My friend and colleague, Alison Stephens, passed away yesterday, 10th October 2010.
We first met in 1988 at Trinity College of Music, when in a musicianship class, the teacher was busy pairing all the students off to do a project. Much like the weedy kids who are never picked for the sports team, Ali and I were last to be paired off, so in desperation the teacher ordered us (mandolin and harp) to "go off and find something to play together". And so began a life time friendship and musical collaboration.
We played together as much as possible, and when we weren't playing we were either researching what music would work on mandolin and harp, scheming about life in general, having a laugh (or cry) and eating or drinking and everything else students fill their time with.
It was with the greatest joy for me that Ali had such a wonderful career. When I had my children and Ali was busy jetting off round the world with the RSC, we always had time to share with each other whether it was with an email, text, phone call or best of all a bottle of wine and a good chat.
As a duo, we always had a very special connection. To have a duo consisting of two plucked instrument you have to a near "pyschic" connection to play absolutely together, and we always had such joy playing together.
Six years ago Ali and I started work on publishing mandolin music and a fantastic catalogue has been brought together. Ali was so keen that future young mandolinists would have music readily available and she worked so hard to provide that music.
I was so glad when Ali finally met and settled down with the love of her life, Mitch, 6 years ago, and it is a comfort to know that her final years were her happiest.
When Ali was first diagnosed with cancer 2 years ago, she was determined to not let it stop her and much to the amazement of her medical team continued with her gigs and recordings, her running training, and with her colleague Mike Maran undertook a massive fundraising initiative for various cancer charities.
When she was diagnosed with cancer for third time, we all thought Ali would beat it like she had before. Ali and I had gigs booked until 2012 and we were finalising the artwork to re-release our CD, Tapestry. Likewise with her other duo partners, Ali had gigs and projects planned with Craig Ogden, was about to record a CD for Chandos with Steven Devine, had just devised a new stage show with Mike Maran and had many mandolin books which she was putting together for publication.
Just two weeks ago, Ali and I had a wonderful day out in London. I was accompanying her as she did two sessions, one in the Abbey Road studios for the new Harry Potter movie, and one later in the evening for an advert. In between we fitted in a girly day out shopping in Oxford Street and a meal in our favourite restaurant in China Town.
Like any creative musician taken from us prematurely, Ali has left us bereft of the creative projects she has left undone. But I am privileged to have worked with her for the past 22 years and I will very much miss my musical partner.
As a friend I will miss her greatly.
Thank you for the music, my lovely Ali.
Duo Mandala - 1993
Alison Stephens 1st March 1970 - 10th October 2010
Ali and me on our girly day out in China Town just after she had done her Abbey Road session on 22nd September 2010
Ali raised lots of money for cancer charities during her treatments. This one was the Big Fun Run at Milton Keynes in September 2009. Left to right, Andy Scott, Lauren Scott, Ali Stephens, Mitch Harris, Craig Ogden.
Duo Mandala at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2009
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