Elwood 5566

Phillip ‘Taff’ Coleman. Band – Epitaph

Posted in Band, Catterick 74-76?, Epitaph, Marriage by 노강호 on December 6, 2010

Phillip (‘Taff’) Coleman, who would have been 53 on the 15th of  December (2010). He was killed, instantly, early in the morning of December 1st, on his way to Gatwick Airport, where he worked. I was unable to leave these comments on the Facebook site for the  5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards Band Members Past and Present, they don’t allow for a post of longer than a 1000 characters. ‘Taff’ deserves more!  I decided to host them here.

Taff’s smile

I have special memories of ‘Taff’ and he has a very close place in my heart which a few band members serving from that period, will understand. On the day I left the band, during which we’d been friends for 12 years, he gave me a final hug as I stood waiting to board the bus back to the UK. As he kissed my cheek he whispered, that if ever one of his children were gay, he’d simply remember me and it would never be a problem. They were his exact words and he was crying as he spoke them. I had some excellent army friends and ‘Taff’ was one of the best!

The Band, Paderborn (c. 1987) 

I left the band in 1988 and in the period since then, 22 years, we only met the once. It was a fleeting reunion, probably only of minutes, in 1989, during a break in the Colchester Tattoo rehearsals. Despite our close friendship, we never talked on the phone, never once e-mailed each other and never once connected via Facebook.  I always thought I’d see him again – sometime…somewhere… I think we both did!

‘Taff’ left the band not too long after I did and for a long time he seemed to disappear but every now and then, as if coming up for air, I’d hear rumours about him: one time I heard he was working in Wigan, then I heard he worked for Twinnings tea company. Another time I heard he was appearing on the TV show Gladiators. I’ve no idea how true any of them were.

In 1976, when stationed in Cambrai Barracks, Catterick,  Pete Middleton, Adrian Dawson, Taff,  John Adye and myself were all part of a little group and every Friday we held a meeting to ‘front-stab’ each other (because band life was  incredibly bitchy).  One of us recorded and wrote the minutes and we each paid a weekly subscription, kept in a jar, which we used to pay for curry evenings in Darlington. After the meeting we’d often make mashed potatoes and cook a fray Bentos steak and kidney pie and then watch the Friday night horror movie. The group probably didn’t survive very long, but I remember it well.

Taff around 1977, Catterick. Note the moors through the window

Catterick is where I have my deepest memories of him. On Wednesdays, sports afternoon,  the ‘club,’ along with Chris Woolnough, who was sort of an associate member, would go into  Richmond and have pate and toast, or buttered scones, at the King’s Head, or we’d have lunch at the Belle Nook. Later, we’d go to the auction house and maybe buy some stuff. The old lady who used to work in those dusty, ancient rooms would refer to us as ‘my boys.’ I can still hear her cracked old voice with its comforting broad northern accent. She would have died years and years ago but she used to mother us, dearly! I once bought a second hand piano at the Richmond Auction house as well as the Baby Belling cooker in which we cooked our tinned pies.

Taff would have remembered this

Our friendship could easily have survived a long and longer chasm because we knew each other so well and unwittingly, knew this.  We ‘grew-up’ together and he was the third person I came out to. First was Adrian Dawson, then Pete Middleton, and then ‘Taff ‘- basically, the Front Stabbing Club. I ‘came out’ to him as we sat taking a ‘breather’ on a small bridge on the moor, out on the tank tracks, during a run. He didn’t talk to me for a few days. He wasn’t happy about my sexuality and even less into the idea I had a crush on him. But ‘Taff’ was always his own man, confident and strong, characteristics that came out when he played the euphonium,  and after a few days pondering the issue, he apologized for being ‘stand offish’ and for the next thirteen years, never once let me down.

I do not doubt that our personalities changed in the years since we left the band, I do not doubt there developed some big differences, that’s natural, but we had enough history and experience between us to temper significant changes. But it is a shame that the envisioned reunion, I, we,  thought might one day occur, will never take place and it is a greater travesty he has gone at such an important point in his life and those closest to him.

The display photo from Taff’s Facebook site

Only a few days ago, I was looking at photos from his recent marriage and saw the display photo of of a motorbike. I had this fleeting image of ”Taff’ on a high-powered bike and could imagine him enjoying the thrill of biking – that was part of his character. ‘Taff’ was a proper ‘man’ and into ‘man’ things: cars, bikes, the tattoo on his arm, tinted sun-glasses,  often pushed up on his head, a sweat band around  his forehead, chewing chewing gum – I can see  him ‘sporting’ them all at different times of the life during which I knew him and always with a big smile, the same smile seen in his wedding photographs and the same smile that had enamored me as an adolescent coming to terms with my sexuality. And I can just as easily see him on a monster of a bike with leathers and a snazzy helmet. ‘Taff’ wasn’t reckless or a ‘tearaway,’ far from it, but on this occasion was tragically unlucky.

Taff and Janette Coleman’s wedding. 23 October 2010

And I now realise, as a chasm begins to stretch between us and from which I can no longer rescue or resolve anything, that I know nothing about him. Did he have brothers or sisters? Does he still have a mother or father? What happened to his children and did he have more? Where did he spend his childhood and what was it like?  Today, I searched his Facebook, searching all its nooks and crannies with more gusto than I ever do on such sites, looking for answers, looking  for his embodiment in text, for a fading reminder of his being; but the only comment, other than his e-mail address which either I’d never noticed or always planned write to, sometime, was promising to provide the website link for his wedding photos. His final words, ‘but don’t hold your breath!’ Unfortunately, ‘Taff,‘ time’s hooded harbinger, beat us to it. I neither considered such questions nor sought such answers before but as usual, it is when we no longer have something that its value becomes all the more apparent; all the more desired.

