On the afternoon of Tuesday, 8th of December, 2020, I lost one of my dearest friends and the world lost a unique and wonderful composer and musician. Harold Budd passed away in a California hospital bed, alone due to the Covid restrictions which prevented his loved ones from spending those last hours by his side.
It was the middle of Tuesday afternoon when my ’phone rang. I’d just finished having lunch with my son Elliot, so Emiko went to answer the call. I could immediately tell something was wrong from the way her voice fell. I took the ’phone from her hands as tears started to stream down her cheeks. On the other end of the line was Elise Fahey, the beloved partner of my friend Harold Budd. Through sobs Elise told me that Harold had passed away just two hours ago. She was heartbroken, as was I. The shock was devastating, even though I had known that Harold was seriously ill.
I had been exchanging emails with Elise for a week or two after she had written to tell me that Harold had suffered a stroke on the 11th of November and was in a hospital rehabilitation unit. Harold’s communication skills had been impaired by the stroke but his mind was still shining bright. But then his condition deteriorated and he was transferred to ER, suffering from pneumonia and breathing problems. He was put on oxygen and antibiotics, though a test for the Covid virus came back negative.
Over the next couple of days his condition sometimes seemed to improve a little but other times deteriorated. Elise was managing to speak with him via ’phone calls and a couple of video calls. I sent a message to Harold via Elise and she told me that he perked up when she read it to him. By now though, Harold was on the maximum amount of oxygen and was tested again for Covid. Elise said she was waiting for the results of the test. Two days later, I got the call from Elise to say that Harold had died. The test results had been positive. It seems that Harold had caught the virus from a fellow patient in the rehabilitation centre who had earlier tested positive.
Harold was one of my dearest friends and a mentor to me. I looked up to him with respect and admiration. Over the years we had spent many hours together, laughing at the silliest things, viewing the surrealism of real life with a giggling, absurdist humour, usually accompanied by a bottle or two of red wine, the effects of which rendered us like two drunken Zen monks, one foot firmly on the ground, the other dangling hopelessly over the edge of some delirious abyss.
I first discovered Harold Budd in the late 1970s when I was recording the Red Noise album ‘Sound On Sound’ at the Townhouse Studios in London. One lunchtime I had gone into the West End to browse the album racks at Tower Records and it was there that I came across an album titled ‘The Pavilion Of Dreams’. It was by Harold Budd. The album’s title instantly appealed, and when I looked at the back cover the individual track titles did too. I bought the album unheard and made my way back to the studio where I asked John Leckie, (who was working on the Red Noise album with me,) to set up a record deck connected to the studio monitors. We placed the stylus into the grooves of ‘The Pavilion Of Dreams’ and were entranced. It was a work of such aching beauty, like nothing I’d ever heard before. I became a huge fan.
Later, in the early ‘80s, I was asked to contribute a track for an album titled ‘From Brussels With Love,’ which was to be released in cassette form by Belgian label Les Disques Du Crepuscule. Other artists on the album included Gavin Bryars, Michael Nyman and Harold Budd. Harold’s track was titled ‘Children On The Hill’ and mine was titled ‘The Shadow Garden.’ I was thrilled to have a piece of my own music sitting alongside one by Harold Budd.
A few years later I was to discover that Harold had been intrigued by ‘The Shadow Garden’. He was living in London at that time and, through a mutual friend called Kevin Cann, asked to meet me. Harold travelled up from London to Yorkshire with Kevin and we met at my (then) home near Selby. We instantly hit it off, beginning a friendship which has lasted well over thirty years.
During that time Harold moved back to America but whenever he had the opportunity to be in England he would come up to stay at my home in Yorkshire. We would take Harold to places of interest such as Castle Howard and the North Yorkshire Moors. Harold loved the ruggedness of the moors, the windier and wetter, the better. On one occasion I arranged for us to give two conc