Remembering Boon Gould, a Good Man in a Storm

My Close Encounter with Boon Gould – Close but no Cigar

Boon Gould & Cherie Lunghi
Boon Gould & Cherie Lunghi in Level 42’s ‘Something About You’ video. Halcyon days, the calm before the personal storms. In memory of Rowland Charles ‘Boon’ Gould, 1955-2019.

It seems these days, my only inspiration to write is when somebody I admired from afar passes onto the next journey of our energy time-line. On the last day of April 2019, the news was released that Rowland Charles ‘Boon’ Gould, former guitarist of Level 42, older brother to ex-Level 42 drummer Phil Gould, was dead.

Found at his home in Dorset aged only 64, one naturally speculates on the possible cause of death; a sudden demise alone can suggest cardiac arrest, freak accident or the unthinkable, death by one’s own hand. I am reluctant to expand on my suppositions as there is the private grief of the Gould family to consider, but from what has been mentioned in the public domain about Boon’s personality, there is more than a suggestion of personal anxiety affecting a portion of his life.

Sometimes, for those who suffer long-term within an oppressive mindset which cannot be conquered, a drastic exit can seem the only road to a final state of inner peace. On a personal note, one of my childhood friends took his own life a few years ago, much to the shock of those of us who could only ever remember a cool, good looking, happy, ray-of-sunshine-of-a-kid, shining his infectious mischievous streak whilst we explored our 1970s playgrounds.

It’s not my place to speculate about how Boon Gould left us and neither is it any of my business. I can only echo what Mark King wrote on Twitter, “…no more pain…” and hope the Goulds find some comfort in the knowledge that the subject of their loss positively contributed to the soundtrack of many young lives, including mine.

Once Upon a Time in Liverpool…

…lived a pair of old school Scallies named Mick and Bob with a keen eye for the Liverpool music scene. The year was 1986 and the British music industry was flowing with cash to invest in new young artists. Mick and Bob ran a music management company and were looking after the business interests of a band called Jo Jo and the Real People.

Promo photo of Jo Jo and the Real People
Polydor Records promo photo of Jo Jo and the Real People (featuring The Creamy Whirls).

Between the pair, Mick was the supreme hustler, the cheeky scouser who chased advance money on the telephone to London A&R men who probably felt slightly intimated, but comfortable enough to engage with Mick’s band auctions.

Mick and Bob didn’t aim low and it wasn’t long before they landed both publishing and recording deals for Jo Jo and the Real People, the latter deal with Polydor Records.

Also-Rans on the Coat-Tails

There just so happened to be another band in town, who also fancied a piece of the action Mick and Bob were generating. Unashamedly commercial in sound, seeking fame, fortune and associated vacuous pursuits, I had thrown my self-serving lot in with them as their drummer.

The way I conducted myself in this group looking back on it, was quite toxic, leaving me ashamed to this day of my complicity in two acts of removing band members; but that’s a story for another day.

The band had been foisting themselves on Mick and Bob’s office for months, handing out demos and trying to convince them to do the same for us as they’d done for Jo Jo and the Real People. We were no doubt equally as precocious as we were annoying and eventually they passed us on to one of their associates, who also wanted to get into band management.

Barney (not his real name) was a slightly chubby man of about 30, with balding red hair and a pair of large spectacles, synonymous with the style of the ‘Yuppies’ during the mid 1980s. He exuded enthusiasm for our commercial potential and wanted to start working with us as soon as possible. He also owned an ugly French ‘people carrier’ vehicle, possibly one of the first of its kind from the era.

Barney Goes to London

Some time during early 1987, an opportunity arose for us to attend the launch gig for Jo Jo and the Real People’s début single, a cover of the old Patti Labelle hit, ‘Lady Marmalade’. The story was, Polydor had sunk a fair bit of cash into their new signing and wanted to see what they were getting for their money.

The showcase gig was set to take place at The Limelight club on Shaftesbury Avenue in London, in front of Polydor execs and other luminaries of the music business. Barney asked Mick and Bob if it would be okay for us to come to the gig and mingle backstage afterwards. There was even a rumour that members of fellow Polydor artists Level 42 were going to be there, which raised our excitement levels off the scale. The new Bass player in my band was as much of a Mark King fan as I was of Phil Gould, so we couldn’t wait to see the day when we’d be travelling down to the gig. Preparing to sell his new prodigies to whomever may be present in London, Barney had armed himself with a clutch of our demo tapes, ready to pounce on anyone who might be useful during the after-show.

From a prime position on a balcony, we jealously watched what was a well received gig for Polydor’s potential new cash-cow. Our viewpoint gave me a perfect spot to look on enviously at ex-China Crisis drummer Dave Reilly, in a position I desperately wanted to be in, playing in front of important people from the label my band was signed to. But I took comfort by reminding myself at least I was ‘in the swim’ where the opportunities for my band to network couldn’t get much better.

