All of us at the Irene Taylor Trust are sad to have lost a very important person, Gary Sharpe. We all loved Gary and will miss him greatly. He was an amazing advocate for our work, passing on his passion for music to young people through his roles on Making Tracks and Young Producers; a valued Advisor to our board of trustees; guitar hero of first Sounding Out band Platform 7; and all round fantastic human being.
Those who knew Gary through ITT have been sharing their thoughts and memories.
Gary Sharpe remembered by Sara Lee, Artistic Director
I first met Gary around 1987, when I was the music teacher at HMP Wormwood Scrubs and Gary decided he wanted to learn a bit about music theory. He was already a great guitar player but felt he needed to understand the rudiments of what was what and why, as regards chords and keys and the like. He was a great student, diligent and extremely popular and I remember others used to go to him for lessons, meaning we had a really decent guitar group, which was all down to him. He was always generous in classes, with his time, his biscuits and his tobacco. I was also privileged to be one of a handful of guests at one of the most unusual weddings I’ve been to.
In the Scrubs, we got up to all sorts of wonderful creativity, a highlight was a full production of Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver’, for a cast of around 30, the music for which I arranged for 5 clarinets plus Gary on guitar, which we performed to packed audiences for 7 nights. There were no concessions in the music; I didn’t make it easy and Gary practiced for days to get it right. He took part in absolutely every musical opportunity he could, which led to him work with a fantastic range of professional musicians, artists and theatre makers, all of whom held him in extremely high regard. When he left Scrubs, he moved around the system a bit, but we kept in touch via work, and colleagues were always quick to ask how he was doing.
After a long period of not seeing him, our paths crossed again in Bullingdon in 2002 when he signed up to do a Music in Prisons project we were running. It was a huge and welcome surprise, and nothing had changed. He was still Gary, still playing, still looked the same. He loved that project, we worked with a sitar and tabla player and it really fuelled his interest in other kinds of music, something which lasted all his life.
When ITT decided to do something a bit out of the ordinary in 2006, there were only 2 people we wanted to join us and Gary was one of them. He’d recently been released, and our plan was to take former prisoners back into prison, to be co-leaders and role models to the groups we were working with. Gary’s lived experience and musical ability was key to the success of these projects and he took to it like a duck to water. The men in HMP Brixton and the women in HMPYOI Holloway listened with interest and respect as he spoke and looked on in awe as he played.
Gary was a natural fit for the first cohort of our new Sounding Out ex-prisoner training programme and an equally natural fit as a Support Musician on Making Tracks, the projects we developed for young people in the community. As a musician he could hold his own in any situation and as a mentor, the young people adored him. He was supportive, encouraging and very real.
His honesty (often brutal) was something I admired. I respected the way he applied himself, in awe of how, after his time inside, he made his way in the world, always on time and always prepared. He did everything at 100%, whether it was a guitar solo, giving his opinion, or seeing how far he could throw a guitar lead across a room and get it in the right box as he helped us pack up after a gig.
I’ll remember how he always used to shorten my name when he called, or we saw each other on a project. It was always, ‘alright Sar, me ol’ mucker?’ Another phrase he loved was ‘these bins are sh**, I can’t see a thing’, which was uttered on a number of occasions as we were rehearsing and he came in in the wrong place or misread his chord chart. It was always said with a sideways glance as he grinned and readjusted his glasses and every single time it made me laugh. He’d always try his absolute best, with more enthusiasm and energy than almost anyone I know.
On occasions, I looked back and remembered the place we first met and how his life had panned out since then. In a sense nothing had changed, he was still Gary, didn’t look much different, didn’t act much different. I’d not seen him regularly for parts of the 30 plus years I knew him, but when we did re-meet, it felt like it I’d seen him the previous week. There are so many memories, most of them happy/hilarious, a few of them sad, all of them honest and real. They come from our days at Scrubs, meeting again on projects at various stages of his sentence and latterly, as he became a vital part of ITT, as a musician, an advisor to trustees and a friend to us all.
We’d been in touch a fair bit since he became unwell. We had long and random conversations where we spoke about all kinds of things; memories, people we knew back in the day, how much he enjoyed the work he did with us, badgers, the support he got from us all and the love he had for his daughters.
We always talked about music and he kept referring to all he’d learned during the classes at Scrubs, saying the support I’d given him back then had made him the musician he was today. Towards the end, and at the start of the lockdown, he knew I was walking every day and asked me to send photos of the places I went. He got back to me when he had the energy and always said thanks.
