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Not Just Another Face In The Crowd: Steven Wilson

On his new album Hand. Cannot. Erase., Steven Wilson looks to a tragic death for inspiration. Is it the album that will elevate him to mainstream fame?

December 2003: It is a few days before Christmas. In her North London bedsit, Joyce Carol Vincent has just returned from a shopping trip in Wood Green. She turns the heating up to banish the bitter December chill and flicks on the television for some company before contemplating the wrapped Christmas presents laid out before her.

The past few years have been somewhat tumultuous for the attractive young woman of Grenadine descent. She resigned from her job working in the treasury department of well-known financiers Ernst & Young a few years prior in 2001 and had sought help following domestic abuse, spending some time in a shelter in Haringey and later finding work in a small hotel. For reasons that are only known to herself, she had slowly retreated from contact with her four older sisters. Her mother had died when she was 11, her father, with whom she had a fractious relationship, would die in 2004, although an indication of the turmoil surrounding Vincent at the time led her to claim he’d died in 2001.

Quite why Vincent chose to cut herself off from her family we’ll never know. Was it shame from the alleged domestic abuse? Was it from her fall from grace from a well-paid city job and a life that had brought the young Londoner into contact with the likes of Nelson Mandela and Gil-Scott Heron, as well as having dined with Stevie Wonder, to working in a budget hotel? Perhaps she was even still suffering at the hands of her then-fiancé? None of this we will ever know.

What we do know, however, from the Christmas gifts wrapped and ready to be delivered that sat around her, is that there appears to have been a move to rebuild bridges with her sisters. Some of those gifts were addressed to members of a family she had not seen for almost two years. It seems that Joyce Vincent was on the verge of hauling her life out of the doldrums of the past two years – wherein she’d suffered at the hands of the aforementioned domestic abuse and more recently had been treated for a peptic ulcer at hospital – and was on the path to sorting out the loose threads.

Joyce Vincent never delivered those Christmas presents. She would never see any member of her family again, despite her sisters hiring a private detective, who indeed found Joyce’s bedsit in Wood Green, but got no reply, despite the sound of the television emanating from inside the flat. Nor did the letters her sisters would then write receive a response, leaving them resigned to the idea that their once bright and bubbly sibling had severed all familial ties.

Joyce Vincent’s body was discovered on January 25, 2006, lying amongst those undelivered gifts. The television was still on, as was the central heating. Half of her rent had been paid monthly to the Metropolitan Housing Trust by various benefits agencies. No neighbour had raised any concern about the missing tenant, the rank smell coming from the bedsit, or the constant hum of the television. It was only when rent arrears built up to some £2,400 that the bailiffs were sent in. The front door remained double-locked, there was no sign of a break-in, the police report ruled death by natural causes, but the skeletal body was too badly decomposed to conduct a full post-mortem.

It seemed that Joyce Vincent, a young, bright, attractive and upwardly mobile woman with a good job, had died, while the world turned away, apparently oblivious, and resumed going about its business…

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