Sunday 9 September 2018

The Unveiling of the Nicky Hopkins Memorial "Piano" Park Bench

The Mayor of Ealing, Cllr Tariq Mahmood, myself and Moira Hopkins officially unveiling the bench. 
(Photo by Becky Danese)
The unveiling ceremony kicked off some time after 12 noon on Saturday 8th September 2018 with an enhanced clip of Bob Harris's 2012 BBC Radio 6 documentary "Diamonds, Tiaras: The Nicky Hopkins Story" that comprised 17 excerpts of some of Nicky's best-known work such as Sympathy for the Devil, She's a Rainbow, Revolution and Jealous Guy.

The Mayor of Ealing, Cllr Tariq Mahmood and Moira Hopkins. 
(Photo by Becky Danese)
Then, acting as MC, I welcomed everybody to the official unveiling of the Nicky Hopkins Memorial Park Bench, celebrating his life.

The Mayor of Ealing, Cllr Tariq Mahmood, myself, Moira Hopkins and fans. 
(Photo by Becky Danese)
I thanked everybody for attending and for their support, especially Moira Hopkins, Nicky’s widow, who flew in all the way from Nashville to be there; The Worshipful the Mayor of the London Borough of Ealing, Cllr Tejinder Singh Dhami; Perivale councillor, Cllr Tariq Mahmood who stood in for Steve Pound, MP for Ealing North; Deborah Grabien who also flew in from the US to be there; Dee Hopkins, Nicky’s sister; Diane O'Malley who helped me so much by encouraging me to carry on when times got tough; rock legend, Graham Parker; my fiancée, Gemma Harris, for creating the introductory audio clip; and Julian Dawson, author of "And on Piano. Nicky Hopkins: The Extraordinary Life of Rock's Greatest Session Man" who not able to be there but I wanted to thank him for his help and guidance.

The Nicky Hopkins Memorial "Piano" Park Bench. 
(Photo by Becky Danese) 

The invitation to the unveiling ceremony
I then introduced myself to the gathered crowd of about 50 and proceeded to tell the story of how the bench came to be:

"I first heard about what an incredible musician Nicky Hopkins was, and what a thoroughly lovely person he was from my good friend and my best client, Gray Levett - Nicky’s former personal manager. (Gray helped me with this every step of this project, so thank you very much, Gray).

"One day, having now seen how Nicky had worked with so many artists and had appeared on some of the most well-known tracks of all time, such as Revolution, Beggars Banquet, Angie, Jealous Guy, Joe Cocker’s You Are So Beautiful, Art Garfunkel’s I Only Have Eyes for You, Cat Stevens' Matthew & Son… and Bird on a Wire by David Soul, I felt he really deserved to be more well known. We all know his work so well, but I felt he deserved proper recognition for his enormous contribution to music. As crazy as it sounds, he never won any awards!

"So I called Ealing Council and got put through to David Farrell, Business Support Officer, Parks & Leisure. Having just created a blue plaque for someone else (memorials are becoming a habit!) I initially suggested creating a blue plaque for Nicky. We quickly realized that there was nowhere really suitable for a Blue Plaque to be placed, since the house Nicky lived in as a child was demolished, so David suggested a park bench that looks like a piano instead. I thought that was a fantastic idea – spot on! He kindly said that if I sourced it, Ealing Council would maintain it. So I set about trying to create a “bench that looks like a piano”. Luckily, I found David Gowing of Furnitubes who was so helpful. Thank you for all your help, David! And then I had to get it designed – the reason the bench looks so cool because it was designed by the incredibly gifted Jesse Wilson. Then, I had to work out how to pay for it. The obvious way forward was crowdfunding, and the obvious choice was PledgeMusic. It worked! Thank you for all your help PledgeMusic!"

Julian Wall of PledgeMusic then said a few words.

I continued, "The most exciting part was promoting it and getting some media coverage for it. Some of the highlights were seeing tweets promoting the bench from Alice Cooper, Yoko Ono, John Lennon’s official account, and only yesterday Keith Richards and Edgar Wright!

"The other exciting moment was when I was talking with Moira on the phone and she told me Nicky was a massive Monty Python fan. So am I to say the least! I had no idea before I started this project, so I was very happy about that. I, unfortunately, never met Nicky but I’m now even more certain that we would have got on just fine.

"In terms of fundraising, we received a total of around £6,500 from 67 pledges, the proceeds of which come to £2,000 which will be donated to the Royal Academy of Music where Nicky himself won a scholarship. Another £8,000 is needed to create The Nicky Hopkins Scholarship which would allow one student to study at the Royal Academy for one year. If there’s anyone here who feels they’d like to contribute to that, let me know!

