Kevin Mead

Martin at Clare College Cambridge

Click the flowers to navigate the site


Roland has asked me to say a few words about the Martin I knew at Cambridge. He's going to be a hard act to follow, and he's said quite a lot of what I wanted to say already, and I can't talk that fast and still be understood. Still these are my personal memories and may be quite different to others that knew him at that time!

We met in our first days at Clare College – both with rooms on the musicians' staircase – where we could make lots of noise without disturbing others.

Me, a callow eighteen-year old – Martin sophisticated beyond his seventeen years.

He had just returned from a gap year in Florence (before gap years had been invented).

He was hugely knowledgeable and could talk (at length!) on any subject – and of course delighted in the obscure and ridiculous (a family trait?!).

Easy charm – he had even charmed the university authorities into allowing him a car (so, while we battled with the winds off the Fens on our bikes, Martin had his Fiat 500).

And to top it all – in 1973 the seventeen-year old Martin drank whisky and ginger. How sophisticated is that!

What did we have in common?

An interest in wine women and song: the wine bit was obvious (and we soon got Martin on to the more-affordable beer); the women – a challenge with the ratio of men to women at 7 to 1 against! Which left song – ie music.

Yes, we had music in common – but not really. I was strictly classically trained. Martin knew the classical repertoire of course, but he was a natural and his interests spanned classical flute to Procol Harum. And Martin had the ability that most classical musicians really admire: to play by ear, without music – and to be able to modulate into whichever key was needed without missing a beat!

So, I joined the university symphony orchestra – and Martin was welcomed into CULES, the university light entertainment society. And you can probably guess which was more fun.

After our first year we decided we would share college rooms – an arrangement which proved strangely successful and continued for two years.

Why did it work? It worked well because our paths rarely crossed! And, thinking about it, we were opposites in many regards.

I had 9 o’clock lectures and went to bed at a sensible hour. Martin left his essays until the very last moment and sat up all night writing them before climbing into his supervisor’s college at dawn to deliver the work so that it looked like it had been handed in on time.

I had to work hard – to Martin most things came naturally.

I’m rather shy and retiring – Martin was outgoing with a genuine, easy laugh and enough small talk to sink a battleship.

I’m naturally cautious – Martin was fearless when it came to climbing. I came across him early one morning looking pleased with himself after a nocturnal visit to the roof of King's College Chapel. A huge building. Assuming he had climbed the spiral staircases, I asked how he had managed to get into the chapel. 'Ooh no, Andy (a keen rock climber) and I climbed up the outside!' A horrifying thought.

And of course sharing rooms with Martin meant we always had interesting people passing though – whether old school friends, Roland’s circle of friends or the rather wacky people from CULES. Usually great fun, but sometimes of course they over-stayed their welcome. On one such evening when one of Martin’s new CULES friends was putting down roots showing no signs of leaving – and I needed to get back to practising my part for the college concert – I did eventually go back to my viola and play it quietly in the corner. Martin’s visitor politely enquired what it was I was playing – Martin of course knew and explained to Nicky (for it was she) that it was a symphony by Haydn – known as The Farewell!

Despite my efforts, Martin’s friendship with Nicky developed and one sunny day as we walked across Clare Bridge Martin told me of a good friend of Nicky’s. He described this woman at some length (not dwelling overlong on the excellence of her intellect) and a week or two later arranged that I should visit Nicky’s room in Newnham when he knew Arun would be there. And I never looked back (well, not often), and thirty-five years later we are still together.

So, that was Martin in his university years. A very good friend who broadened my horizons and to whom I owe a lot – not least my ability to play the twelve-bar blues bass line – as long as it is in the key of E.

And now to Richard – and one of Martin’s passions.


Martin Clare Music Fund

Kevin was Martin's room-mate at college for two years

Next item | Order of Service