I first met Mike Charlton 22 years ago at The Coffee House - an open mic session at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada. I was on that side of the Atlantic as an exchange student exchange from Dundee University in Scotland, where I was studying philosophy.
The vast majority of the open mic sessions were taken up with a succession of students playing the guitar singing something mellow and probably about lost love if you were listening to the lyrics.
Then Mike appeared - this big bear of a man who, with the exception of his bottle-bottom glasses, looked to me like I'd always imagined a Canadian lumberjack/wild woodsman to look like. He had a guitar, and boomed out a handful of folk songs. He wasn't shouting - his performance was tuneful and nuanced - but his presence filled the room. He just completely dominated the space.
I'd taken my mandolin across to Canada with me and a friend I was with insisted on taking me over to Mike to introduce me to him. I felt a bit reluctant, not least because he appeared quite intimidating.
And yet, as soon as he said hello and offered a huge paw to shake hands, I liked him. Instantly I saw past this larger-than-life exterior to a warm and friendly guy. We became good friends and over the rest of my year in Canada we played together many, many times.
At that time he was more popularly known as "Morg" - I think it was a nickname he'd had for several years and, if memory serves me right, it had come about when he'd used to wear a cap with "Morgan" on it and the last 2 letters had come off.
Despite the difference in size, we were both round of face and bearded so sometimes he would joke I was his long lost half-twin separated at birth. Up on stage at pretty much every gig he would usually boom at some point, "There are 3 kinds of people in this world - Friends of Morg, Enemies of Morg, and Morg!" After a while, he started adding, "and Kim is the only other person I've met who appears to fall into the last category..."
Truth be told, I think his big gruff exterior led to him being misunderstood by many people who couldn't see past the surface. When he was upset about something he could shout and curse in a number of languages - and with a voice that would reverberate through your chest, the instincts honed by our evolutionary ancestors would want to run for cover. And yet he would just be expressing his frustration at the universe in general - he wouldn't have harmed a soul and would have been surprised if anyone had felt intimidated.
I always saw him as a sensitive, vulnerable and kind soul. The fact he ended up as an elementary school teacher surprised many, but made me smile.
He wasn't a great communicator via email, so I was glad when he joined Facebook and I was able to follow his occasional postings.
I'd picked up hints of something not right with his health over the summer, but not enough to think anything was too serious. Then suddenly today, in my Facebook newsfeed, a mutual friend posted about his passing.
To say I was shocked would be an understatement.
I find it almost impossible to believe it's over 21 years since I left Canada and I've not been back. I always knew I would return, and that would mean meeting up with Mike again and playing music together. We both knew this would happen - it was just a matter of when.
And that when should have been next year. Our mutual friend is getting married and I'm doing my best to try and get over there for the wedding.
We would meet, make silly comments about each other's appearances, he would squeeze me in a bear hug and we would fall into a conversation we left off two decades ago.
But now it's not going to happen.
I'm grieving and it hurts.
Me and Mike playing in Canada
Here he is just singing to camera unaccompanied. Gives a sense of his voice, but it was much better live...