Tag Archives: obituary

RIP Terry Callier, Keep Your Heart Right

Soul and jazz singer Terry Callier has died. The 67-year-old songwriter experienced belated success in his career after working with acts including Massive Attack and Beth Orton.

Born in the Chicago projects, Callier was a childhood friend of Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler, and began singing in doo-wop groups in his teens. Later he became a fixture on the city’s coffee house scene, releasing a debut album titled The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier in 1968. In the early 70s he released three critically celebrated “jazz-folk” albums and toured with George Benson and Gil Scott-Heron, but he had abandoned music for a job as a computer programmer at the University of Chicago until a new generation rediscovered his work in the early 90s.

With the encouragement of the likes of Eddie Pillar of the Acid Jazz label in London, Callier started to gig again in the UK, and contributed to a Beth Orton EP in 1997. The following year he released his own album, Timepeace. It was only when that record won a United Nations award that his employers at the university discovered his new double life and dismissed him from his post.

“After all that had happened over the years, I wasn’t looking to be a musician again because I had got used to having that pay cheque every two weeks,” he told the Guardian in 2004.Five more albums followed, including 2009’s Hidden Conversations, written and produced with Massive Attack.

(words via The Guardian)

John Dyson

John Dyson was an author and magazine journalist with a strong sense of adventure and a dedication to scrupulous research. From his boyhood in New Zealand he had a passion for the sea; he produced his first book, on yachting, while still in his teens, and went on to write many more with nautical themes.

Perhaps the most notable was based on a reconstruction of Columbus’s voyage in the caravel Nina in 1492, which also resulted in two documentaries, for NBC and the BBC’s Timewatch. Dyson had met a professor and navigation expert in Cadiz who had a theory that the Columbus log was scrambled in order to put competitors off the scent when they were trying to reach gold on the other side of the Atlantic. He had worked out that the navigation details in the original log did not make nautical sense. So Dyson instigated the building of a replica of the Nina, hired 20 Spanish nautical students and sailed her across to the West Indies, following the unscrambled diaries. The voyage was as authentic as possible. Everyone wore rough tunics of the kind the 1492 crew would have worn, there were no electrics on board, and the cooking was done on an open fire on deck, with live chickens and rabbits destined for the cooking pot. The resulting book went into many editions.

John Dyson was born in 1943, the son of a policeman of Dutch origin who had come to New Zealand via Java, and who built his own house just outside Auckland, where his five children enjoyed an idyllic outdoor childhood. This fostered a strong sense of independence, so much so that John, the oldest child and only boy, left home at 16 for a seven-month tour of Europe. Back in New Zealand, he joined the Auckland Star as a reporter, and at the age of 20 hitched a ride as a crew member of an American sailing yacht to Hong Kong where he got a job as armed forces reporter for the South China Morning Post, which sent him all over south-east Asia on assignment. Moving on to Britain, he was taken on as a reporter by the Manchester Evening News, then by the Daily Mail’s Manchester office. Sent to Leeds to cover a beauty contest for stable girls, he met Kate (surname), a young reporter for the Yorkshire Post, with whom he was to enjoy 45 years of happy marriage.

After a yacht journey through France to the Mediterranean, Dyson spotted an advertisement in an English newspaper used to wrap fruit in a Marseilles market. It was for a journalist on a magazine shortly to be launched by the Automobile Association, called Drive. Dyson worked there for XX years, thinking up some of its most successful stories and campaigns, such as the first ever Plant a Tree Day. Some of the results can still be seen by the M4 near Slough.

During this period Dyson wrote also many books. For the AA Book of the Seaside he travelled round virtually the entire coast of Britain to research it, while for The Hot Arctic he spent several months in the Arctic Circle and in the book discussed the many threats to the region that have since become commonplace. Next came South Seas Dream, which did for the Pacific what his previous book had done for the Arctic. He returned to New Zealand to write “Sink the Rainbow Warrior”, about the French secret service’s blowing up the Greenpeace flagship. The book was serialised in the Observer.

