George Melly died on the 5th of July 2007. But in his large wake a minor
industry perpetuating both the fedora and the gravelly voice seems to be developing.
Digby Fairweather, who wrote a book about Melly’s last years, tells me he’s been invited to Brecon Cathedral tomorrow night (Saturday 28th November) for a 7pm ‘Rembering George Melly’ (sic- according to the website) concert by people who want to put up a statue to Melly in Brecon.
Their aim is to “reflect George Melly’s role in the founding of the Jazz Festival and his position as President of the Contemporary Art Society for Wales. The aim is to honour the man and his sense of fun, his mistress jazz, his interest in Surrealist art and his passion for fishing.”
Curious idea. So who will be commissioned to do the statue? The artist/ sculptor most prominently associated with George Melly is Maggi Hambling (above/photo: artinliverpool). I asked her. “It’s the very first I’ve heard of it,” she said.
She had got to know Melly when he was quizmaster of “Gallery”, in the
early, heady,experimental, Jeremy Isaacs days of Channel 4.
Her “George Always” exhibition, twelve ink drawings from 2005, plus
eight mostly brightly coloured oils, is seeing busy trade at the
National Portrait Gallery. There’s an attractive little black accompanying book too. The pictures are on display until 10th January 2010.
And what about the Hambling habit of going painting her subjects
posthumously- she continued painting both her parents and artists’ model Henrietta Moraes after they had died. “Yes, George used to call me Maggi ‘coffin’ Hambling. These people stay alive inside you, they just keep popping up.”
There is also a CD of Melly singing from 1950 to the 2000’s (perhaps the noughties were meant for Melly) and sold in aid of www.fordementia.org.
And finally, there are the straight cashers-in. A picture of Melly as a schoolboy at Sefton will set you back £99 on Ebay.
Some of this is tawdry. But perhaps not as gruesome as those final months, when dementia had set in. I once shared the stage and played in the band with Melly, and what I remember is a relentless and undignified TV crew running around, crowding him with their camera.
How much better it is for the abiding memories to be of people as they were in their prime.