DO YOU KNOW GREATHAM AT ALL?
erm no actually John I don’t but I’m sure I can Google it (haven’t got sat nav). It’s a bit past Hartlepool towards Middlesborough then off into the wilds of Billingham. An odd land that Derek Jarman would probably have really liked. Part quaint village, part industrial backyard, it has a charm all of its own.
My plan was to film and photo John Hart’s original drum kit (he of the Hartbeats featured here previously). He still uses it for recordings and if you turn them over you can see the ’64 stamp inside the tom toms.
What I hadn’t anticipated was the location. The front lawn was freshly mown; not big but big enough to assemble the kit and for me to whiz around, doing a 360, with various cameras.
But John’s house is the first one on the street and overlooks a wide open expanse of fields – dominated by electricity pylons in the foreground with the Teesside Billingham chemical plants in the distance. It’s a real bonus I hadn’t expected. A surreal – yet typically ‘real’ backdrop to show off the Slingerland ’64 kit in all its glory. He tells me that up until last year there was a chemical factory at the end of his street… but now there is just stubble from the freshly mown fields. Growth and decay are necessarily themes in this piece and it fits nicely.
He’s keen to play me a track he and his musical partner Roland have been working on. By his own admission it’s the first ‘Pop’ song they have ever recorded.
“Strange” I proffer, “for a band that was working professionally for all those years?”
“Well we only did rock and roll, and covers” says John.
Some things never change they just mutate into ever more hideous forms. I muse this thought as I am reminded by the sticker on John’s drum kit. Yes it’s a scary graphic that looks like it might have been concocted by Jeff Koons.
‘New Faces’ says the spooky busker graphic. The Hartbeat boys were on that tv show fronted by a producer guy called Micky Most and, apparently, Arthur Askey (I had to Google that to confirm since it seems an incredulous mix). A 70’s talent show you could be forgiven for not knowing about; it and similar others to follow, were the forerunners of the monster that became X-factor. What an odd mix.. Micky Most the cheesy but cool (ish) equivalent of say Louis Walsh… and Arthur Askey the equivalent of well… any ‘national treasure’ old time vaudeville act you may care to name.
Prime time TV still hankers after similar combinations in order to catch the maximum audience demographic. Same formula; new faces = old faces.
We chat in John’s hall and another theme emerges; that of the foot pedal and the ‘encapsulation of sound’. It’s interesting because the foot pedal can be seen as a time machine in its own right. In the 60’s an AC30 amplifier for instance had a volume knob, a tone knob and a tremolo knob. That was it. I was under the impression that there was a reason for this – that it got used quite a bit. John reckons you didn’t really use tremolo unless you wanted to sound like Jim Reeves, which was a somewhat partial and dubious ambition for early rock and rollers.
But then all the PEDALS came out. The fuzz box, the wah pedal, the sustain pedal etc. etc.
“I tried a Jimi Hendrix pedal” says John
“It was amazing, but after a while you start thinking… Hendrix didn’t have a Jimi Hendrix soundalike foot pedal – he just made that sound up himself”.
I agree. Hendrix arrived at his sound, his style and approach to playing, via a personal history that included playing in BigBand type setups when he was younger and evolving his technique through experimentation and the desire to break moulds and push boundaries.
Buying a pedal to emulate his sound is like buying a silver bullet ride though history, travelling so fast that you miss the scenery along the way and well…in that case… miss the point!