with a few other ingredients, and resistant to easy classification. I'd done record sleeves for Konstruktivists and Glenn had now asked me to play guitar, so we spent a few days working out some  material on his four-track recorder.

A couple of years earlier, Dave Henderson of Sounds music paper had compiled The Elephant Table Album, a double vinyl collection of tracks by a variety of left field musicians - Portion Control, Nocturnal Emissions, Nurse With Wound and others. Konstruktivists had a track on there, so Glenn had been sent a freebie of the 1989 reissue, which, no longer possessing a turntable, he passed on to me. As I sat reading the cover, I noticed that one of the bands had listed a contact address in Lewisham, presumably some place quite near the overpriced rabbit hutch of doom and ants. They were called MFH - I knew of them by name alone, some guys whose tapes I'd seen reviewed here and there in various fanzines, but that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge.

As I didn't actually know anyone in Lewisham, and here was this mutual interest in weirdy music distributed by cassette tape, I wrote to MFH as soon as I was back in London, and we met up in The White Horse, opposite the kebab place at the lower end of Belmont Hill. The two of them were waiting with a wooden duck on the table, the sign by which I was to identify them, thus avoiding embarrassing mix-ups involving any other experimental music duo who might have been in the pub at the time. Their names were David Elliott and Andrew Cox - by this point collectively known as Pump rather than MFH - and as soon as I realised this, the penny dropped.

Well, not really a penny of any great revelatory thrust, but Glenn had given me a tape about five years before, something he'd been sent in the post and thought I might appreciate: Methods - sixty minutes of droning home-recorded ambience by Andrew Cox. Of all the tapes to ever randomly settle into my collection, Methods had actually made a significant impression and so I'd listened to it a lot. Also, it turned out that David had once produced a fanzine called Neumusik which I recalled as having been praised in at least a few of the fanzines I'd read. So whilst there were gaps, there was surprising acreage at the intersection of our Venn diagram. We hit it off immediately, although I grew to know Andrew better being as David was soon to marry and move away from the area.

Andrew worked as a programmer at Cazenove which, for better or worse, paid well enough to feed his wine and song habit - ten or more CDs a week I seem to recall in regard to the latter. It wasn't that he had any particularly Bacchanalian tendencies, quite the opposite in fact - Andrew led a solitary lifestyle. He was a man with, as we say, issues, and had taken to quietly drinking himself into a relatively happy place more or less each evening. The thing is, as his friends none of us ever quite fully understood what those issues could be, only that they were serious for Andrew, as suggested by his having severed all lines of contact with his family some years before. Like many who struggle with genuine psychological obstacles - as opposed to the sort of whining crap associated with self-help literature and a pathological need to tell anyone who will listen - Andrew didn't really like to talk about it, and got along as best he could with little complaint.

We would meet in The White Horse, initially every day around five, later rationalised to Wednesdays and Fridays when I realised that three or four pints a night was beyond the capacity of both my liver and my weekly wage. Andrew would always be immaculately dressed, usually with carrier bag containing a bottle of wine and whatever he was planning to heat up for the evening; and for a guy with problems, he was rarely anything less than great company up until the point at which I'd notice he was pissed, and with the monosyllables home and then food, he'd trundle off into the night. We would talk about music, anything from Schoenberg to The Ramones to Nurse With Wound - Andrew having been one of the many guests on their Sylvie and Babs Hi-Fi Companion album in the case of the latter. We would talk about books, films, writing, science, philosophy, art, mutual acquaintances from other realms of our shared cassette culture Venn diagram. He introduced me to the writing of Charles Bukowski, Jean-Paul Sartre, P.J. O'Rourke and Bill Bryson; to the music of Tad, Wire, Curve, My Bloody Valentine, L7, Karl Blake, and others. We covered just about everything because, for all that he was often withdrawn and always softly spoken, Andrew was one of the most interesting people I've known, incapable of being boring, and often very, very funny. His puns alone were of such strength as to interfere with radar and bring down low flying aircraft. Within the space of an hour and roughly two pints he could reduce me to tears with some random observation - a hypothesis that the landlord's son being conspicuously and suddenly in possession of a girlfriend could only be explained by possession of a penis the size of Norfolk - then effortlessly segue into an explanation of Kierkegaard's most tortuous assertions without coming across like a dick. It seems fair to say that Andrew was very much unique.

I was still distantly involved in the cassette thing, and I had this somewhat nebulous plan spun from the fact that both David and Andrew vaguely knew Glenn - a tape of both Konstruktivists and Pump Live at The White Horse, Lewisham which would just be the four of us sat around a table, getting pissed and talking bollocks for ninety minutes. Thankfully, it never happened, although I did collaborate with Andrew in a musical capacity on a couple of occasions, notably sarcastic renderings of Whitehouse songs for Impulse magazine's White Stained Covers compilation. Also I'd played cardboard box drum kit for Henry during one rehearsal; Henry comprising Andrew on guitar and Paul A. Woods as east London's Johnny Cash - Johnny Readies, I suppose.

