A Slave to the Rhythm – Part 3

The third in an occasional series from Rick about his life as a musician – where it all started and what it has come to now

No 3: Influences and idiosyncracies

Time check – 1976. Musically, my ears had been filled by a glorious and rewarding period of listening. Electric jazz had been stirring me most for three or four years and I was influenced by the various drummers that Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Weather Report employed. There were many others of course in other genres.  As players, they occupied a different planet to me but I followed the ethos (still do) that you make your own personal stamp and style. It’s all part of being your own man.

English drummer / singer Robert Wyatt had been an inspiration for some years. He made his own playing style by a mixture of following his own intuition and not being super-technical. I warmed to his individuality and his spirit, and his social circumstances were nearer to me than the super hero drummers through the ages and all the brilliant college graduates that followed in their wake.

Wyatt’s own drumming career was cut short by a major accident which caused him to become wheelchair bound but he reinvented himself as a singer who Elvis Costello described as ‘the most individual voice in English pop.’ Wyatt’s early playing provided a blueprint for drummer Chris Cutler to take a lot further, initially with the group Henry Cow and latterly with too many to mention. Cutler’s playing was a polar opposite to the jazz and groove players I’d taken to heart but I picked up some particular and idiosyncratic elements from him which I added to my playing – a kind of free flow stream of consciousness that wasn’t to do with holding down a line but snaking in, out and roundabout – playing like a moving target but with strong intent and purpose. When I first started playing with The Work, I needed this approach as the music, although tightly and densely written, was also restless and didn’t hang around anywhere for very long. I’ll return to that further on.

What then followed was a year of challenging old habits and trying to create credible idiosyncracies. This involved trying to make the knowingly naïve sit happily alongside sturdy rolling polyrhythms. It was a very experimental period and also when I was making records for the first time. Getting to be able to produce the goods when the red light was on was a new adventure. My co-conspirators at that time were The Family Fodder and People in Control who both aspired to make very off -centre pop music. It was during this period that I was inducted into roots reggae and the radical world of the dub mix. Once again, the way I saw it was not to mimic blindly but to incorporate facets of these styles into my playing and to know when to bring them to the fore. This involved a lot of listening and practical application. Also, at this time, I was listening to an increasing amount of non-western music which seemed to throw the doors wide open when it came to exploring rhythm and its endless possibilities. The concept of rhythm in Indian music is a deep and vast area of exploration – practically a science. I listened from a distance, unknowingly. I didn’t have a key that fitted that particular door but, not far ahead, I would find a locksmith who would create one for me.

Rick in action with The Work in Wurzburg, Germany in July 1981

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was next asked to be the drummer in a new group just forming. It would become The Work and would be a major step upwards. The Work was just that. A very intense initiation in total commitment to the cause. Eight hour rehearsal days learning complex music that required me to find new ways to play. The guiding force of the group was Tim Hodgkinson, a highly talented and driven musician I had admired previously from his time in Henry Cow. Tim played keyboards and reed instruments and was developing as a flat (slide) guitar player and singer. He also composed very demanding music. Our quartet made a fearful, uncompromising sound and no money but we toured Europe extensively and made records. I felt fully-fledged though somewhat marginalised  by our ‘super independent’ stance. I gained immeasurable experience from the two years I spent in this company but my ears were hearing more and more  music from far flung places and these sounds seemed to be voices calling me to up sticks and away.

After two years in this hothouse, I announced that I had intentions to travel. Despite the tempting prospect of a tour of Japan, I made the decision to leave the band. It felt like a huge leap into the unknown with no turning back. It was, and it wasn’t………………………

Voices from Off Centre

Rick’s latest album, ‘Voices from Off-Centre’ has now been released on Third Force Records and is available for download from Bandcamp.  It’s also available in hard copy on CD.

