Remembering Simon Elton

Winston Watusi
Music Plus

 You’ll have to give me a little leeway with this column; it’s hard to find the right tone just before deadline when you hear a friend has died.

Especially when he was the person that did the ringing round when the musical community lost someone.

Simon Elton, singer, songwriter, guitarist, bass player, producer and musical archivist, died this week in hospital. I think there were complications after an operation; it’s too soon to confirm. He was in for a few days but I didn’t think it was too serious so didn’t visit or even ring. I sure wish I had.

Because we lost Simon.

That’s what he always used to say on those phone calls. I think the first one was when Ritchie Pickett died. “I’ve got some bad news - we lost Ritchie,” said Simon and we talked a bit, but I knew he had a lot more calls to make because Simon knew everyone and he was the sort of person who looked after that sort of thing.

There were more calls over the years: “I’ve got some bad news...” In this rock 'n' roll world where we’re all perpetual adolescents, I always thought of Simon as the grown up in the room.

Since then, as the Facebook condolences have poured in, the word used most is “gentleman”. It’s an old-fashioned term I know, but perfect for Simon. He seemed always reasonable, always interested, always kind and sensible, always modest, funny, all those things, don't get me started...

Simon currently sang and played guitar with a couple of outfits, B-Side Band and Play Misty, an offshoot duo with B-Side compadre Paul Parkhouse.

B-Side

B-Side Band started life as a vehicle to play exactly what the name says: those forgotten “b-sides” that lurk in everyone’s memory.

They were a trio with Carl Winter drumming and no bass player. I forget how many hours I spent trying to convince Simon they needed a bass player. Never happened. Later Blair Williams played drums, before the band settled in as a four-piece with drummer Ian “Beano” Gilpin and guitarist Mike Kirk.

They released their first six-track EP in 2006, followed by six more albums. By 2014’s compilation, The Collection, the band had firmly moved to their own original songs.

Most were Paul’s hard-bitten takes on Kiwi living but always with two or three of Simon’s, often songs memorialising the music he loved, be it My Story Of The Blues or Rockabilly Hall Of Fame, both of which eulogised musical heroes.

He continued to turn out quirky tunes right up to Steppin' Out on last year's Ship Of Fools. Videos for many of their songs are on YouTube and Facebook.

Simon was also a devout fan of early Kiwi music and recorded many versions of songs from New Zealand’s musical past, including Johnny Cooper’s Lonely Blues and, on that last album, a wonderful take on Tom Hark – Ry Ry.

The Furys

Going back, Simon cemented a place in Kiwi music history in the 80s by playing bass in Auckland alongside Dave McLean and Rob Galley in The Furys. They were regarded as one of the wildest bands of their era but, despite being a favourite of critics and fellow-musicians, the big time eluded them and they released just two singles.

Simon was also a producer, releasing several albums, including a live set by The Furys and two collections by Ritchie Pickett, whom he played bass with and loyally supported in the years before Ritchie’s death. I think you can find them on Spotify.

And he was an archivist. He knew more about old New Zealand music than anyone I know. Who sang something in 1958? Call Simon. He’d taken his copy of Graham Clark’s musical history The Right Note to countless gigs, getting everyone in it to sign their pictures. It should be worth a fortune by now.

Okay. Enough. I really could go on and on.

Just as a heads-up: the Kokomo concert on July 24 in Te Puna that I mentioned last week has now been cancelled in favour of a memorial concert for Simon. Many musicians will be playing; everyone is welcome to attend, no charge.



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