Gray Taylor pays a personal tribute Howard Marks, the hugely-loved and controversial author of 90’s memoir and phenomenon Mr Nice, who passed away yesterday at the age of 70.
When I was asked to write a short piece about Howard Marks after his passing on the 10th April 2016, I decided very quickly not to write another well-trodden history lesson; valleys intellectual becomes international drug dealer becomes convict becomes writer becomes celebrity pop icon, but I would write about the man I knew and of who’s company I had the privilege of on many occasions.
The editor of Wales Arts Review said he wasn’t interested in a piece about any druggy adventures I had with Howard; tough job, you might think, when you consider the possibilities of a night’s collaboration with Howard Marks and, the band of which I am a member, Goldie Lookin’ Chain. But, this is easier than you might think. Although there was often a good supply of herb, the man we are talking about was one of the most intelligent, kind, charismatic, and spiritually giving people I have ever met. The drugs really were just an addition to a wholly beautiful landscape of personal attributes.
We got to know him well, and we in The Chain always referred to him as Uncle Howard, not just because of the kindness and closeness you could feel in his company, but also because of the spiritual guide that he so often proved to be. When a few of us visited Howard in Manchester (I think, for it is hazy), for his 60th birthday party, after leaving one club we found ourselves without a venue. Uncle Howard led a small group of us into the Manchester night (I think it was a random Tuesday) chatting, smiling, ebullient as ever. I knew him quite well by this point and I just watched as his charisma enveloped people vying for his attention. The group grew and grew, and soon Howard was the guide to around fifty people, walking prophet-like through the streets of Manchester, aimless but faithful that we were going somewhere. We didn’t get anywhere of any note, but to see how people were attracted to his light was quite something.
This light wasn’t a one way experience though. Howard would pull your light from you. He was always interesting but also always interested. Some might think that he might have been susceptible to some memory issues, but he always called people by their first names and once met you were remembered; members of the extended GLC family were always greeted on first name terms as much as the band were. He was personable and had that closeness that made you feel that the shining star in the room was you, sometimes continuing conversations from months, maybe years, before, always focused on the person he was chatting to. He had time for people and love.
Howard would enthuse about music he had heard, or the music he was making. He was a creative soul. A few of us bumped into him down Cardiff Bay once and, after a few drinks, we went to Howard’s hotel room with him and his girlfriend. We savoured some “special cakes” Howard had made for his non-smoking girlfriend, then we huddled around his laptop to hear some music. Howard was a massive musichead, and loved to champion bands and acts, as he did with GLC. (Later that day I thought I was the prism on the cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, but that’s one for the autobiography).
Howard was an intellectual. You could talk to him about a million subjects. He was a cultured man, and could transfer his enthusiasm to you in a few words, a fact that anyone who has read his brilliant novels; Mr Nice, Senor Nice, or Mr Smiley, will agree with. His warmth also came through in his writing, that conversational style that fascinated so many, that’s exactly what a conversation with Uncle Howard was like. He visited my band mate Adam and myself when we shared a house together in Newport. He was accompanied by a film crew, who ended up looking a bit pasty, and we went to a local boozer with them, Howard, and his friend/guardian angel, Bernie. Howard and Bernie regaled us with so many amazing stories of their adventures, I truly never wanted it to end and they made us laugh as loud as anyone has laughed.
I genuinely could write forever about my love for this kind, fascinating, light of a human being. But, I’ll leave you with this. I was sat next to Howard and his family at the Welsh premiere of his film biopic, Mr Nice. I could glance at Howard to check his responses. Apart from a palpable weirdness when his son Patrick was actually conceived on screen, the whole film flickered in front of Howard, and he grinned sometimes with the look of a film fan enjoying a well-told story, sometimes with the well-worn look of a man who had lived multiple lives all at the same time, but never with any regret, not even when the film showed the dark times. Howard was beaming, with his history on screen, not with ego but as humble as anyone could be as A-list celebrities play out your life on screen.
You will be sadly missed by all who experienced your unique glow, Uncle Howard, the love you gave out you certainly received back. And I’d like to think that look on your face as you watched your film said, “Oh, it was far more fucking nuts and amazing than that.” And I know I promised the Editor of Wales Arts Review to avoid drug references, but I’ll be wrapping one up now for Uncle Howard, he’ll have made one as soon as he got to Heaven, and the angels will already be gripped by his stories and in love with his light. Rest In Peace but not too peaceful, Howard Marks, you legend.