I earlier wrote about the inaugural North Wales Recovery Communities (NWRC) service of remembrance and hope that I recently attended in Saint Deiniol’s Cathedral, Bangor. For many of us there that day, there was the additional poignancy of it being our first time back in the Cathedral since we were there for the specific service celebrating the life of one of our prominent recovery community members, JC.
I wrote and gave the eulogy that day, and it now feels timely that those words, with their remembrance of a life lost, a celebration of the joy in living, and account of a recovery champion, are shared amongst these pages.
Like a stained glass window, with its different elements that make the total picture, John was known to all of us through many different contexts. Yet, he had a life richer and fuller than the parts we each knew. He was known to us, this diverse and disparate community, by a variety of names; JC, John Dogs, John Quack, John Vietnam and Motorhead John, but to name a few.
Similarly, he had as many names for us as we did for him. He often called me Foxy, and many of you will be aware of his other name for you and those next to you.
It was my honour and privilege to have John count me as one of his friends and brother-in-arms for the last 30 years. I would like to share with you some bits of the stained glass window as I knew John.
Like many here, my friendship with John began through a haze of drink and drugs, but quickly turned into one of laughter, music and politics. For us, these beginnings were innocent, youthful and hedonistic. However, they were not without their complications. John recently described to me on one of his birthdays as the, ‘… 29th anniversary of the near-death experience involving you, [a bottle of] gin and Karen having to drag me out of a fire by my feet.’ Yet, despite the obvious dangers, John increasingly outlived the drink and drugs to become a recovery champion.
John Dogs was a lover of canines. Many will remember among them Gyp the Saluki and Tess the Lurcher. Indeed, there was a time when John seen with Tess reflected the maxim of owners looking like their dogs. It was then with some irony in the last 18 months that a cat, Captain Frederickson, chose to adopt John, and he became amazed at his love for her.
Motorhead John was a lover of music, particular heavy metal, and especially that of the thrashing mosh pit. When I first met him, he had just seen Motorhead with our long-since departed brother Pither. He was very proud, through his more recent regular attendance at Bloodstock and other festivals, to have seen more of his favourite bands than in the previous 25 years. And, as anyone who had their ear bent on the matter would know, he was of the opinion that the best of the lot were the Brazilian band Sepultura.
John Vietnam was more than just a fan. Many will know him from his stage crew days. Typically and recently, he described Marks’ Gibson guitar thus: ‘You could employ a pump action shotgun in to it, and it wouldn’t even go out of tune.’ He was not only a set-up man, but also a musician. Captured in this comment from last year: ‘Got new Volbeat CD, entitled Gentlemen Outlaws and Shady Ladies. Shades of electric period of Cult or Field of Nephilim, mixed with more than an homage to Johnny Cash in the key of dropped D, top draw rock and roll, bro.’
But even more than this, he was a Welsh rock band legend. He was always tickled to stumble across compilation albums and CDs with his good self on. John Vietnam was a rock star. Typically, he did not stop there; he was a film star too.
JC was a Chelsea man, a real passionate fan of the Blues and the beautiful game. He had an awesome encyclopaedic knowledge of past and present players. He once regaled me with his passion and pride of childhood trips he made with his Uncle Gwilym to see Bonetti, Cooke and Osgood play at Anfield. More recently, as many will know, he worshiped Didier Drogba. And, again typically, John was more than a fan. He was no mug himself as a player. And amongst his proudest of achievements was the acquisition of his UEFA C coaching licence.
John Quack was a complex and intelligent man, with many well-developed facets. He was a lover of good and hot food, always looking forward to real coffee and ‘rocket fuel’ as he referred to my homemade chili paste. He was a political animal, with a strong pride in his Welsh identity. He was a son of Gwynedd in both senses of the word. He recently said to me in response to some Saesneg insensitivity, ‘We are a nation in our own right and not a residual tribe, ain’t we?’
And he frequently accused me of bastardising his language. He said of his frequent encounters with authority, ‘I feel like I’m in a Carry On film.’ He often combined political insight with cutting humour. Offering this thought on recent suggestions that Scotland might separate and drift north: ‘It’s a relevant question, you know Wulf, will Scandinavia want Scotland. I would not want Wales to be twinned with Aquitaine in the same situation.’
He was, despite the periods of estrangement, proud of and loved by his family. He adored and was adored by Gwyneth, his mother. They were both amused in the period where all three of our lives crossed and I worked with John’s mum at Ty Gwydwr. He never ceased to talk fondly of her, his sons and the wider family. John was very much aware of the damage his drink and drug use had done to both those who loved him and himself. He once asked of me, ‘… sometimes you must wonder why you bother?’ and said of his more recent abstinent years, ‘I’ve stopped being the terminal case of aggravation.’
But he was, and his life was, much richer than the difficult bits. The good and the not so good were inextricably linked; and when we were recently looking back on our lives, he said, “I’ve no regrets at all, bro. Everything I’ve ever done has made me the man I am today and I am comfortable with that man.’
John was a crusader. Passionate and spirituality-driven, he recently had become very active in motivating and supporting others to achieve their recovery. His passion was to do this through music, and he had successfully set up an organisation to achieve this. In this, his clarion call to us was, ‘Keep it black, keep it loud, keep it together.’
He had taken to signing off his numerous and frequent texts–John Williams, Team Recovery, Bangor.
High St. John will be sorely missed by the clock tower, by you and me. Rest in peace bro.