From the time when I had little musical ability but plenty of eccentricity in the late 1980s through to the last time I played music in his presence in 2008, the Australian economist, sheep farmer and community-spirited anarchist Denis Pym was always tremendously encouraging.
Playing original music at grassroots level in Britain can seem like being subjected to an endless procession of people telling you that you’re not good enough. So when someone from the older generation shows enthusiasm and support it is something to be grateful for.
‘Play the biscuit song’, Denis would call out good-naturedly when I was playing in a Suffolk pub or at the farm where he lived with his partner Paule from 1972 until his death at age 83 earlier this year.
Denis hailed from Donnybrook, Western Australia, and came to London in 1959 to study economics at Birkbeck College. He became a lecturer at the London Business School, a position he still held many years after moving to south Suffolk.
A great many anarchists associated with the journal Freedom, as was Denis, ended up in this very special corner of the world. These included former editors John Hewetson, Philip Sansom, Vernon Richards and my dad Colin Ward. The last two of these were friends with Denis.
I don’t recall them ever being around a table together but I know Vernon would end his Sunday paper round at Denis and Paule’s every week and have a ‘session’. Denis’s daughter Fabienne and I both helped out on this round by bike and I’m not sure that Paule wasn’t roped in from time to time too.
There were also occasions when I would be at a rural musical get-together at someone’s house and Denis would be there with Fabienne and his son Dylan and I would be there with my mum and dad. These parties accommodated all generations, all levels of musical ability and created a fantastic rural community. It was all about beer, food, grass, conversation and music. Denis would do his bit on the ukulele, singing Tim Spencer’s song ‘Cigarettes and Whiskey and Wild Wild Women’.
He encouraged people to live ‘off the grid’, independent of the state, outside consumerism. In doing so, Denis Pym sowed the seeds for a more fruitful, less barren, existence for many.
The rare footage of Denis (see above) giving a lecture around the time of writing ‘The Employment Question’, his most celebrated book, may be a little hard to follow but it shows him at his insightful, freewheeling best.