The first in an occasional series from Rick about his life as a musician – where it all started and what it has come to now.
No 1 – How did it all begin ?
Its hard to say exactly what started me off on this caper but, if pressed, I would have to say it was in the ‘just pre-Beatles’ phase of pop music. My elder brother and I shared a transistor radio with earphones and Radio Luxembourg was our go-to domain. Perhaps it was hearing ‘Let there be drums’ by Sandy Nelson or ‘Diamonds’ by Jet Harris and Tony Meahan or maybe even “Take Five’ by Dave Brubeck that caught my ear. All were single 45 discs, all heavily featured drums and all were top ten hits – a rare combination.
I had a friend in primary school who acquired a drum kit somehow. Unimaginable for me at the time, but I got to look and touch it. I can’t say I ever played them but they sparkled and looked good. As time went on, my interest on the airwaves of music expanded to include the pirate radio stations Caroline and London. This certainly opened further my musical horizons in stark contrast to the regimented, dull music periods of early secondary school. For most of us, this meant singing scales or wrestling with recorders. Bad performance was often responded to by physical punishment from the teacher. There did seem a huge gulf between the pleasure I was getting from listening to music on the radio and the idea of taking part myself. I had no positive pointers to help at this time as there was no history of music making in my family.
More time passed. More music was heard. By the time I reached the sixth form in secondary school, I had met some new friends who could play guitars and keyboards. I had no hankering to do that but the spirit of the age caught me and I saw that there were people out there adopting a more individual and self-schooled approach to playing. I was going to concerts and gigs by then and a different world became alive to me.
I can never remember exactly if I asked, or was asked, to try my hand as percussionist for a school play with two other ‘proper’ guitarist friends. By now I was magnetised by Ginger Baker and Mitch Mitchell – both great, expansive drummers who were given acres of room to improvise within their famous trios – Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience respectively.
That was the absolute opposite of where I was but it turned out well, as equipped with just a set of bongos, one cymbal on a converted music stand and a pair of sticks, I kept myself and my cohorts in time – result ! At that point, I must confess that I briefly took my lead from one Steve Peregrin-Took, who played a similar supporting role to Marc Bolan in the original Tyrannosaurus Rex. I kind of looked like him too at the time (or aspired to).
From this point, I started playing regularly with one of the above- mentioned guitarists and featured in a couple of school concerts. We both wrote lyrics too. I felt I was at first base now and that gave me the encouragement to want to develop. At home, with the aid of pocket money and an eye for a bargain, I began to buy second- hand bits and pieces that became my first drum kit. In private I began to play without recourse to learning the usual rudiments. I must have thought that I could run before walking but, more likely, thought wasn’t present in that consideration. I set myself my own agenda. With a newly adapted headphone socket, courtesy of a clever friend, I was able to use headphones with a Dansette record player and play along to records. I would select 3 stylistically different album sides (I was developing a small vinyl LP collection and borrowed from friends), which would make for an hour’s playing. The choice of playing time in the day could only be before my parents returned home from work – ie after school. The next door neighbour, retired and mostly housebound was not best pleased. He made his feelings known to my parents and I played more discreetly !