Wotcha Mister

Remembering Shane Michael Roe

 

When I first met Shane Michael Roe I couldn’t stand him. To me, he was a bit of a loose cannon – some guy who was capable of flying off the handle for no apparent logical reason and I wanted absolutely nothing to do with him whatsoever. I would cross the street specifically to avoid his company. In a small Devon town, where it’s impossible to get from the bottom of the High Street to the top without being stopped to say your hellos and exchange brief pleasantries, that’s really saying something. 

I can’t remember how we first connected. I think it was a gradual, slow burn kind of thing – with a sort of growing trust from my side – but I remember he was raising his small son at home at the time while his wife went out to work each day (he once told me that being a house-husband turned him on to feminism). 

I was running a comedy club at a local coffee house once a fortnight or whatever it was and one day Shane cornered me and asked for a five minute try-out spot and I found myself saying that immortal word: yes. Immediately I regretted it yet come the night, he was brief but brilliant. He stepped on stage – dressed in an apron – danced to a bit of James Brown, whipped off the apron and yelled “that was for all the househusbands in the room tonight” – and promptly left the stage.

Difficult not to fall in love with him after that, really. 

A working-class boy from Harlow in Essex, with an accent and an attitude to match, Shane Michael Roe was just about pushing 50 when I met him and he was right on the brink of divorce, which when it eventually happened devastated him, but he dusted himself down and declared his “male menopause” to the world by forming a band. He was the first of the Punks and the last of the Hippies, with a very addictive streak running right through him. If he wasn’t wired on caffeine and chain-smoking cigarettes – whilst staggering through the market square on market day dressed in bermuda shorts and winter boots with the jacket of an Italian suit on hot summer’s afternoon – he’d be blowing his brains out smoking big fat joints and downing cheap bottles of Pinot Grigio at the same time.

All of this is fine – whatever gets you through the night became the mantra – and in the hands of somebody else, possibly manageable. But Shane had bipolar disorder, and that, thrown together with all of the toxins he was consuming sometimes – sometimes – produced spectacular results. Like a Francis Bacon painting. The worst of this ranged from screaming matches with (or at) people he didn’t quite like, absconding with the month’s rent to some far-flung music festival and once, feeding furniture into the fireplace. 

Other vivid moments, when you could see his point entirely, included the time he phoned up the head of the local council at three in the morning to complain about the noise of the van used for the hanging of the Christmas lights up and down the High Street. God knows how he got the phone number but as far as Shane was concerned, his sleep had been disturbed by the Local Authorities so he was going to disturb the sleep of the head of the Local Authorities.  

We had a special name for the Shane that emerged when he was at his most excessive and in the grip of an episode of mania: the Rock Lobster. His words. So if he came banging on the door to my flat at nine in the morning, announcing that the Lobster was out again last night, we knew what it meant and we could talk it through. 

There were so many episodes involving Shane that it’s impossible to list even the most entertaining of them all. Our friend Neil Lochhead recalls Shane asking him to help get him into shape for an upcoming gig. Now Neil is a serious runner and asked Shane to wear proper attire which he said he would do and not to worry, only to show up wearing Doc Martens, a black suit, and a rolled up copy of the Guardian in his back pocket. He reassured Neil he was ready and raring to go and they actually did their training session. 

If Shane was in your corner, you really felt it, and he celebrated your successes as if they were his own entirely - great traits in a human being, and ones that are absolutely crystal clear when I think of him as I write this. He had an inherent sense of right and wrong and if he thought something was wrong he wasn’t going quietly about it. 

His male menopause band, which eventually became the Three Radicals, was fronted by Shane himself (who else?) with every song an original. Shane provided all the lyrics, with the talented Kris Howe composing and arranging the music. Eat Your Voice is him at his most romantic – Everytime I hear your voice / A salmon leaps it has no choice / The Queen is driving her Rolls Royce / Rose petals fall and we rejoice / Gandalf’s dragon falls on us / Locomotive is the rush / You know you want it so you must / California or bust – while a scathing attack on the majority owning a paltry five percent of the nation’s wealth is at the heart of Who Owns Britain? Then you have She’s Mad At Me which is, well, self-explanatory really and if you got to know Shane you couldn’t blame her. But there you go. 

When his mother died he inherited a few quid and he spent almost all of it on the production of the Three Radicals album with vinyl pressings of it no less. I think the minimum order was maybe 5,000 copies. Boxes upon boxes of them were delivered, lining the walls of the hallway in the flat he shared with Kris, totally bowing the floorboards. The last thing on his bucket list was to walk into Rough Trade records in West London and hand them a copy of his album – I’m happy to say I was with him to share that moment when he got to do it. This was followed by a wry smile from him and by those familiar words: “Wotcha mister, let’s go down the pub”.

He died shortly after that, very suddenly, while on holiday in Portugal. He’d just met Carol, who was somebody who loved him and accepted him for all he was – which makes all of this harder to write. 

I think possibly Shane saw fatherhood as his true calling, and the joy of his life was his son Peter, who is today a gifted musician. His Dad would be filled with pride. 

I suppose all of this is not just about Shane, but about first impressions, what we project onto other people initially; the complexities of mental health and the things, people and stories we might be missing out on when we go through life with our minds closed. There is always more to be written about bipolar disorder but I don’t want to write about Shane and have him defined by that alone. He was so many more things than that. My own story is all the richer for having known him. 
 

Published in Gorilla Arthouse, October 2018.

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