Backstage Nerves

As soon as the band had finished their set Barney sprang into action on our behalf, already having sorted out the quickest route to the backstage hospitality area. He whisked us along our way giving off an air of importance to all passing onlookers as if we were something else special in the building. Arriving at our destination, we got past security as part of the management’s entourage and straight into the melee of early arrivals.

As the room began to fill up, I started to become in awe of the situation I was in. Not knowing what to do, I stood there with my 3 bandmates, also not sure about where to put themselves in a room rapidly filling up with strangers.

Barney had already gone into manager-mode and was working the room, chatting and passing on tapes to those he had identified as key players in the game. I was quite impressed by his natural bravado and fearlessness at approaching strangers, whilst I stood there like a useless spare mannequin. As the redundancy of my presence became more obvious, my level of discomfort began to rise, until I saw a tall, familiar figure approaching.

Boon is in the Building!

Dressed head to toe in black and cooly carrying off what must have been a very expensive, long coat, the unmistakeably rugged features of Boon Gould registered with my astonished eyes. Here I was in a club in London, standing but a few feet from the older brother of my current drumming hero, star-struck and paralysed to the spot. I exchanged glances with the Bass player and we both smiled at the surreal situation we were in.

At that moment, everyone else in the room became a background feature as I mentally gasped at the physical presence of an actual Level 42 member! Could Phil also be here? I thought, hoping desperately for that to be the icing on my fantasy cake.

Before I had chance to think, Barney swooped in on the quiet guitarist and I watched some sort of short exchange take place between them, culminating in one of our demo tapes voluntarily finding its way into one of the deep pockets of Boon’s coat, which I was already hopelessly coveting. Word was, Yojhi Yamamoto was kitting out Level 42 with his expensive designs, which were well out of reach for low income drummers like myself.

Barney gestured a signal to us as our green light to approach the most famous element in the room.

“This is Boon from Level 42!” Barney exclaimed, as if we needed telling.

Exchanging polite greetings, I mumbled something about looking forward to seeing the band later on in the year at the Birmingham NEC to which, Boon mumbled an appropriate but friendly response. Thinking back, I guess he was probably feeling a little uncomfortable and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’d plucked the short straw as a favour to the record label to attend the evening for PR purposes.

I didn’t push my luck and decided not to invade his personal space any further, though if I’m honest, I really didn’t have anything else purposeful enough to waste his time with. He didn’t stay around for much longer and I wondered afterwards how long our cassette of musical hopes stayed in his pocket. It was probably for the best if he’d binned it at his first opportunity; we were a dysfunctional entity by that point anyway.

After the After-Show

Nothing good happened for my band after we returned from London, deservedly so. We took this as a failure on Barney’s part and wasted no time in dumping him. That’s the kind of people we were at the time. Barney was just another time waster to us, hindering our way to the top. We used him as a willing volunteer, then ejected him without hesitation.

In truth, Barney was one of the good guys, an amicable trier, alive with enthusiasm and probably too honest for the music management game. If it hadn’t been for Barney’s keenness to push our product and make use of opportunities, I would have never had my brief chance encounter with Boon Gould. If I had possessed the same bravado and drive as Barney, then maybe I could have engaged with Boon in some meaningful musical conversation. But as the saying goes, I came close, but no cigar.

Bowing out Gracefully

I saw Level 42 two nights on the run at the Birmingham NEC in March 1987. By the end of the year, Boon exited from the band during their American tour opening for Madonna. The band’s press release cited nervous exhaustion as the reason and not long after, his brother Phil also took leave of the pop-circus hamster wheel.

For me, without the Gould brothers, Level 42 had lost half of what made them organically unique. Despite their replacement with high calibre musicians, as far as I was concerned, the band were a ship with half its rudder missing.

Both Boon and Phil spent the following years out of the spotlight, Boon appearing slightly more reclusive than his younger sibling. Boon did offer some contact with his fans via his own website and even managed to release some solo material. He also collaborated with his old band lyrically, whilst keeping a low profile. Pre-social media Level 42 fan websites also did their best to keep any activities of the Goulds publicised, even the keeping the fires stoked within the online forum community who refused to give up hope of an eventual reunion.

Level 42 did toy with the idea in the early 2000s, but the Mark/Phil musical divisions reportedly remained too deep to bridge. Sadly, the now sexagenarian musicians will never be able to test those waters again.

Although I often thought Boon looked a little miserable on stage, I prefer to remember him as he was in the promo video for ‘Something About You’, driving a classic open-top sports car, wind blowing through his hair, with the gorgeous Cherie Lunghi in the passenger seat. 1985 wasn’t such a bad year for music, after all.


I came across this great tribute to Boon by long-time Level 42 fan, Julian Hall. He met the man many more times than I did and didn’t lose his nerve like me!

