Drums and face... that’s our Mr O’D
Pete drumming at a recent Teddy White gig at The Vic. How does he cope with playing so many drumming styles for so many bands? “It’s not easy at first. You just have to adapt,” says Pete. “I listen to a lot of records too, and that helps.”
HARVEY and The Rent Boys, Bantu, Ska Trek, Up Yours, Pignose, The Mill, Erin Bardwell Collective, Vindaloo Brothers, The Unmistakable Paul Cooke, The Michael Alexander Express, Sneaky Feet, at least half-a-dozen varied incarnations of the Teddy White band; mustn’t forget greasy rocking rodents The Hamsters From Hell.
Swindon bands one and all and a vast range of music they have dispatched in our pubs and clubs over the years too: ska, psychedelia, disco, r’n’b, rock’n’roll, soul, heavy metal, rock-ready, gospel, blues, country blues, swing, light jazz, hard rock, indie pop, reggae, post-punk, funk.
But there is a common denominator: Pete O’Driscoll has drummed for them all.
For more than quarter of a century Pete has very likely been Swindon’s busiest drummer.
Presently he is a member of three diverse bands but it doesn’t seem to faze Pete whether he is locked in a rock steady groove with Erin Bardwell, pounding a swampy gospel beat for Pignose or holding down a terrific ZZ Top-style boogie with The Teddy White Band. He sits there almost impassively, taking care of business, letting the sticks do the talking – or the hardened palms of his hands in case of his bongo beating exploits with Pignose.
With his silvery hair, lean physique, chiselled features, neatly pressed attire and inscrutable demeanour, he increasingly reminds me of very familiar figure. That’s right – he is Swindon’s Charlie Watts.
By coincidence, it is the Rolling Stones 1971 album Sticky Fingers that 17 year-old Pete beats along to at his Park North home whacking a plastic covered armchair with some sticks he fashions from clothes-hangers.
“I destroyed that chair. My mum wasn’t very happy. I was very impressed with Charlie Watts though. Still am,” says Swindon College worker Pete, 59.
What pushes him further along the road to rhythm is seeing one of the great American touring bands of the early Seventies, The Byrds, at Bristol’s Colston Hall.
“They blew me away. I’d never seen anything like it,” says Pete as we chat over several commendable pints of Horizon at the Wheatsheaf, Old Town.
“I’d seen Freddie and the Dreamers when I was on holiday, but that’s not the same...”
A copy of Free Live further fires Pete’s enthusiasm. “Simon Kirk (Free’s drummer) sat in a big groove. Listening to that album I realised the importance of having a feel for the music. I reckon I had it. I thought ‘I can do that.’”
Buying his first kit – a Premier – from his brother Michael he lands a spot with a band called Up Yours. But he’s not up to it yet. “They were all approaching 30 and had been gigging for 13, 14 years. I’d been gigging three weeks.” Santana’s first album prompts Pete to invest in congas. Suddenly he’s in a reggae band, the Michael Alexander Express, via an ad in the Adver.
“He’s a six foot three Jamaican guy; very talented. I was the only one who responded to the ad – the only conga player in Swindon.”
Acquiring a Ludwig kit, Pete plays for some show bands, doing chart covers like The Commodores, which he hates, before getting into a “proper band,” post-punk/rock combo Bantu.
Returning from Australia in 1985 (see panel) Pete is cheerfully tucking into a chicken madras at an Old Town Indian when he is assailed by a larger-than-life figure.
Years earlier he jams with a skinny, prodigiously talented 15 year-old pianist. The same character reappears, only now he’s “four times bigger.”
Pete is swiftly cajoled/bullied into buying a kit and a week later becomes the bedrock of one of Swindon’s most popular live combos of the era.
The Unmistakable Paul Cooke band is a sassy combination of soul, swing, boogie-woogie and r’n’b topped with a heady dose of showbiz pizzazz courtesy of The Big Man.
Twenty stone Paul, 22, tragically dies from pancreatitis in September 1986. Pete says: “He had the lot, Paul. He played the keyboards like was born doing it; he was a massive personality and a great blues singer – it came from the heart.”