Taff and Janette

What farewells does one mutter to a friend on the precipice of that cataclysmic departure? What words finalise the epitaph with enough respect, and grandeur and at the same time encapsulate the intensity of emotion generated? Three words, virginal, emerge  renewed and  are forever mutated. Three words suddenly imbued with meaning beyond meaning, and which stir an accompanying melody, a lament. Three words detailed to encompass so much and sentinel the point beyond which a new chasm separates us and in which the tangibility of  ‘sometime’, and ‘somewhere’ evaporate. Three words to emblazon the entrance to departure: ‘Fare Thee Well…’

‘Fare Thee Well’

Nick ‘Lofty’ Elwood

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.


Worthing Herald

♦Taff’s funeral was held at 10.30, on Monday 13th of December at Kingswood Chapel, Worthing Crematorium. He would have been 53 two days later. He died on the anniversary of my father’s funeral. For many, many years, my uncle (Ron Elwood), was organist at the chapel where he is to be cremated.


5 Responses

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  1. Paul Smith said, on December 8, 2010 at 1:52 am

    Wow Lofty. You hit the nail on the head with this. Since hearing of “TC’S” death, i have been trying to figure out how to express my feelings about his passing. Like you, i grew up with Taff, having joined the Band in Osnabruck at age 18 in September 1979 and like you leaving in 1988. I will never forget his first words to me upon entering the Band block ,”are you a poof or a drinker?” he asked, to which i replied, “a drinker”. Later that night as he caught me pouring drinks out the window, i wasn’t quite sure how our relationship was going to work out. Suffice to say that it all turned out good. Like everyone else, i have a multitude of memories of good times with the big guy. I remember those long nights in the bar drinking and doing an early form of karaoke!!!! I had never heard anything quite so funny as Taff trying to sing Supertramps “Dreamer”, which i believe John Adye, Gunther Nielsen and Chris Wilkinson would agree with!! I know that where-ever Taff is, he is “sound as a pound” and “willing as a shilling” whilst giving a chorus of “Mr President” ROLL CALL!!! Fare Thee Well Taff. You will be missed. Paul Smith

    • skinsband said, on December 8, 2010 at 11:47 pm

      Paul, thanks for this. It’s quite interesting how things forgotten are re-kindled because I actually remember Taff singing ‘Dreamer’ when I was trying to sleep. And he has become infamous for his ‘Mr President.’ In all my memories of him, he only ever seems to be smiling or laughing.

  2. Gary Chilton said, on December 9, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Hi Nick
    I had the pleasure of singing at Taff and Janette’s wedding some 6 weeks ago. At the wedding I saw the same old Taff with his fantastic smile, a few more grey hairs but the same wicked sense of humour.
    Although I cannot claim to have known him as well as some previous Band members I can say that for the short time that I did, he was always courteous,very funny and always willing to help.
    Taff you will be sadly missed and this world will indeed be a much emptier place without you.
    Sleep in Peace

  3. Gunter said, on December 10, 2010 at 6:17 am

    Since hearing about the sad news of Taff’s passing, I’ve been constantly distracted at work and even losing sleep (indeed, it’s 4am as I write this) while thinking about him. However, my thoughts haven’t all been sad, miserable or melancholy; I’ve found myself smiling a great deal as I recount our adventures together, particularly in Osnabruck. Like many of you, I know little about Taff’s life outside of the Band other than he had his mother and two sisters at home in the village of Roget somewhere in Wales. He often talked about his local pub at home, which was called, as I seem to remember ‘The Roget’, and how licensing laws there were a misnomer, as the place never seemed to close. I don’t think I’m being unkind when I describe Taff, and indeed those of us who shared those adventures as consummate ‘party animals’. Everything we did back in those days seemed to revolve around the Brahms & Liszt and the consumption of beer as if our survival during those cold war years depended on it. Many of you will remember that I was estranged from my own family and rarely went back to the UK during our leave periods. One particular summer however, both Taff and I remained in Osnabruck during which, we moved the pool table from the Brahma & Liszt into the Opium Den, and relieved Bones of the keys to the bar. Four weeks later, lets’ just say that other than a bottle of Pernod, little remained after which, a horrified Bones presented Taff and I with hefty tick bills. Putting the party anecdotes, which I’ve no doubt all who shared those times, could tell a never-ending story to one side, Taff did occasionally present a serious side and a professional approach to his work. He was an extremely talented euphonium player, and during the last KH Inspection I took part in, Taff astounded me personally with his heroic effort on percussion too. The point I’m trying to make here is really quite simple, Taff was just talented. Everything the man did, he did well whether it was socialising, music, sport, outdoor activities or being a soldier, medic and friend, Taff did it all well. Just as some of you did, I assumed I would see Taff again someday; it’s not going to happen. However, as I trawl through my unending personal memories and read yours of wonderful times shared with the ‘big man who also had a big heart’ Taff, for me personally really doesn’t feel that far away, and I truly believe this to be a measure of the huge indelible impact Taff had on all of us. Rest easy old friend and Fare Thee Well.

    • skinsband said, on March 3, 2011 at 2:07 am

      Gunter, I have been busy a while and only just picked this up, It really moved me! Thanks.

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