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Posted by markswill in About me, Media, Navel Gazing, That's Entertainment.

Sometimes it’s impossible not to write in clichés, and this is one of them: There have been too many deaths recently and the years advance, that is of course inevitable. But with every discovery that some old friend has passed on, in too many cases the sadness is exacerbated by the realisation that we had not spent much time together in the years before fate took its final turn.

Such thoughts don’t only attend me when a death is announced for I often find myself wistfully remembering those who I long ago spent as much time with as I do with the close friends I have now, but of course there are only so many hours, days and weeks in the year and geography and careers and new lovers and the raising of families – the latter not in my case, obviously – conspire to punctuate and invariably puncture or re-shape those relationships, just as an ebbing tide turn the pebbles on a beach into new and different patterns.

Preparing a eulogy for a friend who was still a regular part of my social life until last autumn, I found myself re-evaluating the impact she’d had on my life and considering the ‘what-ifs’ that attended the various stages of our relationship: the missed opportunities; the misjudged assumptions; the lazy failures to be as supportive as one might’ve been. But I also remembered the fantastic fun and the huge benefits I enjoyed from what scraps of life we had together. And with some slight embarrassment as I delivered that eulogy, I found myself declaring feelings for her that perhaps I hadn’t fully realised during the forty odd years we’d been friends. Which is I guess is the basis of such post-traumatic regrets.

Mr Hibbert in characteristically enigmatic pose

With Tom Hibbert, who died last week aged just 59, it was different. Ours was a friendship born out of journalism, he a writer, mine at the time an editor. In 1980 the same company that published Smash Hits hired me to edit a low-budget crack at the nostalgia market which now supports weighty journals such as Mojo and Classic Rock, and I knew Tom as author of some of the whacky pop poster mags produced by Bunch Assoc., the post-underground press outfit I also worked for. Tom, then mainly if incongruously wrote for a DIY magazine, as someone who could throw together a feature about almost anyone at short notice. Despite our best efforts, it would be nice to say that Greatest Hits was just too far ahead of its time, but by current standards it was actually pretty awful.

Although Greatest Hits fell over at the starting gate, Tom went to work for a successful partwork called History of Rock, but we had friends in common who became closer and greater in number and we drank, took copious quantities of whizz together and generally had a very good time indeed.  Much of this revolved around our mutual love of obscure and invariably psychedelic bands, anorak fixations that prompted outbursts of “Pop quiz, pop quiz” when we would challenge each other to name Big Star’s first drummer or the composer of ‘My Friend Jack Eats Sugar Lumps’, often fabricating the answer with a vicious certainty that brooked no dispute. But indisputably, Tom was a brilliant writer whose world-class mordancy was tempered by a mischievous humour , and when I launched New Music News in 1981, he really got into his stride. NMN was unleashed at a week’s notice after IPC’s Melody Maker (for whom I was a columnist and features scribbler) and New Musical Express fell victims of a union dispute and it was a mad, sleep-deprived attempt to inject some levity into a weekly press that took itself far too seriously… and of course, cop the advertising revenue that suddenly had nowhere else to go.

With a constant succession of Marlboros burning holes in his desk and esoteric outwear, and a glass of his favourite, quite disgusting but comfortingly cheap Hanky Bannister scotch never far away, Tom would churn out features and reviews with an insouciant ease, although not always on time. Well rarely on time, actually. And because we needed readers’ letters but barely had any readers, he simply made them up, usually on wildly off-message topics and often referencing imaginary acts with improbable names. Along with Mark Ellen – the two would later work together to even greater effect on the real Smash Hits and then Q, where he honed irreverent interviewing into an art form  – Tom would write also bizarre captions, e.g. ‘Anna Ford gives Wavis O’Shave’s bum a good kicking’, which I doubt anyone except me and the other Mark found amusing, but it didn’t matter.

And that, I now realise, was what I loved about Tom. Anything he did, wrote and  sometimes even said, didn’t really matter in the great scheme of things. For example, he was actually a pretty good guitarist and songwriter, but seemed to find the whole business of performing a bit of an aimless lark deliberately using the cheapest equipment, whether it was with the prophetically-named Tired of Living (whose jaunty vinyl excursion ‘You’ve Got To Kiss A Lot of Frogs’ I recklessly financed to coincide with Charles and Di’s wedding) or the slightly more professional Love Trousers (with fellow plank-spanker, Mark Ellen).

And because he didn’t really care about food – for a long time he dined almost exclusively at Notting Hill’s Spud-U-Like – or the effects that umpteen Marlboros and everything else he imbibed might have on him, he soon eventually succumbed to serious illness, first pancreatitis, which nearly killed him, and later complications as a result of diabetes, which did.

To those friends who as we all got older cautioned Tom to rein back on the drink and the gaspers, he would just shrug us off with a wry smirk and a “Yes, yes, of course” as he pulled another Red Stripe from the carrier bag that was his perennial briefcase.

As with others now lost to me, I hadn’t seen Tom in far too many years – geography being my main, but ultimately empty justification – but his departure does underline the frailty of relationships that once were so special and for which, in this age of instant digital communication, there is perhaps no real excuse. Given his playful nihilism Tom, of course, might disagree.

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1. xmoron - September 13, 2011

Back in the 80’s my missis and I used to edit/write a promo mag for a bank’s young readers – a cross between Smash Hits and Blue Peter mediated by own general crapness. The best thing to come out of it was our subscription to Smash Hits, paid for by the bank, so we could channel TH and shamelessly rip him off. We were big fans. Nice piece, Mark.

2. tony - November 6, 2012

i really liked tom – i did some work at his house some years ago and he told us blokes to stop working and watch the test match. a couple of us were musicians/songwriters and we had very funny chats with this lovely guy who was usually quite drunk but all the better for it. good old tom.

markswill - November 6, 2012

I know not who you are Tony, or quite why or how you came to this blog so long after it was written, but I obviously concur with your final remark: Good old Tom, indeed.

3. Nicholas C. Callebaut - December 20, 2012

I was an acquaintance of Tom’s at Leeds University [71 – ] and have thought about him perhaps three times over the intervening.
He wrote me a cheque for “Twenty Million Squid”.
I was not aware that he was the same person that I knew nor of his career of the years.
It’s not too surprising – there were thousands students plus and loads more in other local places of study in that City.
I heard a Radio 4 programme this morning about “Smash Hits” which strongly mentioned his contribution. Could they be talking about the same person?
After all, many people have the same names.
Google showed me photographs and I knew it WAS him.
Also strange, we both sat down in protest against “Milk Thatcher Snatcher” then.
His hair was distinctively black.
P.S. I am not a Socialist politically nor does it seem I’m the socializer I thought I was.

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