Friday, 7 August 2009

Curator's Question Time with IAN SMITH

Ian presented as a casually dressed man who made little eye contact during the course of the interview. His speech was normal in rhythm, rate and volume. There was no evidence of thought disorder, hallucinations or delusions as I picked away at the fortress-like mind of Medway skins-man extraordinaire, Ian Smith.

Ladies and gentlemen...let the questions and (more importantly) the answers...tell the story.

Q How did you get into drumming? Was it the first instrument you took up?

I always wanted to be a drummer. It's the only instrument I've ever taken up. I'm tone deaf and don't understand the structure of music - chords, notes, time sigs, progressions, keys - Which is a shame because I love music and would love to be able to create some. I got a drum kit in Oct 1979. I've never had a drum lesson either. For 6 months I had not a clue what a drummer was meant to do till my friend Michael told me that it was to keep time like when you tap your hands on your knees to a song. That nugget of info gave me something to build on. It still took me ages, years, to get to any degree of competence

Q What, for you, makes a great drummer?

Ha, good question. You'll get a very different answer from a 'musician'. Enthusiasm and a desire to do something unusual or interesting (like Keith Moon)! To give the music some 'colour'. In latter years I have come to realise what a genius Charlie Watts is, who on the face of it merely keeps solid time, but with every song, no matter what style, he makes it 'swing'.

Q People around the world know you for your beats with The Dentists and Armitage Shanks. Who else have you worked with?

Dentist Bob and I had a band called Ye Ascoyne d'Ascoynes for about 4 years (late 80s/early 90s). We were good but playing powerpop in the wrong pre-Britpop era. We were hopeless at getting gigs too.
I played for Sexton Ming's Auntie Vegetable. We were a prog supergroup, again completely out of kilter with the times, though it was tongue-in-cheek.
My first band were called The Rubberman 12. They were good too, but Michael bailed out at the top! (our story will be told one day). I also play in a blues trio with my good pal Tony Zemaitis Jr called Spitfire IV. Oh, I also played on an album for the London-based artrock combo The Ken Ardley Playboys. That was great fun.

After the Rubberman 12 and before working with Mark and Bob I drummed for Medway Legend Tim Webster and his Outer Limits (initially with that other legend Plug aka Ian Bell, though he soon left - This reminds me is Darren 'Beast' Green still around?)

I was also drummer in the most recent line-up of Gregory 'Razorcuts' Webster's Sportique. This little-known band had done 3 Peel sessions before I came along. We gigged for a year before fizzling out in 2006. I never recorded with them though we had some new material. Check 'em out - If you like quirky punky indie a la Buzzcocks, Wire, Swell Maps Sportique may be for you.

Q On your MySpace page it says that are compiling CD's for Rev-Ola. What's that all about?

It's an extension of my enthusiasm for music and a way to write about it and earn some pocket money. An old pal, Andy Morten, set up the company with Joe Foster to reissue great discs that slipped through the net. Rev-Ola is a subsidary of Cherry Red. They put out the Dentists Some People album on CD and specialise in folk, rock, pop and psychedelia. I've put six together for them (mainly blues comps) - thoroughly researched. Very proud of my Leadbelly, Paul Robeson and Jacques Brel comps.

Q You recently had your book "Taking Candy from A Dog" published on Blackheath Books. Did you have fun writing it? Can you tell us more about it?

Well, it wasn't really written as a book. It's more a collection of blogs that I've put on myspace over a period of a few years. They chronicle 'things' that have happened to me influenced by my admiration for Keith Waterhouse (Billy Liar), John Fante and latterly, Larry David. Geraint, who runs BB, likes my material (I'd written a few little books of short stories a few years ago) and asked if I'd put it together for his press, which I was very happy to do.
Ha ha, I've just re-read the question - forget the above. It relates to 'Vic Templar does his Chunkers' which was published in Feb this year. Taking Candy from a Dog is a novelised memoir of my childhood which I am very very close to finishing, having been working on it on-and-off for nearly 5 years (though some of it was written in 1989!).
TCFAD will be published around the end of the year (ideal Christmas present). It's meant to be funny and is a collection of episodes as a boy goes from his earliest memories through to going to gigs and parties (i.e. drinking) on the verge of adulthood. It chronicles the difficulty kids have in deciphering the ways of grown-ups - their weird ways and sayings. It's not only my thanks to my family for giving me a great childhood, but I've also realised quite recently that the book is my apology to the kid I once was for the way I've turned out!!
In a similar vein - I've just read Billy Childish's The Idiocy of Ideas. This also chronicles a childhood, but one that was a polar opposite of mine. It is a harrowing but also very funny book. His best, I think.

