Today, for the first time on this blog, I use a real name. It would be wrong not to.
I first met Phil nearly a year and a half ago, in the run-up to Christmas 2004. The queues for Eddie’s on a Saturday night were the longest I’d ever seen them, sometimes running the length of Lower Severn Street and round the corner past the Gallows. One night, I heard a man and a woman chatting just behind me; they were on a surrealist tangent regarding the guy selling the entry at the top of the stairs having no arms and wearing a baseball cap. Unable to stop myself laughing with them, I pointed out that he could use the peak of his cap to press the buttons on the till. We continued chatting on the way up the stairs and shook hands and parted company at the end of the queue. It was a random encounter and it’s only now that I realise how lucky I was to be in that place at that time: the man was Phil and he turned out to be one of the kindest and most easy-going people I had ever met.
A couple of weeks later, I went to Eddie’s alone after work (I did that a lot then) and bumped into Phil and his friend again. They invited me to join them and we introduced ourselves properly. We chatted and drank and, predictably, I don’t remember much specifically about the evening – I do remember it being a lot of fun. Phil and his friend always sat in the same alcove by the doors of the back room, drinking and shouting along to the lyrics of whatever the DJ was playing at the time; I’ll get up on the dance-floor for many things but Phil’s friend rarely danced as a matter of principle and Phil was recovering from a leg injury. We met like this on and off for a few weeks.
I think I can pinpoint the night when our friendship was sealed. It was the second time Rose had come out with me to Eddie’s and that was probably the night we went out for St George’s Day – 23rd April 2005. Rose left me to use the bathroom and Phil and his friend turned up a few minutes later; they’d just arrived at the club and someone was in their usual alcove. I invited them to join me and when Rose came back I introduced them to her and we spent the evening all together. Rose and Phil got chatting and she mentioned our plans to see Alice Cooper at the NEC in December; he was an Alice Cooper fan himself, so we invited him along. His leg was better and that night Phil, Rose and I danced together to ‘Love in an Elevator’ – something of an event given that Rose rarely dances. We swapped numbers that night to arrange the gig tickets and Phil and I have been friends ever since.
We first crossed paths away from Eddie’s at the OVT in Selly Oak, when Igor and Legolas had moved out to the beer garden while I got a round in. As I stepped outside with our drinks, someone shouted my name (well, practically cheered it). There was Phil and his friend. They joined us for the rest of the evening and we drank until chucking-out time.
As time wore on, Phil’s friend got a boyfriend and stopped coming out so I saw Phil with others of his friends. I moved my job to the cinema on Broad Street, where Phil was a regular customer. A couple of times we crossed paths in the foyer while I was working and we always arranged to be at Eddie’s together as soon as possible. We had fun at the NEC, seeing Alice Cooper and Twisted Sister. He chatted to Rose about her DJing for BURN FM and expressed an interest in DJing himself. They put an ideal playlist together and it turned out they would have had all the same bands (if different songs). They did debate about which David Bowie song to include, and Rose suspects that he let her win that one.
2005 turned to 2006 and Phil’s leg reached full strength again. He got up to dance more often and we had some mad nights together. He wasn’t one for doing completely mad things all the time but he was the kind of guy who was always fun to be around just because he always seemed to be having fun. He was always smiling and he had a very confident laugh. He did do the occasional mad one, like the time he fell asleep in the pile of binbags in his garden or the time he went home with a middle-aged woman and wrote his phone number on her daughter’s homework (I like to think that, coincidentally, it was in fact the solution to the maths problem she was dealing with…) but he wasn’t the sort of person that you’d say was a danger to himself. He was just a nice guy who knew how to have fun – and that’s the best kind of person to be. I don’t think there was a bad bone in his body.
The last time I saw Phil at Eddie’s was when I went out with my sister’s mates to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Everyone I knew seemed to be out, including Phil and a couple of his mates. We danced to all kinds and had a good, drunken laugh. It was a while before I had the money to go out again and, apparently it was the same for him but then the third semester started and money came through for both of us (he lectured at Aston University).
The last time I saw Phil was on Friday 28th April 2006. I was working on the box office and he turned up to see Slither. Just like the first time I met him, I was lucky fate had thrown our paths together. There wasn’t much of a queue, so we chatted a short while. He’d bought tickets for the Download Festival and was looking forward to seeing Metallica and to hearing Axl Rose singing ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ live. We arranged to meet up the next night.
“Gimme a text!” He said as he disappeared across the foyer.
“Will do. See you tomorrow!”
I sent him a text at half past ten as I left the OVT. On my way to eddies. Are you still playing out? I never received a reply.
Phil died that night, 29th April, of dilated cardiomyopathy. As far as I know, he collapsed while weight training and the cause of death was only identified by post mortem days later. I only heard about his death when his dad phoned on the Sunday, trawling through Phil’s phone book. Apparently I was listed as Crystal Tips…
I feel lucky to have known Phil, and luckier still that I saw him so close to his death. I have no photos of him – my only physical reminder of his life is the Alice Cooper ticket in a box in my room. Beyond that, I have no regrets; we never exchanged a harsh word and there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent his death. He was one of the best people I could ever wish to have met and the times I’ve spent with him have been among the happiest in my life.
Goodbye, Phil. Maybe I’ll see you on the other side.