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My abiding memory of James is as a larger than life bon viveur and lover of all things beautiful. I have so many delightful memories of eating and drinking all manner of fine things with James, over meals that lingered long into the night, accompanied by witty, sparkling and roguish conversation, along with good music and good cigars. He would sometimes unconvincingly appear to resist my invitations to get together, with a sigh of “Oh no, I am going to be Jansz’d again.” He loved it really, as did I. I have never had a friend who could match me drink for drink, mouthful for mouthful, smoke for smoke. James my dear friend, what pleasures we had. Au revoir and bon voyage.Ben Jansz
He was introduced to me as Seumas when I first met him in the 60s, although his mates of longer standing, like the ones he’d worked with at Fords, Dagenham, all called him Jim. But at this stage I didn’t know that. I did know that, with his flaming red hair and splendid red beard and the name of Seumas, I expected to hear a Gaelic inflected voice when he spoke, but his voice carried a bit of a Home Counties accent, revealing his Bicester background.
I don’t remember how or why our paths first crossed. But having crossed, they seemed to sort of plait together for quite a period. I was involved in putting out records that were intended to appeal to the small but growing group of people interested in folk music. I’m not a musician, I’m not a technician and, as documents at Companies House will show, I’m no business man. On the other hand, Jim had music deep within him (our last phone conversation was mainly Jim, on hearing that I had moved to Manchester, analysing in some depth the virtues of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra); on the technical front, he made a much better fist of sorting recording gear than I could; and when it came the business side he was sharper and more savvy than me. As a companion in enterprise, he had that enviable gift of always seeming to have a solution, or if he didn’t, he knew a man….
It’s this year for quoting Shakespeare “One man in his time plays many parts” should be the quote for today. James Jim Seumas Ewens has done just that. And I can recall some of them: the country sports enthusiast who drove his Jaguar around the Essex countryside, shooting at small creatures, without going through tedium of chasing them on foot; the car enthusiast, who laboriously rebuilt a Jaguar and in a burst of misplaced generosity, allowed me to wreck it on its first long trip out; the impresario, who was a partner in opening The Howff, an arty late-night venue in the Primrose Hill area of London, which on a good night was full of personalities who had been there – done that – and nailed a star to the dressing room door; the smart one, who could sell hot water bottles to Hottentots, who blagged his way into a recording job at Abbey Road Studios around that time when life seemed to be centred on the pedestrian crossing outside. There are other examples, too humorous to mention. But through hard times or easy times, straight times or dodgy times it was the charm that you responded to, it was the charm you remembered. The handsome, charming, intelligent man. Never hassled. Easy come, easy go. And he’s gone.Bill Leader
Quite honestly I am absolutely furious that I only knew Seumus for a few short years. I only had a touch of the real character, the wit and intellect, the gourmet and philosopher. But still there were many evenings that I joined him for a glass or two of wine along with John and Siggy, trying to match him cigarette for cigarette, just not enough of them (evenings that is not cigarettes). Over the last few weeks of his life I visited him in hospital whenever I could, again just not enough. Although confused and conversation therefore somewhat stilted he always managed to throw a Seumusism in to make me laugh. The last time I saw him I asked him rather stupidly “So how do you feel, do you have aches and pains?’ to which he answered. “That in a court of law, my dear, is known as leading the witness”. Oh god, who is going to keep me in check now he has gone.Liz Gilmour
What makes someone a parent? What makes a man a father? Is it that he watched your first tentative steps as a biped, that he changed your nappies, or that he rushed home from work to read you a bedtime story? Because Seumas didn’t do things like that… and yet he influenced me greatly and taught me so much. Which is probably a better legacy than nappies.
This has been hard to write, because I simply didn’t know where to start, or where to finish. If I only write what I know first‐hand, that would barely scratch the surface. But if I retell the things he told me about, I risk misrepresentation or inaccuracy. Then there’s the danger that what makes it into a five‐minute text will be seen as my most important memories. How can you wholly explain how someone makes you feel in five minutes? So I have kept just a few random thoughts to share with him today, as my way of saying goodbye.
