Obituary by Dick Greener
Ron Chesterman died on Friday 16 March 2007.
Originally a local government archivist, Ron came down to London to study for a degree. He joined the Strawberry Hill Boys in late 66/very early 1967, after Tony Hooper saw him playing in a pub in Chalk Farm (the Enterprise in Chalk Farm Road, just down the road from Tony's two flats on Haverstock Hill and Steeles Lane which inspired the song "Pieces of 79 and 15"). He travelled over to Copenhagen with Cousins, Hooper and Sandy Denny to make those early recordings - he still has a snapshot taken on the ferry. His excellent double bass playing is also featured on those tracks which make up Preserves Uncanned as well as the first two Strawbs albums released on A&M, Strawbs and Dragonfly. He left the band in early 1970, just after Rick Wakeman became a member, as Cousins and Hooper moved towards an electric line-up, recruiting John Ford and Richard Hudson on bass and percussion respectively.
After the Strawbs Ron worked with Noel Murphy and Shaggis (aka Davey Johnstone, later Elton John's electric guitar genius) as Draught Porridge and later on with various others. His favourite music was really jazz, and he played in many jazz line-ups too.
In later years he returned to his home town of Chester, where he was the county archivist, also spending some time away from England in the Caribbean. I met him back in 2000 when he came to the Strawbs show in Shrewsbury. I drove him back to Chester the next day and spent an extremely enjoyable day listening to his reminiscences of the old days. A feature from that interview, as a tribute to Ron, will be posted in due course on StrawbsWeb.
There were many messages of sympathy and condolence from Strawbs fans around the world, some of whom had known Ron in the old days, others who had only ever heard his music. For these see below.
Ron's brother Ian, wote the following in response to the e-mails which I forwarded onwards:
Many thanks for the e mails. They were very touching and it is nice to know that Ron was held in such high regard and affection both as a musician and a person. The funeral was a true celebration of Ron's life with music all the way from Elgar's "Nimrod" from the Enigma Variations through Sandy Denny's very moving "Who Knows Where The Time Goes" from the Strawbs "All Our Own Work" album and finishing on the uplifting "Give Me That Old Time Religion" by The Chris Barber Jazz Band.
Both myself and Ron's son Richard said a few words from our own very personal perspective. The funeral was well attended by musicians, friends and family and the celebrations continued at The Bear's Paw, one of Ron's favourite hostelries near his home in Chester.
I am sure that Ron will never be forgotten for his massive contribution to the music of the 20th Century and I know, from all the lovely e mails that you have forwarded to me, that his time as as member of The Strawbs will be rightly cherished.
Many thanks again to yourself and all the many kind and thoughtful people out there who have made our loss easier to bear.
I walked in to one of my local pubs this lunchtime and bumped into George who used to share a flat with Ron Chesterman.
He was very sad to hear the news but we had a couple of drinks with and for him.
We reminisced about the White Bear, Sandy Denny, the 3 City 4, Les Cousins, Roy Harper, Jackson C Frank and many more.
One of Ron's greatest moments was when Lonnie Donegan played with the Strawbs at the White Bear.
Only Ron knew how to swing like that - and Lonnie loved it.
George and I also talked about the night at the Vise Versa Hus in Tivoli Gardens when Tony and I left Sandy and Ron on stage for one of Sandy's epics.
Ron had forgotten that the curtain at the back of the stage was to there to hide the instrument cases.
He leaned against it and went arse over tit, with bass, into the open space in the middle of Sandy in full flight.
She laughed, we laughed and the audience too.
Ron made us all smile.
But he was not best pleased when we bought him an electric bass.
I was away in Spain when I heard the news.
I spoke to his brother Ian the day before the funeral and he said that Ron was thrilled with the box set.
I am so pleased that he saw it.
We owe Ron so much.
He set the scene for what was to come.
The engine room.
During my student days of 1968-71, I played with the highly respected Folk Artist Maureen Kennedy-Martin. I would ride my BSA A10 from Isleworth to Primrose Hill, jump into Maureen's little red Mini and go off to famous clubs like the Black Horse in Telham, the Talisman in Hitchin, or the Three Horseshoes in Hampstead. Often, we had a third member - Strawberry Hill Boy Ron Chesterman. Ron would strap his double bass to Mo's roofrack and off we'd go for an always-enjoyable, mostly beer-fuelled evening.
Ron and I formed a great friendship and I was a frequent visitor to his home in Wimbledon, where his wonderful Australian wife Marion would cook us dinner then send us off to the local for a top-up. Musically, Ron was most proud of his status in the jazz world,--he was offered the bass "chair" in Chris Barber's band, but he probably remains best-known for his work with the early Strawbs and the infamous Draught Porridge, with Noel Murphy and Davey Johnstone.
As an historian, Ron achieved success as the County Archivist for Cheshire, fulfilling a life-long ambition. He will be sadly missed by his loving family Marion, Zara, Elizabeth and Richard.