"At this point, I’d like to give a massive thank you to everyone who pledged. I know several of you are here today. I thought you’d like to know that these names are among the list of contributors on the back of the bench:
  • Roger Daltrey
  • Mick Jagger
  • Kenney Jones
  • Yoko Ono
  • Jimmy Page
  • Graham Parker
  • Hossam Ramzy 
  • Keith Richards
  • Benmont Tench III
  • Johnnie Walker
  • Charlie Watts
  • Ronnie Wood
  • Woody Woodmansey
  • Bill Wyman"
Gray Levett, Nicky's former personal manager then said a few words, as did Moira, Perivale councillor, Cllr Tariq Mahmood, and finally, The Worshipful the Mayor of the London Borough of Ealing, Cllr Tejinder Singh Dhami.

During Gray's speech, a gust of wind blew the sheet off the bench prematurely, eliciting a huge intake of breath from the crowd!

The Mayor of Ealing, Cllr Tariq Mahmood, myself and Moira Hopkins then officially unveiled the bench, and after many photo sessions, we all adjourned to The Bridge Hotel for refreshments.

After the unveiling, I realised I had forgotten to read out the wonderful quotes that had been specially written about Nicky for this occasion! So I read them out at the hotel during the afterparty instead. And here they are:

David Pomeranz - Multi-Platinum Award-Winning Recording Artist and Songwriter
"Nicky Hopkins was a Virtuoso, a Superstar, a Rock and Roll Legend - but what dwarfs all that is that he was one of the sweetest, kindest, most generous souls I've ever known. He fought for Human Rights and intensely cared about the wellbeing of others. I truly loved him as did anyone who had the privilege to know him."

Graham Parker
"Nicky played on a couple of my albums and we became friends and often hung out with each other in both Los Angeles and London for some years. As well as his beautiful piano work, he was a lovely guy who could do a pitch-perfect Monty Python sketch like nobody's business. Oh, how we laughed!  I miss him so much."

Keith Richards
"To my very best friend, Nicky!"

Rick Wakeman
"Nicky certainly deserves serious recognition for his immense contribution to the music of so many artists and it's tremendous that his corner is being fought for him in order to achieve this, and it will serve as a wonderful memory in his name."

Kenney Jones
"Nicky was one of the most talented keyboard players I have ever had the privilege to work with. I shall never forget his generosity in giving up his time in 1983 to help raise much-needed funds for Ronnie Lane's Multiple Sclerosis Charity."

Bill Wyman
"Nicky Hopkins was probably the greatest piano player I ever performed with, both for his many years working with the Rolling Stones, and recording with him later for the Rhythm Kings and at charity concerts. He was a genius. I visited his home in San Francisco, and during ‘Exile On Main Street’ sessions in the South of France, he would stay at my house. Once in Olympic Studios, Ian Stewart played Nicky & I the first track of the new Delaney & Bonnie album, and Nicky went into the studio and played the entire thing perfectly after just one hearing. Ian Stewart turned to me and said, ”That's what I don’t like about Nicky Hopkins.""

Bob Harris
"When Nicky sat at the piano, each take would be breathtaking and each one different from the last. He was a truly creative and dedicated musician, modest, quiet, wonderful to work with and never given to overstatement... all his work had an indefinable magic that shines out of the grooves."

Benmont Tench III
"I’m seldom at a loss for words, but today I’ve realized how deep Nicky goes in my musical heart — I really wouldn’t be, at all, the same pianist had I never listened to him. And I just can’t really do him justice with any kind of bons mots, so I think my tribute to him will continue to be in my playing."

Yoko Ono
"I can not believe he’s not here anymore. When he played Jealous Guy, we all cried. He was a genius. With love, Yoko Ono Lennon."

Just for the record, I was also interviewed about the bench on BBC Radio 4's "Saturday Live" show just after 10am. It was heartening to learn that several Rolling Stones and Nicky Hopkins fans and some locals showed up for the unveiling because they heard about it from the interview! (1h3m28s)

Here is Nicky's official Facebook Page: 

And this is his official Twitter account:

Media coverage:
Some notable tweets:
  • Keith Richards:
    "Nicky Hopkins Memorial “Piano” Park Bench unveiling is Sat, Sept 8 at noon in Perivale Park, Ealing. Donations for the Nicky Hopkins Scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music (where Nicky studied) can be made here:
    "To my very best friend, Nicky" - Keith"