Mick Softley, Cannes, 1959. (Photo;Tommy Elder.)
It was during visits to meet up with friends I had made in the summer of 1959 in Cornwall who were based in Hemel Hempstead that I got to know Mick Softley.
Meeting up from time to time in London’s Soho we would busk and jam in the pubs and later we played together with banjo man Clive Palmer on the streets of Paris. Mick was always a joy to play with in those days. With a wonderful voice and a hilarious cheeky persona, the French loved him.
Once when walking down the Champs –Elysees with Mick I happened to glance up and noticed the Union Jack flag on a pole high up outside some important British government building.
It was absolutely filthy and bedraggled “Look at the state of that flag Mick” I remarked upon which Mick said “Follow me” and together we both marched in to the foyer of the building. Us two shabby blue-jeaned flea-market jacketed vagabonds were confronted there by a smartly dressed snooty receptionist.
“Can I help you?” he said, to which Mick curtly replied “The Flag!” “Pardon.” “The Flag!” “Sorry?” “The Flag – its dirty! It’s a disgrace! As a patriotic Englishman I find it extremely embarressing and offensive. See to it immediately!” “Yes Sir, of course” and we trooped out.
We checked a week later and it had been cleaned and restored to its pristine imperial glory!
Some years later my wife, child and I were “ temporarily homeless” and living in an old VW van waiting for the spring to arrive when we would make our annual pilgrimage to Cornwall for the summer. Mick kindly made room for us at his house in Hemel where he was living with his wife Maureen and their young child Matthew.
Mick was convinced that he was about to make a fortune from his stall in the market selling custom size sheets of foam rubber and the house was full of the buzzing of an electric foam cutter and blaring rock music from the stereo. “I plan to be a millionaire by the time I’m thirty!” he used to declare.
It was around this time that Mick was making his first LP record and one evening we were sitting around trying to think of titles.
“Songs for swinging lovers” I think was the title of a Frank Sinatra disc at the time. So I came up with the title “Songs For Swinging Survivors” as there was much discussion in those days regarding the campaign for nuclear dis-armament.
Mick added it to the list never expecting it to be used!
Our paths crossed several times over the years in Holland, France and Belgium.
Once we received a poignant letter from Mick postmarked Paris where he had met up with his estranged wife in an unsuccessful attempt to re-kindle their failing marriage.
By this time Mick’s mental state was deteriorating due I’m convinced from too much cannabis imbibing. Sometimes, years later we would wake in the morning to see Mick’s van parked outside the house but he would never come in. Only occasioinally knocking on the door to ask for a glass of water.
We did have some wonderful times with Mick and I find it very sad that we lost touch and that he never achieved the success he deserved.