So sorry to hear the news of Ron's passing. He was a unique man and a great musician. We shared a love of history, a subject of which he had vast knowledge, and he could turn a mundane drive through London into a colourful, historical, guided tour. I haven't seen Ron for about three years now but the last time I saw him the humour and glint in his eye was there even though he had been unwell for sometime. A truly sad time for Strawbs members and followers. Please pass on my deepest sympathy to Ron's family and friends. He was a lovely man.
When Dick sent me a copy of the first disk of the boxed set for preview, nobody was more surprised than me when, on the opening track, "The Grey Hawk", what made me feel so good as it started was not Dave Cousins's voice, but the wonderful swinging, booming twang of Ron's double bass. To be sure, I love Dave Cousins's singing, but it was this gentle and colourful but firm setting which had fixed it in my mind. On that day, I promised myself I would get Dick to put me in touch with Ron again, and it has become increasingly clear to me since then that Ron was the guv'nor bass player for me. His particular style, plucking the strings more firmly than is usual so they buzz on the neck as well as booming out their note, is apparently related to a background in trad jazz. Whatever, whenever I have heard it since I have always thought of it as the Chesterman style and I've always loved it.
It was wonderful to see Claire Deniz play with Dave again last Christmas and I suppose I was harbouring the hope that Dave would wave his magic wand again and somehow pull Tony Hooper and Ron back together for next Xmas – we appear to have seen many of the other incarnations of the band in the past five years, so that didn't seem to be such a far-fetched idea. Alas, it is not to be now.
An abiding memory is of Ron leaving the White Bear after a gig in his Ford Anglia with his girlfriend in the back seat behind him and, where a man would normally seat his girlfriend, the seat next to him had been removed, and his bass travelled there.
The only pictures of Ron I know of are the promotional ones for the first two albums – and this rather poor example (above). But it's all I can offer...
And I am sorry to receive this news, as are we all. Every loss within the Strawbs' family, however extended, wears away my heart. We all join together in extending our sympathies to Ron's family.
Very sorry to hear the sad news. Dave
To Ron's family:
I am deeply sorry for your loss. I didn't have the privilege of meetingor knowing Ron, but in reading (and listening!) to his musicalaccomplishments, I find that he was one of the greats of the Strawbs line-up and the early albums are some of the best that ever came out on A & M.
I am also grieving too as I recently lost my husband, Ken Laws, who was Hudson-Ford's drummer. Ron's death is a double-blow for the Strawbs community, and you and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers in this difficult time.
My deepest sympathies to Ron`s family and friends. Unfortunately when you hear the word pneumonia in a person of "our" age.....its never a good sign. May he rest in peace.
I love his playing on the early songs, especially on 'That Which Was Once Mine', the instrumental part closing out the song. My condolences to his family and also to his ex-colleagues Dave and Tony.
I am shocked to read the news that Ron just died. He was one of the StrawbS and made them just what the are now. My condolences.and best wishes
First of all, you have my deepest sympathies. Even though I was not in the right place to listen to his work when it came out, I have thankfully since gained access to it. I also recently did research for a review for A Taste of Strawbs boxed Set. I immersed myself in that wonderful first disc, with so much of Ron on it. I almost feel like I knew him, enough to shed a tear or two. How wonderful he fit into the band at that time and played on those first wonderful songs that gave the world a glimpse of what was to come.
I think the serious fans feel they own every person in the various lineups and this will shake quite a few, as it has me.
My favorite song is Or Am I Dreaming? and I hope his dreams are sweet now.
Our deepest condolences to the family, Dick. Thanks for letting us know.
Sad news indeed. Ron was playing the first time I ever saw Strawbs and although I hadn't seen him for a very long time he has never been, or will ever be, forgotten.
Dick, such really sad news. Huge sympathies to Ron's family.
Hi Dick, Really sorry to hear, please pass on our respects to his partner. His contribution to music, both in and out of The Strawbs was very much loved and appreciated.
So strange. One day you're alive, the next you're gone. And yet I listen to the early Strawbs, and say to myself that he's not gone, he's still there, playing on the songs that have touched me so deeply over the years. I still smile when I see the video of "Til the Sun Comes Shining Through" with Rick Wakeman, and Ron's bass was recorded so loud! I think of all the days Bob and I spent up north, rising in the morning to 'Another Day Begins', having coffee over 'Weary Song', and discussing the inherent wisdom in 'Young Again'.
I can still clearly remember the day coming home with the "Early Strawbs' double album, and being a bit disappointed with the folk music, when I was expecting more along the lines of 'Hero and Heroine'. Then listening again, and again, until the album became part of me. Oddly enough, my early least favourite song was 'Weary Song', but as I grew older, it became almost an anthem to my life. I can still remember the feeling of hearing 'The Battle', and watching it as it unfolded before my eyes. As a storyteller myself, I couldn't help but admire the power of Dave Cousins in his tales of life and death.
While Ron Chesterman was not what would be called an intregal part of my worship of the Strawbs, he was more of a support to the others, the ground from which they could work their magic. And although I have heard a few bass players handle 'Oh, How She Changed', there is always something about the one who did it first.
Ron is gone now, and another day begins for him. For us we will always have the sound of his strong bass playing in music that lives forever.
