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May 11, 2011 / Brittany Hendrick

Atmosphere

“Do you know where Dr. Who is made?” my mother asked me today.

“No… where?”

“In Cardiff!”

Mom knows how much I like Cardiff, Wales. I also liked the original Dr. Who series as a child– even though the new series, not the original, has to do with Cardiff.

And then I was reminded all over again that there was a funeral in Wales. It’s not Mom’s fault. She didn’t know it was today.

I hadn’t forgotten about the funeral. I thought about it for the first half of the day. Then I didn’t want to think about it anymore.

The guy whose buriel happened in Wales was that of Les Morrison.

Les wasn’t someone I knew well, or for long– but well enough that we’d periodically check in to see how the other person was doing. Sometimes through Facebook; sometimes phone; sometimes text message. Though, Facebook was the most frequent– and cheapest– method.

It was just as well– because of his Northern Welsh accent, Les was difficult-as-fuck to understand on the phone!

It was on Facebook where I noticed his wife left a wall post stating Les was in the hospital. Worried, I immediately sent a text to wish him well. He replied within minutes, assuring me he would be fine.

Les seemed to be all right in the passing weeks, taking pictures and making the occasional Facebook post from the hospital, joking that he was at “Hotel California.” It’s not like he was in intensive care or underwent quadruple bypass surgery. I took his word that he would be OK.

A few weeks later, he died.

Les and I met on accident in 2009. I was visiting New York to catch a string of Super Furry Animals shows scheduled over a weekend in September. At first it didn’t seem practical for me to leave my house– I was still unemployed and had no business buying plane and concert tickets. But I had a place to stay– my gay boyfriend Chris lives around the corner from the Highline Ballroom where the first of three SFA shows would take place that weekend.

Also, these were SFA’s only U.S. dates supporting their most recent album release at the time. Suddenly, it seemed OK for me to travel.

Originally, I planned to see the Highline Ballroom show only. But fellow fans twisted my arm (not that it was hard to do) into seeing all three shows: the second at Maxwell’s in Hoboken; the third at All Tomorrow’s Parties in Monticello, at Kutshers Resort. Bonus: Flaming Lips were headlining ATP.

By the time it was all said and done in July, I’d booked $200-worth of concert tickets– and I’d somehow convinced my sister to come along for the ride, too.

The first night at Highline was nerve-wracking for me, as I suspected it would be… for reasons I won’t mention because it will detract from the story.

I’d hooked up with some other SFA fans, one of whom is well-acquainted with the band. So, we were sitting at some tables off to the side of the stage amongst various people associated with SFA.

Before the band started, as I nervously milled about, I passed a booth in our section. An older man seated at the end stopped me to say hello. Then he invited me to sit with his group.

I kind of already knew who Les was: a long-time friend of the band– since its inception, I think– I’m not entirely sure what his history is, because he and I didn’t discuss all things Super Furry Animals. I never asked him questions about the band. For a fact, Les played on some albums. Particularly, I knew he played banjo on a song called “Demons.”

At one point in the set that night, SFA did play “Demons.”

“Why aren’t you playing banjo with them?” I jokingly chided. “You’re already here! You may as well do it!”

Instead, Les and I sang to “Demons” together, bobbing back and forth as if we were at a soccer game. I never do shit like that.

Les seemed to take an instant liking to me. He ordered me beers, poured me a glass of some special scotch the group had on hand, and asked if I’d come backstage after the show.

I really didn’t want to go backstage. One, I’d met SFA before. Two, backstage is confusing and not that fun. Three, I’d be in close proximity to the source of my anxiety. Four, the nervous tension of Reason Number Three would send me to the hospital!

Backstage, Les introduced me to various band members. He knew I’d been laid-off from Sony, yet he proudly told everyone, “This is Brittany. She used to work for Sony Music!” Maybe he was stirring the pot by throwing me in the face of people who… probably don’t look fondly upon major-label employees (I’m not like them, I swear!). Overall, I survived backstage, thanks to Les.

The next night in Hoboken was rather uneventful. Naturally, Les and I chatted some more. Again, I couldn’t have made it through that night without his presence.

Day three at All Tomorrow’s Parties was the best– and weirdest– day. My sister went back to Georgia early, so I Lone Wolfed it to the festival. I didn’t realize the grounds at ATP would be so… small. I was looking forward to being lost in a sea of people, finally. But it wasn’t happening that day.

The good part is that Les and I passed each other several times. As soon as the Flaming Lips took the stage by night’s end, Les had somehow found me in the crowd. He nudged me, and we smiled all the way through “A Race for the Prize.”

Unfortunately, I had to leave ATP a little early if I wanted a ride back to Manhattan. Les left the venue with me, and we went to the lobby bar as I waited for the friend who was taking me back to the city.

SFA’s tour manager, whom I’d met the prior year, Joe, joined us. They bought me a beer, Joe wanted my phone number for some reason (I humored him. I knew I’d never hear from him.). Les and I migrated to a couch in the lobby to talk, then to the steps outside of Kutshers.

Finally, it was time for me to go. I didn’t want to leave– Les and I had many more hours of talking to do– and I would’ve found myself backstage again, had I been able to stay. Les grabbed my hand, squeezed it and held it longer, kissed my cheek, and we hugged goodbye.

Unbeknownst to him, Les had done so much for me that weekend– and I told him exactly that, without ever going into details on why. He never asked me the details. Maybe he already knew.

I profusely thanked him, and thanked him again in a Facebook message. If there ever was a time I was “meant” to meet someone, even for a brief moment, Les Morrison was that person, and that weekend was the time.

I’ll never listen to “Demons” the same way again.

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