And so, lacking skill, equipment and charisma I reluctantly had to accept that maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a lead guitarist. Other positions were available however. Quite clearly I was ill equipped to be the vocalist, I didn’t even sing when I played the guitar. Keyboards were difficult and boring so I set my sights on the instruments at the back of the stage. I reckoned that I could play bass, in fact I considered that almost anyone could play bass and over the years I’ve seen little that has convinced me otherwise. There were two big drawbacks to that career path however. Firstly my mate Chris played bass, he was better than me and he knew more people, that meant that he would be first in line for any gigs that might come up. The other problem was that to play live the bass needed a speaker cab the size of our coal bunker. These were expensive and from personal experience I can vouch they are terrible things to cart about. I put the bass idea on hold.
The joke about a person who hangs around musicians is partly true of drummers. Invariably they seem interested in things outside music like karate or car maintenance, they often have jobs that necessitate them having vans which are handy for carrying a kit about and they are not always that musical. On the other hand I have a deep suspicion of anyone who doesn’t at least want a go on the drums. They are such fun and make a great noise. Unlike a cello or a French horn it requires little technique to get the right sort of sound out of it and this was a great attraction to me. There was little in the way of tuition but I reckoned I could learn the drums by listening to records and watching bands play on Top of the Pops. Now its probably impossible to learn bassoon by watching recordings of symphony orchestras but the drums are different, for a start there’s not that many of them, a small kit might only have 4 drums to get the hang of, how difficult could it be ?
I had plenty of time to think about it. Drums were not cheap, in fact nothing was cheap bearing in mind the guitarists had to have a guitar and an amp and the bass player had to be able to afford the huge speaker. I estimated I could get a kit for under £100 but as I was earning £1.50 a week cleaning an industrial unit on Saturday morning the money was going to be a long time coming.
Help was at hand. I managed to get some drumsticks and looked around for things to hit. The curtains in my bedroom were attached to metal runners and if I hit the curtain I had a pleasant ‘chick’ sound. This was my hi hat. By wrapping a pillow in a plastic coat I could get a snare sound. Still no bass drum but I could stamp my foot to master the basics of keeping a beat. Eventually I used this to record a couple of numbers with the faithful Phil playing by acoustic with a pick up and played through the record player again.
I realise it sounds as if I was living in some sort of Aladdin’s cave of technology and in a way I was. In 1965-66 my dad got a job working for the army in Aden maintaining their buildings. This was a turning point in the family fortunes as we were compensated for living in a barren war zone by various perks. One of these were discounted, tax free consumer goods on route from the far East. We returned looking like we had won the competition on The Gadget Show and one spin off from this is that I had a reel to reel tape recorder in my room.
Anyway the recording studio was quite productive, Phil has mastered a couple of blues riffs and in order to turn them into a song I dug into the lyrics in my Stefan Grossman book. One of the songs that caught my eye was ‘All Round Man’ by Bo Carter. Carter specialised in rather obscene lyrics although I didn’t really realise this until I put them to one of Phils riffs.
Again I had to sing as no one else would but we felt quite pleased with the results and this convinced me I could play the drums. Unfortunately the drums had to wait. Every few weeks the local paper would list a kit for sale but it would always be out of my price range.
But every week I would add a small amount to my money stash and my parents began to make noises about ‘Christmas money’. To be fair they never actually said I couldn’t have a drum kit but I assume they were hoping I would loose interest. We lived in a bungalow and not a big one at that. My room was about 10 feet by 10 feet and no room was more than a few yards from another. If you farted everyone in the house heard it so I would guess they were not exactly counting the days until the drums arrived.
At last there was an ad in the paper for a kit for £75, just getting to see it was an ordeal, we didn’t even have a phone so I had to call the guy up from a public call box and then get myself across town to see his kit. To say I was excited was an understatement, I had never played a drum kit before and made the most of the experience. The seller was a lank haired individual who was happy to loll on the settee smoking roll ups for a while but eventually he was moved to ask ‘do you want to buy it or just play it?’. I wanted to buy it.
I had no idea if the kit was worth it but to be honest drums are drums, they are a tube with a head on them, a great sounding kit is as much about the type of head and tuning as the construction but I didn’t know that. The top tom made a sound a bit like a margarine tub being hit but the rest sounded OK to me. The problem was the cymbals, it always is with cheap kits, and cheap cymbals will always sound like dustbin lids. This led Phil to observe at a later recording date that by curtain rail sounded better.
No matter I was having the drums. My Dad was summoned to drive them home and I counted out my well used notes for lank haired man. The kit, although it was small, took over most of my bedroom. Quite how the neighbours coped I don’t know. My bedroom backed onto next door’s kitchen and although I was good enough not to practice at mealtimes it must have been hell some days,
……and it was to get worse.
But by way of an endnote. Here is a clip of Rory Gallagher doing ‘All Round Man’ not that long after I recorded it with Phil. Gallagher was a real people’s hero in the 70’s and firm favourite with men of a certain age. He always had great drummers and their playing taught me a lot. Is the fact that he’s doing the same song with a rocked up not that long after I recorded it with Phil arrangement just a coincidence ?
I’ll let you decide