The first time I remember meeting Seumas was at Stowe, when I was around 8 years old. He was twice my height, with crazy red hair, a massive beard and a big voice. He was quite terrifying, but he had pens and paper and that was good enough for me. And so it began…
In the retrospection of the past few weeks, I’ve noticed just how many of my personality traits were also his, and how many of my skills and points of view come from him. Possibly the most important thing he taught me was a love of words. Seumas was a great letter writer. I opened a box of what I thought were just scraps and notes, only to find whole essays he had written to me, to George, and to others ‐ on a vast range of topics. I once mentioned that I was writing an essay about World War I, and by return of post came a 25 page thesis on the subject. This was pre‐internet, so everything in there had come straight off the top of his head.
He talked to me constantly about writers and writing, often correcting my letters and critiquing my style. Split infinitives, double negatives, tautologies (our pet hate)… I don’t doubt that my current occupation is in no small part down to the passion for language he instilled in me over the course of many an evening with a glass of plonk, one of George’s cigars (frequently requested in the aforementioned letters) and various books pulled from the shelf to illustrate a point.
TE Lawrence: intense
But writing was just one love of his. Music was the real cornerstone of Seumas’s life and the theme of so many of his stories. Abbey Road, Cecil Sharp House, the Troubadour, the Opera House, the Roundhouse, the Howff… He had a great head for dates, facts and names – something that I, sadly, do not. There are a thousand half‐remembered ‘Seumas stories’ in my head, none of which I could accurately recount now, but which rise to the surface with regularity. Even a mundane little event could be retold in the most captivating way, bringing with it some fresh insight into human psychology.
He taught me to love Opera. When someone has brought it to life by explaining the story and recounting the life of the composer, the librettist, the stars who sung it best… what’s not to love?!
He taught me to drive – in a 4.2 litre Daimler on an abandoned airfield. The most important things to understand when learning to control a two‐tonne hunk of steel are (a) to “pull away like a professional getaway driver” and (b) not to “drive like a girl”. He never went on a journey without a cup of tea carefully placed on the floor of the passenger seat. If you drive a proper car ‐ by which I mean a Jag or a Daimler – your tea won’t spill when you turn a corner.
He taught me to code, and more than 20 years later computers are still how I earn a living. He had a flair for programming, like me he enjoyed the extreme logic of coding and the satisfaction of tracking down the stray character that had stopped an entire application from functioning. I remember lots of evenings doing clever things with databases: IF… THEN… ELSE… LOOP. The design, typography and print skills I learned then have held me in good stead too, over the years.
He taught me to change a spark plug, put up a shelf and solder a joint. He taught me that if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it properly. But he forgot to include advice on writing eulogies, so you know who to blame if the person next to you is falling asleep…
Seumas had strong opinions on most subjects. He had strong opinions on people, too ‐ he either had no time for you, or would adopt you wholeheartedly. He was the clichéd “didn’t suffer fools gladly” type. And he adhered pretty strictly to some very generalised stereotypes:
The establishment: perverts Doctors: idiots
Cooking was the primary activity at our place in Buckingham. He spent most of the day in the kitchen, perfecting recipe after recipe until he could cook them with his eyes shut… the ham cooked in a pot of hay; the most delicate aspic that turned chicken breasts into jewels; the lemons that went from one pot to the next until, some eight hours later, they turned up on your plate tasting like some kind of citrus sugar‐cloud FedExed from heaven. People would come and go, and he’d carry on cooking while chatting about this and that, making cups of tea, putting on a piece of music, watching the passers‐by and, of course, smoking constantly.
Thanks to him, I knew how to serve up a good steak before I knew how to complete a tax return. Thanks to him, I know that stock should simmer over the gentlest of flames and never boil; that presentation makes your food taste twice as good; and that wine is one of the five food groups.
Seumas had many flaws and complications, as do we all. But he was generous with his time, with his knowledge and – if you were worthy – with whatever else he could offer. If he had just one pork chop left in the fridge and a half‐drunk bottle of something, he’d turn it into a feast for the two of you. He loved to sit down and share a good meal and good company and he dreamt for many years of opening another place where he could do that on a daily basis. That’s how I choose to see him now; sat at a table with some fine crystal glasses and a crisp, white tablecloth: eating a rich bourguignon, drinking a decent Burgundy and telling stories about the good old days.Scarlet Merrill
It feels odd to be standing here talking about the incredible and varied life of this amazing man because when I first met Seumas in 1991 he was the age I am now. There’s so much to say about his many different incarnations but not enough time which is why we’ve created a website where we will upload all the great stories and pictures.
