Susie Honeyman Types

Susie Honeyman is a violin player with the Mekons, Little Sparta and Nuru Kane.

She worked sporadically with Vivian on Ndidi's Kraal & the 1991 Dogends tour, she also appears on TV's 'The Late Show Special' aka 'Crank', 'Diamond Geezer'.

Only in England

‘Henry was panting like an unsuccessful rapist.‘ ‘You can’t say that, Vivian!’ This was Islington, 1991, PC Central. ‘You can’t make a joke about that.....’ ‘Oh Susie, thank you so much - you’re the only one who ever tells me the truth; I’m surrounded by feeble-minded yes-men. I’ll change it right away.’
He did change the line for the evening performance [ this was during the Dog Ends run at the King’s Head in Upper Street] - I can’t remember what he changed it to, but I do recall that it was still unsanitised.

He had simply reconfigured it, got the laugh, and I remained po-faced.
There was much sympathetic eye-rolling from Rod (Slater) and John (Megginson). ‘He’s hopeless!’ said John.

I first met Vivian on 6th April 1983 - I know because I dug out my old diaries to write this. Glen Colson of Charisma Records had commissioned Jock Scot, poet and wit-about-town to look after Vivian; Pamela and Silky had left him and gone to live on the Thekla. Vivian was in a bad way. Jock had to be a sometime live-in companion and keep Vivian from the bottle. Jock, with whom I was stepping out at the time, summoned me down to Searchlight, Vivian’s boat on the Thames at Chertsey. ‘Viv’ll love you - bring your fiddle.’

Vivian was (only) 40, but he seemed so much older, and from an entirely different era, rather like a lunatic Victorian great-uncle, blissfully unaware of the Punk scene with everybody going to enormous sartorial efforts to appear shocking and different. Vivian, however, presented an effortlessly natural alarming vision to a 23 year old girl; not only did he seem larger than life physically but he was bare-chested, in skimpy swimming trunks and his famous coat-of-many-colours. A lot of pink skin and ginger.

The boat was a cross between Steptoe’s and Aladdin’s Cave, bursting with paintings, carvings, driftwood, instruments, books, paper and pens, and, of course, Bones the bulldog and his output, both solid and gaseous. Vivian surrounded himself with stuff; stuff that amused him, occupied him, that he’d made or was making - it was creative mayhem.
Like its owner.

He was shuffling rapidly through so many emotions at this time and there was an innocence in his inability to hide what he was feeling. He seemed vulnerable, hurt and rather scared, but at the same time there was an amazing energy lurching around, sometimes uncontrollably.

Needless to say, I thought he was wonderful. He was never anything but utterly charming with me. I had studied music at Edinburgh University and Vivian was a bit in awe of trained musicians who could read music, while I felt the same about musicians who played by ear.

He immediately commandeered me into notating all sorts of things. He would sit up in bed, singing - never sang a line quite the same next time round, or held the key - while I sat on the bed with my violin trying to scribble whatever-it-was the best I could, quite a challenge. Then he would tape me playing the lines on the violin. I suppose it was all for Sir Henry at Ndidi’s Kraal, which was recorded, according to the book, Ginger Geezer, in London over the August Bank Holiday. I was away in America at that time but contributed my bits on 9th September at Keith Allen’s house. I haven’t heard the finished product but I’m told it’s not up to the usual Vivian standard......

I went down to Chertsey a few days at a time during April/May/June.
Vivian loved ‘getting about’ and was delighted to learn that I was the owner of a big old Volvo Amazon, so besides trips to the doctor - and inevitably then the chemist - and the Chinese takeaway, he, Jock and I went on a few trips up to London. One time we set off to visit Ronnie Lane, who lived in North London. As we drove in to town, I asked Vivian what the address was. ‘Haversham Road’ he replied. Jock looked up the A to Z. No Haversham Road in London. ‘Never mind, just keep driving. I’ll recognise it.’ We drove in through Paddington, Euston, up through Camden. When we got to Kentish Town Vivian’s radar livened up. ‘Here we are!’ After driving around for a good hour, methodically going up and down every street, he had a revelation. ‘It’s Faversham Road, not Haversham Road!’ ‘No such road in north London, Viv’ said Jock. ‘But
there is a Caversham Road in Kentish Town.’ Caversham Road is quite a long residential street, with many of the houses divided into flats.

