A personal obituary

Having gone through “the once in a century pandemic” without even knowing anyone personally with definite COVID, on receiving my college gazette this week I got to hear of the death of a friend from it, over in Canada.

This was a guy you’ll not have heard of, named Howard Tweddle, and he caught the disease right at the beginning of the scare in March, and (according to the local online obituaries) died from it because he already had a couple of serious underlying conditions. Still, he was one of the few contemporaries I’d occasionally touched base with over the years, having found him on the internet, and I think it worth just sharing a few personal memories of a fellow musician, albeit a better one than me.

Pembroke College Cambridge was a small community back then, and of my intake of around 150 (maybe) I can recall only four who were committed “popular” musicians, though everybody else back then had a guitar.

There was a bloke called Dave Morris, who played clarinet and was learning sax, in whose fledgling band I played for about a week. There was Phil Etherington, a jazz drummer who had his kit set up in his room in a secluded corner of the college, and who introduced me to Buddy Rich and Joe Morello. Then there was Howard, who was mainly into rock, and me, making my way as a folk guitarist. We formed the basis of some loose, overlapping, social groupings. Howard was always smiling, friendly and decent – qualities which were mentioned frequently in his obituaries.

Like me he was a guitarist, though as an engineer he’d built his own electric guitar in Brian May fashion before coming up, which was a considerable feat. However, he soon appreciated the stiff competition (Cambridge at that time also had Fred Frith, who became a mainstay of the New York avant garde scene, and Kimberley Rew, who went on to form the Soft Boys and find fame with Katrina and the Waves, writing most of their hits), and he decided to switch to bass. He later sold me his home-made fuzz-pedal, and a Vox wah-wah like Jimi Hendrix’s, which would be worth a lot now if I hadn’t sold it.

Howard had soon joined a new “progressive” band based in the engineering department, and forked out £25 at Ken Stevens’ shop for an old semi-acoustic Hofner Senator bass with a warped neck. He invited me round to look at it, and it was the first bass I’d played. He showed me the first bass-line he’d been given to learn, which was actually very tricky, but neat, and it told me the band was going to be worth listening to.

When I blew my grant money on my own Senator bass a little later (£30, with a much straighter neck), it was naturally the first real bass-line I attempted to play. It’s the very same one included in the YouTube clip below, still fresh after 50 years.

The band eventually got named a very prog-sounding “Public Foot the Roman,” which was actually taken from a broken sign that should have read “Public footpath to the Roman Road.” As its reputation developed, Howard acquired a white Fender Precision bass, and one of Cambridge’s own HH amplifiers, and I remember sitting in his room to try it, with a coffee and a bevy of his friends and groupies, and accidentally finding the bass sound he’d been looking for as I tried to emulate John Entwistle of The Who. Maybe that’s what you hear on the record!

The last time I actually met him was about a year after we left Cambridge. My then fiancee and I bumped into him in the car-park of the Civic Hall in my home town, Guildford, when we were visiting my folks. It turned out PFTR were playing support to Gentle Giant that night, and Howard offered to get us in to the gig free as roadies. In the event we had other commitments, which is a shame as I never got to hear Gentle Giant, though I did meet their keyboard player Kerry Minnear many years later, playing in a Christian band.

After one album, Howard left for a “proper job” and some of the others went on to form a band called “The Movies.” He ended up in Ottawa as successful electronic engineer, and a stalwart of the jazz scene there for many years, playing an acoustic upright bass.

In summary, Howard was an excellent bloke, and a great bass player, as even this early track shows. Hope you enjoy this rare recording in his memory!

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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