Mike Phillipson

Nottingham University Tentet 1961, Conrad on the piano

Conrad and I became and remained steadfast friends since meeting in our first year at Nottingham University. We shared a common and driven enthusiasm for music-making which consumed much of our undergraduate time. At that stage, although he was already a multi-instrumentalist, we couldn’t have anticipated that, much later, he would develop a truly innovative approach to jazz education! For many years he had to pursue his focus on jazz performance alongside his family and work commitments. His remarkable tenacity paid off! Not only did he add another instrument (saxophone) to his performing repertoire, but he created a truly imaginative unique approach to practical jazz education. Modelled on Lego’s block-by-block construction principle he developed a way of drawing potential performers through harmonic learning into the dark arts of improvisation. It soon generated international interest and facilitated a career shift into jazz education. And, of course, it enabled him to do much more playing himself, often sharing the stand with established jazz musicians of multiple persuasions.

Although he and I, geographically awkwardly distant, could meet only rarely, we never failed to keep in touch digitally and occasionally conversationally (music/fiction/crosswords/Tour-de-France/humour were binding points of contact). As he wound-down his record collection I would occasionally receive, out of the blue(s), presents through the post in response to something I had mentioned in passing (a box set, cd’s of musicians he was recommending to me, as well as recordings of his own performances with visiting musicians). Conrad was beyond generous!

Even as his health and mobility deteriorated, supported throughout by Ali’s loving care, his wry sense of humour never left him. He remains a treasured friend.

Julie in Australia

Despite the fact that I didn’t ever have the pleasure of meeting him in person, I counted Conrad as a dear friend. I only knew of him through our love of cryptic crosswords, but was fortunate enough to strike up an email correspondence because of our mutual friendship with Eileen McKillican. Conrad was so kind to me during some challenges in my own life, and I kept him in my own thoughts as he faced some health challenges in recent times. In turn, Conrad was delighted to learn in March of my husband’s full recovery from cancer, and the birth of our dear new granddaughter so far away in Brooklyn in the US. Conrad genuinely shared in these joyful pieces of news. He really understood and felt for us regarding the fact that distance and the disruption to travel caused made the latter news bittersweet.

Even though I only knew Conrad briefly at the end of his life, I very much admired his clever mind, his gift with words, his sensitivity, his creativity and musical talents, and the small glimpses I had into his interesting life experiences. I feel deeply sad that Conrad has died and will remember him with enormous fondness. Sincere condolences to Ali and Conrad’s family.

Conrad, I am so disappointed that I didn’t ever achieve my wish to meet up with you some time in a quaint English pub to talk “crosswords and life” at a Sloggers and Betters gathering. Thank you for our friendship which transcended the distance between us, and now transcends even death.

Kerry and Dean

“How many Buddhists does it take to change a lightbulb?
None…enlightenment comes from within”

Conrad would have momentarily guffawed at that joke, smiled sympathetically at my feeble attempt at humour before deconstructing it word by word. We both met Conrad at different times in our lives in the 1990s and both warmed to him immediately. Whilst trying to pen this eulogy we looked at one another and asked the question “What did he see in us?” and although we may never know the answer, we will always be hugely grateful because without his friendship we would have missed out on so much wisdom, advice, laughs and most of all his unwavering support, no matter what the situation.

It’s that unequivocal support that we will treasure the most. We were never as talented as Conrad, or as learned nor could we ever compete with him intellectually but he didn’t care. I even told him once that jazz was for people who can’t play instruments correctly and still I couldn’t incur his wrath. An evening with Conrad was always an outing to look forward to, filled with laughs punctuated by anecdotes revealing his unique view on the world but most importantly, we always came away feeling as though we had been cleansed of self-doubt and worry. Imagine having the ability to listen and then make someone feel better about themselves and the world around them! That’s a real talent and one we have sadly now lost.