Gary was kind, thoughtful, funny and a great friend to me. I’ll miss you mate.
Reflections on Gary
Gary was on the very first project I did for the Irene Taylor Trust, a Making Tracks project in South London, and I hit it off with him straight away. I also quickly realised what an integral member of the team he was, and over the coming years I really valued him being there with his great guitar playing and dedication to supporting the participants in whatever way he could. He was of course a real asset to the trust, both as a musician and in his mentoring role, but I’ll remember him most for the countless chats we had about every topic under the sun over lunch or an espresso macchiato. He was such great company, and I’m really going to miss him. Rob Willson, ITT Project Leader
Gary will be greatly missed and always made me laugh. He was an absolute pleasure to work with and had a passion for music that shone through in conversations with him and in his brilliant guitar playing. He worked so well with the young people on the Making Tracks programme and was often an inspirational motivator for those he met. Gary was very open about the hardships that he has faced and I always respected this honesty. Emma Williams, ITT Project Leader
I had the great pleasure to play and work with Gary many times over the past thirty years. I will always remember with great fondness his positivity and eagerness to contribute to our work. His was a beautiful and earthy soul, from which I took much inspiration. Nick Hayes, ITT Project Leader
I met Gary over 10 years ago. I’d heard about his guitar skills, but more importantly I’d heard that like myself he also suffered as a fellow lifelong follower of West Ham United! Often we would discuss just how bad our team was and we would list reasons why anybody in their right mind wouldn’t be a supporter! It was an absolute pleasure to share moments with someone so passionate about people, about life and of course about music, you could also throw the odd Spider or two in there as well! Rest in peace my old Son! Charles Stuart, ITT Project Leader
I can now say I know what a broken heart feels like. Sleep in eternal peace my brother from another mother. We have lost a legend. Eileen, Platform 7 bandmate
Words can’t explain how my heart dropped when being told about this. We did so many Gigs, talks, projects, meeting, rehearsals, joking, laughing, and much more over the years. To know I can’t say goodbye is the hard part. To my good friend Gary Sharpe, Rest In Peace. You will never be forgotten bro. Adrian, Platform 7 bandmate
A musical tribute from Trustar aka Adrian
Gary helped me write my first ever song, and brought so much light with him, no matter what was going on around him. He inspired me to do better and be better. Helen
God where do I start about this amazing man, you literally was a walking advertisement for how music brings people together. You always had time to listen to each and every one of us about our problems and what insecurities we had to do with our craft. No matter how many retakes we had to do, you still vibed with us and had a smile on your face every time. I’ll always remember when you said to me ‘you’re amazing but your holding back, I want to see the real Louisa’. RIP Gary, you have touched so many lives and definitely won’t be forgotten. Louisa
You have touched our lives in ways you could never imagine. Your amazing talent enabled us to bring our creativity to life and help us shine. We hope that you are resting peacefully and playing guitar wherever you are. Lisa
I met Gary when we worked together on our Young Producers programme, and his enthusiasm, energy and positivity were obvious from the start. When mentoring the young people, he had that rare gift of being able to gently encourage and draw out what was unique within each, putting them at ease with his natural caring manner. His people skills were matched with his not inconsiderable musical talent which was a joy to watch. From their sentiments expressed following the project, it was clear that they had become very fond of him and truly appreciated the help he had given them.
Personally, as I got to know Gary more, we found we had many common interests. We discussed psychology, art, travel and nature, and we clearly had the same sense of humour. Over time, I can say with honesty, that we became friends, and I consider it a privilege to be able to say that.
People like Gary are the foundation of what enables the good, not just the talent, within us to flourish. He didn’t just enjoy nurturing the talent around him, he loved and cared for those he was encouraging, he exemplified what being a good mentor is. I am so very glad I got to meet him and will always remember him with a great fondness. Sarah Foraud, Personal Development Coordinator
A musical tribute by Matthew Lomax
Why is this so hard to write? Because it feels too soon.
What I really want to say is that I will miss you – your music, your banter, your warmth, your curiosity, your spirit. A true legend as far as I’m concerned and I’m sure countless others would agree (including my family!)
Thank you for making me feel instantly at home. I will treasure the memories.
