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Why I Play the Way I Do
I HAVE ALREADY EXPLAINED THAT IT WAS Keith Moon of The WHO, who brought about my interest in wanting to play drums in the summer of 1965.  He had the most visual style, appearing to hit everything in sight all of the time, with his arms flailing and his sticks spinning like no other drummer and all the while he pulled such strange faces.  He completely re-wrote the rules of how to play drums in a ‘pop’ group, rarely putting in a straightforward roll round the kit and he would often insert drum rolls in the middle of lines, rather than at the ends.  In my humble opinion, he peaked c.1971, after which drink and drugs began to impair his performances and in the end, he hid behind a ridiculously large and unwieldy 20-drum Premier kit.

To learn the art of drumming, I would set up three old hardback books on my bed in the shape of the snare drum in front of me, with the hanging tom tom in front of that and the floor tom to the right beside the snare.  In time with my chosen record on my Dansette record player, I would hit these with my hands, hitting the counterpane in the imaginary positions of the cymbals and hi-hat.  It was not just Keith Moon’s antics that I watched, but every drummer in every band that I might see on television, or live at gigs on Hastings Pier or at the De la Warr Pavilion, Bexhill.  Already, I would be singing along to the backing vocals on the different songs.  Whilst on holiday on the Isle of Wight in August, 1965, the drummer of an Island band, The TOM RONS, noting that I was interested in playing drums, asked me if I’d like to have a go on his kit.  When I sat there, I didn’t have a clue what to do.  It was here that I discovered that the bass drum has a pedal on it, with which to keep the beat; I honestly thought the bass drum was there just to put the name of the group on and to hold up the front tom tom!  Was I really that dim? (Don’t answer that!)  Back home I continued to hit my ‘bed’ drum kit with the old pair of sticks that The TOM RONS’ drummer had given me, but now with me banging my right foot on the floor, much to the annoyance of my parents in the living room immediately below.  Alternatively, I would take a kitchen stool up to my bedroom to sit on and I’d face my dressing table mirror and play ‘air’ drums, working out different faces that I thought Keith Moon might make.  How embarrassing it was when either one of my parents burst into the room with me ‘mid-face to tell me to stop banging on the floor and turn my music down!

On Christmas Eve, 1965, I saw The WHO on Hastings Pier for the first time where, from the balcony at the rear of the venue, I was able to study Keith Moon’s performance over their high energy 40 minute set.  He intrigued me in that he seemed to drum with his arms often going round in circles, hitting all of his four cymbals all of the time and there was no jerkiness in how he played.  Also, unusually, he did not have a hi-hat.  The following day, my Dad gave me what was one of the best Christmas presents I had ever had, The WHO’s newly released ‘My Generation’ LP and I took it up to my bedroom straight away, played it over and over again, ‘air drumming’ along to it and trying to remember how Keith had played each song just hours before.

To my surprise, my parents lent me the 20 to buy my first drum kit early in 1966, but they made it quite plain that there was no way that I was going to be allowed to play it in the house.  Admittedly, when they were both out, I would set it up and play along, very quietly to an EVERLEY BROTHERS’ LP that I had.  These blue sparkle drums were more like a child’s outfit, with a 20” bass drum, a matching 14” snare drum and a 10” x 8” front tom tom, plus a hi-hat and an awful sounding small cymbal.  I can’t remember where it came from, but a very thin gold sparkle snare drum, with the snare removed, became my floor tom tom, but with an almost un-playable bass drum pedal and a very wobbly snare drum stand, this was hardly a promising start to a career as a drummer.

