Wednesday, January 31, 2024

A Positive Virtue: memories of Colin Scott, a friend from UEA days rediscovered

Nearly everybody had long hair at the University of East Anglia in 1974, even (or especially) the men, and Colin Scott was no different. (Here we are in my contemporary hand.)

He was different, though, in that he was older than the regular dishevelled bunch (myself included), and had worked in the library service and (I think) was quite content with the thought of returning to that noble profession after studying History for three years. He was serious without being super-studious, liked music, and we certainly attended some of the rock bands that toured the campuses. 

Before I move on from that reference to UEA concerts, I'd like to share an uncollected poem I wrote in 1976, and revised recently. I have dedicated it to Colin's memory because a. he might have been there (my diary mentions a mutual friend, and b. both the poem and Colin were lost (to me, not to themselves, of course) between the 1970s and now(ish). 

Midnight Air:

John Martyn with Danny Thompson, June 12th 1976


                                                i.m. Colin Scott, who may have been there


Ocean music flows over you

wailing where waves break

back upon the water’s edge

They strike up on form


Full moon rises to face you

accepting droning chants and spells

that drown the sense in magic


Somebody slides through the windowpane

having flown through the night


Cannabis spiral cracks open the sound

and its diamond shatters

each shimmering fragment

a swirling seawave at the end of unseen fingers


You rise from the waters

in the midnight air


1976/2021 (Of course, in the late 1970s, and later, Tony Parsons and I would sing 'May You Never', by John Martyn, a song that curiously leaves no space to breathe. Above is a video of JM and DT, as in the poem, and at the concert.) 

I re-read my copious diaries during Covid lockdowns and was surprised how much time I spent with Colin, going to concerts, drinking real ale, throwing snowballs (those Norfolk winters!) and smoking perfumed cigarettes (!), during my first year. I think he maturely organized the transportation of my drunken form from the pub back to my room on my 19th birthday. 

By our second year Colin moved to a house near a pub called The Boundary with his friend Jan. (It was he who is mentioned in my diary entry about the Martyn gig.) Whilst another UEA friend Trev Eales and I attended parties there (somebody had a dog called ‘Dog’, I remember, which is emblematic of the household, I think) we both saw less of Colin on a day-to-day basis. Trev remembers meeting Colin a lot on the bus to campus. Of course, he also had a settled life in his native Swindon, friends would come to visit him – and he returned to that (I think) after we’d all graduated. We kept in touch for a while but, like so many, lost contact, through the moving of addresses and the vicissitudes of life. He lost contact with Jan as well. (I kept in touch with Trev, as may be seen from this post: Pages: Trev Eales - photography and friendship ( (And here is a post about my slightly later UEA studies in Creative Writing: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Some memories of the Creative Writing MA (cohort 1978-1979) at the University of East Anglia )

I never forgot Colin – and always wondered where he was. There was a barman in Liverpool (where I had moved in 1997) of whom I remember remarking to my wife, Patricia, ‘See that man? I reckon that’s what Colin Scott looks like today!’ (The memory is interesting for the fact I didn’t need to explain to Patricia who Colin was.)

He obviously hadn’t forgotten me either. At one of his Positive Images meetings with the poet Leanne Bridgewater, probably in 2016, Colin asked, giving it a long shot, whether she knew a poet called Rob Sheppard that he was at university with. Leanne answered that she did. She and I had met a number of times; she had been taught Creative Writing at Salford by my ex-student Scott Thurston, and was part of the burgeoning creative and experimental excitement that surrounded The Other Room readings in Manchester. And so was I, from my outpost in Liverpool. (See one of her publications, here: 'adDICTIONARY' by Leanne Bridgewater (670 pages) | Knives Forks and Spo (

The highlight of my evening at the North by North-West Enemies reading in February 2017 in Leeds was supposed to be my co-performing my collaboration with Ian McMillan. 

That was terrific (or a terrific experience, see the video above), but I left the evening more overwhelmed by the fact that Leanne (who was also on the bill

see the video) led a small dapper man from the shadows and introduced him as Colin. (He didn’t in the least look like the man from the pub!) After a gap of 40 years, I don’t know what we spoke about, ‘catch up and conversations’ my diary relates unhelpfully. That wasn’t really the point: we were now in contact again, and I thank Leanne for engineering this meeting, which proved so fruitful, meaningful, and ultimately poignant. (On that evening, here: Pages: Ian McMillan and Robert Sheppard: Simultaneous Performance: Leeds Enemies (photo, video, set list and thoughts))


Our next meeting was also at a poetry reading and performance, but in June 2017 – as part of Positive Images, co-organised by Colin. Patricia read as well, Leanne compared, and I read too. I didn’t think Patricia and I went down particularly well (I should have read my skits on Boris Johnson), but Leanne was wonderful, playing the ukelele (and editing the video of the evening, which you may view above, and here's a post from nearer the time: Pages: Robert Sheppard and Patricia Farrell: Poetry from the Stage (Coventry) Saturday night ). Colin was much in demand as an organiser (I’d yet to fully register the amount of work he put into this vital community arts event) but we did get to talk after, at least about Coventry, which was new to me. Here is Colin introducing the results of a poetry competition: 

 Positive Images Peace Festival Poetry Competition Awards 2018. (

From then on, we corresponded regularly and he visited a number of times, once briefly before a beer festival. He was also deeply into CAMRA organisation, so real ale remained a (shared) constant among the decades of change. (He liked dark beers, I like light ones. He liked folk music; I like jazz!) We went on to Lancaster to meet Trev one day, and also all three convened around the time of my birthday, with Michelle (purveyor of fine chutneys, among other things.).

I found Colin contemplative and calm, after a busy career in librarianship, and he was full of quaint anecdotes. (One time he told me about a library book that disappeared from the shelves for years, then suddenly re-appeared; another time, he announced he'd just read in The Guardian that the reason older people can't retain new facts is that their brains are literally full!) He is the only person I know to have read Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, he always had a copy of the latest Positive Images poetry anthology from Coventry, but otherwise our conversations were not literary. He kept up his interest in history, visiting battle sites, for example. We were leisurely and relaxed. He never pushed an issue (though he must have been an effective committee man). He remained an enthusiast for the railways (he was from Swindon, after all) and sent me links about steam train excursions: I never got to show him Edge Hill station, the oldest in England. The leisureliness of our meetings meant we left whole areas of our lives unshared, unexplored, and possibly there was an unexplained reticence on his part. Of course, Leanne was a constant reference-point, our common factor, and his grief at her death was palpable and deep. Here he is introducing the Positive Images memorial reading for Leanne (and you can watch the tribute readings that follow): 

Late last year, just before Colin died, although he was tired after a busy summer itinerary of travel, he was thinking about another trip to Liverpool. That meet-up would have been an opportunity perhaps to have explored new themes or to have examined his quirky memories afresh. (He claimed there was a student called Jeff who lived on Trev’s corridor at UEA, a guitarist in the Al Kooper mode; since nobody else could recall him, he became a character of myth and mirth, reiterated in our frequent emails.) 

Herein lies my chief regret: I was really only starting to know him well, when he was taken so suddenly from us. I’m glad I got to know him again, and I treasure those meetings that redeemed time, collapsed decades, and reinforced friendship and kindness as the only positive virtue in our somewhat dark times.  


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