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Gordon Simm and the joy of living

Last Saturday was the anniversary of Gordon Simm's disappearance in the mountains of southern Spain, marked by a celebration of his life in words, images and music. About a hundred friends, family and neighbours gathered at the Methodist Church in his home town of Kirkbymoorside, Yorkshire. Although no trace of Gordon has ever been found, the occasion testified to how much he is missed.

His brother Colin told of a Lancashire boyhood in which Gordon had been amazingly tolerant of a boy five years younger, including Colin in all his adventurous and unorthodox expeditions. He also described Gordon's determined pursuit of his own goals, a self-taught concertina-player as well as a fine folk singer and a brilliant photographer. His concise "he ploughed his own furrow" could make a good epitaph.

Daughter Debbie spoke movingly about the father she had lost, and the wonderful grandfather he had been. She referred to the pride he had taken in his two guidebooks, Hadrian's Wall Path and Cleveland Way. They are full of his superb photographs, his deep local knowledge and his many nights spent bivvying solo on the moors.

His widow Wendy somehow found the strength to speak too, and she recalled the time at Whitby Folk Festival when Gordon, who had a great baritone voice, had given the performance of his life. The song was Ewan MacColl's Joy of Living and it is so evocative of Gordon and our shared interests that I've downloaded its lyrics. And later, amazingly, Debbie found the courage and control to sing it herself, unaccompanied and impromptu, in Gordon's memory. It made an even better epitaph than Colin's.

Earlier, folk singer and guitarist Martyn Wyndham-Read had sung Tony Bayliss' song AW, a tribute to Alfred Wainwright and very appropriate to Gordon's interests. Martyn was a friend of the late Ewan MacColl and had been the first to hear MacColl sing his newly finished Joy of Living. Martyn remembered that night in Whitby a decade ago when Gordon had "sung it as well as MacColl himself". Coming from as fine a professional singer as Martyn, that is a massive testimonial. Sadly we have no record of Gordon's singing, but here is a recording of Ewan MacColl.

There was a great display of photographs, some taken by Gordon, some of his childhood and early life. This self-portrait, taken in a waterfall in Spain, shows him just as I want to remember him: drinking in deeply the joy of living. 



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