A Tribute to Martin

“Martin Wilkinson – no more viola jokes”
Some of you will know by now that our much loved and admired friend Martin died at St. Bede’s Hospice, Gateshead on Thursday 4th September.
He was in good spirits and joking with the nurses up until a few days before he died.
Martin will be a massive loss to nearly all parts of Cobwebs as he was a regular at many of the weekly groups, played in nearly all our concerts as well as being a member of the Cabaret Ensemble and the Chamber Orchestra.
Martin had been seriously ill for many years and always knew that he had limited life expectancy, although many people would have been unaware of this as he always made light of his troubles.
Over the last few years, the orchestra has helped him achieve several of the items on his “to do” list such as playing the viola solo in Berlioz’s “Harold in Italy” and visiting dozens of minor league continental football grounds on his way to play with us in Tuscany in 2011, and historical battlefields on the way back.
I know he would forgive the irreverent heading to this tribute. In fact, it was him who suggested it; a few months ago, when discussing his condition, he said “Well, at least when I’m gone, you won’t have to put up with my terrible jokes.”
I’m sure I’m not the only one who would have happily put up with them for longer. I know he’ll be fondly remembered by everybody.”

Andy Jackson
Absolutely, very well put. Our little part of the world is a poorer place without him.
Mike Cave
Martin Wilkinson, 1961 – 2014. My Cobwebs perspective
When I wandered into my first “Cobwebs” session at Annfield Plain, some 15 years ago, clutching a violin which I had forgotten how to play, I found myself sitting behind a jovial bloke wearing a Sunderland AFC football shirt. He was the leader on the day, and this was Martin. Since then we became friends, shared quite a few beers and listened to each other’s jokes. Mine were usually better than his, but he had many more than me! Not only that but when I decided that the viola was going to be my instrument Martin was always ready with advice, both on how to play the thing and on which “bits” to buy. His musical sphere was such that there was little in the repertoire which he hadn’t played and by his presence he probably saved many a Cobweb Orchestra event from disaster.
We all knew that he had been ill for a long time but he never described his “cancer” in terms which made it any more than a bit of an inconvenience.
It was only in the last few months that it looked like the road was coming to an end. We will miss him.

Dave Wood
I’ll always be grateful to Martin, who was such a talented player, for supporting the second violins at Morpeth when we were struggling. He never needed to be asked, but just quietly moved to our section and helped us to keep on track. Thanks, Martin, you will be greatly missed.
Gill Armstrong
I was very sad to hear about Martin. He was a great source of encouragement to me when I was just starting to play the viola. He’ll be sorely missed in the various Cobweb viola sections as he was a great advocate of the much abused instrument.
Stephanie Flood
Martin was such a good musician and so generous and supportive of Cobwebs. Unfailing, as even when he was not feeling 100%, he would give 100%. He would always be there, viola in one hand and violin under the arm asking which part was more needed. (If he’d been able to play both at the same time he would have done so). Yet he did what he did with no expectations.
He was also a kind person and willing to put himself out in other ways – coming right down to Durham and driving me across to Dalston so I could rehearse the group in Beethoven 2 ahead of the Middlesbrough day (and back again). And, whilst always full of humour as other’s have remarked, was also a very thoughtful, knowledgeable person with many sound ideas about music and the world, so always interesting to talk to when an opportunity arose beyond the playing as well.
Which brings me back to his playing – in particular the Harold in Italy, which I remember him rehearsing and performing in Morpeth with such musicianship and intuition. Plus, as already remarked, his ability to assist the orchestra (imperceptibly, but firmly) ‘get through’ on many occasions, whether in rehearsal or concert. He was also a believer in the Cobweb spirit and a presence going back before I joined myself in 1999. A huge and untimely loss. But he’d done brilliantly.

Stephanie Cant
That’s such sad news about Martin. He’s an amazing person the way he has been so cheerful and made us laugh despite his illness. I’m thinking of him and wishing him well.
Sheila Ryan
Well that bit of news has knocked the wind out of my sails. Malcolm said, when he supplied me with a wedding photo that Martin had stood down as best man and instead carried the rings and drove the bride and groom. I hadn’t realised he’d deteriorated so quickly.
Martin is another Cobwebber who has taught me such a lot.

I was really sad to hear that news, however inevitable. I had hardly known him but will still miss him a lot.
Sue Hedworth
Oh Andy, I am so sorry to read that Martin has died. Poor man. I know he’d been ill for ages.
He wasn’t old – it just isn’t FAIR, is it?
What a blow for you, for Cobwebs, for all viola players and all who’d known him.

Joy Hall
Just read your circular about Martin’s death, which is the first I’d heard of it, so thank you.
I worked with him quite a lot and found him great company, just as everyone mentions. I also visited him a couple of years in hospital after one of his ops and he had all sorts of apparatus sticking out of him but was still in his usual high spirits and making light of everything…..
I’m still shocked that he has died as he had such staying power.

