I have one of Sean’s books beside me, ‘Long Time Gone’, the autobiography of David Crosby. It’s funny – when he lent it to me it was to give me an idea of what a really good music biography could be like, one which stood out from the usual album-tour-album pack. As he was my first publisher, I thought they might all be like that – helping new authors on, spotting non-mainstream potential and working closely to ensure everything could be as good as possible.
Having been around the block a few times since, I know that Sean was pretty unique in his capacity as caring publisher/editor – a hark back to a different era, in some ways. Perhaps because his first driver wasn’t commercial (though he made an economic success of Helter Skelter Publishing, to be sure), he cared mostly about getting the good stories out there. These days, as I have all-too-often been informed, this heart has largely gone out of the publishing industry: too much of it is about achieving the quick peak of sales, getting the TV promotional slots, benefiting from the craze of celebrity that seems to pervade every aspect of modern life.
Most of all, Sean was prepared to give something a shot. Not least, me: he took a bet with whether I could write about Marillion, it was him that convinced me to write about Rush (“What’s that – difficult second book syndrome?”). And of course, when Mike Oldfield called Helter Skelter and asked whether Sean knew anyone suitable to help him write his autobiography, wonderfully Sean put me in the frame – what a shame that, due partially to the onset of his leukemia, he never got to publish what he saw as a breakthrough opportunity.
Sean was a meticulous editor – it is only in hindsight that one can see his attention was already starting to waver, as we worked through the editorial process for Chemistry. Naturally gutted by his announced illness in December 2005, he spent the two and a half years that followed going in and out of hospital, all the while trying to get himself back to work. Perhaps he should have canned it all and looked after himself, but again, hindsight is a wonderfully convenient tool. Throughout the whole process I remained convinced that he’d pull through – he was a fighter and a triathlete, and not the sort of person not to get his way. But he didn’t, this time.
It was with rum pleasure that I saw Sean merited an obituary in the Guardian. He was one of those people who never asked for credit or fame, quietly looking to achieve his own goals. It was particularly sad in the last period that I found it difficult (though not impossible) to contact him because from the writer’s perspective I didn’t want to give him any extra hassle, though as a friend I was wanting to be around. But still, I see from others that he had some lovely people around him, which ultimately, is all any of us could ever hope for.
I remember a conversation with Sean, from when I would occasionally pop in to the book shop off Charing Cross Road, or when we’d go over to the Jazz Cafe at Foyles. We were talking about all that modern technology, and how it meant you could work anywhere in the world. “I quite fancy just taking off to an island,” he said, “I could run Helter Skelter from there, its just a case of being able to communicate and exchange documents and PDFs.” Sean, I see you sitting on a sun lounger sipping some gloriously colourful cocktail, overflowing with fruit and paraphenalia. And I raise my glass to you.