Jamming at the Beehive pub, Pete falls into Harvey and the Rent Boys, a rocking r’n’b quartet, and becomes the pulse-beat of simmering blues screamers the Vindaloo Brothers.
He also acquires the hot-seat with Teddy White and the Popular Boy Crooners or is it Teddy White and the King Ringo Peach Bleachers? Pete can’t remember. It is probably both.
An enduring association with Pete Cousins – aka Teddy White – is underway. Over the years the drummer seamlessly adapts to every unpredictable line-up change and genre switch that Teddy hurls at him: from big band soul revue to psychedelic blues to disco revivalists to hard-nosed power trio.
In the meantime he is playing light jazz with Sneaky Feet, occasionally filling in with be-whiskered blues louts The Hamsters from Hell while punching out frisky high-kicking mid Sixties Jamaican pop with Ska Trek.
The latter, years later, leads to another Swindon-grown reggae ensemble, the Erin Bardwell Collective, where the groove is rock steady, slower and less rigid than ska.
For something completely different Pete is round Teddy White’s house recording a batch of raw, gospel-country-blues songs that the latter has written. Pignose (the two Petes and singer Anish Noble-Harrison) are never meant to perform live.
Circumstances, however, dictate that they are suddenly on-stage at The Lamb, Marlborough. “The crowd went mad,” says Pete. “The next thing you know we’re at the Marlborough Jazz Festival.” It is a bit of a juggling act these days, what with three bands on the go. Recently Pete was on-stage in Brussels with the Erin Bardwell Collective on a Saturday night but whacking skins for Teddy at the White Hart, Wroughton the next afternoon.
It’s all go for Swindon’s busiest drummer.
Catch Pete O’Driscoll drumming for The Teddy White Band and the Erin Bardwell Collective at MECA, Regent Circus, Friday, December 20 for the Swindon Viewpoint 40th anniversary bash.
Bass guitarist Pete Fitzsimmons, of the Paul Cooke and Erin Bardwell bands, says: “His (Pete’s) understanding of music is top notch. The enthusiasm he has as a fan, as he puts it, gives him an excellent feel for what he plays, be that swing/jazz, blues, soul, reggae/rock steady. To me that feel and understanding is actually what makes a great musician, which Pete undoubtedly is.”
He’s the best I’ve known
This is what Pete Cousins, aka Teddy White, says of Mr Sticks: “I’ve been playing in bands with Pete for getting on for 30 years. He may well be Swindon’s Charlie Watts but there’s a hint of Keef in there too.
“He’s the best gigging drummer I’ve ever known. I’ve seen him play under fire. Many times.
“Whilst playing he’s been hit with objects that would hospitalize more sensitive percussionists, been attacked by animals, had several ceilings collapse on him, had several individuals collapse on him, and play so inebriated that he literally couldn’t hold a stick.
“Throughout it all he keeps going. He does it because he genuinely loves music. To do what he does you have to.
“He’s a good singer as well. He can never be bothered to set up his mike so I’m giving up with him live, but I’m getting him singing on the new Pignose thing we're recording.”
... and the wizard of Oz
It is a sweltering Sunday afternoon in Perth and Western Australia’s premier Elvis impersonator, Ian Doyle, is gyrating furiously in a hangar-like beer hall.
He is half Indian and half Irish. With intimidating side-burns and a tidal wave of coiffed hair he looks the part.
Behind him The Cruisers pile gamely through the hits.
Pete, on drums, looks a tad uncomfortable in a stiff stage suit but grins at his pals from Swindon propping up the bar, as if to say: “Someone’s gotta do it.”
Ian Doyle and The Cruisers is one of several bands Pete slaps the skins for during three-and-a-half years in Oz.
He recalls: “Once we had a gig and Doyle hadn’t showed. We went round his house. His wife opens the door and he’s unconscious on the couch. Mrs Doyle says ‘he’s completely p*ss*d.’ “We do the gig anyway – the only Elvis tribute band to play without an Elvis.”
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