In the intervening years, I always carried Mick’s words with me, yet for one reason or another never made the move to contact him, although I came close to doing so on many occasions. In the interim, I took on jobs I did not enjoy, and spent far too much time with the wrong woman, when I should have in fact been focussing on the music, as Mick had advised I should. In short, I did not feel I had fulfilled the prophecy of his words, or worse still, had even attempted to.
Then, only last month, after more than half a decade as a professional musician, a gentleman named Bernhard Eber who organises a programme of beautiful shows in Gundelfingen, Bavaria, forwarded me a photograph of a billboard in Gunzburg advertising the May programme at the venue. I was delighted to see my own name in the listings (who doesn’t like seeing their name on a billboard?!), but to my astonishment the first name on the listings was Mick Pini – could this really be happening? That I was playing the same venue as this wisened and learned individual from all those years ago?
Far more confident and secure in my own identity as a professional musician, I decided to locate Mick on Facebook, and we became ‘friends’ on this most unlikely forum for hardened roots musicians. The next day, I wrote to him, explaining he would most likely not, nor had he any reason to, remember, our encounter, but that it was of great significance to me, more than that, an inspiration, that his words had become a mantra for me, both as an aspiring and, now a working musician. I was very shocked, in the best of ways, when Mick wrote back, saying he was touched by my message, and that he indeed could not remember the conversation, but was proud to have played a part in my journey and that I should continue resolutely on my musical path.
Despite my best intent to reply, the arrival of both a new car and a new album in the same week meant that I never found the words I wanted to – his words had been so important to me for over a decade, I did not just want to scrape back an apologetic response with little meaning or resonance.
And so, by the time I found myself later that very week en route to Gundelfingen, Bavaria, it was with a heavy heart that I cursed myself for not replying to Mick, and I realised, to my great disappointment, that perhaps I had missed an opportunity to meet with him again.
How wrong I was. As I stepped out of my car, having parked outside the venue, I caught sight of this striking, avuncular figure striding towards me – ‘Simon‘ – he cries. ‘Yes‘, I respond, still not entirely sure who this person was (if it was Mick he was taller than I’d remembered – I’d forgotten I was standing behind a shop counter!). ‘It’s Mick Pini – It’s Mick‘ and he opens his arms as I walk towards him. A huge bear hug ensues, tears surface in my eyes, as I struggle to contain my emotions. He thrusts a cluster of cherished and rare Mick Pini recordings into my hands, to my barely containable delight. ‘If I’ve helped you – if my words have helped you, and you’ve made a career out of music, the least I can do is be here to support you‘, he responds to my amazement that he is here.
Not only was Mick present, but his wife and daughter had also come along to see me perform, rarely have I felt so energised on stage – it was such a pleasure to see this person again after all these years – I’d thought he was just a voice in my head, a mythical voice, that haunted me, to actually be performing in front of him was beyond my comprehension.
After the concert, Mick praised me profusely, further reinforcing my belief that to fulfil his mantra was indeed the correct decision – to receive praise from someone who has lived and breathed music for more than four decades, is worth more to me than the views of any critic or reviewer. Later that evening, I went to visit to Mick in his family home, where he showed me his home studio, played me his latest recordings and of course, his treasued guitar collection, including his infamous ’54 Fender Stratocaster. We talked into the small hours of Freddie King, of John Martyn, of Bob Dylan, of politics and history, of guitars and trains. Yes, trains – Mick possesses an amazing model railway!
I left twice the man I’d arrived, what an experience – how blessed can one man be? Mick Pini – I salute you – an inspiration, a musical genius, and now, after over a decade since our first encounter, a true friend in music.
A beautiful ending to a wonderful story – blues gonna be our way.