Goodbye to Jane: The Fascinating Story of Rag’n’Bone Man’s Incredible Mum

Backstage at Rag'n'Bone Man's gig
The Author gets to Access All Areas

It’s a cool and pleasant evening and I’m in the Artistes’ Village backstage at Ardingly Showground – Access All Areas pass dangling from the lanyard slung casually around my neck.

Across from where I sit, sipping something white, sparkling (and free) is Rag’n’Bone Man’s dressing room marquee.

I’m being serenaded by the sound of support act, Sam Ryder (he of Eurovision ‘Space Man’ fame) doing vocal warm-ups.  Or rather, his fellow musicians are.  Sam himself is communicating only in sign language, resting his voice before he hits the stage in an hour.

Crazy Jane with Sam Ryder
Crazy Jane with Sam Ryder

But I’m not here to see Sam, or even to see Rory (Rag’n’Bone Man).  No, I’m here as the guest of the unsung heroine of the piece – my friend, Jane, aka Rag’n’Bone Man’s Mum.

Not that we can define Jane by her famous son, this lady is an impressive force in her own right.  An elegant, slim lady exuding style in a colourful and well-co-ordinated outfit, I look up to Jane in more ways than one as she stands tall at 5 ft 8.5 inches.

Jane is a well-known local figure who’s done much to promote music in the Uckfield area and is certainly responsible for giving a leg up to musicians in addition to Rory.

There’s usually at least one person behind the scenes of every success story and I want to share with you some of the qualities that make Jane such a remarkable woman.

Jane Rag 'n' Bone Man Mum
Jane: GnT & her Favourite Hat

Born in Epsom, Surrey, her parents weren’t well off so while her friends were leaving school and heading to University, it was expected that Jane would get a job.  So, aged 18, she got up extra early each day and travelled to London to do Technical Drawing for British Telecom.  BT put Jane through college, part-time, where she obtained a City & Guilds in General Engineering –welding, bricklaying, etc.

Meanwhile, Jane’s early interest in music developed as she attended folk clubs in Surrey at the weekends.  She’d enjoy the music of Donovan, Dylan, James Taylor, Clapton and the like.

Her hobbies were also far from middle-of-the-road.  One night in 1973, while at a SCUBA diving club, Jane met her future husband, Tony.  They took off in their camper van to spend a week in Javier, during which time Tony accepted a job leading diving parties and Jane acquired the nickname of “Sirena” (after a film mermaid) when she rescued a diver. They ended up staying from April to October before spending a further month travelling home.  Very Jack Kerouac!

By the time they married in 1981 Tony was a professional diver working a 3 weeks away, 1 week home rota.  Jane was doing drafting work at their new home in Uckfield when their daughter, Lucy, came along.

Born with Down’s syndrome, Lucy required extra support and Jane gave her all the time she needed.  Together, they did floor exercises to build Lucy’s muscles. Jane took Lucy to activities and made mobiles to encourage her crawling.

The intention was always to have another child one day, but Rory chose his own timescale and came along just 2 years after Lucy.  With Tony away much of the time, Jane had her hands full.

One evening, the family headed out for a meal in their local pub and happened upon the launch night of a folk club.  They started attending regularly, Tony playing guitar and Jane singing. When those running the club bowed out, Jane took over and became established at the heart of the local music scene.

Sadly, when Lucy was 6 and Rory only 4, Tony cleared out his possessions and left the family for pastures new.  Already used to Tony being away so much, Jane coped, although life became more difficult.  Determined her children would have the education they needed, Jane fought to get the local school to provide what Lucy needed to learn effectively.

Keeping up her musical interests, Jane joined Ditchling Morris Dancers because it would involve the children in the musical activities.  She was a member for 14 years, practicing every Saturday afternoon. Although she eventually had to stop dancing due to the onset of arthritis, Jane continued to sing for the Morris dancers and they would perform at fairs and festivals.  The children were always involved and would dress up in Morris outfits – that is until Rory grew a little older and decided it wasn’t cool!

There’s a saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and it seems that strength is often tested when several trials come at once.  That was certainly the case for Jane.

Her next long-term partner became seriously ill and needed a kidney.  Finding she was a match, Jane generously donated one of hers.  In true George Best style, he ploughed through it in short order.  Things got so bad that Jane suffered a stroke and doctors advised that if she continued with the relationship she’d most likely have another.  When Jane’s Mum died that same year, she took stock and realized they were probably right.