Video by Julian Hall.

The party’s over – remembering Mark Hollis, Talk Talk & Genesis

Mark David Hollis, 1955-2019

I was sad to learn of the passing of singer/songwriter Mark Hollis during February 2019, only aged 64. Nothing has been released publicly about the cause of death at the time of writing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was another victim of cancer, reading between the lines from a (reported) quote by his former manger, saying he died after:

A short illness from which he never recovered.

Lauded as a ‘genius’ songwriter in various obituaries, I was quite unaware he was the driving force behind the music of Talk Talk. Choosing to remove himself from music and public life at the end of the 90s, I could only assume he invested his song-writing royalties wisely in order to disappear so successfully. I doubt very much the artists of today will be able to leave the Hamster-wheel so easily, being forced to endure a lifetime ‘on tour’ to sustain an income, now that music is ‘free’.  I equally doubt the remnants of what we knew as the music industry is equipped to find, fund and nurture another Mark Hollis. So whilst we mourn the passing of Mark, we should also throw in a memorial service for the passing of an era which regularly gave birth and sustenance to creative offspring like him.

My introduction to Mark Hollis and Talk Talk was very much an unintentional circumstance, a by-product of standing shin-deep in mud in a large field in Milton Keynes during early October 1982. The occasion was the Genesis/Peter Gabriel reunion titled ‘Six Of The Best’, a benefit-gig to help Gabriel sort out his finances following the disastrous WOMAD music festival he had organised earlier during the year which had left him in serious debt. Although I could never have been described as a real Genesis fan, the novelty aspect of seeing the classic Gabriel/Banks/Collins/Rutherford/Hackett line-up was an opportunity too good to pass on – and extremely affordable at just £9.00 a ticket!

From the days when you enclosed an S.A.E. to receive gig tickets by return-of-post! I was the last person to get my ticket so Chris gave me it in the envelope they all arrived in. (Chris’s family have long since moved from the address shown.)

Chris Mason, the keyboard player from my ex-band Tomorrow, who was obsessed with all things Genesis/Tony Banks (and yes, he did have Banks’ solo albums) had a friend who had passed his driving test, so we had the transport to the gig sorted. Chris booked the tickets via mail-order (no internet in those days) for I think, 5 tickets, though it could have been 4; but apart from Chris and the driver, I definitely remember party-animal Bass player Paul (Dodd) from my then current band, Threshold, being with us. I never had Paul down as a big Genesis fan as like me, he enjoyed the more lairy side of Rock music from the era, but he too realised the uniqueness of the event.

Oh, for an Umbrella (10 holes are better than 8)

The second day of October in 1982 wasn’t particularly cold, reaching a max temperature of 18 degrees celsius in Kent. In our part of north-west Cheshire, we were blessed with a dry, early morning to see us our way, but as we moved further south, a taste of the precipitation to come bounced off the car’s windscreen.

Front cover of souvenir program from the gig, a paltry £2.00! Even by 2019 standards that’s extremely cheap, as it’s the equivalent of £7.00. Try buying a tour program for that much today…

I had never been to a ‘stadium’ sized gig before so the sight of the Milton Keynes Bowl with its 65,000-capacity field was quite overwhelming. We arrived in good time (probably too early) and made our way down to the bodies already crowding in front of the stage. We got a pretty good viewpoint at a comfortable distance from the stage and seeing as the vast majority of the audience were older hippy types, there was no sign of the potential madness breaking out I’d experienced at a recent Ozzy Osbourne gig. No, these guys seemed more at home with a joint and a library full of Tolkien-thickness books than a makeshift mosh-pit of juvenile fools. So having established our tiny piece of territory in the grass amphitheatre, we stood and waited under what we hoped would be temporary weather conditions.

Dressed in 10-hole Dr Marten’s boots, Jeans, T-Shirt and topped off with a black leather biker jacket purchased 3 months earlier from ‘L For Leather’ in Liverpool (no, it definitely wasn’t a dodgy S&M outfitters), I wasn’t exactly dressed for what was falling out of the sky. My friend Paul was identically dressed and neither of us had given any thought to the potential discomforts of standing in the open air for 12 hours on a land-filled clay quarry…

Ticket? Check; Packed lunch? Check; Money? Check; Umbrella…?

And therein, lay our downfall.

Surely the rain will stop at some point? we naively assumed; but it didn’t.

As the segments of minutes turned into hours, the oppressive water-torture from above continued, with only the briefest of respite moments to humour our optimism. Add into the mix(er), 60,000 pairs of feet turning the claggy soil in unison to create a gigantic industrial-strength ploughing machine, we were rapidly losing inches underfoot before the first band played a note. Looking down at my feet, the mud had quickly crept up to shin-height but my new Docs were holding back the moisture, not yet weathered enough to allow penetration by water. The extra 2 inches on the 10-hole version had really paid off preventing the mud violating the last frontier of dryness on my increasingly saturated state. No one else was faring any better and I guess we had collectively resigned ourselves to being soaked to the skin for the duration.

