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Paul Messenger 1949-2024: A personal tribute

Paul Messenger 1949-2024: A personal tribute

Like many in my trade, I have known Paul Messenger for years. I admired and respected his writing long before I started sitting at a keyboard for a living.

He could have easily been an intimidating character to a young writer starting in audio in the early 1990s. Paul had already been involved in the business for more than 15 years. He had been one of the critical agents of change in the 1970s; before he started work on Hi-Fi News and Record Review, sound quality was a secondary consideration next to measurement. He changed all that. Faced with someone who redrew the audio map so significantly… what if he was an ego-maniacal monster?

But this was Paul.

Paul Messenger was one of those people who was easy to like. Something was calming about his presence. Perhaps it was his good humour and that rumbling giggle that came so quickly. Or maybe it was his natural and easy-going charm. Or, possibly, the smell of freshly roasted coffee and freshly baked croissants that greeted everyone who visited him. It was probably all these things and more. But of the many obituaries I’ve had to write in editing this magazine, this one perhaps hits the hardest.

I worked with Paul Messenger on dozens of blind loudspeaker group listening tests for Hi-Fi Choice magazine throughout the 1990s. Such tests could easily be a chore; travelling across the country to dead-lift loudspeakers in and out of a room while a group of middle-aged men passed judgment on them from behind a curtain is probably not the stuff of scintillating conversation. Yet, Paul always kept it fun and friendly. There was always the lunchtime sausage & bean hotpot and the beer from a nearby Michelin-starred pub. But most of all it was the company. Paul was always a fascinating person: quick-witted, good-humoured, entertaining, and always generous of spirit. This is why almost every Public Relations person who invited him to a press conference has stories of him turning up wearing a ‘bullshit detector’ T-Shirt and a big smile.

The least audiophile

Paul was, in so many ways, the least ‘audiophile’ audio enthusiast you could meet. He wasn’t the obsessive-compulsive person who’d repeatedly play the same 30 seconds of music to make that system sound right. Instead, he was the kind of guy who got things right, but there was no point obsessing over such things… because there was music to be played! But he was always keen to experiment. For example, in the ‘in wall’ event, he got a pair of 12” dual concentric drivers from Tannoy and quite liked the idea of mounting them in the wall of his listening room. He forgot to tell anyone he was planning this until the sledgehammer started swinging…

In later years, I rarely had the opportunity to visit him. Occasionally, I’d see him at a press launch or show or visit his house to collect or deliver some audio. Often, we’d sit and talk nonsense for a while, and we’d play some music. We’d take turns to discover new music and sit in that airline seat from way back that he’d bolted into his listening room. The music would flip from folk to techno to rock and just keep going.

I hadn’t seen Paul for a few years when I got the call you never want to hear. The pressures of work keep you apart from friends and family, and Paul’s illness meant he wasn’t the same vibrant person you used to hear down the phone. We had hoped to meet this spring while he could, but sadly, that was never meant to happen.

He passed away listening to The Grateful Dead with his family around him. That evening, those who knew and loved him listened to ‘Ripple’. If you liked his writing or met him… why not do the same tonight?

Our thoughts go out to Pam and his family and friends.

Image by Chris Frankland

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