People often used to register surprise when informed that I counted Peter among my friends. Neither of us ever made any secret of our political, social or philosophical views and they were about as far apart as you could get. But, even though I disagreed profoundly with many of his views, and he with mine, I respected the fact that he was prepared to defend them and argue his corner. He could also be extremely funny and was excellent company.
I also respected the integrity and single-minded determination which ran through his work. He did what he wanted to do and had no interest in altering his approach or the content of his work in order to seek popularity. He spent his life in the place Hugh MacDiarmid called "where extremes meet", the place where I believe all artists should live.
His love of traditional song was clear but he did not place the tradition on any pedestals. He understood that it is a living process of evolution and development and he played a major part in contributing to that process. Like any serious artist, he was able to break all the rules because he had a profound understanding of them and knew what they were for.
One of my fondest memories is of the night at Norwich Festival where he introduced me to Walter Pardon and had to act as interpreter as neither Walter nor myself could understand a word the other said.
Many others will passionately disagree but it is my belief that Peter never quite produced the masterpiece which his talents suggested; he came close on many occasions but always gave the impression that each was just another step on the road to truly finding his real voice. I have a suspicion that frustration with this search may have played a part in his death.
I met him first in 1966 and the last time I met him was about 6 months before he died. I am left with memories of late-night intense debates where neither of us took prisoners and of a man who walked his own road. I liked him and I respected him and I wish he'd stuck around a bit longer.
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©Dick Gaughan February 2001. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form, material or electronic, without the written permission of the author.
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