Voices From Off-Centre casts a wide view of voice:- songs, intonations, the calls of traders and of birds, captured voices recontextualised, playground rhymes and electronic manipulations. Some run on rhythm, some more mysteriously. All instruments are played or persuaded by Rick but considerable contributions are also made by Roxane Smith, who sings on nine songs, by Niall Ross, soprano saxophone on two and by Viv Corringham, a voice presence on one.

There’s already been some really lovely feedback, with the album being described as “haunting”, “beautiful – fresh and clear” and even “symphonic” in places.

You can hear ‘Voices from Off-Centre’ by clicking the link to Rick’s Bandcamp site here, where you can also download the album or give it as a gift.

 

A Slave to the rhythm: Part 2

The second in an occasional series from Rick about his life as a musician – where it all started and what it has come to now

No 2 –  Allusions, elusions and illusions

 

Not having any transport, I had little opportunity to get around and play with other people. For a while I couldn’t see any way forward without making some critical decisions.

 

After an unhappy term of study at North London Polytechnic, I dropped out and began a series of manual jobs – record packing, verge cutting, stockroom and warehouse portering and so on. The aim was to find a house or flat with like-minded souls where we could play music. This took five months, after which time we were installed in what we all saw as the perfect spot. One major bedroom doubled as the band room / social gathering space and it was perfectly positioned on the third floor, with no neighbours on either side and one below, who lived at the back of her flat and didn’t hear very well.

 

From here, we had the luxury of being able to play every day and a number of bands were formed with interchangeable personnel whilst I began to learn my craft – though still very much unschooled. I could keep time in 5, 6 and 7 beats in a bar before I could properly syncopate a strong rhythm in 4 (common) time. Evening rehearsals often had an audience of friends who dropped by for various reasons….but I digress.

Four core residents quickly reduced to three, two of which, myself being one, were musical novices. The third, who had proper musical grounding, knowledge and ability stuck with us until circumstance, and opportunity drew us apart. The core band started out as Bygones and Trigons but somehow had become The Famous Tripods by the end. But, by that time, I had had two lessons from a respected player ! It doesn’t sound like much but they made a huge difference. They got me over some technical limitations and gave me a clearer analytical angle on my playing , and on drumming in general. This luxury of a home rehearsal space turned out to be a mixed blessing. It didn’t give us much impetus to get out and play gigs, although we were keen to ditch our day jobs, such as they were .

 

Bygones and Trigons, or The Famous Tripods:

Clifford ‘Bill’ Taylor, Mick Parker, Rick Wilson.  1973.

 

My first unified drum kit (model – Olympic) was cheap but very decent. What made it peculiar was that, for reasons of needing to restrict the volume, I covered the drum heads with towelling cloth, which deadens the sound to a tuneless thud. As time went on, I cut away more of the cloth but never the whole lot and so, consequently, I never learnt about the subtleties of tone and about bouncing a stick – both crucial elements to understanding and doing. However, I pushed on.

 

During this time I had taken a government clerical job working locally. Such jobs paid salaries and were career orientated, but I vowed when I started that I would have saved the necessary pounds to buy my drumkit of choice and to have left the job within eighteen months. A year and a half later, I had my Hayman drums and my Paiste cymbals and I was out of the Home Office and into the Social Security Office – but as a claimant not a clerk. I had grown a small network of musicians and was getting out to play. The flat in Croydon had run its course. I had moved elsewhere and had started gigging semi-pro, supporting myself sometimes with pick -up work, plentiful then, and at others courtesy of the State. The towelling was off the drums for good !

A slave to the rhythm

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 !

 

Early band mates:

Neven Sidor, Rick Wilson, Jim Collins.   1970.

Locked down but not held back

Like so many others in the world right now, our live activities are on hold because of lockdown restrictions. We clearly have no idea when this situation is likely to change. However, we have not been idle in this time.

telling a fisherman’s tale

Just before we knew that lockdown was imminent, we took part in a joyful event organised by Extinction Rebellion in Oswestry.  With an inspiring display of the group’s recent activities, lots of things for kids to do and a hall buzzing with repair of tools and equipment, the day was a great reminder of how looking after our planet can bring people together to have a good time too.  We told two stories about how people are bound into their local environment, and how if we look after the natural world we reap the benefits in unexpected ways.

