Bank House Books (2014)
Bob Henrit’s ‘Banging On’ is the opposite of the usual sex, drugs, rock and roll and oblivion confessionals. It’s a lightly humorous recollection of his role in the drift of pop toward rock and beyond, but he’s broken the mould by arguably becoming the first drummer in the history of rock and roll to double as an author, writer, inventor, script writer, film dresser (sourcing authentic period instruments) and even an ad hoc cricket umpire!
What little rock & roll excess there is to be found, usually concerns some of his contemporaries, as Bob was too busy leaping from one project to another. His stream of consciousness style sometimes pays scant regard to the rigours of chronology, but it does have the effect of drawing the reader into a lifestyle that can see you play a pub one night and Carnegie Hall the next.
His laid back style of writing almost mirrors his role as a drummer, that is to say overseeing the ensemble, shaping the music and adding his fills at the appropriate moment.
There’s an interesting shift from detached amusement to direct involvement as his own musical role shifts from musician to drum inventor, but having taken us into the world of advanced drum technology, he comes out the other side as the same consistent person who later reflects on family life in the twilight of his career.
His wry style is neatly encapsulated by his recollection of the 47th anniversary of The Roulettes in 2009, as he amusingly confides: “There are no plans to record for the moment, we’re all too busy with our garden for that, but here’s the next half century!”
For the uninitiated, Henrit played drums for such prime movers and shakers of the burgeoning pop and rock world as The Roulettes (1962–1967) who were Adam Faith’s backing band before they has hits of their own. A year with Unit 4 + 2 followed in 1968, and then 8 years with prog rockers Argent. Only bad timing meant that he was never in a touring version of The Zombies, and is still apparently miffed that he wasn’t asked years later when they reformed. He also recalls a few years as a session drummer for the likes of Roger Daltry and Dave Davies before a defining 12 year stint in The Kinks.
His understated style is such that when he mentions turning down Phil Collins, or nearly joining The Who, you almost have to pinch yourself to feel the weight of what he’s just confided.
While in Argent he thought ‘God Gave Rock & Roll To You’ would go to number one, but resigned himself to the fact that the band would ultimately struggle because: “Russell (Ballard) was rock n roll’ and ‘Rod (Argent) was jazz.”
He also notes the way the industry has now come full circle: “Things were completely different in those days when you toured incessantly to sell more records. Nowadays you sell records to enable you to tour”.
In between his time with the big domestic names he recalls several side projects including tours with French chantuer Richard Anthony, Don McClean, Ian Matthews and Richie Havens, before joining the potential A List good-time GB Blues Band.
His Kinks recollections fleetingly allude to the enmity between the Davies brothers, but on balance he appears to appreciate Ray’s song writing qualities, if not his spontaneous arrangements: “We didn’t know how Ray was seeing the shape of a song on any given night. His great strength was reading the audience and giving them what they wanted.”
The book’s structure mirrors the author’s own restless desire to seek new challenges and remain calm under the pressure of haphazard employment. A combination of Bob’s musical ability and mental flexibility seemed to have secured him a string of self made opportunities.
Most of the really amusing anecdotes concern his long term musical buddies such as Russ Ballard (Argent, Phoenix), Jim Rodford (Phoenix/Argent/The Kinks), John Verity (Argent/Phoenix) and of course Adam Faith, while his own tales range from an early unrequited romance with Sandie Shaw to the story of a female Argent fan who later worked in the band’s agency and who was driven to and from an Argent show by an unlicensed Robert Plant.
There’s also tales obligatory tales of re-arranged hotel rooms during an American Argent tour, drinking tales Chas Hodges (of Chas & Dave fame) and Ringo Star in Denmark, and the occasional ambivalent conclusion, such as when Ian Matthews recorded a version of The Yarbirds ‘Over, Under, Sideways, Down’. Jim McCarty was apparently amazed by their version before Bob delivers the sting in the tail with the kind of perfect timing that marks him out as such an excellent drummer: “This didn’t necessarily mean he liked it though.”
His inventions such as the Impulse One drum machine and the Humdrum machine caught Ray Davies’s eye, as he was apparently looking for an electronic drummer at the time. Bob also worked with the Simmons drum company, penning ‘The Complete Simmons Drum Book’ and he takes us into the murky world of intellectual property rights and patents, which almost provides a parallel version of how he got ripped off when penning film treatments.
Drugs barely gets beyond a hash cake and a short lived dalliance with coke, but having ploughed through the minutiae of this book, you’d be surprised if such an enquiring mind would have allowed himself to have been potentially compromised by something that would ultimately get in the way of his lifetime’s passion.
He contents himself with tales of various road crews and the occasional recycled quote such as drugs are: “God’s way of telling you, you’ve got too much money,” and the well worn Stevie Nicks story about her unusual intake of coke.
The book dips slightly when he gets deep into the intricacies of drum design and innovation, but there’s no denying his passion which burns like a slow fuse and periodically bursts into flame when he’s on to a new venture.
Bob Henrit has been ‘Banging On!’ for over 5 decades and this book nicely interweaves his own story against the backdrop of the change from pop to rock. It’s an excellent stocking filler for pop and rock fans alike. ****
Review Pete Feenstra
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