Many absent friends that send their love today. Jeanie Windsor, Dolly Terfus, Jenny Hicks, Sapphire Browne, Iva Petrovic, Don Harper, Fay Trager-Smith (Fay with no “e” as she wanted to be called), Sylvia Gatehouse and Paul Hampton. Also, in remembrance of departed friends who he missed. Ian Blayney, George Cernoch, Caroline Barton, Roy Guest, Natalie Du Preez, Redd Sullivan & Martin Windsor.
Raised in Upminster he spent a lot of his childhood holidays with his grandparents at Tusmore Park, in Oxfordshire, the former estate of Lord Bicester. His mother’s father was head groom there. This is where he first glimpsed the beauty of a classic English country house and landscaped parkland. Lord Bicester’s son, Angus, sat him on one of his racehorse in the stable yard and that ignited his lifelong love of horses. The elegant cars and all the other fine things that were associated with these eccentric English aristocrats left a huge impression on him and I believe shaped the rest of his life.
An apprenticeship at Fords in Dagenham was where it all began, where he met his best friend Ian Blayney. Ian’s wife Bette has some fantastic stories from their wild youth to tell at the wake, mainly involving shotguns!
Fords could not hold his attention and he left to run and promote several smoky London based night clubs, most famously The Troubadour where many huge names made their UK debuts including Jimi Hendrix and Paul Simon. He then moved to Abbey Road Studios at time the Beatles recorded the album “Let it be”.
He briefly ran a small printing works and then moved to The Old Vic where he was nicked named “Guy Fawkes” as electrical devices kept exploding in the basement! Suddenly he was a master at a public school, then he set up a computer programming business, moving on to run a bar in a ski resort in France. The list goes on… He embraced change readily and often launched himself into something completely new, jumping off the cliff and dealing with the consequences mid fall; his parachute always opened, thankfully.
Quite often surrounded by bright young things, he loved the free thinking enthusiasm of youth and they in turn seemed to know that they could gain a lot from him.
I was in my mid-twenties when I met him and he had more influence and effect on me than any other person in my life. Svengali-esque, a sort of latter-day Henry Higgins, he took people on as “projects”. He had a unique way of making ordinary thing extraordinary. One of my first memories was of him telling me a few drops of blue food colouring into a white bath made the water look like a that of a Mediterranean swimming pool. He could take every day ingredients and create the most amazing meals which spoilt me for ever being able to enjoy mediocre restaurants again.
He was always fan of spontaneous behaviour (which some may have considered irresponsible). Twice in my career, after much wine and conversation, he talked me into faxing my resignation in the small hours of the morning. They were both the right decisions but were frightening things to wake up to the following morning on top of a hangover and a big mortgage! This was before email, which also need a breathaliser!
Some considered him “highbrow” or culturally elitist. He quite often goaded me saying I was culturally barren! I would say Seumas was a wordsmith extraordinaire. In a verbal spat, you’d be obliterated in seconds. He was renowned amongst our circle of friend for a particular phrase of his that he would throw at you if you ever quoted from a newspaper or magazine – he’d say, in a school teacher’s voice, “Do you believe everything you read?”
I always knew he had an excellent ear for music but I recently heard he was superb pianist, I knew he had played the piano when young but never realised how good he was and regretfully never heard him play.
Seumas was rarely seen without a cigarette or cigar but as a test last year revealed he had the lungs of a non-smoker – he merely swirled the smoke around his mouth as opposed to breathing it in. I felt outraged by this as we’d smoked together for so many years. It felt a bit like finding out your long term drinking accomplice had been spitting the wine into a flower pot when you weren’t looking!
Largely robust, the short illness he endured in the last months of his life represented a very brief period in time. This puts me in mind of the one phrase I’ll always remember as he quoted it to me many times (usually after one of my many ill-advised relationships went badly wrong). “Better an ending with horror than a horror without end”. For me, personally, the end would always have been too soon.Siggy Tudor-Hughes