Today, at 4.00 a.m., my dear friend Jem Penney breathed his last, in this life anyway. A mutual friend called me first thing this morning to break the news, she’d seen Jem’s Ma and Sister and they told her Jem had passed. Whilst I was dreadfully upset, I was also thankful that his suffering had ended. He’d been totally disabled by the last stages of his M.S. for over a year, and as far as I can ascertain he’d contracted Pneumonia, and as is with many people, Alfie Ruffle and Joan McCready included, it killed him.
I came back from the shops around 9.30 p.m. tonight and went out into my garden. It was a beautiful clear blue sky north east, but to the west dark clouds were gathering. I looked into the sky and thought about the traditional idea of the after life and heaven, and wondered what it was like to be dead. Maybe as a free spirit you could fly through the air, like a bird or an angel. Jem would like that, he loved scary stuff.
I first recall meeting Jem around 1980/81. The original incarnation of the Accidents had split and I got invited to a post pub party at his house on the Causeway, basically Ian, Jem and Nigel, sitting on their amps, skinning up like their lives depended on it and playing Shadows instrumentals with a similar passion. It was great fun, they were loud and proud and I’d loved guitar instrumental music since the 60’s.
Sam McCready had recently given me a cassette of Live at the Whisky a go go by John and the Nightriders, a Californian Surf band that played Dick Dale and Astronauts instros with a gusto akin to how Coma played the Shads. Once I turned Jem onto that album, it fired up his life long passion for Surf guitar.
Shortly thereafter I became a member of Carl Seager’s Flying Heroes, who played numerous gigs with Coma, but it was in September 1986, with the Gene Tryp having crashed, that I first sung with Coma, at Burnham carnival. And the rest as they say, is history……
Jem and I really hit it off: we had similar passions, Surf instros, women, cider and generally getting f**ked up. He had a seriously insane sense of humour and we’d laugh our asses off on a regular basis.
I tell people we spent longer standing on stage together than the length of most people’s friendships, let alone the times we hung out. Because when the Rats were really firing it felt like we were a gang, and Jem and I were the leaders of the pack.
Jem was passionate about all the sensual pleasures: Food, booze, women, Rock’n’Roll, tho not necessarily in that order. Jem would never use a screwdriver if a chainsaw would do, he had a seriously destructive side to his nature. Once, at a Rats rehearsal at John and Viv’s on the Benbridge, his 1961 Watkins Copycat simply wouldn’t behave. In a break between songs I was trying to explain to Les and BC the nuances of some track when I became aware of plastic shattering in Jem’s general direction. He’d taken a ball hammer to the Watkins, the cream coloured “Dan Dare” Bakelite knobs. Protective goggles would have been jolly useful to me at that point…….
Intense. That was Jem, although he had a seriously gentle and altruistic side too and loved naturally beautiful things as well as Rock’n’Roll in all it’s forms. He’d get dreadfully stressed out, especially about work which he hated because it took away his freedom. He just wanted to jump into his VW camper van with a horny woman, and his guitar and stash and go and find the sun and sleep on the beach at night……well, a Holiday inn.
He told me to shoot him if he ever married, a request that obviously lay unfulfilled. Jem loved guns: thankfully he never owned a real one, otherwise we’d all be dead.
Jem liked my Punk roots: he adored The Young Ones and Bottom, and we adopted Ade Edmonson’s frequent use of the word “Bastard”, for pretty much everything.
Attitude: Jem had it in spades and our mutual respect was based on the fact we really liked each other’s attitude. He had balls and he knew I had a set too. We Rocked hard……
If a musician’s worth is measured by the people he influenced, then Jem surely has a wonderful legacy, because numerous local guitarists wouldn’t be playing today, were it not for Jem’s inspiration. Surely that is immortality?
Mortality? We never gave it a moments thought. Cane it, hard, end. And that goes for most of my dear departed. I spose I’m getting used to him not being around any more, but just like after all those other beautiful people died, life is a little less bright, a little less fun.
Goodbye Jem, rest my friend, and if there is a great thereafter, see you there and try not to eat it all before I arrive……
And here’s the flyer for tonight’s show
And this just in…….