Vivian, complete with shepherd’s crook and long dressing gown, ventured out to ring every doorbell in the street. Another hour and many startled residents later, Jock and I were ready to give up. Then Ronnie Lane answered the door.
This was not the only time Vivian’s navigational skills had let him down. He had always kept in touch with Mo, his first wife. She was his rock. Years later I invited them both to dinner. We lived then in a one-way street tacked on to a much longer street of the same name. Not straightforward. I had given Vivian strict instructions but despite tranferring to a minicab following a small road accident they had failed to arrive by midnight. Vivian always seemed to think the simple fact of being in a car guaranteed arrival at his intended destination. This time it didn’t, though not through lack of trying. He told me later he’d been in and out of various East End pubs shouting ‘But you must know Susie! She’s got long hair and plays the violin!’

After Vivian’s boat sunk for the second time, he disappeared off to Bristol and I didn’t hear from him until we bumped into each other on the South Bank in 1987. I heard the voice first. ‘Only in England! ‘ he was chuckling, as Emergency Exit Arts winched a car up a ramp with pyrotechnics and foaming washing machines dangling from the scaffolding. The car got dragged to the top of the ramp and then tipped over the edge into a skip. It was right up his street........

Vivian was transformed; he’d lost weight and was so, so elegant, with manicured, be-ringed fingers, neatly trimmed beard and curled moustache, tamed hair in a thin little ponytail, beautifully tailored clothes and cane - if it hadn’t been for those daft yellow octagonal glasses he could have been mistaken for a dapper country squire.

It was lovely to be in touch with him again. Over the next few years we sporadically ‘bashed things out’ in Muswell Hill, often with exasperated but oh-so-patient John Megginson, who, along with Rod Slater and Mo, helped Vivian to keep body and soul together. 21 Hillfield Park, in Muswell Hell, as Vivian called it, was very similar to Searchlight in that there was an impossible amount of stuff in it, including a couple of really large fish tanks, complete with axilotls lurking at the bottom. I once asked to borrow a book which had caught my eye. It was the only occasion he was ever stern with me, politely explaining that books had a habit of wandering off, never to return, despite the borrower’s good intentions. He was right about that, and I often hear his words as I part with a book, wondering if I’ll ever see it again.

Enough has been written about the Dog Ends shows in Bloomsbury in April of 1991, but it was an ambitious project and Vivian simply wasn’t up to it at the time. The three-week run at the King’s Head in Islington in June had a different atmosphere altogether. It was small and intimate, with just Rod, John and either me or Neil Innes (I had a Mekons tour which clashed with the run) and Vivian enchanted us all, audience and players, every night. He was so great at simply speaking, it wasn’t even a case of ad libbing, he was just brilliantly witty and funny and clever and, though we never could make him stick remotely to a running order, he sang the songs beautifully. He was on great form, so that by the time of the Crank Late Show in November that year, everything came out practically perfectly.

We did some more studio recording over the next couple of years. I remember one particular time in March 1993 when Vivian held my three week old daughter, Annie, singing to her for the whole session. He and Mo bought her a beautiful toy rabbit, called, of course, Uncle Vivian, which is how he often signed the many postcards and notes he sent me; ‘Dashingly yours, Uncle Vivian’. He had an annoying habit of ringing at any time of the day or night, but when Annie was born I did point out to him on one occasion that it was 1.30am and that my baby was already giving me little sleep.

He apologised profusely and said he’d ring back the next day. Five hours later, at 6.30am, the phone went again, and Vivian was back on the line, bright and breezy, hilariously regaling me with his latest misadventure, oblivious to my comatose condition.

It would be so nice to get a call from him now; I wouldn’t ever mind if he rang in the middle of the night. I still miss him.

Susie Honeyman
London, February 2007

Images pilfered from a website about the Mekons.