A Tribute to John “JC” Collie

John “JC” Collie, RIP

A Farewell to a King

It was Sunday, June 13th 2021 when I finally finished work on “The Heart of Madness”.  The song that had taken a couple of months of my life, and which would undoubtedly be the best piece of music, and lyrical journey, that I would ever write.  I was so happy and couldn’t wait to share it with my musician friends, just to see whether they thought it was as good as I did.

I fired up my work PC, flicked open Firefox (yes, I still use Firefox, among others) and the first thing I saw when the Facebook tab opened up was a post saying that John Collie, probably my best friend from back in the early nineties and the one with whom I’d spend most of my time, had passed on.  He was only fifty-nine, and he wasn’t taken by any illness.  At first, I thought he’d put his daughter up to it and was just taking the piss – he was a real joker when he was in the band, and didn’t really take life very seriously at all, so it IS the kind of thing that he’d have done.

But it wasn’t a joke.

Not only was John the first of my real-life friends to die, but he was the reason Fury sounded the way they did in those early nineties.  My music was darker before I met John, but the tone of his voice and the way he handled himself meant it would be better suited to a more melodic style.  And so, from that point on, everything I wrote was with John’s voice in mind.  Some said he sounded like Freddie Mercury, while others said he sounded more like Freddie Starr, but to me… he was just JC.

Any time he saw one of my guitars, he’d grab it.  Moments later, he’d be strumming away and belting out Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”.  It was tough to get the guitar off him, not because he wouldn’t give it back, but because you really didn’t want to take it from him.  If it was in his hands, he’d be playing and singing away.  Always.  We never did get as far as having him play guitar on stage, or during one of the recordings, but I think he’d have loved it.

I went to John’s funeral with Stevie, the Fury bassist that I’ve mentioned elsewhere.  It was a tough day, for sure.  My eyes filled the moment I walked into the chapel of rest and saw the screens playing through a slideshow of his life.  I saw Lorraine, his wife, and their five children.  I’ve never felt so helpless, or so… I don’t know… I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there to bid him farewell as we hadn’t seen each other in person for probably twenty years, and our relationship had become nothing more than the odd Facebook comment on each other’s walls.  But he only lived thirty minutes from me, and I’d been in his town several times over the past couple of years, so there really was no excuse.

It was the guilt, though.  The guilt of how he used to look at me after I didn’t fight his corner when he’d been asked to leave.  We were so close back then, inseparable, but when there was talk of replacing him (his singing never suffered, but he could never remember lyrics as he enjoyed the weed), I went with the majority vote.  I was never the type to overrule others just because I’d been in the band longer than them and wrote all the songs.  It was still a collaboration.  Whenever we hung out after we split from him, though, he’d mention it, and I could see in his eyes how much it was hurting him.  So I distanced myself.  Then distanced myself more.  And I hate myself for it.  I always will.  I’d love to sit down with him and listen to him playing Marley again, and I’d love to let him hear what I put so much effort into.

I’d love to just turn up at his door and hug him, and say sorry.

From my Facebook post…

I remember one Christmas, we exchanged gifts and there was a tiny gift sitting on top of my real present. When I say tiny, I genuinely mean it was absolutely minuscule. I had no idea what it was, but it was still wrapped in Christmas paper. I opened it up and saw a 2p coin, filed down to the shape of a guitar pick. It might not seem like a lot, but I tell SO MANY people about that present. I’ve even told clients about it and shown them pictures of it. It meant the world to me, and still does.

To put it into perspective… going back to 1991, I was never happy with my guitar picks. I liked the shape, but not the weight, and not the plasticky sound that I got from the strings when the pick would hit them. I wanted something different, something that would make my playing and my sound stand out. So I took a 10p coin and placed my favourite pick on top (a little black Fender one), then drew around the pick. I spent a week holding the coin in a pair of pliers in my left hand, squeezing as hard as possible the entire time to avoid slipping, and hacked away at it using a file in my right hand. It was a shit file, though, as it came inside a Christmas cracker.

But that was the guitar pick I used from that point on. Not just because it damn near crippled me for a week, but because it was the perfect weight, thickness, and material.

When John got the job as singer in the band, he wanted a shot of the guitar (he always did) and I handed it to him along with my 10p pick. He studied it, asked what the hell I was doing using a coin as a guitar pick, and I told him all about it, and how I only have one because it hurt the fuck out of my hands, to the point where I could barely move my fingers for hours after each session with the pliers and file. He just laughed and said no more about it.

So when I opened up that tiny Christmas present that day and saw that it was another coin trimmed down to a perfect guitar pick… holy fuck, I was blown away. Lorraine worked at a place called Haran Glassmasters (edit: this might not be what it was called as I can’t find any mention of them on Google), and she made the initial cuts there and then John cleaned it all up himself. Amazing. It was, and still is, the most precious and considerate Christmas present any of my friends have ever given me (the goose pillows are next on the list, don’t fret). Every song I’ve ever written since, every song I’ve ever recorded, was either using the 10p pick that I created myself or the 2p one that John gave me that year. No exception.

I regret the years that we drifted, and the time we lost. Today made me think. It’s very easy to throw away an amazing friendship over little things becoming bigger things. John and I lost touch because I didn’t fight his corner when the other band members wanted to replace him, and my reason at the time was that I didn’t feel right pulling rank. A band isn’t about one person and then other people around them; it’s about everyone, and if one person stands alone then that’s just how it is. I explained that a few times when we hung out after he was no longer in the band, but I could always see the sadness and hurt in his eyes. I think that’s why I distanced myself.

But it didn’t have to be like that. It’s stupid, now, in hindsight. I like to think that every time I pick up my guitar from now on, I’ll be using John’s pick, and I’ll carry a little of his musical legacy with me until it’s my time for the curtain call.

Fury, “Heaven and Hell” live at Oscar’s, Livingston.

Apologies for the editing and the presence of a British soap opera’s audio mixed through our own audio.  The person who filmed us kept stopping and starting the recording, and they somehow managed to overdub the ambient audio from their own lounge into our mix.  But this is John in all his glory, loving every second of it.