Living - and almost losing - the life you love

Story by Jimmy Geoghegan

Friday, 26th April, 2019 6:07pm

Living - and almost losing -  the life you love

Smelling the coffee ... Martin Crawford in his Railway Street store, photographed by Seamus Farrelly.

Pinned up in different parts of Martin Crawford's newsagents and general store at the Railway Street Roundabout in Navan are short, profound sayings that reveal something of the man.
One reads: 'There's more to life than Facebook.' Another urges: 'Keep calm and love the life you live.'
Talking to the Londoner who has lived in Ireland for 20 years (this summer he marks the 20th anniversary) you get the impression he does love, and appreciate, his life - and he has good reason too.
A qualified chef, experienced bass player (he has worked alongside the likes of Diana Ross, Van Morrison and Sinead O'Connor to mention just a few) and now businessman, Martin went perilously close to losing his own.
It was in 2008 and he was travelling from Dublin to Navan on his motorbike. “I had been working as a chef in the Hilton Hotel and the plan was to go home, change and get in the car and drive down to Cork to play the Cork Festival.”
Close to the road from Clonee a car appeared from a side road. “I was never going too fast, I'm too boring for that, but oh my God, I remember thinking to myself in those last few seconds before the collision: 'This is going to hurt,' “
Martin is sitting in the small storeroom of his Navan newsagents and he's speaking about episodes in his eventful life so far - including that accident that nearly ended it all. 
“The accident happened, next thing I woke up in Connolly Hospital, broken pelvis, severe concussion, frontal lobe damage, you name it. I was in a bad way and it took several years rehabilitation. I had to learn to walk again number one and even now I'm not completely cured, I'm a registered disabled person, which is amazing when you think of it.”
A few years ago it happened again. On his motorbike approaching Navan along the Kentstown Road he was involved in another accident with a car. His shoulder was badly damaged and he had no feeling in one of his arms. For a guitar player in particular the prognosis was not good; not good at all. 
“There was a hell of a lot of soft tissue damage, muscles, tendons, nerves, connective tissue all destroyed in the impact. For me that spelt the end of my music career because I couldn't feel my left hand, the whole arm was going dead.
“I was told after I had neurosurgery the only thing really holding my arm at the time was the skin and they thought, at first, they may have to amputate, so it was pretty serious.”
At that stage Martin was working on putting an album together with legendary, Trim-based bluesman Don Baker, who he has known and worked with for years now; “a really nice guy, a genuine spirit,” is how he describes him. In time Martin did recover and he knows he's fortunate he can play music again, just like he once did. Only now he and Don are putting the finishes touches to that album. 
After each accident Martin was fiercely determined to get up and going again. “I could have sat at home, just sat back and let life happen to me but I would have died inside, I'm too much of a striver, too much of a goer to allow that to happen.”


It was 46 years ago when Martin Crawford was born in Clapham, central London. “The hospital I was born in is now a supermarket and apartments,” he says, as if to underline how life can change. His parents bought guesthouse in north London and young Martin became accustomed to dealing with customers and learning about the catering trade. His affable personality was no barrier when it came to mixing with people either. 
Both Martin's parents came from Jamaica and he was fired up from early on in his life with the belief that if you worked hard enough you got the rewards. He became a classically-trained chef and combined that role with playing bass with bands in and around London.
It wasn't easy pursuing the two careers. “The busiest time to get work as a session musician was Friday and Saturday nights and, of course, in any kitchen the busiest times are a Friday and Saturday nights, so to try and balance the two took a lot of dedication, commitment and self discipline and I really wanted to pursue both.” He felt pangs of envy when other musicians pushed on to do greater things - then one day opportunity knocked for him too; he got a chance to play with US musical legend Diana Ross. 
The American singer was due to appear in London but shortly before the gig her band's bassman cried off. Word was put out, and through his then girlfriend, Martin Crawford got the gig and a chance to go on tour. The problem was they wanted him NOW and working in a top London hotel at the time Martin had to make a choice - and he did; he left his job. “I said no I'll just pack my bags so I got my guitar and bag and just went,” he recalls, in his accent that leaves little doubt of his origins. 
He toured Europe with the Diana Ross band for a few months. He never got to speak to Ross in any meaningful way but he was living the dream, swept up in the “whirlwind,” although harsh reality soon ambushed him. “It was interesting and difficult at the same time because I couldn't read music, I had this music shoved in front of me and I was like 'ah what can I do with this.' The band were very helpful and it was a good learning curve but eventually I had to leave the tour.”
He returned to London determined to learn how to read music which he did. No way was he going to allow himself to be compromised in his craft as a bass player. “And it is a craft, there is a reason why they call upon you because you are capable of doing the job and it's always lovely to get a call to do something like that.” 
The time came when he and his girlfriend decided to go to Ireland (where she grew up) for a holiday. There was something about Ireland that suited Martin's temperament; a certain joie de vivre he detected among the people. He and his girlfriend lived in Dublin for a year or so before she returned to England. He, however, opted to stay. “I got the better deal,” he adds with a laugh. 
The word spread about Martin's prowess as a bass player. He filled in for a Van Morrison gig at Marley Park, again through connections. He became a friend and working colleague of Don Baker. The people he has worked with since forms a who's who of Irish music - Sinead O'Connor, Paul Brady, Mary Black, Damien Dempsey, Finbar Furey, local blues legend Paddy Smith - to name just a few. He met a girl from Navan and they lived in the Meath town for a decade or more before they parted but Martin resolved that he wasn't going anywhere else. 
“Even before we had broken up I decided this was my home.” He has taught music and gigs regularly with the Baker Band. Just over a year ago he opened up another chapter in his career when he started his newsagent's business at the Railway Street Roundabout beside the Solstice Arts Centre. These days he runs it with the help of his partner Paula, whose assistance he clearly, greatly appreciates. 
Martin says he never found the time to have children something he harbours some regrets about but life, he says, has been good to him in so many other ways. He thinks back to those accidents he had, near misses, that could so easily have proved fatal but the gods were smiling on him. 
Fate has looked kindly on him, he agrees, and he's following the advice of that old saying; he's “living the life he loves.” 

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