Deep sympathy to all RC's family and friends. White Bear, 68
Hello Dick, and thank you for inluding me in this mail. I do not think I ever got to meet Ron, but please pass on my condolences to his family as and when you speak to them.
All Our Own Work, Strawbs, Dragonfly
I purchased those three albums together in 1973. For 34 years they have been among the most consistently played albums I own - quite simply because they make me feel good.
Really sad news - Ron always seemed something of a mystery figure to me from looking at those photos on the first Strawbs album and Dragonfly - I remember keep being told by other band members whenever I asked about him that he "works in the archives" - which he did, I know, but it conjured up pictures of someone spending their life in dark cobwebby vaults. I finally got to see him onstage and chat to him for a couple of minutes at the Chiswick Reunion in 1998, and then he became real.
Sincere condolences to his family and everyone close to him, that early Strawbs sound wouldnt have been the same without him. "Young Again" and that gorgeous intro keeps running through my head at the moment.
I only met Ron once - at Chiswick - but he was a great guy, a key player in those early Strawbs lineups, and wasn't his the original idea for The Battle. He'll be sadly missed - please pass on my condolences.
Very strange indeed, and further proof, if such is needed, that none of us are physiologically immortal. But in a way, given the rather elastic nature of time, those moments when Ron was a Strawb have never ended; as long as his playing on All Our Own Work, Strawbs and Dragonfly remains available and listenable, he will continue to exist.
I love his playing on "The Weary Song," too--when I first bought Halcyon Days, determined to finally see, after some years spent looking in all the wrong places, what this phenomenon known as Strawbsmusic was all about, that song really captured my imagination and stuck with me. I determined that I would learn these songs well enough to play them should the opportunity to offer my own tribute to Strawbsmusic ever present itself. And I did.
Thanks, Ron, for your contributions to the rich legacy of Strawbsmusic, and may you rest in peace.
I was sorry to hear about the passing of Ron Chesterman; I thought his acoustic bass added a colorful element to the 1st 2 Strawbs LPs. I was wondering what happened to him afterwards.
My deepest Sympathy to Ron's family and al the band members- a sad day indeed.
So sorry to hear about the recent losses of Ken Laws & Ron Chesterman. A sad time.
I guess we are all remembering Ron. Sorely missed, He is in a better place now, with Sandy.
Our deepest condolences to Ron's family and to all those who were close to him.
I'm sorry to hear that.
Ron Chesterman's rythmic stand-up bass playing was well-pronounced throughout those early albums.
The debut is actually one my favourites from the entire Strawbs catalogue so his passing is a marked loss for me.
My condolences to his family.
Very sad to hear. I'm ashamed to admit that when I heard pneumonia, I had no doubt he'd recover. Wish I'd been wrong.
I am so very sorry to hear this. My thoughts and condolences to his family. Ron will live on in the music that we love.
Ron's passing truly is so sad. For sure those early albums are hall marks and stand the test of time. Dragonfly is a key moment for me. Uncanned Preserves really opened my eyes to Ron's amazing playing and his impact in forging the Strawbs sound. Those early works are continually played. I never met him, but those photos I've seen cut a mysterious yet gentle figure for me. We will always remember you Ron. We love you. Play on, play on.
My deepest heartfelt condolences to all who are near and dear to Ron.
Whilst I never met Ron he was such an importnant part of those seminal early days when the delicacy of Strawbs music barely rattled the ageing speakers on my Dansette that we all owe him a debt of gratitude for his sensitivity which is becoming a rarer and rarer commodity.
Condolences to his family , friends and band mates.
Many days ago, I posted my initial response and feelings of sadness at Ron's passing. Since that time, I have thought of him often and have thought equally often of how pivotal "Dragonfly" was in my personal and musical life.
I have a clear memory of the first time I saw and heard the LP as an import, where I was, with whom I was, the day of the week, and the place. The music was unlike anything I had ever heard before, and I was smitten. That feeling stayed with me. I have always said that "The Weary Song" is one of my all-time favorite songs, for so many reasons.
Let us now think that Ron, who was obviously at the end of a long battle with a disease, need no longer be weary. And let us believe that when we say "rest in peace," we are doing more than uttering words we have been taught to say. Where ever he may be, he is truly at rest. And for what he gave to me in my lifetime, there are no sufficient words of thanks.
I've just read the tributes to Ron Chesterman on StrawbsWeb from Lambert and Brian. Is there any other band in the world where band members who were never in the line-up together reveal a friendship and respect for each other of such warmth? Actually, it make complete sense - I love this band as much for the great people in the band and those following the band, as I do for the music. Ron's passing is sad, but it has revealed yet more warmth from a group of musicians that are great blokes.
I am very saddened to hear of Ron Chesterman's death and thanks for letting everyone know.
Here is a suggestion as I'm sure he won't receive a full obituary in The Guardian, however there do have a facility for members of the public who can send in obituaries. It's called other lives and contributions of up to 500 words plus a photo are welcomed. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Hope this is of help as it would be nice to see something about Ron in a national newspaper.