Dyson then joined Reader’s Digest, the world’s best-selling magazine, working as a roving reporter for its European Editorial Office, which sent him all over the globe to write stories for its many worldwide editions. He wrote more than 200 stories for the Digest, which could involve weeks or even months of research even before the story was written to satisfy the magazine’s notorious fact-checkers, who rarely found much wrong with Dyson’s reports. He was greatly valued by his editors for his initiative, professionalism and endless fund of ideas. He specialised in adventure stories (or “dramas in real life” in Digest-speak), maritime yarns and environmental investigations. While a great lover of nature and wild places, Dyson was also something of a climate change sceptic, for instance writing a demolition of the case for wind farms long before they became a national issue.

He would often quietly help people after completing a story. On a recent assignment in Athens, he met the destitute survivors from a capsized refugee boat who had lost their papers and been beaten up by anti-immigrant thugs. Dyson arranged for the shipping company which owned the boat that had rescued them to take them to Holland where work could be found.

Dyson was a tall, handsome man who was devoted to his family. Having longed to own a boat all his life, he finally found the vessel of his dreams, a 31-foot ketch called Sovrana, which he enjoyed taking out at every opportunity. He is survived by his wife Kate and four children.

John Dyson, author and journalist, was born on March 12, 1943. He died of cancer on May 6, 2012.

By Robert Low

A fascinating obit: John Fairfax, the most interesting man in the world

He crossed the Atlantic because it was there, and the Pacific because it was also there.

He made both crossings in a rowboat because it, too, was there, and because the lure of sea, spray and sinew, and the history-making chance to traverse two oceans without steam or sail, proved irresistible.

In 1969, after six months alone on the Atlantic battling storms, sharks and encroaching madness, John Fairfax, who died this month at 74, became the first lone oarsman in recorded history to traverse any ocean.

In 1972, he and his girlfriend, Sylvia Cook, sharing a boat, became the first people to row across the Pacific, a yearlong ordeal during which their craft was thought lost. (The couple survived the voyage, and so, for quite some time, did their romance.)

Both journeys were the subject of fevered coverage by the news media. They inspired two memoirs by Mr. Fairfax, “Britannia: Rowing Alone Across the Atlantic” and, with Ms. Cook, “Oars Across the Pacific,” both published in the early 1970s.

Mr. Fairfax died on Feb. 8 at his home in Henderson, Nev., near Las Vegas. The apparent cause was a heart attack, said his wife, Tiffany. A professional astrologer, she is his only immediate survivor. Ms. Cook, who became an upholsterer and spent the rest of her life quietly on dry land (though she remained a close friend of Mr. Fairfax), lives outside London.

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For all its bravura, Mr. Fairfax’s seafaring almost pales beside his earlier ventures. Footloose and handsome, he was a flesh-and-blood character out of Graham Greene, with more than a dash of Hemingway and Ian Fleming shaken in.

At 9, he settled a dispute with a pistol. At 13, he lit out for the Amazon jungle.

At 20, he attempted suicide-by-jaguar. Afterward he was apprenticed to a pirate. To please his mother, who did not take kindly to his being a pirate, he briefly managed a mink farm, one of the few truly dull entries on his otherwise crackling résumé, which lately included a career as a professional gambler.

Mr. Fairfax was among the last avatars of a centuries-old figure: the lone-wolf explorer, whose exploits are conceived to satisfy few but himself. His was a solitary, contemplative art that has been all but lost amid the contrived derring-do of adventure-based reality television.

The only child of an English father and a Bulgarian mother, John Fairfax was born on May 21, 1937, in Rome, where his mother had family; he scarcely knew his father, who worked in London for the BBC.

Seeking to give her son structure, his mother enrolled him at 6 in the Italian Boy Scouts. It was there, Mr. Fairfax said, that he acquired his love of nature — and his determination to bend it to his will.

On a camping trip when he was 9, John concluded a fight with another boy by filching the scoutmaster’s pistol and shooting up the campsite. No one was injured, but his scouting career was over.

