John George Hunter
Wow! John. Where to begin? You were twelve and I was thirteen when we first met, in our shared study at Altyre House at school. We bonded almost immediately. And not over the things you would expect from a tough, outdoorsy school — all hiking and rugby and cold showers — but something much more cultured: music. We were both music — and specifically guitar — mad. I had a cheap Japanese copy of a Gibson Les Paul, but you had a genuine cream Fender Telecaster, modeled after your hero, Rick Parfitt. True to your Quo credentials, you knew all their 12-bar blues licks. I was impressed…and if the truth be told, also a tad jealous. The only song of theirs you didn’t know was the one I actually liked: “Living on an Island”. But that was OK, because there were plenty of other songs by plenty of other bands we both liked: the Jam; the Who; the Beatles.
We played together pretty much from day one, trading licks and riffs and chord sequences. We played our first gig together, one Saturday lunchtime under the arch: you, me and David Tinsley on drums. We did a cover of the Jam’s “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight”. Uncharacteristically, I played the bass on that one, because it was hard to sing the melody and play the bass line at the same time. So I was Bruce Foxton to your Weller. You played the power chords and sang the song. Beautifully. We got a lot of nice comments afterwards, which we dined out on for weeks. To this day “Tubestation” always reminds me of you.
Because of your guitar chops, your big heart and kind personality, you were very popular at school….even with the older boys and girls. But you were also a little atypical. You weren’t into rugby (at all!), preferring like me, football. (We were both Arsenal fans, which was another thing to bond over…even though the Gooners in the early eighties were woeful…a far cry from the later Wenger and Arteta years.) You were also atypical because despite all the received English accents around us, you still retained some of your North London vowels. Atypical, because you retained your own identity. Your independence. Above all, you were your own man. Unapologetically, John. I really respected that about you.
After school, we saw each other much less frequently. I was abroad for most of my twenties and thirties; you were back home in Blighty, busy with various businesses and also more than your fair share of health battles. 26 years ago you were given just a few months to live. But you beat the odds…and did it with charm, bravery and an absolute zest for life. That tells its own story.
Thankfully, over the last ten years or so, we had a lot more contact. You and Susan got married; and Juliet and I did too. The four of us had fun times together. Especially when Juliet’s son Henri elected to study in Bournemouth. We saw a lot of you then. Walks on the beach; rides in the ventriculator (until the morning it died in a landslide — remember that?); playing pranks on the girls. I particularly remember you holding court at Henri’s 21st birthday party in a curry house in town. You put a napkin on your head and pretended to be some satanic character, menacing the table. It was hilarious!
I also remember you and Susan egging on Henri’s friend Lauren in the marathon. I was really touched that you went out to support her. But that was very you, somehow.
I am sure that many people will mention your big personality and larger-than-life persona — because that was undoubtedly true. But you also possessed a fierce and sharp intelligence. Not everyone got to benefit from that. But I did. I always valued your perspective and insight. I sought out your advice. You were a real sharp cookie. You made me think about stuff.
Most of all, you were an example. To me, my wife Juliet, to Henri, to all. An example of what decent looked like. And funny. And kind. How you cut through all the cr*p with an inimitable joie-de-vivre. Nobody loved life quite like you did. And you were really, really good at it.
You always used to tell me — and other friends — that you loved us. Invariably and unashamedly, whever we said “goodbye”. I really liked that about you too. You wore your heart on your sleeve: and your affection for your friends there too.
The last time I saw you was at Christmas in Tuttons restaurant in Covent Garden, with Susan and David Tinsley. That place had become a bit of a ritual for us to meet, whenever you were in London. I think the photograph was taken there.
I spoke to Susan periodically the week before you passed. You were constantly on my mind. And when I got the dreaded call, Juliet and I were driving up the M1. I have no shame in saying that I cried. Because you wouldn’t have been embarrassed about emotion. But through the tears, I also smiled. Because in my mind’s eye, I could just see you doing your madcap stuff.
Thank you for having been such a good and longstanding friend to me. I always loved you. I shall miss you terribly. xxx