Music, My Part In His Downfall - My Drumming Over The Years

My Musical Heritage

To say I have been in quite a few bands, is a bit of an understatement; but then I am very old now. It's a shame I don't have many photos of these, but on the other hand... 
If not great music, then great names were a common theme. Strewth, there's a lot of Definite Articles there! Bet you can't guess the musical style of each band a? I hope I have got my chronology right; if anyone knows otherwise, please let me know. 

I fell into drumming at Ruckholt Junior High School. Please don't look for the school, because sometime after I left, it was knocked down and a car showroom put in it's  place. At about 12-13, I was invited to join the school band and I said thanks, but I can't play anything. Ah ha laddy, the drums are for you then, came the swift reply. And that was it, I was hooked. The citations below are definitely not exhaustive.

The School Years

Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscope was my first taste of crowd adulation. I was 16 and we played Assembly (that's not the Assembly Rooms), at the girls school down the road. I kid you not, the headmistress had a job calming the girls down after. Perhaps they should have recited The Lord's Prayer before we came on with our heady mix of Beatle's and err more Beatle's covers. OK, I was not the aboslute centre of attention, but Brian Gold, yet another Jewish singing icon (where are you now), with his great main of hair certainly was! I would have had a better profile if it wasn't for my coffee tins with cardbord, sellotaped over the top as drum heads. But I did have a real white Olympic snare drum, honest.

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark

There was a brief flirtation with the Classical world whilst still in my teens. I was somehow co-opted into joining a multi-school classical concert at Walthamstow High School for Girls. Due to my lack of reading ability I was steered primarily to just do snare drum rolls (bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz) in appropriate places. I don't remember much about rehearsals, but I'll never forget the one and only performance. We were coming to the end of a piece and indeed everyone had actually come to the end of the piece. Trouble was, G-d knows why I wasn't watching the conductor and was still rolling away when all else had stopped! The look of horror and death-threat eyes from the conductor (the head of music for the borough, Mr Rouse), is something I'll have to live with forever. Since my foray into orchestral drumming did not have the most auspicious start, I left it at that.

Waltham Forest Co Op Silver Band 

Well something I recall here is that the leader was very kind and dedicated, and must have been desperate for a drummer. I hardly read music although of course everyone else in the band did. He would have one to one practice sessions with me to memorise the parts. The average age of the band seemed at my tender age to be about four times my own, with some limited exceptions. The big gig was playing at Lloyds Park Pavilion, (Yards from the William Morris Gallery (attempt to make it sound highbrow), in Walthamstow, East London. Suitably inspired, we played a belter of a concert.

The University Years

The Limit

Vocals - Ian
Guitar - Phil Michell
Bass - unknown

Kind of a Mod band, but I have never had Mod pretensions myself, lots of others, yes. Poppadoms said the studio owner, as we were setting up for a rehearsal, no they're actually Zildjians man, said Phil! Pretty impoverished down there you know. 

Serrated Edge

This was the time that I metamorphosed into Matt Black, my alter ego. Black still adorns my drum cases to this day. Some people thinks it's the make. We dreamed of the day, we could have a full line-up, which I'm not sure we ever had. You might not believe it but some of those lyrics on this site were deployed here. Chart success, well not quite, but then we weren't pitching for it. 

Post-University Years

Grady's Joy

Vocals, Bass and Songwriter - Graham Bitten, Violin, Viola and backing Vocals - Pip

Running in the mid 80s I think, this skeletal band made some beautiful music. The band had a thin sound due to the specific instrumentation. I believe that Grady's Joy made some genuinely haunting music, which if it had had some more resources behind it could have really become something special. 

We were booked to support a showing of the film, The Shining at The Ritzy in Brixton, South London. My old mucca Tom Felix drove the hired minibus of adoring fans (read family), to the venue. On setting up, the crew with the hired mixing desk gently pointed out that the deck was popular. So popular in fact that it had been used the night before at a party. Some berk had poured a pint of beer down it and you know what...liquids and electrics don't mate very well; and so the deck was to use a technical term, buggered. We tried to perform an acoustic set that night which was not easy, particularly given our instrumentation. Pippa had a bit of a challenge competing with my drum set for example. So we certainly did not play a full set. I can clearly remember being so furious, livid in fact that we'd been abused in this way.