But this eulogy isn’t meant to be maudlin. The word ‘unique’ is often over-used but no one who took the time to befriend Conrad could ever disagree that he had a personality and qualities which are rare. So instead of being sad at his passing, we just want to say an enormous heartfelt ‘Thank You’ to Conrad for allowing is into his life for quarter of a century and for the indelible positivity he gave us both.

with Kerry and Dean at Aspects

Peter Harvey

It was cryptic crosswords that led Conrad and I to get to know each other, and to that dark art, I am forever grateful.  Eileen and I organised the first crossword enthusiast get-together in the Midlands in 2011 and I have just looked out Conrad’s reply to my general online invitation.  It read: Hi Peter, I am a definite.  Will have to let you know about Significant Other.  Conrad.

Conrad came, which we subsequently learned was a journey outside his comfort zone.  He was accosted on the way, and in the nicest possible way, by Eileen in the waiting room on Platform 2 of Leicester railway station, and joined a crowd of fifty other setters, bloggers and commenters.  We never did get to see the Significant Other on that day, but of course did later meet Ali when we began our regular East Midlands Crossword Lunches with Chris and Lynette.

I’ve always enjoyed meeting and conversing with people with a wide range of interests – the sort of knowledge that’s sometimes positively described as ‘five miles wide and one foot deep’.  Conrad had that kind of broad knowledge, but I can attest that it was a lot deeper than twelve inches.  Conversation with him was never dull, but nor was he a know-it-all; brevity was more his trademark (together with some truly dreadful puns, which is probably why he was good at crosswords).

My life has been better for having met Conrad, and I will miss him a lot.

Tony (a cousin of Conrad’s)

I cherish the memories of coming to visit you in Leicester in the 80’s and possibly 90’s. On my drive home I had a head full of music and ideas and a list of books on physics, philosophy and Indian recipes to find, and lists of songs or records to seek out.

He educated me about the Great American Songbook which I already loved but he would guide me to paths less trodden where I discovered composers and lyricists that I enjoy to this day ….. I will miss him, but cherish the wisdom, humour, science and improvisation on a jazz tune that we could share together.

Andy (Ali’s cousin) and Glenda

When my mum and dad (Ali’s Aunty Mary and Uncle Bert) first told us about Ali’s wedding to Conrad you could detect the uncertainty in their voices – he’s much older than Alison, we’re not sure how they’ll get on!  Of course any doubts were quickly swept away as soon as they and we first met Ali and Conrad together: two kind and generous people who were very well suited and clearly wonderful together. I can’t remember when we actually met Conrad for the first time Ali; it was probably at one of our parents’ significant birthdays or wedding anniversaries, but thereafter he was always someone you looked forward to meeting again – very interesting and easy to be with. Glenda sums him up so succinctly: “I always liked Conrad”. I’m pretty sure my own conversations with him have included politics and the environment, and maybe even crosswords, but I’m sorry I never spoke with him about the jazz music; that would have been a pleasure for me, and it is my loss. 

I do remember Conrad’s kind comments about the family at my mum and dad’s 65th wedding anniversary – he said “you can feel the love” and I know it meant a lot to them. Glenda and I are glad, as well, that we have been able to call in and see you both at Belvoir Drive (pre-covid), your warmth and hospitality were a pleasure for us both. 

We’ll be delighted to raise a glass or two (at least one each!) to Conrad on the 19th. For me, as well as a glass of red wine I will include a fine English ale. I will choose “Old Peculier” knowing that he would appreciate the intended humour. Farewell Conrad, Andy Taylor.

Eileen McKellican

Unlike most others, I’ve only known Conrad for ten years – like Chris and Lynette, through the crossword blog site fifteensquared.net, which has contributors from all over the world.
Early on, I was aware of one Conrad Cork as a witty commenter, who divulged that, like me, he lived in Leicester. One day, a free copy of one of those local glossy magazines that you see in dentists’ waiting rooms dropped through my letter box and there was a photo of Conrad Cork and his wife, along with an article about allotments.
Some time later, on my way to the first Derby gathering (Sloggers and Betters), mentioned by Chris and Lynette, of 15² aficionados, I saw that the gentleman sitting opposite me in the station waiting room, sporting bright red socks, was unmistakably the Conrad Cork in the photo. After I tentatively introduced myself, as the gentleman he was, he forwent his first class seat and travelled with me – the start of a ‘wonderful friendship’, which we shared with Chris and Lynette and Peter – and of course, Ali.
Bizarrely, it turned out that Conrad and Ali had lived just two hundred yards round the corner from me for a number of years.
The very last photograph on Ali’s lovely blog is the Conrad we knew: glass in hand, smile on his face, crossword on his lap and Collins and Chambers within easy reach.
It was indeed a privilege to know him – I’d love to have met him in earlier days.
RIP, dear friend.

