The origin of the species
WARNING! This biog is long; so I’m only expecting people who know me – or think they know me – to stay the course. Good luck…
It’s the ‘why’ you really need to get together. There are far too many players out there who get all the facilities together and still don’t know why they’re doing it, what their role in the music is.
By rights, I shouldn’t really be a drummer. You see, it all goes way back to about 1970 when I was a wee small chap with a subliminal ear tuned in onto the radio and whatever was crackling off the vinyl within my earshot. My mum was a huge Joni Mitchell fan and had a pretty cool record collection, typical of the era. Names like Elton John, Carole King, Hall & Oates would pop up on the record sleeves; this was indeed the excessive growth era for the singer/songwriter and I was exposed to the cream of developing artists. As for my Mum’s sister, she had a slightly different take on music, but there was one particular record she had that I honed in on that I couldn’t find at home – ‘Motown Chartbusters Volume 1’ (1967). The track that stood out for me was ‘I Was Made To Love Her’ by Stevie Wonder.
Now, it wasn’t the drums that got me hooked here, it was the Bass line. Unknowingly, I was gradually being rhythmically seduced by none other than genius Motown legend & Bass player, James Jamerson. (I refuse to engage in the Carol Kaye debate so please, don’t ask.) Over and over again, I would ask my aunt to play this record for me, unaware that Mr Jamerson’s low end was burying itself deeper into my juvenile subconscious.
Moving on a few years, by the time disco invasion hit the UK, I was further being corrupted by the outrageous and righteous, downright nasty funk grooves of the Chic organisation and their disciples. This was infectious stuff, the kind of Saturday night fever you never fully recover from. Once fixed in the system, there was no way any pasty-faced, white, European native music was going to cleanse my infected soul glands. That was until, I saw some monochrome footage of a certain quartet from a city not too far from me, featuring a grinning Mr Richard Starkey and a small set of drums with the tiny word ‘Ludwig’ on the Bass drum skin. My introduction to white Rock’n’Roll music and drums was sealed and things would never be the same again…Ironically, it would take many years for me to realise that The Beatles derived their early inspiration from Black American R&B music – the same music that gave birth to Motown, Soul, Funk, Disco and eventually, Rock as we know it today.
“Mum, can I have a drum kit?”
It’s pretty much a universal fact that parents and drum kits don’t go together. Having said that, the parents of one my friends broke that rule when they bought a used toy drum set for an older sibling, complete with a pair of Ringo Starr signature drum sticks (during a time that signature drum sticks for the consumer market hadn’t been invented). By about the age of 10, I found myself easily replicating the drum parts of early Beatles songs on the toy kit, without any advice or formal instruction. It was simply a case of watching the footage and copying what Ringo did with his arms and legs. I found it a very natural thing to do and it wasn’t long before I was pestering the life out of my Mum for a drum set of my own.
Back in the day, the Chinese musical instrument market didn’t exist and so called ‘starter’ kits were still big bucks. My ex-big band trumpet playing Grandfather must have seen the spark in me and took it upon himself to purchase for me, a used pair of KRUT Hi-Hat cymbals on a 1960’s Premier Olympic Hi-Hat stand, a pair or Premier ‘E’ model drum sticks and a drum instruction pamphlet: ‘Francis & Days Drum Tutor’ by Haydn Jackson. Despite my Grandfather’s patience, there was no way he was going to succeed in teaching his headstrong Grandson how to read music when The Jam were on kids TV belting out ‘All Around The World’. Naturally, my Mum thought this would be a passing phase, but humoured me in my interest by helping make drum set-ups out of sweet tins and pan lids. It even got to a point where one of her friends donated a battered toy Chad Valley drum set to me, having been the five minute wonder of another child. Armed with this and my trusty KRUT Hi-Hats, I was ready to take on the world.
In a house not too far away from me, another friend was having a similar parental experience with guitar. However, the guitar being a more ‘serious’ instrument was well within the scope of his parents aspirations, so he was rewarded with a nylon strung junior model on the condition he took lessons at school. Unbeknown to either of our benefactors, they had between them, unwittingly laid the foundations of our first band. This took shape in his attic where we cobbled together our resources, which included what was known as a ‘Hamster City’ – a series of joined-up circular pet rodent cages with plastic lids – which became surrogate drums – the Chad Valley ones having been destroyed. From what I remember, no living Hamsters were made homeless by our actions.