My biker jacket gave me its best shot at protecting my upper body, eventually surrendering my T-Shirt and pale skin to the wet invader. But despite my discomfort, the phenomena of being in close proximity to thousands of other bodies meant my body temperature stayed comfortably warm, enough to see the visible wisps of steam evaporating from my nearest neighbours.

Flying bottles

Page from the souvenir program featuring Talk Talk. Imagine the number of people who must have opened this page and scowled…

The main event wasn’t due on until around 7pm so I knew we’d be standing through three other support acts, none of which I had any real enthusiasm to see. Having purchased the ubiquitous souvenir program, I already knew what we had to look forward to – Talk Talk, John Martyn and The Blues Band – none of whom I had the slightest desire to see. Reading the bio about Talk Talk, complete with a profile pic in full New Romantic glory, only served to reinforce my disgust at having to suffer watching a group who’d been put out as support on a recent Duran Duran tour. What they were doing opening at a Genesis gig was surely somebody’s idea of a punishment for the band?

The abuse started within seconds of Talk Talk walking on stage. Fashionable haircuts, white pants, lack of a six-stringed guitarist, keyboards and electric Simmons drum pads knocked home every nail in their coffin, and I couldn’t wait for the crowd to start burying them. My friend Paul turned to me smiling and said something along the lines of, “these guys are going to get destroyed!” and he wasn’t wrong.

Their overall sound was very electronic, closer to OMD than say, Depeche Mode or The Human League, but they certainly had a more human feel, thanks to what turned out to be the excellent rhythm section of (fretless) Bassist, Paul Webb and Dummer, Lee Harris. Although this redeeming feature was admirable, it wasn’t enough to curb the audience who wasted no time in pitching plastic bottles of what was probably the expelled contents of 2 hours worth of full bladders. Mark Hollis having to single-handedly front the band, managed to dance and weave his lithe frame away from the incoming missiles with some skill. “Missed!” he taunted back to the batteries of muddy artillery.

By the third song in, my initial hostile prejudgements about the band were rapidly waning as I began to fixate on the impressive drumming of Lee Harris. For a weedy pop group, the drummer was driving the band hard on his mix of acoustic and electronic drums, leaving me in no doubt he deserved to be where he was. In fact, not only was the drumming inspiring me, but I found myself warming to the songs as well – not that I would have openly admitted to it at the time! But the crowd were not in the mood for giving quarter and at one point, either speaking truthfully or sarcastically, Hollis introduced one of the songs as a Pink Floyd number.

The only reproduction of their set-list for the gig suggests a reduced performance and all songs played being from their debut album, ‘The Party’s Over’, so maybe he was talking with tongue firmly in cheek.

After they had left the stage begrudgingly convinced myself I’d actually witnessed a really good band who didn’t deserve to be bottled off by the Prog-Rock army assembled in the mud-bath. Perhaps if the weather had been a bit more forgiving, the audience may have followed suit. The loose irony of the situation will always reflect in an historical analysis of the musical progression of both Talk Talk and Genesis. As the 80s rolled on, the former moved further away from their initial ‘Pop’ debut and further into deeper, more meaningful songwriting, a lot of which could be comfortably described as ‘progressive’. In comparison, Genesis seemed to move further into the territory inhabited by Phil Collins’ solo career, at times, making it difficult to differentiate between the two. Maybe there was a subliminal consensus for Genesis to inhabit the same commercial territory as their singer, who had earned himself incredible success within the super-consumer-friendly 80s pop-ballad genre. Whatever the reasoning, between both bands, it was Talk Talk who irrefutably carried the baton from Genesis to go forth and create music beyond people’s expectations.

Certainly, on that miserable afternoon in Buckinghamshire, nobody would have expected what was to come in the future for the Talk Talk back-catalogue.

I am a blue-skin!

After the ritual humiliation of Talk Talk, the next supporting artist to face the audience (I’m fairly confident this was the running order) was the late John Martyn, whom I had never heard of. For a 16-year-old Rock fan into Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne and their like, this was going to be a stretch too far for my attention span. Martyn took to the stage with his band, sat down with his guitar and proceeded bore me for however long his set was.

Who the hell is this boring bastard? I thought, wishing I was somewhere else out of the rain and earshot of what I considered to be music to fall asleep to.

Much to my confusion, instead of getting the ‘Talk Talk’ treatment, the crowd seemed to be warming to what I had deemed to be Martyn’s somnambulist ramblings. What? These old hippies like this sort of shit? I could not comprehend what possible pleasure they could be getting from the beardy, growling, bore on the stage.

