les rues de France 2012 pt 5 Tina’s Cafe & Steve Davey’s funeral

Tina’s Cafe, in Mescher-sur-Gironde, is about three and a half hours from Nantes and I arrived there in the late afternoon, having stopped for a short nap in a shady spot along the way. Both Alex and Tina were there to greet me and I was made to feel most  welcome. It turned out that just before I arrived, someone from the town offices had called to say that arrangements had been made for Steve Davey’s funeral to take place the next day. This after Tina and a handful of her local friends had spent a lot of time and energy arranging to have him buried the following Tuesday at considerable expense. Now the town had decided to take care of it and had even arranged for a plot of land to be donated in which he could be laid to rest.

This was a great relief to all concerned, and shows that despite his sometimes difficult ways, Steve was a much loved and admired figure locally during the last several years of his turbulent life. In England, his country of origin, he would doubtless have been decried as a drunk, a vagabond, and a plague on civilised society. Yet in France, even today, artists are not only tolerated but encouraged, often forgiven all kinds of antisocial behaviour, and instead praised for their creative achievements. No wonder so many of us feel comfortable here.

The funeral was set for the following afternoon. Tina had decided to sing a Leon Russell song, ‘A Song For You’, and she and I went through it a couple of times so I could accompany her on the mandolin. The appointed time arrived and a small band of us, 20 or so I’m guessing, gathered around the grave.

There was a preacher of some kind who felt compelled to remind us that death awaits us all, our day will come, and so on….We were doing our best to presume that he had indeed gone to a better place, that his troubles and pain were over, and the only sadness was in fact our selfish regret that he was no longer with us. Simon Murley, an old friend from the Paris days, had written a story/eulogy that he wanted me to read. This I duly did, with Tina translating for the mostly French attendees. It related a true story of how Simon and Steve were busking in the West End in London and Rod Stewart and a female companion stopped to listen. “What the fuck do you want?”, growled Steve. “More like what the fuck do you want?”, replied Rod, slipping a £10 note into the guitar case.

That done, Tina sang ‘A Song For You’, and I sang a couple of verses of a gospel song of mine, ‘When We Get To Where We’re Going’, which was a little more upbeat. With a few more words from Tina and one more song we were done. After the coffin had been lowered into its trench, we all sprinkled a handful of dirt onto it. Then without fanfare, a mechanical digger that had been standing by, began filling in the hole and completing the burial! This was a bit surprising. In my limited experience, grave diggers have kept a respectful distance till all the mourners had left. Oh well. Still a great thing that the town had picked up the tab.

Tina was clearly very upset and disturbed by Steve’s passing, and was not in the mood for a party. Nevertheless, she invited everyone back to cafe. We all had a glass or two of something and spoke about Steve and our memories of him. It transpired that his brother had donated some money towards a wake, which Tina wisely felt would be more appropriate in late July when so many more people who knew him would be around. So armed with this information, it was not too difficult to persuade would be revellers that this was not the time, and soon everyone had said their goodbyes and left.

It was a sad day, but considering the miserable physical state Steve had been in for the last months of his life, finding it increasingly difficult to get about, it is not hard to see his demise as a blessing. He was nearly 70 when he died, which considering the full throttle pace he lived his life at, was not a bad result. I look forward to being present at the memorial/wake in late July.

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