Q Do you collect drum-kits like guitarists collect guitars?

No. I've had three kits, but only ever one at a time and have had my current puke-yellow Trixon since 1983.

Q Do you have any great drumming disasters...from live share with us?

Er, three spring to mind. Falling off the kit Spinal Tap style at a shanks gig c.95. The kit was perched on a 'riser' barely big enough and stepping onto my stool and then onto the bass drum at the gig's finale proved a giant leap for the fragile kit and me! I was merely bruised but one of the bass drum's legs was irrevocably bent out of kilter.
My last ever Dentists gig was a disaster. You'll have to ask someone else about that. I don't really remember it.
I also broke a finger playing football in January 1992 (or 91?) which prevented me from playing the drums. This was the month that St Etienne recorded their debut album Fox Base Alpha and Bob Stanley had asked if I would play on a couple of tracks.

Q If you could drum for any one band....past or present...which band would you plump (thump) for?

You mean which band do I love and would willingly make worse by playing with them? This cuts out The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Stones, Kinks, Milkshakes. I played a couple of numbers with The Prisoners once - as an encore. I'd have liked to be good enough to play drums for Elvis or Sammy Davis Jr. I'd have liked to play in a 60s American garage punk band like We The People or The Seeds or I'd have liked to be in Pulp, Blur or Supergrass. I think I could have made a good fist of those.

Q Vic Templar? What's the story...behind the name?

Ah, I'll decline that question - it's explained in a chapter entitled 'Treasure Hunt at Wick Ferry etc' in TCFAD

Q Got any new music projects lined up?

In a word, no. Unless you mean continuing the legacy of the Shanks. We've just recorded some material at Jim Riley's studio, which was a very enjoyable experience (I normally hate recording). We plan to release 12 singles on 12 different labels over the next year

Q Are you proud to be known as a part of the Medway Music Scene?

Of course! Very priviledged to have seen The Milkshakes, Prisoners and Gruffmen so many times. Not to mention the Claim, the Herbs and Swinging Time (among others). However, I don't think that 'coming from Medway' has ever helped a Medway band.

Q How did you start working with The Dentists? Were you all friends? Did you audition? (did Bob really try to kill you with a cheap pen-knife?)

No, I didn't audition - I was the star - I'd been in the Rubberman 12! It started with the aforementioned Rubberman 12. Mark Matthews and I had been at junior school together and though he'd left Rochester for Rainham as a 10-year-old we stayed in touch (quite unusual don't you think?). Mark was the Rubbermen's number one fan and at the same time he was learning bass guitar. He had an enigmatic pal called Brady who was going to be an Enoesque keys wizard and also a pal called Bob who could play guitar. I immediately bonded with Bob, who loved The Kinks, Stones and Beatles as much as I did. Brady fell by the musical wayside, but Bob, Mark & I stuck together. The Bunnymen and Doors were the two chief influences plus Velvets, Kinks, Orange Juice, Buzzcocks, XTC and Love.
We gigged under a few names (it's all chronicled by Bob on the official website - he knows all the dates and significant milestones) before Murphy came along. He was instantly 'right' for us. His idiosyncratic personality and talent for melodies was ideal. Considering what pop junkies Bob and I were (and to a marginally lesser extent, Mark - he was less 60s orientated than us), Mick knew next-to-nothing about pop history, but girls liked him!

Q Are you interested in any of the current Medway bands?

No, unless Pete Molinari counts. Like him very much. I'm very out of touch (I moved to London last year). I'm friends with Dan from the Long Weekend though I gather they've split up(?) However, I wish all local bands the best of luck.

Q Any favourite Medway venues?

In the olden days? The legendary MIC Club was the best. Good Companions Club, the room above the Crown had a great sound, room above the East End pub, the function room behind the Eagle, the bandstand (!), The Good Intent in Rochester holds particularly good memories for the Dentists.

Q Finally...are there any sites/links/info-pages you'd like us to see?

I write daily for

You can learn a little more about my novel on

If you require acupuncture (London-based) www.deborahgreenacupunctur

I'm not much of one for surfing the net, but there's another music-based site which is invariably very funny and well worth a read.
It's called Electric Roulette.

You could add a link for Shindig who I also write for:

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