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In memoriam – David Neale

test 16 March 2010

UK: David Neale, who has died at the age of 65, was one of the light and sound industry’s great frontiersmen, writes Jerry Gilbert. Neale helped start Disco International magazine in October 1976 at a time when the word ‘disco’ had scarcely been invented. And when the following month the inaugural meeting of the trade association now known as PLASA took place, David was on the founding committee.

Yet by this time he had already spent several years galvanising the nascent sound and lighting companies, in pop weekly Record Mirror’s burgeoning Disco Mirror supplement … laying down the cornerstones which helped to shape today’s great global industry.

Born in Maidstone, Kent, David went onto become a vigorous campaigner and outspoken commentator – particularly during his second term of office at PLASA (then BADEM), his Sabatier-sharp wit striking fear into fellow committee members.

A devout Catholic, David’s life was transformed after meeting Anna Shenton on a trip to Rome in 1983. Three years later they were married, and guided by their strong faith, each became the rock on whom the other depended.

David left the world of publishing – but only to join media’s ‘dark side’, setting up the PR company David Neale Associates with renewed gusto. He initially worked with ad agency Simon Dodds Associates before relocating to Clapham and later Derbyshire.

David was a great ‘fixer’ and social engineer – in many ways the hub around which the traditional sound and lighting industry revolved. But the choice of his PR clients, one suspects, was generally guided by the Trencherman in him. The media hacks flocked to take advantage of his bibulous press trips – imbibing fine wines with RCF in Italy and Czechoslovakian beers with KV2, while his early excursions to China on behalf of Le Maitre (as Rick Wilson’s batman) earned him the soubriquet "China" Neale.

In an increasingly ‘corporatised’ industry David remained a free spirit: principled, eloquent, voluble, and very much the anarchist on the roof.

Yet he rarely spoke without something profound to say and remained one of the industry’s true gentlemen, displaying politesse, compassion and willingness to hand out wisdom of the top order in a world where such values are rapidly eroding. With his long-held principles and endearing eccentricities, he affected so many people’s lives.

It says much about his character that very few knew David Neale to have an incurable cancer. He steadfastly refused to change his work regime and his daily modus operandi remained exactly the same until the end. In fact just days before his death he was still planning his annual trip to Frankfurt’s ProLight+Sound expo.

David rarely spent time away from the industry that he loved so much, but was rarely happier than after relocating to the Derbyshire Dales.

Survived by his wife Anna, David Neale also had a great love of American country music (a throwback to his days on the music press of the early 1970s). In fact, Southern record producer Jim Dickinson’s epitaph would have suited David perfectly: "I’m not gone, I’m just dead," it read. That’s exactly how David Neale’s many friends will think of him.


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