I was one of the many who adored Aiden Lambert and he never once gave me a reason to do otherwise. He was a hugely impressive man but it was his generosity and his humility, I think, that defined him. This was certainly the case with our relationship as it was, I suspect, with many of his other friendships.
I spent a couple of wonderful years in the early 1990s working in The Rock Garden in Dublin. He never told me, of course, but it was Aiden who brokered that arrangement and organised the job for me. And that’s how he rolled ;- he sorted things out, saw folk right. I was a little unsteady on my feet at the time and, every now and again, it felt like a hammer was hacking away inside my head. But Aiden more or less adopted me, billeted me in his basement flat in Dartmouth Square, put a mentor’s arm tightly around me, pumped me with wisdom and made sure I got back up on the bicycle. And, when the time was right, he ushered me back out outside and moved me on ;- the world was a better and a safer place when I knew Aiden had my back.
I celebrated a fair few birthdays with him over the years but never once thought to ask him what age he was. I knew he was older than me but, beyond that, his age was irrelevant because, in my eyes, Aiden never really aged. And he was always really stylish with it too, well kept and of good cutting ;- even over the last year, when he was fighting his illness and maybe struggling, he’d always cut a dapper shape. The treatment was taking its toll on him but, whenever I’d see him around Nutgrove Avenue or Loreto Avenue in Rathfarnham, to where he’d returned some years ago, he still looked as beautiful as he always did, usually in his long black Crombie and, invariably, with a copy of The Irish Times or The Guardian under-arm.
It was music that first brought us together and it was music and talk of music that popped the air when we gathered in The Good Shepherd Church during the week to pay our last respects to him and to speed him on his way. I first met him when he managed Rex And Dino, a sprightly pop outfit led by his brother, Dermot, and also featuring Brian McLoughlin and Barry Campbell ;- the core of that group later re-emerged as Blink, and it is around that group that we shared the most intense parts of our friendship and a whole lot more besides.
Aiden sorted Blink out. He ran a stationary business from a couple of small offices over a fruit and veg shop on South Anne Street and, as I’d aimlessly shuffle through the city in the days before mobile phones and the internet, his workplace became a regular refuge for me. We’d shoot the breeze and thrill at the quality of a fresh Blink tape which he’d unveil, strictly mano a mano, in the inner sanctum and away from the front of house. I’d tell him how great the songs sounded and how, in my mind, the band was developing while, out beyond in the reception area, the real business of the day was put on hold. Blink had recorded a series of excellent sessions in a small basement studio up around Great Denmark Street and, with Aiden leading the vanguard and steering their course, were a band on the up.
Blink and myself were tied at the hip for a number of years. I loved the band and the sinewy, immediate racket they made but I loved the men and women around them just as much. So much so that, at one point, I moved into Brian’s house on Sandford Avenue, off of The South Circular Road ;-the move itself was easy enough because I was a regular fixture there anyway, along with a host of others. I can’t remember if I ever paid Brian a single cent for the privilege – I presume not – but I remember other aspects of that period in real detail. And Aiden is at the centre of that detail ;- people were drawn to him and he drew people out.
Blink were regular fixtures at The Rock Garden, both on-stage and off and when we’d draw the locks down on the heavy wooden doors after some show or other, we’d often repair back on foot through town, up George’s Street and over around The Meath Hospital and up around Leonard’s Corner to the South Circular Road. In the days before taxis in Dublin were ten-a-penny, we’d meander through the nights in file, sneaking our way through the back lanes, the half-light filled by the sound of Aiden, leading the laughing and talking.
The upright sound system in Sandford was an impressive piece of kit, with a decent amp, and it was always loaded with real quality. I can remember plenty of nights in that house when a regular crew – led by Brian and Vanessa and ably supported by Robbie, Barry, Dermot, Vanessa, Jeff, Dowdy, Natalie, Graham, Debbie, Eithne, Melanie, Robbo, Uaneen, Kim, Dennis and sundry others – would welcome the milkman to the sparkling sounds of Ash, The Lemonheads, The Sundays, The Replacements and Whipping Boy. And there, holding court in seemingly every room at the same time, Aiden. Still laughing, still talking.
Aiden was a gifted storyteller and he’d routinely have us rapt with tales of derring-do, almost all of which he’d gild liberally. When I first met him he used to do a couple of shifts every week on a family clothes stall down on Thomas Street, selling jeans and sweatshirts, and he was as comfortable there as he was in any company. He told me many yarns over the years, and plenty of those were aired before, during and after his funeral last Wednesday. Whether it was the one about the half-wit from Churchtown who left Ireland on the ferry and attempted asylum in Holyhead claiming to be a ‘political referee’ or the well-known Dublin model he dated in the years before she’d had her breasts done and married into rock music royalty or his many, gossipy stories about the time he spent working in The Phoenix or Hot Press, we’d just sit back and enjoy him taking flight. And there was an awful lot to enjoy.
Aiden moved back to his family home in Nutgrove a number of years ago and, after the years he’d spent away in New York, we’d re-established regular contact. I’d see him most mornings as I dropped my daughters to school and, from time to time, I’d give him a lift down to Ranelagh, where he’d have regular meetings. The passing of time clearly hadn’t diminished him and many reputations were sundered on The Lower Churchtown Road while we were stuck in commuter traffic. He’d started to work in psychotherapy and it seemed like a perfect fit ;- still drawing people to him, still drawing people out.
We spoke for the last time last October, down in our local supermarket. Aiden looked thin and poorly and his throat hurt him but at least he was out and about and that, he assured us, was all good and positive. I held his hand and, as frail as he was, he was adamant that rumours of his demise were exaggerated. He had a liberal store of quips and one-liners for my girls as we negotiated the aisles, wondering how such an ugly parent could father such beautiful children. We talked about catching up and Aiden later sent me a gorgeous photograph of himself, big smile, sitting upright in a bed in Tallaght hospital as if to say ‘I’m still sorting it’. He signed off with best wishes for my daughters.
And those were the last words, spoken or written, we exchanged.
Aiden, as was his nature, fought his corner until the very end and, even allowing for the prognosis, it was only the worst kind of fool that would have written him off. And so his death, last Sunday, came as a massive shock to his many friends all of whom, like I did, believed that he was just indestructible. Like everyone who gathered in Rathfarnham during the week, I saw his generosity, humility, humour, wisdom and raw beauty up close. Like Elvis, he made everyone feel special. And, like Elvis, he was one of the greats.
My sincerest condolences to his family and friends, and particularly to Danny, Dermot and Natalie. We will miss him enormously but he will never be forgotten.