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Tribute to Gary Hyde - drummer, activist and MU Official

Gary was born in his beloved town of Margate 73 years ago. He was the eldest of 4 children and all of them are artistic in some way and also very passionate and dedicated to fighting whatever causes come their way.

Gary was born in his beloved town of Margate 73 years ago. He was the eldest of 4 children and all of them are artistic in some way and also very passionate and dedicated to fighting whatever causes come their way.

Dad started at Drapers Mills School, again a place close to his heart as he returned a few years back to speak to the children about school days in his time. He was entertained by the children who were surprised to know that when he went there, there wasn't a computer suite!

Dad left Drapers Mills and went to St Georges School and then at about the age of 13 he progressed to Canterbury Technical School. This, I think, was due to his father’s determination that he would work in something technical - not an area that Gary particularly wanted! At this point he also got himself a job as a butcher’s boy, riding around the town delivering meat to the hotels. He used to take a sneaky detour via the bandstand on the seafront, where he would spend many a happy moment listening to the music of his hero, Johnny O’Rourke. Dad knew then that he loved music and that he loved everything about the J O band. He later rekindled his friendship with Johnny (I think via Barbara White) at an MU event.

Dad carried on at the Technical School and, upon leaving, his father took him around all the companies saying that he wanted to be an office boy - in reality this could not have been further from his mind. He had two loves: music being one of them and the other being football. He played at quite a high local level and was goalkeeper of Thanet Dynamos. Like many young men, the day job was just that and life began with football. Unfortunately, when he was 19 he had a life changing football accident and at this point knew he would never play football again and walking was also quite a challenge. He was in hospital for quite some time and when he came out he had to re-assess his life. He then took up the drums and that's where the next part of his story begins.

Dad had lessons in Margate and clearly had a talent for his instrument. He joined a number of local bands and got immediately involved with the MU in Thanet. By the time he was in his early 20's, he had joined a group that - like many 60's beat groups - decided they were going to seek the high life and tour the world. They bought a van, gave up their jobs and started going around the continent.

Like all good things, this too came to an end and Gary and his colleagues returned to England. He did not know what to do, so he sought the bright lights of London and came to stay with family in Peckham and so the next chapter of his life began.

He started work at the Amalgamated Engineering Union and very shortly after he met Lilly who was to become his wife. Dad has always said the best thing he ever did was meet my mum - she was always the grounded sensible one whilst he had magical ideas! They were married in 1965 and their first purchase as a married couple was a cymbal! I don’t think they had a fridge but obviously a cymbal is what every newly married couple desire!

Dad joined a variety of bands in and around the London area whilst they lived in Peckham and had some wonderful tales to tell. He played at all the local ballrooms, played in pubs, clubs and basically anywhere that would need a drummer. There was one ballroom I remember that he spoke fondly of that had a revolving stage - I would imagine quite a challenge to play on.

Gary and Lilly moved to Barnehurst in 1969 and then they had me! Also around this point, Dad started playing with Vic Rogers and his band (The Gay Knights). This was the start of an immense friendship that has grown both between them and the two families. Dad had immense respect for Vic, and they supported each other for years. Dad also got involved with the South East London Branch of the MU and it was when secretary Vic Knight decided he was going to resign in 1977, that Gary decided to take over.

As I said earlier, my Dad and all his siblings show commitment to what they believe in - I do hope this is one of his characteristics I have! - and I remember during the miners’ strikes both mum and dad organising parcels to be sent to the children and our house being a centre for many union/labour party meetings. Dad also was one of the pickets for the BBC orchestras and I remember him telling me tales of this.

Dad carried on with his dedicated MU work, both as a branch secretary and then later as a London Branch Officer and Regional Organiser. He supported local musicians in every way he could, he was involved in the Tramshed at Woolwich, different universities, promoting the MU and musicians rights, plus also was instrumental in getting live acts into the Dome in Greenwich.

Whilst doing all of this, Dad also gigged as a musician, taught the drums, and ran his own successful band. His band was modelled on Johnny O'Rourke’s - even down to having one lone female musician (generally me!). Dad was a perfectionist in many ways and timed every gig to the minute and was a font of random knowledge about music and musicians.

When he retired from the MU, he needed to find something additional to fill his time and it was at this point we suggested he became a school governor. Again he took this role on wholeheartedly and was a committed governor of my old secondary school. His passion was the performing arts in addition to the pastoral side of the school. His involvement was reflected by the number of school staff and governors who came to his funeral. He was involved in the school musically whilst I was a pupil there, so to continue this as a governor was an honour for him. Whilst I was at school, I remember the boys talking about my Dad’s drumming ability. He was a really amazing drummer and even at 73 would still impress me by his playing. One of my friends at school who is now a professional musician would often say 'I wish I could play like your Dad' , I never realised how good he was until I grew up!

Dad gigged right up until the end. I played in his band on the Sunday before he died, he ran a Monday night band, he played in a Barn Dance band on the Tuesday and spent all day Wednesday at governors’ meetings before he had his stroke.

Dad was an amazing man, he touched many lives, he dedicated his life to doing the right thing and he is so very, very missed every day. Mum is still is getting random calls from people asking for his support and it is hard. But I know he left an amazing legacy in this world and if I have got half of his skills I am a very fortunate daughter.

Geraldine Shackleton

Saxophonist and bandleader Kit Packham adds:

“Gary had a lot to do with my becoming an activist within the MU. He was a great believer in the Musicians’ Union and would sometimes organise branch social events, jam sessions and the like in the hope of tempting members to get more actively involved with their Branch.

‘The South East London Branch, of which Gary was Secretary for many years, combined their meetings with gigs at Sidcup United Services Club, providing a great way of mixing business with pleasure. Gary played drums every week with rehearsals of the Derek Browne Big Band and took over the running of the band following Derek's passing. Dealing with the wide variety of personalities in the band would sometimes leave him rather frustrated, but he would always try to make allowances for people's quirks and foibles rather than laying down the law. He organised 4 gigs a year at Sidcup United Services Club for his own big band, the Music Makers, which had a loyal following. The model for these was the old style of entertainment typified by Billy Cotton's shows, with a "find the link" (between 3 musical quotes played by the band) competition (the prize invariably included some small item promoting Margate FC), individual features for many of the band members, large helpings of humour and nostalgia and not only a theme tune to start and close the evening but even a special theme tune to introduce the raffle draw! At the last of these concerts, only a few days before his death, the band were all resplendent in daft Christmas hats for some seasonal tunes, Gary's own being a turkey. I will greatly miss playing alongside him and his phone calls which would usually begin, "...just a quickie..." but often last as much as 30 minutes! The world is a poorer place without him."

Keith Ames, MU Comms Official, says:

“Gary joined the MU in 1962 and was a steadfast support of the Union’s work throughout his working life. He was tremendously loyal to the South East London Branch, in particular, and forged many lasting friendships with committee members and other activists in the area. A delegate to the Union’s biennial Conference for many years, he took on the post of full-time MU London Branch Officer in 1999. He subsequently was promoted to the role of East & SE England District Organiser and saw out his years as an Official assisting members from Hampshire to Suffolk, prior to his retiring in the summer of 2006. His uplifting spirit and never-ending enthusiasm for helping musicians of all ages and styles, along with his tireless promotion of union membership, will be remembered with fondness and gratitude by numerous musicians across the home counties.”

A fitting memorial service was held at Bromley Baptist Church on 29 December and was attended by family, close friends and numerous musicians and union colleagues.

Any donations in Gary’s memory should be made to Nordoff Robbins, a music therapy charity close to his heart.

Published: 23/02/2015

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