Neil Smith aka ‘Bongo Neil’ to his friends was one of Brighton’s zany characters who I met over 20 years ago when I first came down this part of the world. He was a part of the alternative music scene where a collection of weird and wonderful people would congregate in the pubs and bang around with instruments. Neil would be there hanging around with the cosmic combos of The Dr Spacetoad Experience with Captain Sensible and the Fish Brothers. He would perform and play at the ‘Friendly Concerts’ hosted by Paul Chi and was there playing his bongos in a variety of other acts, some of them quite psychedelic. He was a part of what I affectionately called ‘the Brighton Loony Brigade’ due to all of these characters such as our mate Roy who used to dress up as a Bishop and bring a blow up doll dressed as a nun and Captain Stupidt – a talented song writer with a great big bushy beard and Dr Spacetoad – a self proclaimed ‘Troubador from the Fourth Dimension’ (also very talented musician).
Time passed and I hadn’t seen Neil in a long while, but then, in 2014 I came up to the Orchard for the first time with the BCV and there he was supervising the session. It was a fantastic surprise to see him. It was then he had started undergoing treatment for throat cancer. Anyway, over the following months I started helping out on the volunteer days, doing whatever needed doing at the time and before long, I was texting Neil to see what days he was up on the Orchard (usually a Sunday at the time as volunteer days were on Saturdays then) and I would go up and help him with various jobs. Sometimes, I would just psychic navigate my way there without phoning and there he would be. I took my partner Monty up there on his birthday and myself, him and Neil had fun skinning a load of elm logs. I even spent Xmas day 2015 planting fruit trees with Neil and Vanessa – so much worthwhile and interesting and fun than slobbing about infront of the TV scoffing chocs and chugging copious amounts of sherry!
I really got to know Neil so well on those extra sessions and as a result I totally fell in love with the Orchard; it became a very special magic place for me as it did for Neil. He taught me so much about the maintenance of the Orchard and how to look after volunteer sessions, how to use this tool and that and everything else. He even wangled it for me to attend the outdoor session leaders course and a first aid course before I became involved with the Brighton Permaculture Trust. For this, I owe Neil so much. The Orchard has also become my creative inspiration for art work – something that Neil really encouraged. We had such laughs too. Neil was a profoundly spiritual guy who knew so much amazing stuff yet he had a sense of humour that was as earthy as you please. He was and is a right on, totally sound, faberoony, groove-tastic dude. His life and soul lives on across that Orchard in every shelter-belt and fruit tree and pathway and bench and also every event that occurs on site. I feel so chuffed, proud and thankful that I am a part of this living legacy that Neil helped create.
Neil, you totally rock! Journey well.