celebrating Eileen’s 80th birthday

Chris and Lynette

We met Conrad at the second Sloggers and Betters get-together at Derby. We were somewhat apprehensive about attending. We deliberately didn’t attend the first one – the thought of a room full of crossword fanatics was a bit daunting. Conrad was sitting there with a pint and we sat down and introduced ourselves. The start of a wonderful friendship. Eileen and Peter were there as the organisers. After a few more S&B events, the friendship grew and so began the start of a mini East Midlands S&B. Our regular gatherings involved sharing crosswords, putting the world to right and generally laughing. Conrad introduced us to Indian food and his suggestions of what we would like were always correct. The start of each one would always involve at least one big hug between Conrad and Lynette – actually more than one usually. His hugs were wonderful – they wrapped around you and a feeling of warmth and friendship passed between. It is hard when you remember that those are a thing of the past now.

There were regular emails too from Conrad. The early morning flurry of emails after Brexit will not be forgotten but most included a cryptic clue that he thought we would enjoy. We always did although sometimes we needed a prompt or two with only the word length to guide us. Conrad’s dry wit and sharp mind was amazing. We feel very privileged to have spent time with him and Ali. We will miss him deeply.

Oliver Bennett

Conrad had a big influence on my life. I remember very clearly the first time I met him. It was when personal computers were just becoming available and I thought it would be necessary to learn programming. I was struggling with it and went over to get some advice from what I think in those days was called ‘computer services’. I had been wrestling with a particular logical problem, which I was describing, when Conrad said out of the blue: ‘You don’t play saxophone as well, do you?’ I thought this was an extraordinary piece of intuition, as I had bought a tenor saxophone only a few months before and was looking for a teacher. So for the next few years, I went round to his house at Thurmaston every Friday night, drank copious amounts of alcohol and talked about everything (‘Conrad called in playing saxophones with our heads’) under the general pretext of jazz lessons. I never really succeeded in playing jazz – and it took me 10 years to admit defeat – but it left me with a lasting love of the music. And of course, Conrad and I became close friends during what now seems, looking back, to have been a very difficult time in his life. It also led to his close involvement with the music department at Scraptoft. I remember telling Gavin Bryars that I had met this saxophone player who was immensely knowledgeable about jazz just at the time Gavin was looking for someone to play saxophone in a project he was planning. It’s with such coincidences that lives change!

Simon Edlin

I have some memories of Conrad:
First Indian meal together in Coventry. His first work after the mid-70's depression -
 Me - 'What sort of music do you like?'
 Con – 'Jazz. Improvised. My preferred instrument is saxophone.'
 Me – 'Ah. Is John Coltrane the stand out figure?'
 Con – 'I've got 3 books about him.'

He relaxed, I was someone he could talk to.
 Me – 'So apart from vegetarian Indian food, what do Buddhists believe   in?'
 Con – 'It's not prescriptive like other religions. The Buddha said 'I haven't got all the answers, if you want enlightenment you'll have to find it yourself'

I relaxed. He was someone I could talk to.

Conrad's neighbours in Formby were 2 elderly eccentric sisters, Ann and Cynthia Formby. I knew their 2 sisters Carol (my Godmother) and Una who lived in London and knew they hailed from Formby. Carol told me 'Oh yes, Mr Cork is ever so kind fixing things for Cynthia. Their youngest fired an arrow into their garden'. Conrad was amazed to be told this 100 miles from home. When I told Conrad I was getting married on June 3rd he created a cassette of a song 'Where were you on the night of June the third?' which had slightly suspect lyrics and yes it was played at the wedding reception and Conrad met Carol and Una Formby.
Conrad was successful at Hygena Kitchens, a Univac site, building up a 'Chief Programmer' team. He believed (and I fully concurred) that 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts' when you have a team that help and trust one another.

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