His parents’ marriage dissolved soon afterward, and he moved with his mother to Buenos Aires. A bright, impassioned dreamer, he devoured tales of adventure, including an account of the voyage of Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo, Norwegians who in 1896 were the first to row across the Atlantic. John vowed that he would one day make the crossing alone.

At 13, in thrall to Tarzan, he ran away from home to live in the jungle. He survived there as a trapper with the aid of local peasants, returning to town periodically to sell the jaguar and ocelot skins he had collected.

He later studied literature and philosophy at a university in Buenos Aires and at 20, despondent over a failed love affair, resolved to kill himself by letting a jaguar attack him. When the planned confrontation ensued, however, reason prevailed — as did the gun he had with him.

In Panama, he met a pirate, applied for a job as a pirate’s apprentice and was taken on. He spent three years smuggling guns, liquor and cigarettes around the world, becoming captain of one of his boss’s boats, work that gave him superb navigational skills.

When piracy lost its luster, he gave his boss the slip and fetched up in 1960s London, at loose ends. He revived his boyhood dream of crossing the ocean and, since his pirate duties had entailed no rowing, he began to train.

He rowed daily on the Serpentine, the lake in Hyde Park. Barely more than half a mile long, it was about one eight-thousandth the width of the Atlantic, but it would do.

On Jan. 20, 1969, Mr. Fairfax pushed off from the Canary Islands, bound for Florida. His 22-foot craft, the Britannia, was the Rolls-Royce of rowboats: made of mahogany, it had been created for the voyage by the eminent English boat designer Uffa Fox. It was self-righting, self-bailing and partly covered.

Aboard were provisions (Spam, oatmeal, brandy); water; and a temperamental radio. There was no support boat and no chase plane — only Mr. Fairfax and the sea. He caught fish and sometimes boarded passing ships to cadge food, water and showers.

The long, empty days spawned a temporary madness. Desperate for female company, he talked ardently to the planet Venus.

On July 19, 1969 — Day 180 — Mr. Fairfax, tanned, tired and about 20 pounds lighter, made landfall at Hollywood, Fla. “This is bloody stupid,” he said as he came ashore. Two years later, he was at it again.

This time Ms. Cook, a secretary and competitive rower he had met in London, was aboard. Their new boat, the Britannia II, also a Fox design, was about 36 feet long, large enough for two though still little more than a toy on the Pacific.

“He’s always been a gambler,” Ms. Cook, 73, recalled by telephone on Wednesday. “He was going to the casino every night when I met him — it was craps in those days. And at the end of the day, adventures are a kind of gamble, aren’t they?”

Their crossing, from San Francisco to Hayman Island, Australia, took 361 days — from April 26, 1971, to April 22, 1972 — and was an 8,000-mile cornucopia of disaster.

“It was very, very rough, and our rudder got snapped clean off,” Ms. Cook said. “We were frequently swamped, and at night you didn’t know if the boat was the right way up or the wrong way up.”

Mr. Fairfax was bitten on the arm by a shark, and he and Ms. Cook became trapped in a cyclone, lashing themselves to the boat until it subsided. Unreachable by radio for a time, they were presumed lost.

For all that, Ms. Cook said, there were abundant pleasures. “The nights not too hot, sunny days when you could just row,” she recalled. “You just hear the clunking of the rowlocks, and you stop rowing and hear little splashings of the sea.”

Mr. Fairfax was often asked why he chose a rowboat to beard two roiling oceans. “Almost anybody with a little bit of know-how can sail,” he said in a profile on the Web site of the Ocean Rowing Society International, which adjudicates ocean rowing records. “I’m after a battle with nature, primitive and raw.”

Such battles are a young man’s game. With Ms. Cook, Mr. Fairfax went back to the Pacific in the mid-’70s to try to salvage a cache of lead ingots from a downed ship they had spied on their crossing. But the plan proved unworkable, and he never returned to sea.

In recent years, Mr. Fairfax made his living playing baccarat, the card game also favored by James Bond.

Baccarat is equal parts skill and chance. It lets the player wield consummate mastery while consigning him simultaneously to the caprices of fate.


NY Times, Published: February 18, 2012
(Well spotted Harro, tip of the hat to ye)