In memoriam: Gary Watson

On the morning of his 22nd birthday, Gary Watson passed away after a tragic accident that had occurred the night before. I did not know Gary very well, and while many people have said the same while paying their respects online, what ties our brief interactions with him together is the continuous acknowledgment about how he was incredibly kindhearted and extraordinarily talented.

I met him briefly when his band The Lapelles were drafted in very last minute to play a gig I was helping put on at Stereo in April last year. They went on first and many of my friends, who were there only for my sake, said that they were “actually quite good.” From apathetic teenagers, this is a high level of appraisal and was shared by many others that night, including fellow gig attendee, radio DJ Jim Gellatly. As I checked social media to see how the gig was being received, I’d seen that Jim had tweeted “I’ve just seen a young band called The Lapelles. They are wonderful. That is all.”

On reading this: three thoughts circulated in my head. One, fuck yeah, he likes a band that’s playing at my gig. Two, that’s awesome that they’re getting this kind of attention. Three, oh shit, I should probably let them know that he’s tweeted this.

Gary had stayed to watch some of the bands. The guys in the Lapelles were all clad in hawaiian shirts, so I was able to easily locate him near the front. I introduced myself and told him about their new found fan, who I could see at that point was making a move for the door. What made an impression on me was how ecstatic he seemed at this, but there was also a hint of humble “what? who, me?” to his surprise. Even in that brief moment, it seemed like Gary was not yet aware of just how talented he was, and the idea that people in the industry would be paying attention was still a new, but absolutely deserved, sensation. I told him he should go after him and introduce himself since their performance had made an impression.  I’m sure at some point their paths would have crossed eventually, but that night on the stairs on Stereo, as I watched on as Gary caught up to and spoke with Jim; it really did feel like I was watching the cogs starting to turn on something special.

The ball really started to roll for The Lapelles, as they were picked up by the same management company whose clients include indie rock giants such as The Arctic Monkeys, Royal Blood and Miles Kane. On the back of that, they were able to tour the UK with The Last Shadow Puppets, playing massive venues to eager crowds that were most likely won over by their charm and incredible live show. Their song ‘Seventeen’ was featured on a T In The Park promo video, and for good reason too as the song is a punchy, energetic anthem. This attention also lead to securing a slot at the festival itself, playing on the Sunday on the T-Break stage. They had also graced the cover of The Skinny this summer, now cover stars as well as rock stars.

Knowing that the band were about to embark on I’m sure would’ve been one of the many UK tours they would go on this month is heartbreaking. I know now that those people that would’ve gotten to experience Gary in all of his glory, on stage, perhaps for the first time, now wouldn’t get that chance. I count myself as one of the lucky few that was able to. Through the songs of The Lapelles, plus the videos of treasured live performances, Gary will live on forever. Grab Life By, and don’t ever let it go.

Photo credit: Neelam Khan Vela