 

 

When we realised that the summer’s live performances could not go ahead we took our first steps into online broadcasts. On May 12th both Helen and Rick were interviewed via Amy Douglas’ webinar hook-up as part of ‘Taking the tradition on’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VupjQStU4mw

Two days later we went live in ‘performance’ as part of Amy’s monthly ‘Get a Word in Edgeways ‘ webinar.

Helen has also done a podcast interview: http://traffic.libsyn.com/takingthet…/Helen_East_Podcast.mp3.

               At home in Llansilin we are appreciating the loveliness of the early summer. Helen continues to write and Rick continues to compose and record, awaiting the green light to be able to put the finishing touches to his forthcoming album ‘Voices From Off Centre’.

The old harper and the sea beast

The old harper and the sea beast is a story created for “Of sea and shore and the worlds in between”, first performed at the Roundhouse in the Felin Uchaf Centre at Rhoshirwaun, Pwlheli. Click here to hear how it unfolds.

Stick story maps

Stick story maps are a tool that Helen uses with groups creating stories in a particular landscape. Participants are given a stick and some string and encouraged to find objects that illustrate aspects of their story and tie them on as prompts when re-telling their story. The sticks illustrated were created from work in and around the Oriel Gallery in Newtown, Powys whilst working with artist Bec Knight.

Slate marimbas

Rick collects roof slates and uses them to make pentatonic (5 note) marimbas, struck with soft mallets. Each slate must pass the test of having a strong tone when struck. He often incorporates the playing and painting of these in creative schools’ work, then leaving them situated somewhere like the school garden, so they are accessible and playable. These examples are from a project with the primary school at Chirk.

Frances Fisher RIP

“Your book was so real, I thought I was in it.”
(Alice, age 9, re ‘Frances Fisher RIP’)

Frances Fisher, RIP was a the outcome of a project undertaken in 1993-4 as a Sunderland Childrens Live Literature Residency.  The project was initiated and co-ordinated by Sunderland Leisure Libraries and Arts and involved a programme of work with Year 5 and 6 children from four schools. Through the sessions the children developed the storyline and characters, and worked on illustrations with the help of Jonathan Korejko.  The project culminated in the publication of ‘Frances Fisher RIP’, a novel co-written and illustrated by the children, and won the 1995-6 Libraries Initiative Award.

After Offa: living life along the border

After Offa is an oral heritage project about community, story and landscape, between Chirk Castle, Bronygarth and Sycharth, Llansilin.

The project, set up by Bronygarth Social Committee and directed by Helen,  ran from 2010 to 2012. It was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Shropshire County Council.  Workshops with schools and local groups, community events and interviews with local people generated a wealth of stories, songs and photographs. Working with Sarah Anderson and Simon Greaves, Helen edited and published this material in the “After Offa” book and map and a CD entitled “Border Talk”, and brought it to life in a series of storywalks.

                                 

“We can tell from the Iron Age hill forts, menhirs and cairns in this area that it has been occupied for thousands of years…It has been fought over, hunted on, carved out, farmed, quarried, built upon and walked over by generation after generation.

“…the everyday experience of people who have lived and worked close to the land, taking part in activities that have helped to shape it, and the deep knowledge of the local landscape that arises out of this, usually only survive through oral tradition. Where this thread is broken, that history is lost.

“The After Offa project has been more than lucky in the huge number of local people who have shared this oral heritage. Their generosity in passing on family and personal stories, songs and reminiscences, lets new generations, and newcomers too, see an inside view, and feel a sense of place.”

Click here to view the After Offa map.  For more photos from the project visit http://www.aqueducks.org/aowalks.html.  All material from the project is held in the archives of Shropshire County Council.

Tales of trees on Offa’s Dyke. Photo Ali Quarrell