Had I been a truly gifted teenage musician (like Jeff Porcaro was), then I would have realised that during my moment of extreme disinterest, I was actually (not) enjoying the privilege of witnessing one of the most critically acclaimed songwriters of our time. I was too stupid to realise that John Martyn was on the show because Phil Collins loved his songwriting, was a huge fan, and had recently played drums on Martyn’s recordings. If I could time-travel, I would go back to watch Martyn’s performance and savour every second of the education. More than two decades would have to pass before I realised exactly the level of brilliance I had foolishly chosen to shut out.

The final support act were the Paul Jones (ex-Manfred Mann) fronted Blues Band, serving up their very British-styled interpretation of R&B music. As I had at least heard of the band and not possessing the first clue about how authentic R&B should sound, I decided in my wisdom these were way better than John Martyn and deserved their place on the days program.

Having now spent a great deal of time since the 1990s studying the history of the drum-set and its birth within African-American music, I realise what I saw The Blues Band do during that afternoon was a snap-shot of what young white Europeans were naively interpreting as ‘Blues’ in the late  1960s. Though easy for me to scoff at now, they served a purpose to perk up a sodden crowd, desperate for the main event to begin. Watching Jones whip up the crowd to collectively chant “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more”, I could never have guessed he would be playing my band on his radio show 30 years later, for which I will always be grateful.

The back cover really shows the worst damage from standing in the rain for nearly 12 hours.

Genesis came on at 7pm for what was apparently a dodgy performance (as they expected in advance so deliberately didn’t film it), but I don’t remember hearing anything obviously under-par during the 2 hours they played. As is normally the case, when musicians of a high calibre have a ‘bad’ gig, it’s normally better played than most average player’s ‘great’ gigs. Trailing through the mud back to the car, I knew I’d witnessed something special in the reunion, but I also couldn’t get that pesky Pop group out of my head. How could a band who looked like that have such an impact on me?

At 16, I had little idea of the importance of strong songwriting, my only passionate ambition being to play for a band who sounded like Iron Maiden. But something about the short set Talk Talk played had picked up on my musical radar and despite my basic instinct to shun such awareness, I had no inkling of the powerful musical diversions coming the following year.

Having managed to dry out somewhat on the journey home, a strange sight unfolded as I peeled the gross clothing from my body in the early hours of Sunday morning; I had blue skin.

Being new, the black dye in my leather jacket had seeped out through my now grey T-Shirt and settled on my arms, back and upper chest to leave its blue pigment embedded in my skin. My Jeans had done the same thing to my legs, but I would sleep until the daylight hours before bathing myself back to pink. According to recorded data, 16mm of rain fell over the Home Counties during that Saturday, but anyone sinking in the Milton Keynes Bowl on the day will swear the figure was underestimated!

Pupa (Chrysalis)

As written elsewhere on this BLOG, 1983 was a year of life-changing musical awakenings, mostly marked by my metamorphosis from die-hard Rock music fan, to U2 fanatic. For a part of that journey I was accompanied by Talk Talk’s debut album, unable to rid myself of the memories of their poorly received performance the previous year. Mainstream radio was still regularly playing their 1982 hit singles and for whatever reason, sometime during early summer ’83 I took a leap into the unknown and bought ‘The Party’s Over’. I guess my motivation was to find out how they performed on record and to dig deeper into Lee Harris’s drumming, the memory of which was still fascinating me.

The sight of this album sleeve by my record player caused a few worried looks from my friends in 1983.

My acquisition did not impress my friends who were still firmly loyal to their Rock music roots, whilst I was drifting, changing, metamorphosing myself into short periods of different identities. But with my hair cut and my desire to leave the old ‘me’ behind as a schoolboy memory, a Talk Talk album was another blatant statement telling my peers I was moving, I was changing, I was growing, I wasn’t afraid to embrace the unthinkable in pursuit of my personal development. 1983 was a bit of a fallow year for Talk Talk with only 2 singles released and neither breaking into the top 40, so I clung onto ‘The Party’s Over’ as another one-man life-raft to float me to into unknown waters. Lifting some of the drive and energy I heard coming from Lee Harris, I would try to play July’s gigs assimilating his style on my purely acoustic setup. By the end of the year I would be drumming firmly in Mark Brzezicki/Stewart Copeland mode, having morphed yet again; my search for identity was relentless.

