It’s sad and it was ever going to happen, and for a toad he lived longer than any other of my acquaintance but in the early hours of this morning Gabriel ‘The Toad’ passed away noisily in his sleep. Legend is a word bandied about too much nowadays, as is genius (and less so cloaca which is just funny in every way) but both have rightly been pinned to Gabe. He was a Lakes toad and it was my privilege to have met him on several occasions, lastly when we both performed at the Cockermouth Wax Lyrical at the Kirkgate. He was old then and had to be helped to and from the stage in a biscuit tin. A gentleman and actually that, the last descendant of the line of Toad Hall he was a true folk hero, and of course musician – but despite both always stood the first round.
It’s possible you won’t be aware of Gabe’s work. His early hits were old when I was a boy, when his Bony King Of Nowhere was the surprise number 2 in the pop parade and on Top Of The Pops he famously had to appear twice, covering as he was also for Keith as Gimme Shelter was also in the charts that week. Indeed it was his long time collaborator Madeleine ‘The Rag Doll’ that joined Mick Jagger on the vocals both on the recording and for that performance. Other hits followed by Gabe, Turtle Calypso, Stinky Stilton Cheese and then revived and brought to a new audience in early 90s by The Wonderstuff, Uncle Feedle. Gabe was ever big on the folk circuit and that was clearly enough for him, though booked by Glastonbury as the Saturday night novelty act on the Pyramid Stage he received a twenty three minute ovation. It was perhaps because of this that he was cast as the well-received Hagman in the ITV drama series Sharpe, for which he also provided incidental music.
I never knew it was Gabe that was behind the music for the 1973 (and really now, only) production of The Wicker Man. He let me ramble on two years ago lightly taking the piss and comparing he to that, and Cumbria together – and he let me, only to let on at the end and much to his amusement.
I’ll miss him but this is how it is, the heroes of our childhood and youth will pass away on us. I was honoured then to know him, albeit not as well as I should have liked. Gabe, the world is more loved by your having passed on by.
Fellside Recordings are re-releasing Gabe’s Greatest Hits. http://www.fellside.com/Shop/Details.asp?ProductID=599