Chris Griffiths
Tribute for Martin – this was read at Martin’s funeral
Thank you, Father, and thank you, Jill, for asking me. Martin was a good friend to me through various orchestras for 20 years – and I’m still kind of half expecting his cheery, irreverent shout from the back somewhere of “GET OFF! YOU’RE RUBBISH!”
How do you sum up such a rich, full life? Where do you start? With the tale of him kidnapping one of the Milton Keynes concrete cows? Or perhaps just with that big laugh, which always sounded to me like the honking of some huge, happy goose away over in the viola section somewhere. Or with all the awful jokes, especially the viola ones – I’ll leave you to share those privately today…Or that amazing way he, who had so many cares, could seem so care-free: like when he jumped straight in the pool on tour with the Cobweb orchestra in Tuscany, forgetting his wallet was in his pocket, and then turning up to a very grand church event with just this soaked, illegible little scrap of paper for his invitation…
But behind the laughing and the joking was such fabulous support for so many of us, getting alongside us whether in music-making, war-gaming, our own illnesses – or just life; Tony Benn said earlier this year he wanted people to say of him “he encouraged us”, and heavens, isn’t that so true of Martin? I’ve been hearing so many stories over the last week or so… Often about the quiet support, solidarity and gentle teaching that one didn’t always notice behind the laughter, welcoming new members to any group, or anyone in trouble – so generous of his time and energy…The news today talked of Stephen Sutton, a much younger cancer victim, and his positivity, energy and concern for others – all so like Martin too. The composer Vaughan Williams said he’d “rather be guilty of encouraging a fool than discouraging a genius”, and Martin seemed to apply that even when encouraging some of us in the most hare-brained projects, thinking of some of my house and work moves – however bad an idea it was, once you’d decided on it, Martin would back you up, get behind you, and do his best to help make the daft thing work…
I wouldn’t be being true to Martin if I didn’t pay tribute to the fact that, even maybe behind that great warm heart, was someone of fabulous ability. He was a truly excellent musician, passionate for perfection in that as in war-gaming – someone who really knew and cared about his military history – and we’re here in part to respect that brilliance, a really talented individual. These tributes can make people out to be plaster saints, and Martin of course was not that – he was fabulously encouraging to anyone struggling, a great teacher, but he could be very pointed with those of us who he was convinced knew better, should be doing better, and were falling short of our true potential and real excellence, in music particularly, I think – some of his comments could be absolutely scathing in pursuit of better music, and I wouldn’t be reflecting him if I didn’t mention those times when he could really give us a kick for not doing better, I want to try to remember that too.
I want to pay tribute as well to Martin as impresario, the great organiser – that amazing mix of gifts where he could get together some great event, be the life and soul of the party throughout it, and then help clear up and give people lifts afterwards – when he saved his energy up for the things that really mattered to him, he could be absolutely tireless. I remember particularly the Vaughan Williams concerto grosso in Biddick – almost 3 orchestras together, about 140 people, everybody from schoolkids new to their instruments to I think semi-professional soloists – an amazing range of network, knowledge, and the ability to help motivate us all, get us together – and then quietly take a seat at the back and just get stuck in to making it work – an incredible day, just one of so many of his achievements – I’m sure many of his war-gaming friends have fabulous memories too of some of the tournaments he helped put together – as well as the week by week work of the clubs.
I also of course need to thank all the medics – the surgeons, oncology, the nursing and support staff, from most of the hospitals in the north east I think he visited over the years – for helping him have decades more life than he might, for enabling him to be with us so much longer than anyone thought possible; for those who helped him eat his takeaway curry in one hospital, you know who you are; so thanks to them all.
I’m not going to say much about Martin’s faith – because it’s none of my business, and some stuff was rightly private to him; just to say he seemed to me one of the best sort of Catholics – the ones you don’t always know about, who quietly get to a late or early Mass where they can, when they can – but who lived an abundant life, and always seeming to be looking out for other people.
Regret, of course – that he never got to exercise the ancestral family rights of a Freeman of Newcastle, to graze a cow on the Town Moor there: especially on that bit of it that he would call Sid James’ Park; preferably a red and white painted cow, just before the kickoff of a derby match… but mainly for me just so much wonder that, in the end, he had so long – I think one of his consultants called him one of the very, very few really, really stubborn beggars who was still on his books.
And I want to say something to the kids; Robert, Helen, Christopher, Phillip: you may, like many of us today, be wondering how on earth you’ll get through stuff without all that support, that encouragement, that big warm wall or tide of positivity that he brought to so many of our struggles: but I want to tell you something I don’t think you maybe know about – you may be remembering all the times he was there for you, helped get you through stuff: but what I think a number of his friends saw was that, maybe without realising it, actually, for years you’ve been helping him get through stuff – not just week by week, rehearsal by rehearsal – but your milestones, your landmarks; he aimed for them, paced himself, motivated himself, always looking for the next target – your 16ths, your 18ths, your 21sts, the blood, sweat and tears of getting you into university; the blood, sweat and tears of getting you out of university again – and of course the grandchildren. However awful a day he’d had, I could pretty much always bring him to himself, and help lift him, by asking “how’re the kids” – you made him so happy and proud – in between of course the times when he was tearing his hair out, because parents do that – and if he was a happy and proud father, oh boy you should have heard him about the grandchildren – they gave him so much pleasure, and he really delighted in them – so thank you for that.
How do I finish, when I’ve barely started – missed out so much? With thanks I think for the last few times I spent with him, after he was best man at my wedding two months ago: a few quiet evenings that, by then, I didn’t expect us to have, to be honest; feeding him my wife’s lovely food, still managing the odd pint, he still managing to train my wife’s mad dog (for he mourned the family dog, “Sexy Susie”, terribly) – someone’s called such wonderful warming moments “soul photos”, and I think Martin’s given us all plenty of them: so I think maybe I’ll finish with just the last time he spoke with me, the Monday before he died, when the family, Kate and I were sat round him in the QE, just numbed I think with the awfulness of it all – and a nurse came in to take his blood pressure, and with great effort Martin slowly lifted his oxygen mask off, beckoned her closer – pointed at Helen, and whispered to the nurse “start with her”. The only one in that room who could have broken that awful moment, broken the ice – with another daft, rubbish joke, made when he could barely breathe or speak – to still make the effort to lighten the load for other people. Amongst all the warm memories of encouragement and laughter, all the “soul photos”, I’m going to particularly hold on to that one.

Malcolm Toft