John B Spencer's picture

John B Spencer

(John Barry Spencer)
UK flag (1944 - 2002)

On Monday 8th April the body of Brit-noir author and musician John B Spencer was cremated after a short Humanist service at Putney Vale Crematorium. A larger than expected crowd turned up for Spencer's last 'gig', with all seats taken and mourners spilling out into the carpark. A typical touch was the bouquet of rhubarb from John's allotment that replaced wreaths on top of the coffin. John B (the B is for 'bastard', he insisted) Spencer was born on 5 June 1944 in Hammersmith, West London. 'Under enemy fire' as he liked to say. He started his working life in publishing (ending up as production manager at Granada), then founded and ran a successful illustrator's agency (Young Artists) before turning to life as a professional musician and author in the mid 1970s. His songs were described by one critic as 'written while God was looking the other way', with the influence of American folk blues (Woody Guthrie, John Lee Hooker, Leadbelly) strained through a British sieve and delivered in a voice of coarse gravel. He toured with Fairport Convention, played the Glastonbury Festival, and his songs found their way into the repertoires of Augie Meyers, Richard Thompson, Martin Simpson, Jerry Williams (who took 'Cruisin' [On A Saturday Night]' into the Swedish top ten) and the Home Service, which Spencer temporarily fronted when John Tams was indisposed. He wrote eight novels, four of which (Quake City, Perhaps She'll Die, Tooth & Nail, Stitch) have been published by The Do-Not Press. His final novel - the aptly named 'Grief' will (hopefully) finally hit the shelves early in 2003. As Kirkus said of Tooth & Nail in 2001: 'It updates the noir tradition by expanding the cast of misfits... leaving nothing but threats of action until you're ready to scream'. Time Out described Spencer as 'the best kept secret in British noir fiction... seriously good and dreadfully underrated.' John B Spencer died in Charing Cross Hospital in the early hours of Monday March 25th, 2002.