Perhaps this restlessness is a universal trait shared by all musicians as they seek to perfect and find their true selves? For Mark Hollis, this can possibly be seen post-1984 after Talk Talk delivered their final Electro-pop offering to EMI, ‘It’s My Life’. 1986’s ‘The Colour Of Spring’ was a monumental pivotal moment, stating boldly a change in direction and speaking truthfully, a change I was far too underdeveloped to appreciate. I bought the album (on cassette) and found it hard work, being far too experimental for my liking. After this, Talk Talk fell off my radar screen in a similar way I had chosen to dismiss John Martyn at Milton Keynes; such a shame…

It’s never too late

Some time during the first decade of the 21st century I did an internet search to see what had become of Talk Talk. All reports told of Hollis’s final ‘experimental’ solo album and then a swift jump into total obscurity, having completely retired from the music business – not that there was much of a ‘business’ left worth sticking around for at that point. When I heard of his passing it was another shocking reminder of one’s own mortality and the legacy we leave behind. It also inspired me to write these words and also, to revisit ‘The Colour Of Spring’, the album I dismissed 33 years ago.

I only wish I hadn’t left it so long.

'The Colour Of Spring' album cover.
Dismissed as a young man, rediscovered in maturity.

To think, the album took a year to complete, a testament to EMI’s belief they would get their money back on the recording advance. The band were writing with a maturity I was years away from appreciating which really is a shame, considering the subject matter of one of the songs, ‘April 5th’, in which Hollis evocatively describes the arrival of spring and the rebirth of nature. Even back in 1986, I had already established spring as my favourite season, so how I missed the genius wrapped within ‘April 5th’ is quite pitiful on my part.

I was fortunate to discover Talk Talk at their debut, but regret losing them on my way to what I thought were better things. I’m also a believer that true art is timeless and will always be found by its audience. It has taken the untimely death of Mark Hollis for me to look again at what I wasn’t ready to receive in younger days. Being that he’d chosen to leave his body of work as a rediscoverable time-capsule, I hope it would please him to know that it’s not the how or the when that matters, but the fact it continues to find its destiny.

Here she comes
Silent in her sound
Here she comes
Fresh upon the ground
Come gentle spring
Come at winter’s end
Gone is the pallor from a promise that’s nature’s gift
Waiting for the color of spring
Let me breathe
Let me breathe the color of spring
Here she comes
Laughter in her kiss
Here she comes
Shame upon her lips
Come wanton spring
Come for birth you live
Youth takes it’s bow before the summer the seasons bring
Waiting for the color of spring
Let me
Let me breathe
Let me breathe you
Let me breathe
Let me breathe you
Let me breathe

‘April 5th’ – Mark Hollis / Tim Friese-Greene

Roger Taylor’s Drums – and me!

How I got closer to the Queen drummer’s gear


The internet’s a funny old thing, a double-edged sword at the best of times. One minute you can be finding all sorts of information about stuff you didn’t know existed, the next arguing with somebody on the other side of the world you have never met. The latter is something I steer clear of these days, aided by my shunning of all things Social Media, but the former can produce the most unexpected and fulfilling experiences and truly enrich your life in the on-line world.

It was sometime in 2015 when I received an email via the contact page on this site, from an Italian calling himself Dario ‘Blues’ Di Nario. It turned out he had stumbled across my page on Roger Taylor where I describe his influence on me during my early teenage years. Dario was keen to communicate with me about all things Taylor because he had a very special project he needed to complete, one of a most highly classified nature. It turned out, he was in the middle of producing a book (the first and only book of its kind) detailing every drum set ever used by Taylor, from the pre-Queen days right up to the present day. With so little information in the public domain about Taylor’s gear, I knew this was going to be a tall order, but I was more than happy to assist in whatever way I could. It just so happened, the timing of Dario’s contact coincided with me commencing night school to learn Italian, so this was definitely a good omen in the alignment of the stars.

The first hurdle for Dario was putting his trust in me so I could see the current status of the project. Seeing as this book would be the first ever written on the subject and with so much information already collected, he had to be very careful about who he shared it with in case I, or anyone else turned out to be plagiarists with designs on making their own book! I had no such intentions and eventually he shared with me what he had achieved, so far. What he sent to me, even in its rough format, I could never have envisaged, not in my wildest dreams…

First of all, the level of detail afforded to the descriptions of the drum set components was nothing short of microscopic. To gather this sort of information with so little of it freely available to draw from, must have been a monumental task and one I certainly would not have had the patience to undertake. As well as being a work of forensic research, this was a dedicated labour of love or as they say in Italy, “un lavorare d’amore”. Secondly, the research Dario had completed on the textual and photographic sides of the story was equally as painstaking in detail. It took me very little time to realise I was dealing with a perfectionist.

Although Dario had asked me not to show or share the book with anyone, I knew I could show it to my boss (Andy Dwyer) who had shared many other secrets with me from the high profile drum world and could be trusted implicitly not to let the cat from out of the bag (I’m sure there is an Italian idiom for that phrase!) Andy was as jaw-dropped as me at the level of detail involved and fully understood the absolute need to keep it confidential.

So where did I fit into all this? My knowledge of Taylor was based upon a brief period as a teenager when I received my first drum kit. Dario had already cultivated positive contacts within the worldwide Queen fan club network as well as Brian May, Roger’s long-time Drum tech, Chris ‘Crystal’ Taylor and eventually, the man himself; so what could I possibly bring to the table?