I soon formed a group with a fellow member of Bexhill Youth Centre, Steve Miles, which we called THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE.  On our first gig at The Youth Centre, we played four songs, with the very talented local drummer, Paul Freeman, laughing openly at me throughout from the audience.  I was too embarrassed to pull my strange faces that I had rehearsed and I did not enjoy the experience one bit.  Afterwards, Paul came up to me and said that my (calf) snare drum skins were too loose and he proceeded to tighten them up for me so much that I really thought he was just trying to break them, but it was good advice.  We played several other short gigs with this group, at which we went down surprisingly well, although it must have been so awful.  Instead of proper lead solos, Steve would just strum chords Pete Townshend style and I would bash everything in sight as hard and fast as I could, which suited me down to the ground.

Laurie Cooksey
Laurie Cooksey

One day, Barry Jenkins, the drummer of The SPRING BEATS, asked me how I did my rolls round the kit, so I showed him that I start with my left hand and after playing the front tom tom, I would hit the cymbal off beat (with the bass drum, of course and very Keith Moon style) to gain access to the floor tom tom.  He explained that the proper way was to lead with the right hand; no one had told me this and it took me a long time to be able to do it properly.  Recently, I learnt that Keith Moon through his entire career, had sometimes led with his left hand and to this day, I’ve realised that I still do when it suits what I am playing.

Steve wasn’t progressing as quickly as I was, so we didn’t stay together for very long and I became part of a new band called PRO-HIBITION in the late summer of 1966.  With the release of ‘Substitute’ in March that year, Keith Moon was playing a 9-drum Premier red glitter kit with two bass drums.  To be like him, I had recently bought a second-hand white Olympic 20” bass drum and I added this to my Gigster set-up with ‘PRO’ (with an arrow coming out of the top of the ‘O’) on one bass drum and ‘HIBITION’ on the other, cut out of black Fablon and stuck on.  Now came the problem of how to play two bass drums.  For one early gig that we played at Little Common Community Centre, I tried hitting both of them at the same time, assuming that I’d be doubling the volume of one.  No, that couldn’t be right and next time I saw The WHO on television, I noted that both of Keith’s feet were working independently of each other.  As PRO-HIBITION weren’t able to play that loud, with their tiny amplifiers, I worked out quickly that the left hand bass drum should not be hit every time I hit the snare drum in place of the hi-hat (the way that most drummers irritatingly play a double kit) as I would make too heavy a sound.  I decided there and then to split the work of one foot into two and I found that my left foot would play all the intricate/syncopated rhythms, whilst my right foot kept, in the main, to a basic beat.  The only other drummer that I saw playing this way was the sticks man of the excellent pop harmony group ‘WISHFUL THINKING’.  I had never got on with using the hi-hat, opening and shutting it with the left foot for different effects, so from now on, this would remain clamped in the closed position, just to be hit by my sticks.

Another problem with using two bass drums in this way was that, in my opinion, both drums had to be tuned to the same note.  Although plastic drum heads were available at that time, mine were old fashioned calf sins and their notes would vary depending on the temperature in a room.  I would tune both drums as soon as we arrived at a venue for a gig, only to find that an hour or so later, when we went on stage, they would be completely out of tune with each other.

At home, I would continue practising my ‘air drumming’ in front of my dressing table mirror and I would try to twirl a stick in my right hand.  I have always claimed that it was the magic from shaking Keith Moon’s hand after a very destructive WHO performance at Toft’s, Folkestone on Saturday, 28th January, 1967 that helped me to perfect my stick twiddling, but it was sheer hard work on my part over a long period of time to be able to do it equally well with my left hand.

When I got married in August, 1971, my wife wouldn’t allow me to have my drums in the house either, so I have never practised playing them by myself.  I am still incapable of playing a proper drum roll and, if asked to do one, I take my front tom tom off of its stand between the bass drums and roll it across the stage.  There are so many drummers far more technical than I, but I prefer to stay the way I am, play off of the top of my head and entertain people.  My strange face contortions come naturally now ( I find it hard not to do them) but having used two bass drums for almost 50 years, I have great difficult in playing a single bass drum kit, as I am unable to put in all of my syncopated rhythms which make up so much of my style. 

Laurie Cooksey, February, 2016