Eventually, girlfriend number two showed up at my slightly roomier rabbit hutch in Boyne Road, so I took a break from bachelorhood and moved to East Dulwich, still popping over to Lewisham for the roughly weekly drink because it would have been strange not to do so. Andrew's nightly bottle of wine had by this point begun to exact something of a toll, and he was ordered to pack it in on peril of his liver exploding. Cazenove turned out to be the sort of company that valued its employees, or at least valued Andrew, paying for his private care, drying out, recovery, retreat and so on. It worked, and we all adapted to the peculiar routine of going to the pub with Andrew same as before, except we'd moved to The Watch House as our beloved White Horse had been refurbished in order to appeal to arseholes, and Andrew was now downing three pints of Red Bull before departing with the promise of home and food.

On one occasion I went back to Andrew's flat to borrow a DVD and realised that something really was wrong - not always apparent from his generally smart appearance and cheerfully sober temperament maintained even whilst obviously three sheets to the wind. It was a nice flat, but movement within was difficult due to every available surface, including even those in the bathroom and in the tub itself occupied by skyscrapers of books, CDs, cassettes, newspapers, and empty wine bottles. It wasn't exactly unclean or dirty, but seemed like a slightly crazy person had been turning their living space into a scale model of New York City. It was worryingly easy to imagine this spectacle as resembling the contents of Andrew's head.

Unfortunately, the amazing and convincing recovery was not to last. For whatever reason, Andrew just coped better with booze; and it became increasingly difficult to stay in touch given that he'd always been solitary to some extent and was someone you rarely saw outside the context of alcohol. Medically retired, or at least ordered to avoid work until he was better, he moved to Portsmouth and was further reduced to an internet presence which, in February 2007, reported:

I am indeed still alive. Life has, as ever, been something of a roller-coaster ride, involving a fractured kneecap, a noisy neighbour, clinical depression, moving house, a stay at the loony bin, and Zen Buddhism. I was off work for eighteen months, but am in the process of returning at the moment.

I'm also back on the booze, but not in an over-the-top way. And the meds I'm on seem to prevent me feeling shit the next day, which is nice.

Serendipitously I received the new single by The Cravats and Paul Hartnoll today, and lo it is good. Surely this is a sign...

Sadly it wasn't, and in January 2008:

Sorry that I haven't been in touch for some time, but life has been shit. I've been in and out of the loony bin until my medical insurance ran out. I'm currently on some seriously heavy medication, and drinking a litre of vodka a day.

The news we had all been expecting came a year later when David Elliott wrote to me:

Although there was a tragic inevitability about it, I'm still greatly shocked and above all hugely saddened. I knew Andrew for nearly thirty years. I can still remember the day we first met, at Sussex University in October 1979. We shared a passion for music which led to recording our own stuff on-and-off throughout the 80s and a little beyond. I treasure our times in pubs planning art projects, writing, talking about literature and life... for a time with you too. He was both incredibly intelligent and highly creative.

Sadly, he had his personal demons and the way he chose to battle them was through drink. I was relieved when he went teetotal in 1998 and have happy memories of an outwardly contented, sociable friend at Liz and my wedding a year later - just before work took me to Japan and Thailand for most of the last decade. Distance and my family meant that we didn’t see too much of each other during that time but I always tried to see him on trips home and we corresponded regularly. The last couple of years had seen Andrew spiral back into alcoholism and depression and in the last few months his emails got increasingly desperate. I visited him in March and July last year; he knew how perilous his situation was, yet seemed calm and almost optimistic. I’m just so sorry I couldn’t help him more.

Four years later I'm still not sure I've entirely processed any of this.

About a month ago my wife and I went to the CD & DVD Exchange and I picked up the Lazer Guided Melodies album by Spiritualized, recalling that Andrew had taped it for me over a decade earlier. We played it in the car on the way home, and completely unexpected, as it got to the track 'Shine a light' - always an emotionally potent number - I realised I was crying like a baby. Not having heard the album since Andrew was alive, the song had somehow become instilled with his presence; and for a few minutes it seemed like the whole world had gone wrong.

I still don't know what to say except that it hurts, and that he, of all people, really should have had a better life, and that he should still be here.

Andrew was barely a blip in the great scheme of things, but he was a major, major event in my own faintly ludicrous narrative. The list of influential artists, musicians, and writers whom I discovered through Andrew is astonishing. He bought me Terror of the Autons, the Jon Pertwee era Doctor Who serial for my birthday when it came out on VHS, thus - against all expectations - reintroducing me to a show about which I had all but forgotten; and that led to the books, which inadvertently led to an interest in Prehispanic Mexico, which ultimately led to my moving to Texas and getting married, and to my writing Against Nature - roughly speaking my third novel and the first to be published.

In short, I can't even begin to imagine where I would have been right now were it not for Andrew. I only wish he were here too.


  1. Just had this from Karl Blake: "Very very sad indeed - I didn't know Andrew at all well - the number of times I met him could be counted on the fingers of ones hand with some to spare - but a waste of a life like that to someone who seemed - from my brief meetings with him - and from what you say plus David Elliott's friendship of him I know he was one of the good guys who should be here still. At least - if nothing else - he will not forgotten and will live on in the memories of those who knew, liked and loved him."

  2. Good to read, alcohol will be the ruin of us all ?