Barry Skinner, who has died from cancer aged 71, was a popular singer and songwriter who made a strong impression on folk club audiences around the UK, also appearing in continental Europe and the United States, between the late 1960s and late 1970s.
The end of his touring days coincided with the start of a remarkably varied new professional life that was to embrace instruction in mountaineering and other outdoor activities, canal sailing, the construction of custom-made dolls' houses, photography, painting, camping and writing.
Those close to Barry tell the story of his life and times better than I can.
This is from his son Matt's eulogy at the funeral earlier this month (October 18):
Barry was born in 1941 and grew up in the Coventry area. As a youngster, he was a keen sportsman, enjoying both football and cricket. He was apparently always taking up new hobbies, many of which would shape his interests in later life. He had something of the “butterfly” about him in this regard, as he would often abandon one hobby to throw himself wholeheartedly into his next.As a young adult Barry took up climbing and in 1961, he took part in his first mountain rescue on the Isle of Arran. The following year, another of his great loves – music – led him to form The Troubadours, a folk group based in Coventry but with, at the time, nowhere to perform. Typically, Barry’s solution to this problem was to start the first Coventry Folk Club, thus solving the lack of venue problem, and beginning a phase of his life that would see him performing professionally across Britain, Europe and the US for more than a decade.Many of Barry’s own musical compositions were centred on his love of the inland waterways of Britain, and in 1979 he began to preach the “Gospel of the Canals” by working with the Coventry Education Waterways Scheme, which gave young people a hands-on experience of life on narrow boats, run as floating classrooms.In the mid-eighties, Barry moved to Snowdonia where he became a freelance Outdoor Instructor and where he also bought Turnpike Cottage with his partner, Orianne. When asked why he moved such a long way from the place of his birth, Barry would usually reply, “There weren’t really many career opportunities for a Mountaineering Instructor in Coventry!”Turnpike provided the perfect setting for another of Barry’s creative activities: the designing and building of scale model dolls’ houses. Along with his love of painting, drawing, photography and wood-turning, the cottage soon became a hive of artistic production.
After the sad loss of Oreanne , Barry remained at Turnpike, shortly afterwards retiring from full time employment as Plas Caerdeon’s Chief Instructor: a decision described by Barry as “the best career move you can make!”
Some years later, he met Anne, in whom he found a fellow artistic spirit and the two of them lived at Turnpike, running a popular and successful Bed & Breakfast business.
Many guests were so impressed with Turnpike’s hospitality that they would book returns on a year by year basis. Indeed, several of Anne and Barry’s personal friends began their acquaintance as B& B guests. When they decided eventually to discontinue the Bed and Breakfast business, Barry and Anne bought a motor-home and enjoyed touring Britain, often writing articles for the national camping and caravanning press.
Motorhoming continued until the beginning of this year when Barry’s illness first manifested itself. The trips became shorter but no less enjoyable, the motorhome proving very useful when making long drives for hospital visits.
His final artistic venture was the Helfa Gelf art festival in September, when his paintings were on display to the general public both at home and in local art galleries.
Please also see Bill Taylor's poignant obituary: http://www.salutlive.com/2012/10/barry-skinner-rip.html
And this is from an account of the funeral written by Tony, the son of Barry's partner, Anne:
"Thursday was a strange day, to say the least!
"We gathered at the cottage, where Barry arrived in a "willow" coffin! he was then loaded into Gwyl, the farmer's sheep trailer and towed by Land Rover to the forest. There were about a dozen cars following (including the Mountain Rescue ambulance, who had come to say their farewells to Barry, as a former member of the team.)
"As we made our way to the forest, we inevitably picked up a few strays into our convoy - the chap in whose car I went said, "I wonder if they realise they're now part of a funeral cortege?"
"I replied that there wasn't really much of a clue for them as we were following a Land Rover, not a hearse. "Perhaps" I suggested, "they think we're off to pay our last respects to a particularly fondly remembered sheep!!"
"When we got to the forest, Barry was carried by the Mountain Rescue team to the burial site. As they picked the coffin up, one of the team said, "He's not got any lighter, then!" which was great - really broke the ice and set the tone for the whole event! I said to Mum as we walked, "I've never buried anyone in a picnic hamper before!"
"At the graveside Mum said a few words and then Barry's son, Matt, read a short eulogy. Then Mum announced a surprise for Barry - he had had a set of premium bonds for many years without winning a penny, but two days after he died they came up! £25!! Mum said that the money would be added to the donation to the Gwynedd Haematology and Cancer Relief Unit* that was being made, but his winnings slip she placed in the grave with Barry!
"People were then invited to share any special memories, or simply to say a few words - many did.
"As the funeral finished, a group of Barry's friends from his folk singing days suddenly struck up a beautiful a capella version of the song, Wild Mountain Thyme - it was very moving, but of course, everyone who had managed to hold it together so far just let their emotions go at this point: there was not, as they say, a dry eye in the forest!
"All in all it was a beautiful occasion - no "formal religious" element (there was no minister present) but still a very dignified yet light-hearted send off.
"I suspect that this form of farewell to a loved one will become very popular in the future, and the thought of them "going back to the natural world" (where's Elton John with his Circle of Life when you need him?!) is a lovely way to think of someone's passing."
Barry Skinner's website - http://www.bedd-gelert.co.uk/en-GB/home-1.aspx - gives much more information about a life that will be remembered with affection and admiration.
It includes this summary of his two ambitions:
* never to become an adult
* never to have a proper job
From reading the tributes above, it is difficult to think of a more rounded adult or a more admirable portfolio of proper work. RIP Barry.
* Barry leaves his partner, Anne, his son Matt, three sisters and Anne's son, Tony, and daughter, Maria. Donations may be made - in lieu of floral tributes - to the Gwynedd Haematology and Cancer Relief Fund. Barry had apparently successful surgery for small bowel cancer in February this year but was, in April, diagnosed quite separately with lung cancer which had spread into a rib and this was the condition that caused his death.