A source of pride was Graham telling me that he had passed our tape to a few people and the mighty, Jah Wobble (I think) said that I: "sounded like a spider going berserk in a Ludwig (drum) factory." Some things just don't change. 

Many years later I learnt that Graham had become a monk and that this music seemed far behind him.

Grady's Joy at the The Ritzy, Brixton, London

                                

Shark Taboo

Vocals - Gill, Guitar - Steve, Keyboards - Tony, Bass - Adam


My tenure here was 1983 -84. Sioux Su, Toyah Wilcox...they were not in this band, but someone had delusions of grandeur that they might be the next best thing. In fact Tony and Gill were long-term partners, which made for an interesting dynamic in the band; there was no doubt who wore the trousers. Gill was nothing if not tenacious. The band toured quite heavily and was literally prepared to travel anywhere to get a single gig; 300 miles - no problem. So long journeys in the back of a dodgy Ford Transit van were a common feature. One van was so dodgy that on the run to Scarborough, the battery (ingeniously stowed under the front seats), leaked considerable acid fumes into the van over a long period. We were not in the best state on arriving at the gig, but being the troopers we were, the band must play on, and so strung out on acid, we did.

A semi-highlight was supporting The Bloomsbury Set, who in turn I believe had supported Drone, Drone. But you might know them as Duran Duran. Recall being awfully chuffed that their drummer was complimentary after our gig.
 


Evolving into Modern Jazz

Then later as I slightly matured I was involved in more and more Jazz outfits - these tend not to have imagined names, but real ones using the leader's name, a time honoured tradition. For example, The Hercules Grytpype-Thynne Four or the Fred Gumby Quintet; this had 4 members and constitutes a Jazz joke. But, but, but, Bill Bailey (how's that for alliteration folks), is the great exception to this of course in his pre-comedic career, with his “The Famous Five” band (it only had four members). In this genre, imagination is saved for the music itself rather than band names.


The Bop Team

Guitar - Jon, Saxophone - Mike Thompson, Bass - An American, But Memory Fails Me


Highlights and magic moments from 1984. This is definitely the: 'bathe in reflected glory', section. The band gave up all it's meagre earnings, to pull in stars such as Harry Beckett (far right and in the mirror) and Don Weller.



Harry was a very gentle and sensitive man. We did some five gigs with him, including Square One in Harlow. I had the pleasure of sometimes driving him to the gig and having a good chat. He even came round my parent's house once and I was struck how courteous he was to my parents. I was also very impressed by how humble and unassuming he was. 


He was very supportive of ignoble musical upstarts such as myself. On telling him that certain band members were telling me not to do such and such, play less etc, he said very firmly that no one has the right to tell you that! Do what you feel is right; good advice I think.

Harry Beckett

Biographical Outline


Born in Barbados in 1935, and resident in the UK since 1954. As fierce and fiery as any trumpet and flugelhorn stylist, yet also capable of a shimmering lyricism, Barbados' Harry Beckett has been part of Britian's jazz scene since the '50s. He moved to England in 1954, then joined Graham Collier's band in the early '60s, remaining with it until 1977. Beckett was featured in the film "All Night Long" with Charles Mingus in 1961. He also worked with Mike Westbrook's orchestra and Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath. Beckett played with the big bands of Neil Ardley, Mike Gibbs, and John Warren, and was part of the London Jazz Composer's Orchestra. He also was a member of small combos led by Tony Oxley, John Surman, and Ray Russell. Beckett played with the Stan Tracey Octet in the mid-'70s, and also worked with Elton Dean and Zila, a group led by Dudu Pukwana. 

In 1972 he won Britain's top trumpeter award. Harry was with the Jazz Warriors as a player, arranger and composer, and has led his own bands of all sizes, playing festivals throughout the world. Among many other bands he was with Chris McGregor, from the classic early Brotherhood of Breath through the later big band and numerous small groups in between. Several of his records, such as Flare Up and Joy Unlimited, have become classics.

Still an avid innovator, Harry recently said: "Through the years, I've been doing things on Jah Wobble's albums. And Adrian Sherwood had been in contact with Wobble for years. He heard what I had been doing and he asked me to work with him. So, it all really started there and then he asked me what I thought about this idea he had for an album."

Sourced from an article in Jazzwise magazine by Duncan Heining and Ron Wynn's All Music Guide entry for Harry Beckett.


