Photograph: Dave Hendley by Dave Hendley
All photographs by Dave Hendley.
Last night an old friend came to visit me in a dream. There was some kind of a gathering and I was about to interview him before a live audience. I said, “I’ll just say a few things about you, where we met and things like that, and you can use it as a jumping off point to tell us about your life and work.” He was a little bit put out. He was nervous, he told me, and he didn’t like talking in front of a crowd. He seemed to be suggesting that he hadn’t asked for this and that I was forcing him to do something against his will.
My friend’s name was Dave Hendley and he died in 2016. I hadn’t forgotten about him, but I’d put him to the back of my mind for the time being. What the dream reminded me of is the debt of gratitude I owe him. I’ve never really expressed my grief at his loss.
I first met him in the 1990s just before I started writing for the Guardian. He was the photographer sent to do my portrait for the column I’d been commissioned to write. I lived in St Andrews Close at the time. It’s this run down council estate on the outskirts of Whitstable which I had named Housing Benefit Hill. That was also the title of the column I was writing, as well as an indication of the subject matter. It was about poverty and benefits. I was planning to write about the place I lived.
You can read some of my Housing Benefit Hill columns here. To the right is a scan of the portrait that Dave did of me.
The portrait was taken on the seafront in Whitstable, using the wall of the public toilets as a backdrop. I was wearing a red waistcoat and a pink shirt, although the colours didn’t come out like that in the photograph that eventually appeared. The original photograph was in black and white but the Guardian designers had decided to hand colour the print to give it a more archaic feel. I looked nothing like the picture, which made me appear much younger than I was. They had coloured my hair red when actually it is grey. A year or two later we did another session so that my picture would look more like me. There’s a copy of that here:
I must have been informed in advance that he was going to visit. This would have been in the summer of 1996. He knocked on my door and there he was: this little dapper guy with closely cropped hair and a diffident smile. He expressed relief that I wasn’t the fusty old Guardian writer of his imagination. In fact we were about the same age. We took to each other immediately.
We began working together after this. Our most successful story was called Party Politics and it appeared as the front cover piece for the New Statesman on the 29 July 1994. You can read it here. There were a few other pieces that appeared in the New Statesman after that, but that was the most important. Following are some of the photographs Dave took for the story:
(Click on images to enlarge)
We did another piece together which was supposed to have appeared in the Guardian but never did. It was based around an interview with David Icke, the conspiracy theorist. I suspect that’s why they rejected it. By this time Icke had (falsely) acquired a reputation as a Nazi apologist. Some years later I met Dave on a train going up to London and he told me he had just rediscovered his portrait of Icke. He expressed regret that we had never managed to get it published. We decided to publish it on-line instead, together with the text of my story. You can read that here.
The last time he took pictures for me I was working on a piece about the Pilgrim’s Way. I took him to the site of an old abandoned church on the edge of a lake just off the road to Ashford and he spent many hours there, cooing about what a great place this was. He must have taken hundreds of pictures that day. I never did get to see them. He may also have taken pictures at No Man’s Orchard, near Chartham, which is also on the Pilgrim’s Way. I gave him directions, but I didn’t accompany him that time.
Dave was an interesting guy. There was a boyish quality to him which he never lost. He had sparkly eyes and an uncertain manner. He was always asking if you got what he was saying. He liked his toys. He enjoyed mountain biking and shooting and had a collection of Leica cameras. He was an expert on Reggae and an avid collector of Jamaican music. He used to write a column for Blues and Soul magazine. On the back of this he started working for Trojan records where he put together a number of historically significant compilations. These include Creation Rockers, Monkey Business and Rebel Music.
In 1977 he travelled to Jamaica where he took photographs of some of the leading lights in the Reggae scene over there. His portrait of Gregory Isaacs in military officer’s uniform was used on the back of the Soon Forward album for Virgin. He returned to Jamaica in 1979 where he took another series of world class images. These included portraits of Prince Lincoln and the Royal Rasses, Yabby You, Lee “Scratch” Perry and Junior Delgado. You can see some of Dave’s Reggae portraits below and read about them here:
(Click on images to enlarge)
During his trips to Jamaica, Dave met and began working with the music producer, Mikey Dread, which resulted in the UK issue of Dread’s dub masterpiece, African Anthem. The album was well received and helped stimulate interest overseas leading to a tour with the Clash. It was Dave’s promotion of his work that led to Dread’s popularity in the UK and ultimately to his work with the Clash.
