I was brought up in a family that often listened to music, and was introduced to Gilbert and Sullivan and other light classics at an early age. My mother didn’t play an instrument, but my father had taught himself to play the piano and although he couldn’t read music, he could pick something up by ear. I think he was limited as to what key he played in, but when I was a teenager we had a piano in the house and on occasions I would join him, playing brushes on my snare drum.
In 1966, at the age of eight, I went to Kenton College, a boarding school, and I started to learn the piano. Music lessons were an addition to the curriculum, and I am not sure whether I had said I wanted to have them or (more likely) my parents decided it was a ‘good thing’ for me to take up an instrument.
I didn’t enjoy the lessons and disliked my teacher, an Italian called Mr Trinchi. He had a very frightening habit of banging the piano and shouting “uno, dos, tres”, uno, dos, tres!” My eyes would well up at the stress he created, and the keys would look watery! No surprise that I never achieved more than grade one, and hardly every practiced. I think I must have learnt for at least three or four years as when I went to Brighton College at the age of 13 I was STILL having lessons. I gave up quickly at that point.
Whilst the music teacher at Kenton could make me tearful in a matter of seconds, the singing teacher was another matter. She was inspirational, I think because she maintained that anyone could sing, and it was good fun, (unlike learning the piano, which evidently only a few people knew how to master). She sung in a local choir in Nairobi and on one occasion was performing Handel’s Messiah complete with a full orchestra. I was in the choir and she took us to a rehearsal. I sat next to the percussion section and the Timpanist showed me his music score and exactly when he had to come in. I was hooked! I wanted to play the drums!
At Brighton College, aged fourteen, many of my friends wanted to play the guitar. Suddenly exposed to rock music, it seemed natural to want to be able to play the guitar riffs we loved. I borrowed my friend’s guitars and asked them to show me chords and eventually bought myself a reasonable acoustic guitar and taught myself to play it.
However, I figured that girls liked drummers too, they had as much fun as guitarists, and they were a bit more unique and oddball than the typical rock guitarist. Besides I had a natural rhythm and playing guitar often involved singing, which I was discovering, wasn’t really my gift.
I asked the Head of the Music Department at Brighton College if I could have drumming lessons, and they brought in a peripatetic teacher just for me as there weren’t any other boys who wanted to learn. He was an older man who was really a traditional jazz drummer. He quickly saw that I wanted to play ‘pop’ as he put it, and suggested that I contacted a local teacher in Brighton called Phil Solomon.
Visiting the school in 2016 over 40 years later, the college now has an impressive percussion department, which was recently opened by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. One of the boys learning drums got to play with him. How I wish I had been there. Still I kicked it all off in the first place.
Phil Solomon was wacky, fun, irreverent but dedicated. He was ten years older than me, so would have been about 25 years old at the time. I loved learning from him and on occasions (before he gave up drinking) we would finish our lessons at the Hare and Hounds at Preston Circus in Brighton.
As I had hoped, I got a girlfriend by being a drummer! By the time I was 16 and in the sixth form, the school had become coeducational. Diana Hardy was in the year below me and started having drumming lessons. I can’t say she was very good at it however.
When I went on my gap year in Kenya, I was able to crate up my drum kit and have it shipped to Nairobi though my fathers business which involved importing vehicle parts. It was a cheap kit, but had a shiny glittery silver finish. I played in a small brass band, called ‘upwind’. It consisted mainly of music teachers or those of similar ability, so it was a pretty professional band. We did small tours, including a gig at Kenton College, which was interesting for old time sake! I had to sell the kit at the end of the year, as there was no way to ship it back to the UK.
Here is a picture taken at the time.
Returning to England in March of 1977 for an interview at Brighton Polytechnic, Phil Solomon and I had a slight disagreement. He had wanted me to work towards becoming a professional drummer, but I had to explain that I also wanted to go into Graphic Design. Phil, who I think had never had many career options available to him, had the attitude that if being a professional musician was so tough that you couldn’t entertain another option if you wanted to succeed. We left on good terms, but it was twenty years before I saw him again.
Having started the Art Foundation Course at Brighton Polytechnic in 1977, I soon teamed up with Andy Rose who played bass, and Mark Marriage who played guitar and formed a band playing predominantly blues.
We would practice on a weekend in Reigate, where Andy and Mark lived. The rehearsal room, which was known as ‘Slugs’, was a damp cellar in a detached Victorian house. The main advantage of the rehearsal time was that split between us, the cost of a couple of hours jamming was much cheaper than going down the pub, and a lot of fun. (We did go out for a drink afterwards of course!).
My cousin Graham was at school and asked Mark and I if we could help out with a gig he was doing. The singer in the band was a guy called Chris, who had an excellent voice and good stage presence. Neither Mark or Andy saw themselves as lead singers, although both did a good job at providing vocals, so we asked Chris to join us. He was an asset, if an unreliable one! When he stopped turning up at rehearsals, I asked around and found he had been detained in a borstal (a type of youth detention centre, intended to reform seriously delinquent young people. (Borstals were abolished in 1982 and replaced with youth custody centres instead.) I went and visited him which he greatly appreciated, but when he was released we didn’t see any more of him).
Mark regularly an acoustic set at the Bell Inn, at a village in Surrey called Outwood. On occasions when I was living in London I would take Christine down to listen to the Bell to listen to Mark and his mates playing, and it was though this, that their relationship started.
From 1983 onwards, after I became a Christian, I started to play regularly in services, outreaches and Christian conventions. As a student and later member of the team at Roffey Place, I soon became the resident drummer, and for a couple of years was constantly out on the road. Similarly when we moved to Shrewsbury in 1989, I continued to play in church but with a young family at home I no longer had to play at missions around the country.
In 1999, having moved to Worthing, I started playing in a local Christian band, loosely called “Promise”, although I always thought that it was a dreadful name. It was a pretty full and versatile band, with backing singers, and three or four part harmonies, and a singer who not only played guitar and keyboards but could write songs as well. We played gigs in local church halls, but eventually after about four years, one of the girls got married, another moved to Spain, and we gradually split up.
Here is a sample of some of the songs we wrote and performed. The quality isn’t very good, it was recorded analogue on magnetic tape, and not mixed.
In an attempt to spend individual time with each of the children, I took Alana to one of our rehearsals. It was after then, that she too decided that she wanted to play drums, so she started to have lessons at school.
And then, some twenty years after I had last seen Phil Solomon, we unexpectedly reconnected.
Donna and I had been asked to help with the hospitality at a ‘tea dance’ that was being put on by Maybridge church for the local residents. There was a three-piece band playing and as I looked at the drummer, I realised that it was Phil. We chatted and caught up on the past twenty years and I arranged for Alana to have lessons with Phil.
It seemed that life had gone full circle.