Although Dario speaks good English and can write enough to communicate extremely well with English speaking people, it would be a tall order for him to write the book’s text to the standard required for general publication. So having graciously put his trust in me not to publicise the project, he asked me to become his Latinesque-English-to-proper-English editor.

Learn a foreign language and improve your English!

Having become involved with this project during my first year learning Italian, it was interesting to discover the differences in the way sentences are constructed between the two languages. Anyone familiar with the Star Wars films will know how the character (Master) Yoda speaks, in jumbled sentences that somehow make sense once the brain has rearranged them. Well, this is a near identical scenario when thinking in English to construct sentences in Italian, which means the translation from Italian to English by an Italian, can often read as ‘Yoda speak’! So much of my work was putting Dario’s words into something more familiar for an English speaking audience. However, I felt strongly about keeping his interpretation as close to the passion he has about his subject matter, so it was important not to over Anglicise his words.

Due to my low-achieving Secondary Modern school education of the late 1970s, English grammar was never taught to students of my level in any great depth. The massive eye opener for me during this experience – whilst continuing to study Italian throughout the project – has been how much I have learned about the grammar in my own language. If you want to learn about English grammar, then learn a foreign language!

The finishing line (‘finire’: to finish)

Working sporadically with Dario via email for many months, involving a seemingly never-ending stream of new information, edits, photographs and copyright headaches, Dario finally got his work to print during the final quarter of 2017.

With a limited run of 1000 copies and all profits being donated to his chosen charities, Dario produced a book with the level of detail in the subject matter I have never seen in any similar publication of its type over the last 30+ years. If a book like this had been available in the 1980s, it would have been like gold dust to a fledgling drummer such as myself. Having idolised Roger Taylor at a pivotal point in my early development, this book would have provided answers to the mystique surrounding the equipment of a personal drumming idol, and the pinnacle of what I dreamed of becoming.

Unveiling, the Italian way (‘svelare’: to unveil)

Having already proved his exceptional determination, ability to jump research hurdles, attention to detail, passion for his work and an unbreakable tenacity, Dario was no less impressive when organising the launch of his book. Somehow, he had managed to secure the ‘Roger Taylor Zildjian Studio’ at the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM) in Guildford, for 24 January 2018. He was hoping Roger would turn up for the launch, but this was always going to be an extremely long shot. However, he did manage to get Taylor’s tech (Crystal) to attend (and speak) which was a nice gesture of support.

I was also invited speak about my involvement with the book, so I used my early morning train journey from Liverpool to London to write some guiding notes for when the spotlight was on me.

Having manoeuvred myself between the intense volume of humans at Euston and Waterloo stations, it was an almost surreal experience travelling on the near-deserted train to Guildford on a damp afternoon in January. However, my input into Dario’s project had been real enough, securing me the necessary worthiness to be in Surrey for the purposes of public speaking.

Meeting Dario and his wife for the first time was typical of my experiences with most Italians – one of warmth, passion and exuberance. Although we were meeting as strangers, I felt immediately comfortable in their presence, even daring to try out my raw Italian skills. Dario’s speed with conversational English was something I could only dream of with my Italian, as I listened to him easily multitasking between the two tongues. After ‘breaking the ice’, we quickly got to work with the preparations for the presentation, which involved Dario commanding the ‘Director’s chair’ with the same fiery, Italian passion that had propelled him throughout the project.

The cosy ‘Roger Taylor Zildjian Studio’ was decorated with some Taylor paraphernalia and there was a small stage at the bottom end with a PA. As I helped Dario and his wife unpack the books, I noticed three professional looking name cards set out on a table on the stage, printed with the names of Dario, Chris ‘Crystal’ Taylor and myself.

An ominous feeling of stage fright consumed me as I worried about exactly whom I would be speaking my train-scribbled words to…

When people began to arrive, I noticed many were Italians, had they really travelled all this way for a book launch? I wondered. The seating began to fill up and we waited for Crystal Taylor to arrive, being fashionably ‘Rock’n’Roll’ late. Somebody had set up a video camera and my nerve meter went up a notch at the thought of being captured speaking to an audience, rather than my usual stage persona of talking loud on a drum kit and saying nil-by-mouth.

Presentation speeches at the book launch, “unaccustomed as I am to public speaking” etc…

Dario kicked off the proceedings (in excellent spoken English) before handing over to me, finally passing the microphone to Crystal to recount some of the more ‘family friendly’ Queen-on-the-road stories. And with that, it was all over, bar some book selling and signing by the author. As I had two-and-a-half hours to kill before my train back to Waterloo at 19:30, I realised there was a fantastic opportunity to spend some time with my Italian brethren.