Squarkbox

Tenor Saxophone - Big Mike and Godfrey, Guitar - Gus Henry, Bass - Colin Carrol

Started out with this band in 1984 and the indefatigable Squarkbox sound would motor on for many, many years. Saturday mornings meant a trip, way out west,  to loosely rehearse at Gus's house. Godfrey,who could play more than his delicate confidence level told him, would regularly say to me: "how do you know how long to play a section and when to change" and Big Mike would usually intervene (he did a lot of intervening, but then it was his band), saying: "he just feels it". This was true, unsurprisingly, I was not busy counting all the time. Whenever gigs were on, honours would go to Mike's partner for stalwart, unfailing support, over and above, beyond the pale etc handling jobs such as takiing the entrance monry. Squarkbox was as much a club as a band.

The Kebab Boys

Tenor Saxophone - Dave Eastham, Vibraphone - Chris Sandemas, Bass - Gordon O'Byrne, Electric Guitar – Pat



 Dave gently provided direction here, but I don't think would call himself a leader. To be honest, for many of these bands I was responsible for getting them together, but I'm not sure that I was a leader either. Gordon provided the Japanese connection here, being into everything Japanese. And so we performed at an unusually high number of Japanese social events, but it taught us good manners. Pat was an occasional addition to the line up and was a colleague of mine from The Institution of Electrical Engineers, but more importantly a very nice chap. As a classical player, he would work out up-front, improvisations and then play them to order - repeatedly!


The Congretgation

Vocals - Robert Scott, Organ - Toby Kinder, Guitar - Simon Humphries, Bass - Tom Hyndley, Percussion - Ernesto Leal

Back in 1991, The Congregation preached Jazz-Funk outfit. Here seen playing at The Royal Festival Hall Foyer. Never to be asked back, as apparently their previous gigs had a purer Jazz orientation but this one was funky. A funk to far for the management.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Little Eye

Trumpet / Composer - Loz Speyer, Saxophone - Felix Fry, Guitar - Paul Griffiths, Double Bass - Gib (Alex Keen)

The pinnacle for me was playing the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 1990. We averaged 3 gigs a day for a week which was quite demanding. Just for the festival, Oren Marshall on Tuba, joined us to handle the bass duties (as Gib could / would not make it). It took a serious player to fulfil the bass role, but Oren was / is a serious player!

Festival highlights include: 

The police storming the theatre we were gigging in?! OK sometimes we wern't the best, but that bad? The police seized the horns, as Loz and Felix had been playing the opening number in the street outside as a way of trying to drum up a crowd. Loz's anarchist friend, Ian managed to calm them down and after some time, to get them to return the horns by behaving like a very proper Edinburgh citizen. Since the night had been so relaxing, we went back to Ian's place and listened to punk records till 4am, at which point his wife stormed in very cross and shut us up!

Another balmy / barmy night in Edinburgh we were playing a pub gig. Loz, opened his eyes during a long trumpet solo to see Felix doing loose acrobatics hanging by his hands from a beam in the low roof swinging his legs... 

And master Oren, on the penultimate night of our weeks spree in Edinburgh, had to leave. We’d been doing 3 gigs a day for most of the week and he'd had it, couldn't take it any more, chops gone trying to be a walking bass on tuba! 

We also went into a studio (4.11.1990), to record a mix of covers and originals, give them a try.

Little Eye Music

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Current Activities Of The Former Little Eyes

     Loz Speyer
I'm really pleased to see that Loz, Oren and Alex have gone on to become successful professional performers with varying degrees of teaching thrown in of course. 

Loz's current band is Time Zone (as of Autumn 2009). Loz reckons his highlight to date was: "in 1993 when we did a Saturay night at Ronnie Scotts opposite Bob Berg, and before that we did a lot of gigs and put out a 12 inch EP."

Oren has been doing a stack of stuff and has also "musically made it". As for Gib / Alex Keen, he has played with many excellent musicians including Tim Whitehead, Theo Travis and the great George Shearing.


Pat's Houseboat band

This band involved me schlapping huge distances just to rehearse on Pat's houseboat. Somewhere in deepest Kent it was. What fun it was to literally walk a narrow gang plank balancing my drum kit, to then descend into the bowels of the boat. We did a few yet more pub gigs around Kent. Well a sort of highlight here, is that this band played behind Pat for her university music degree performance exam. She got a 2.1, so we must all get some credit for that. How you actually put university grades on this kind of thing I'll never really understand.