When I first met him Dave had been out of the photography industry for a while and was languishing in a bedroom in his Mum and Dad’s house in Whitstable. He was horribly in debt and owed large amounts in back taxes. Eventually he did a deal with HRMC and had his debts written off. He was just beginning to pick up his career again. He was well known as one of the best dark room practitioners in the business, but didn’t really want to go back into that. It was a depressing job, he told me. He began shooting pictures for the Fashion label. Several Reggae reissues used liner notes from his Blues and Soul archive which stimulated renewed interest in his work. In 1998 he returned to Jamaica.
Our lives went in different directions. Just as Dave’s career was taking off again, mine was failing. I went on an extended tour of the UK in my converted ambulance where I wrote my book, the Last of the Hippies. The book was a flop, which led to me having to take work as a car-park attendant. In 2005 I became a postal worker. In 2012 I started a new round, which began on Pier Avenue. I knocked on the door of one of the bungalows with a package one day – probably a bunch of collectable 45s from Jamaica, or some other such arcane material – and there he was, my old mate Dave. We greeted each other in surprise. It was great seeing him again. I began taking coffee breaks at his place as we started to revive our friendship.
At some point in the midst of all this Dave was appointed to a permanent teaching position at Central St Martin’s college. His life was on the up. He’d met his long term partner Kaori Joma, who came from Japan. This led to visits to Japan and a new stimulus to his work. Meanwhile I’d moved into Maugham Court. Kaori lived just around the corner from me, so when Dave came to visit he would often park on my road. We’d bump into each other here as well. One day he invited me round to Kaori’s place for a Japanese curry.
Dave always drove BMWs, which he said stood for “Black Man’s Wheels” (or, alternatively, “Bob Marley’s Wheels”). He saw himself as an honorary black. He was a skinhead by persuasion, one of those who took their lead from the West Indian rude boys. He was always very nattily dressed and had exquisite and very particular tastes. Visiting him at his bungalow on Pier Avenue was like entering a museum of his life. Particular album covers on display. Particular posters on the wall. A particular kilim carpet on the floor which I admired. I was in need of some portraits to use to sell my work and he did them for me, free of charge. The session took place on a sunny day in his back garden in Pier Avenue (see below). “Just use them any way you want,” he said. He wasn’t bothered about copyright.
The last time I saw Dave he picked me up in his BMW and drove me to my sister’s house. I was my usual ebullient, noisy self, chattering on about this or that. It wasn’t until I was about to get out of the car that he told me he had cancer. Typical me, so full of my own shit that I didn’t leave space to pay attention to anybody else.
I sent a couple of emails after that:
“Dave, I’ve not heard from you since you told me your bad news. I was wondering how things are with you now? Been thinking about you. Chris.”
That was in November 2016. No reply.
“Dave, I recently put our New Statesman article up on Facebook and got some positive responses. Someone called Nick Cordes said ‘Let’s also remember the understated talent of photographer Dave Hendley in this article. Wonderful and evocative imagery.‘
Then I got up this morning and there was one of your portraits of me on Facebook, from five years ago. Was it really that long?
We would have made a great team!
Anyway, I’m thinking of you. Get in touch if you’re up to it. Let me know how you are.”
That was in July 2017. He had already been dead for a year by then. In fact it was almost the anniversary. He died on July 19 2016.
His illness must have have been swift and catastrophic, which is for the best I suppose. Why linger around if you’ve got to go? Better to get things over and done with.
I kept thinking about him, wondering how he was. It was one of my colleagues at work who told me the bad news. I was thinking of contacting Kaori and was trying to get her address. I knew which road she lived on so I asked the postie whose round it was if he could give me the number. (Postal workers know everything.) He said, “I’m sorry Chris, there was a funeral there last year. I think it might have been your friend.”
So that’s it. The last moments spent with my friend and all I could talk about was me. Meanwhile he was dying of cancer. He must have been sitting there listening, overwhelmed with the grief of departure, and fear for the future, staring unknowingly into the abyss, while I rattled on about inconsequential things.
What might I have said to him if I had my time again?
Dave, I’m sorry you had to go. I hope your death wasn’t too painful. I hope that your partner will find happiness again. We had a blast. You were always caring and honest, a man of taste and integrity. I don’t know if this life has any meaning or not, but I can say that it was a privilege to have known you and to have shared a portion of your life for a while. Thanks for coming to visit me in my dream and for reminding me of our friendship. It is something I’ll never forget.
Dave Hendley links:
- Dave Hendley’s blog
About CJ Stone
CJ Stone is an author, columnist and feature writer. He has written seven books, and columns and articles for many newspapers and magazines.
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