I got the news today that an old friend had died.
His name was Dave Marson and, unless you were involved in the Hull arts scene when Spring Street community theatre was getting under way before it became Hull Truck in the mid 1970s, or unless you saw any of his plays at London Fringe theatre venues in the late 1970s or early 1980s, or unless you were involved in the Goole Docktown Project in the early to mid-1990s, the name probably doesn't mean much.
But he was a comrade-in-arms when I was cutting my teeth and working on community arts projects and fringe theatre in the early 1990s in Yorkshire, and we became good friends. I viewed him as something of a mentor figure back then, although he always rather generously treated me as an equal, which I clearly wasn't at the time.
Dave came from a working-class family in Hull and, like the rest of his family, he'd worked on the docks. He got involved in the union while on the docks and that prompted him to get an education that eventually saw him study history under famed Marxist professor Raphael Samuel.
Theatre work alongside peers like Alan Plater and Mike Bradwell followed in the 1970s, before he left the UK to work abroad. Then he returned to Goole, of all places, and he opened a book shop. In Goole. Dave was always an optimist.
We met in 1991. I was fresh from college and determined to stage theatre that meant something in my home town. I'd ordered a book by John McGrath and my mum went to pick it up for me. Dave mentioned he'd worked with the actress on the cover. I went into his shop the following day and we talked. I had ambition, drive, ideas; Dave had experience, craft, knowledge. A friendship was born in an instant, with any shortfalls in our skill set being covered by other key movers within the Docktown group we quickly formed.
Docktown involved and was created by an astonishing bunch of people. We all shared stories, ideas, dreams and we all worked relentlessly for three years to ensure Docktown, the large-scale community play and arts project for Goole, was a success. I may have provided the initial drive and the engine, but Dave was one of several strong hearts and wise heads guiding that, offering counsel and jokes when things were going badly.
Memorably, in one meeting with the largely Conservative borough council, he told several officers that Goole deserved better than the 'Tory shower of shit' who were stopping something artistically vital for the town from happening. Dave could play the diplomat, but it was never a role that sat easily with him if he felt a wrong needed to be righted.
Dave was many things. He was a playwright of skill and heart who wrote the script for the Docktown play, he was a comrade-in-arms and, for a man originally from Hull, he was an unlikely champion of Goole at a time when the town needed it. More than anything, Dave was one of those rare people who believed anything was possible. He was also my mate and I consider myself blessed that our friendship extended long after Docktown was finished.
In his later years, ill health took its toll. Dementia affected him badly towards the end, too.
The last time I saw him, though, he was in good spirits and he was even talking about working on a new play. I'm sad that I never saw that happen. But I'm sadder still that I'll never see Dave again. That magical three years working on Docktown and the friendship it created afterwards remain boons I cherish.
Goodbye mate. You won't thank me for saying it, but you were always on the side of the angels. Even if those angels were occasionally foul-mouthed and brutally funny.