There is that saying that the best get stolen from us too soon.
This is certainly true in the case of Laurence Brewer who died this week after a long battle with the muscle illness ALS with his brave and inspiring attitude towards his illness being both moving and an inspiration.
I knew Laurence from my days in the Blackpool punk and post punk music scenes when he was the lead singer of a very youthful, but very accomplished young band called Sign Language.
Laurence was about five years younger than us which seemed like a century in those days, but somehow he bridged that gap because he far too smart and had fully formed world views and a liberal attitude that was years ahead of his time. People were either in awe of his smarts or considered him lovably eccentric but everyone thought he was cool and he was perfect lead singer material with a charismatic and waywardly awkward presence of all the great singers and his inclusion in local band Sign Language somehow worked despite the rest of the band’s youthful hi jinx and his outwardly serious persona that belied his own sly sense of humour. He was also a very good lyricist.
I even put out a track of the band on the Blackpool Rox EP number 2 in 1982 in my Vinyl Drip label. Their song, The Killing, sounded far better than it should have done for a young band who must have been 14/15 at the time. There was so much potential there, but it all unravelled like it did for so many great young bands trapped in small towns in the post punk period.
I had bumped into Laurence a few times in the last few years after he moved to Bolton with his beautiful and equally smart wife Dani and young son.
Oddly it was always at the Cornerhouse cafe in Manchester where I saw him.
He was still the same youthful and very intelligent boy- man that he had always been- he barely seemed to have aged since those Blackpool days and his open minded attitude to life remained undiminished even after he first told me that he had the disease. Instead of the blind panic the rest of us would have had, he was far more concerned about Dani and his newly born son and he also seemed to relish the challenge to take on this cruelest of conditions with a powerful dignity and this he did with his facebook entries where his withered body, but still fiery and brilliant mind engaged with the outside world in about the best use of facebook I have ever seen.
Luckily for me I saw him again in the Cornerhouse in May. His condition had deteriorated and he was now confined to a wheelchair, his body twisted into an uncomfortable looking position and his speech slurred as the wasting disease grappled with him but, like a fighter, he still seemed undiminished and his face was radiant, pure and beautiful with rosy cheeks and eyes that poured out love and positivity. It was great to see him, and it affected me all year thinking of him in that place and in that condition and yet being unbowed by its’ cruelty.
We chatted for some time, it was thrilling to see him again. I feel so lucky I went into the Cornerhouse that day and I invited him to the Membranes Universe gig in July- I talked to Dani about it briefly until I realised how difficult it was to get him into places. Even on the day of the gig I tried to set it up so he could at least come down to the soundcheck and smell a venue again and feel that rush of getting your ears battered by the noise, but I knew it was going to be too difficult and ultimately, impractical.
Like the rest of the Blackpool music community, all we had to hang onto was those facebook entries. As he stared death in the face he wrote of songs he would like to hear at his funeral, music he loved; ideas that he had until even the hi tech super sensitive keyboard that reacted to his failing body was not enough any more and Dani took over for the harrowing accounts of the last days of his life where he still remained calm and dignified until the last.
It was great to have known you Laurence.