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The Last - Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton

It has been pointed out that it was a bit unfair to feature a picture of Dorothy Hepworth and Patricia Preece on the last post, when, although images of Jolie Holland have graced these pages, the last chance for readers to see Samantha Parton was overlooked. So, although the last post was meant to be the last time (for a while at least) that Jolie Holland was featured on Uncle Stylus, "The Last", from the duo's "Wildflower Blues" album, definitely will be the last, for now. And see Samantha sitting on the wall on the right, above.

One of my favourite short story writers is Bret Harte, like Jolie Holland, a resident of San Francisco for over a decade. Nowadays he's best known for his short stories set in the backdrop of the Californian Gold Rush, such as "Tennessee's Partner", "The Luck of Roaring Pot" and the wonderful "Outcasts of Poker Flat", and his friendship and quarrel with fellow author Mark Twain. He was a 19th Century writer who chronicled the American West, and so I was surprised to learn that he ended his life in 1902 in Camberley, Surrey and is buried in nearby Frimley.

In 2002 I was due to attend an arts conference in Basingstoke, and my route on the M3 passed close by Frimley, so I stopped off to pay my respects. I found the church, St Peter's and St Francis's, and was wandering around the graveyard when the vicar came out and asked me what I was doing. I told him, and he led me to the grave. We were standing there when he exclaimed in a voice of awe, "It's quite incredible!" I asked "What is?" and he replied "I've been at this church for ten years and you're only the second person to come looking for the grave". "Sorry", I mused "but surely there's nothing particularly incredible about that". "Yes there is" he said "the other one was here earlier this morning".

Before you suggest that they were also on the way to the same arts conference in Basingstoke, I checked with him and they were not.

Shift forward to last year and I was in a secondhand bookshop in St Leonards, the legendary "Bookkeeper"; I asked the attendant (and co-owner) if he had any Bret Harte stories. He replied not as far as he knew, and added he'd never heard of Harte. As there was no other customers in the shop, this was all the excuse I needed explain who Harte was, and also tell him about my visit to his grave. I then carried on perusing the books, and soon was investigating a batch of newly arrived paperbacks piled on the floor beside a bookcase that stretched right up to the ceiling, when a large hardback dropped from the top shelf and hit me smack on the back. I was unharmed but, to my amazement, the book that hit me was the collected short stories of - you guessed it - Bret Harte. It was incredible. I am still relieved that the bookseller witnessed it as no-one would believed me otherwise.

Prior to writing this, I rang the church to see if the vicar was still there, and was told he had moved to a chaplaincy in the US within a year after our meeting. Maybe he took the two visits in one day as a sign from God. The charming woman who answered the phone certainly did. Who was I to argue with her? Maybe that's what, if a simplification, the serendipitous nature of living is.

As is often the case with Jolie Holland, in "The Last" she goes to emotional places where other artists don't. Accompanied by the sweet backing vocals of Samantha Parton and gently golden guitar from Stevie Weinstein-Foner, Holland, like the troubadour she is, muses on the fact that the most passionate loves are the ones that will tear us apart:

".....and this is all just so strange, I may never come back to love.

I know it's just me to blame, what the hell was I thinking of

when I set my heart on the sweetest spirit that I'd ever seen?

Like I was lost in a dream,

like I was lost in a dream.

Well the mirror is broken, but the rain is shining on the road;

I'm setting my sails to the wind because the river has overflowed.

If I can be certain of just one thing

I know you are the last, you are the last

you are the last crazy person who'll break my heart."


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