With all my love,
Hermione Jones, former Personal Development Manager
As one of the founder trustees and past chair of the Irene Taylor Trust, Music in Prisons, I have been fortunate enough to know Gary over some years. He was a remarkable, talented musician and, above all, person, who contributed so much to the Trust and to all involved. He will be very greatly missed. My deepest sympathy and thoughts are with all his family, and with his friends. Sarah Price, former ITT Chair
I didn’t know Gary well, but I do recall having a conversation with him at the Bridges exhibition at Free Word Centre, shortly before I became a trustee. He spoke very powerfully about the ability of music to change lives, and how it had changed his own life. He was hugely inspiring and made me feel even more excited about becoming a trustee. James Maloney, ITT Trustee
Gary’s death is very sad news and he will be sorely missed by everyone who worked with him. I knew him best from Making Tracks events where he was always a key musician in the team, both as a performer and a mentor. His support and keen listening ear were invaluable for the young musicians. Gary exemplified the best of what the Trust can achieve and we need to ensure that the qualities he brought to his work continue to live on – musical flair, commitment, integrity and a modesty when dealing with people. A very special person. Peter Renshaw, ITT Trustee
Gary Sharpe was an absolute legend. Across the years I knew him at Music in Prisons he was unfailingly kind and warm – but in his own gruff and humorous way. He was the rock-star heart of the band, with so much to offer but always with the humility to be content supporting others. He took everything that life had thrown at him and channelled it into something good. I will forever miss him and his guitar. Jo Tilley-Riley, former ITT Director of Strategy & Funding
Gary has been a special part of ITT since I joined the team 12 years ago. I first met him a few months into my new role, on the Inside Out project. He opened my eyes to the long term impact our projects have and at the exhibition launch spoke powerfully to a room full of strangers about his experiences in prison and how vital music had been in helping him to get through it. I hugely admired his bravery and openness. It was a pleasure to see him in his role as a Support Musician on many projects with young people and he invariably greeted me with a hug so enthusiastic it would almost wind me. He’d be full of praise for the young people he’d been working with; he saw the potential in them and encouraged them to make the most of it. I always felt proud seeing him speak about our work or performing, because his shared love for ITT and passionate belief in the power of music shone so brightly. A funny, kind and interesting person with many entertaining stories to tell and unusual perspectives to give. I’ll miss him enormously. Luke Bowyer, Operations Director
A sestina for Gary by Lucine
Never did I think I’d meet an individual with such a humble fire,
So ready and willing to put others first.
Filled with pure majestic talent.
Conversations took journeys more complex than any tube line.
In the brightest of rooms you still managed to shine brighter
I will miss that million pound smile.
Upon our first meeting I was mesmerised by your smile,
I could tell life had burned you in many ways, but you reignited your fire.
With each new musical creation your eyes would beam brighter.
Not afraid to speak your thoughts, I was eager to hear your voice first,
Along with your vibrant personality incomparable to a straight line,
Then I heard your talent…
A gift really, far greater than simply talent,
A gift to each face that received your doting smile,
A gift that brings to mind so many song lines,
A gift to the creative journeys for which you fuelled the fire,
A gift to human kind in always being kind first,
A gift that certainly made my days brighter.
Than that of a good heart no beauty shines brighter,
A heart so good it somehow sweetened your talents.
You taught us there’s more to life than being first,
You reassured us with your radiant smile,
You helped us find that inextinguishable fire,
You showed us that courage is indeed taking that first step across the starting line.
Remember when you spoke about the ideal life of sustenance? The Alaskan dream? Well now I always picture you on the end of a fishing line,
I picture you at peace under a sky that’s actually bright,
I picture the warmth that surrounds you and your loved ones from the well lit camp fire.
I picture the fun you’d have exhibiting your incredible guitar skills due to your boundless talents,
I picture the laughs, cry’s and jovial atmosphere all stemming from that charismatic smile,
Most importantly, I think to myself “he finally did it, he put himself first.”.
We together accomplished many ITT firsts,
And, it was with your dedicated help that we were able to reach our finish line,
If ever there was any doubt, it was removed by that comforting smile.
There are no words to describe your impact except that you made everything brighter.
It was such a blessing to be able to experience your talents.
We will continue to burn your fire.
Thank you for putting us first and making our lives a little brighter.
Thank you for not toeing the line and not only sharing, but blessing us with your incredible talents
Thank you for lighting up the world with your oh so doting smile. Your fiery passion will be missed. Lord knows the world, my world will never be the same without you in it.
All my love to you, Gary.
Rest In Peace.