Fortunately, happier times weren’t too far away.  Attending more open mic events, Jane met Steve and sang with his band, A Bag Full of Hats, when they played at a friend’s wedding.

When Jane and Steve married in 2010, the reception was held in their beautiful garden.  Rory prepared all the food for the 50 guests – “He’s a wonderful chef,” says Jane.  Their many musician friends brought instruments and played into the night.

It’s no exaggeration to say Jane’s home had always been filled with music while the children were growing up. The house and car reverberated to the sounds of Clapton, Bowie, Muddy Waters, BB King, etc.  By 2002, Rory had started work and bought himself a guitar and harmonica.  Jane recalls singing ‘Key To The Highway’ at an open mic where Rory joined her on harmonica and sang a couple of verses.

For the last 20 years, Jane’s been running the Festival Club, a large part of the annual Uckfield Festival, offering opportunities to local acts.  In 2013, one of the acts she booked was the Slip Jig String Band, featuring Rory playing guitar and singing with two friends on guitar and mandolin.  Then in 2014, Rory played and sang solo at the Festival.  That night was the busiest the Club had ever known and Rory’s solo career was launched.

He continued playing at open mics and supported acts booked by local music promoter, Graham Pope.  He played Crawley Blues Festival with local big name blues guitarist, Nigel Bagge.   His big break came when he supported Joan Armatrading in Brighton, having been selected from over 500 submitted acts.  Interviewed on BBC Radio 2’s Steve Wright In The Afternoon show, Joan mentioned “this big guy, as wide as he was tall, with a big voice.”  In fact, she said his was one of the best voices she’d ever heard.  Praise indeed

Ash Dodd and Jane
Jane Singing with Ash Dodd at Festival Club

Jane’s Festival Club continues to offer opportunities to young local acts.  This year, 17 year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist, Ash Dodd played, who Jane is sure we’ll be hearing more about.  A high point of the week is when Jane herself sings with her trio, Crazy Jane, featuring her husband, Steve, and friend Dave Phillips.  They’ve now been together for over 10 years.

While all this musical activity continued, Jane constantly suffered ill health.  She’s been in hospital 18 times and was so seriously ill in 2018 that she wasn’t expected to survive, spending three months in hospital, some of the time in a coma in the ICU.  That year, she planned and organized the Festival Club from her sick bed.  She was given a standing ovation when she managed to attend.

Author talks with Jane
Chatting with Jane backstage

When I interviewed her for this article in mid 2022, Jane told me the main thing that pulled her through was her desire to spend time with her new grandson.

Sadly, a few months ago, Jane’s body finally gave up its battle and she passed away on 28 January, 2023.

Jane didn’t want a funeral of any kind. She didn’t want people mourning at her cremation. Nevertheless, when she left the funeral home in Uckfield for her final journey on a Monday morning, over 100 well-wishers waited outside to wave her off.  Her family were both stunned and touched.

The send-off Jane requested was for all her friends and family to gather for a big, colourful party.  To sing, dance and make merry.  And that’s exactly what we did.

On 13 May, 2023, around 150 family and close friends gathered to sing songs that were close to her heart.  We toasted her, we reminisced and we all felt her presence that night.

It was a unique evening for an equally unique lady.  She touched many, many lives and left an enduring legacy.

We love you, Jane, and we miss you.  Sing on, my friend.

Jane tribute photo
Jane’s tribute photo

Author

  • Maria Bligh

    Maria Bligh is a journalist, published author, professional speaker, singer and artist now settled in Sussex, UK, having previously travelled extensively throughout the UK and overseas, including a period living in Geneva. Married to a successful musician and with a background that encompasses working in the music industry, finance, sales and presentations training, she maintains a diverse existence. Her interests encompass travel, nature, animals and the arts: music, theatre, painting, writing and philosophy. Maria now writes for online and print magazines. Having once maintained a regular full page in “A Place In The Sun” magazine, travel is an obvious interest, but her articles also cover a wide variety of subjects. She bills herself as “an observer of the human condition and all that sail in her.” Maria has frequently appeared on radio & TV as well as in print. Her humorous style has seen her travel the world addressing audiences throughout Europe, Asia and Australasia and as a cruise-ship speaker with P&O and Fred Olsen.

One thought on “Goodbye to Jane: The Fascinating Story of Rag’n’Bone Man’s Incredible Mum

  1. A lovely tribute. Thank you for sharing these insights. As you say there are always unsung heroes driving a community and Jane was one of the ones driving our.

    Condolences and best wishes to her family

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