Doing it like the Italians do (‘fare’: to do)

Whether by design or otherwise, there happens to be a Wetherspoons immediately next door to the ACM in Guildford, a spacious two-floor affair with a pleasant atmosphere. Due to spending a great deal of my life in bars and pubs behind a drum-set, I have very little experience of the Wetherspoons chain as they don’t seem to have live music as a rule. Apart from the large number of Italians with Dario, it was only myself, Crystal and the drum-tutor from the ACM representing the English – and even then it was vague, as both myself and Crystal have an Italian parent and the drum-tutor was a Scotsman!

The Italians beckoned me over to their table, giving me a chair and clearly welcoming me as a stranger to what was their party (or ‘festa’ as they say in Italy). Despite my paternal heritage, I have only been to Italy twice as a tourist to witness Italians socialising after dark. To sit with Italians in a social situation is entirely different to watching and wondering from afar. They do things a lot differently to my home country, I can confirm, and very much to my liking.

There are many beers available in the UK which are not readily available in Italy, and this was something the Italian men wished to experience. However, the attitude towards the alcohol was refreshingly restrained, preferring to enjoy the flavour of their beverages, rather than use them as a means to becoming shit-faced-drunk.

Another noticeable cultural difference was their propensity to order food (lots of it) and have it on the table to share. In Italy, this is known as ‘stuzzichini’ (which literally translates as ‘to pick at’) and the more familiar Spanish equivalent we know as, ‘Tapas’. The Mediterranean culture seems to have a rule that alcohol should never be taken without eating, so wine and food are enjoyed with the warm nights, vibrant conversation and laughter. A far cry from the average ‘Brits on the piss!’ night out, which usually ends with some/all of vomit, violence, regrettable sexual encounters, memory loss and hangovers.

Maybe I’m being a bit too harsh on my own country’s drinking habits, but we do seem to have cultivated an unfortunate reputation for drinking to excess, compared to other countries. Or maybe it’s the years of personal exposure doing gigs in the UK’s pub/club venues which has cultivated my negative viewpoint. Either way, I believe we have a lot of work to do as a nation to change our reputation in the world as binge-drinkers.

It ain’t big and it ain’t clever.

There is no pressure to drink in the Italian social experience, there is no competition to find out who can drink the most and stay standing and there doesn’t seem to be a focus on alcohol as the single motivator for ‘having a good time’. I noticed the same cultural altitude during a recent visit to Spain, where I spent a week living in a location with very few British tourists.

I can’t deny that I probably wanted to see these other cultures as having a more mature attitude towards alcohol than the country I was born in, and I dare say alcohol abuse exists in other European/Mediterranean locations. However, I stand firm with my experiences in Italy and Spain, which have offered me evidence enough to convince me that the excessive consumption of alcohol is not a priority within social occasions in the same way it is in the UK.

The brief couple of hours with my Italian Fratelli passed all too quickly and I found myself embracing my new friends with hugs, before taking myself off to the cold platform at Guildford station. As I clutched the still-warm cheese & tomato Panini Dario had bought me (I hadn’t been able to share  the meat-based snacks they had ordered) it occurred to me even in a foreign country, the Italians had extended their hospitality so I didn’t feel left out.

Sitting on the train back to Liverpool, I reflected on what had been quite a bizarre day during which I found myself being rapidly blown through a whirlwind of activity, driven by the intense passion generated by an Italian’s dedication to his drumming icon.

Unlike Dario, I have never had the luck to meet Roger Taylor and it is an event I still dream of happening. To be part of this project has certainly been a door-opener in terms of my own personal development, confirming what I suspected the Italian social experience would be and reminding me there are still wonderful connections to be made via the internet, despite the sea of toxicity and division dominating the platform today.

I am pleased to have played a small part in Dario’s book, ‘The Drums of Roger Meadows Taylor’ and urge Queen/Taylor fans to buy it, not only because nothing else like it exists, but also because profits from sales go to charities close to Dario’s very generous heart.

Wham! 'Bad-Boys' single cover

I was never a WHAM! fan, but…

George Michael was truly, a gifted artist

I can categorically state, I was never a WHAM! fan; it really is that simple. But, respect should be given where respect is due, especially after an unprecedented year of deaths from within the creative arts fraternity.

George Michael was a naturally gifted songwriter of my generation and although not within my normal listening range, an artist who stood out from many of his peers, managing to escape the pop star bubble to forge a career outside of the genre and more importantly, gain the respect of the living legends he respected. More than any other death this extraordinary year, his sudden passing has strangely moved me, especially as I write more as observer than fan. Maybe his death is a harsh reminder of the mortality of my generation who dreamed our youthful optimism of the 1980s would live forever.

Elsewhere in this BLOG, I speak of a sometimes difficult period in my life as a teenager, Continue reading “I was never a WHAM! fan, but…”