Grey Anemone

What could be more exciting than a late ‘60s English rock band with an unhinged, bombastic drummer?  Why, a late ‘60s English rock band with two unhinged, bombastic drummers, of course!  At least, that was the theory. 

Reginald Dutton and Patrick Thompson had been friends since meeting at Swalwell Grammar School in the late 1950s.  In 1964, they chanced upon Newcastle local Jimmy Ellerson busking (oddly, on euphonium) in Grainger Town and struck up a conversation.  It turned out the three had a common interest in the latest pop sounds then flooding the airwaves in Britain, but, other than Jimmy (who had played second chair in the youth orchestra), none of them had any formal training (and none even owned an instrument with which to make such music).  That changed when Pat received a surprise bequest from a distant Welsh uncle neither he nor his parents knew he had; although it was intended for his education, Pat rightfully convinced his parents that he was not “university material” and persuaded them to allow him to invest the money in a business opportunity—without disclosing that the opportunity was for the three lads to acquire guitars and figure out how to play them. 

After securing two second-hand guitars and a battered bass fiddle (which Jimmy volunteered to learn in part due to his unusually long middle fingers), the trio got down to business, practicing nearly every day until they had developed rudimentary skills and worked up a relatively tight set of contemporary pop covers and a few quirky originals (“Back Off, Doreen” being the most notable).  They settled on Reg as the lead singer, although Pat would frequently take over on the bridge and provide occasional harmony.  Naming themselves The Big Digits, the band secured gigs at various local pubs, including the Gosforth Arms and the Low Fell Hotel.  After a few months of honing their craft and developing a minor following, they decided to take the next step:  adding a drummer.

After a week of auditions, the band selected Larry Shelton, an older local veteran of various jazz and skiffle combos.   But that arrangement was short-lived.  In the spring of 1966, during a gig at the Three Jurists, a wild-haired patron heckled the band, repeatedly shouting, “You call that drumming?”  This grew so tiring that Larry finally stood up, walked off the floor, and headed down the road to the Sleeping Dog.  Fortunately for the BDs, he left his sticks behind.  The heckler turned out to be local electrician Kevin Monroe, who upon Larry’s departure invited himself to sit behind the drum kit and shouted “1-2-3-4,” without apparently discussing what song was to be played.

It didn’t matter.  Kev played in a completely different style, crashing and thundering through the verses and actually backing off slightly on the choruses, initially disorienting Reg but ultimately creating a push-and-pull dynamic that electrified the crowd.  It was as if Kev did not even know the songs the band was playing (in fact, he did not); it was just a glorious wall of anarchic noise.  After the time bell and the final song of the evening (during which Kev put a stick through a cymbal, which is very hard to do), Reg and Pat huddled and decided to make Kev an offer to join the band (characteristically, Jimmy was not consulted).  Apprised of the offer, Kev burped and accepted on the spot.

After breaking the news to Larry (who took it surprisingly well, having apparently already intended to devote his time to perfecting his kumquat scone recipe), the newly formed quartet renamed itself Grey Anemone—to this day, no one knows why—and started climbing the local ranks, ultimately almost playing a venue in London. 

In October 1967, at a gig at the Blind Rat in Woolsington, history repeated.   During the third and final set, as the band was motoring through a particularly cacophonous cover of “She’s Leaving Home,”  an inebriated patron yelled, “You call that drumming?”   Reg, Pat and Jimmy stopped in their tracks, but Kev kept going, shredding his sticks in the effort.  Ultimately stopping to take a swig from his pint, he held up the stick stubs and yelled back, “You think you can do better?”   It was on.  The lout—who turned out to be Kyle MacNogue, formerly of the short-lived Randy Rascals—marched to the stage, took the three-inch hickory remnants Kev handed him and set down behind the kit.  Yelling “1-2-3-4,” he started playing (disregarding whether the rest of the band was joining in, which they eventually did) and did not stop for 45 minutes.  It was electric.

The set over, Jimmy joined Kev (who had lost interest and was playing darts with some locals); Reg and Pat huddled in the corner.  What to do now?  Kyle brought something that Kev didn’t have.  But Kev had taken them so far, and no one played like Kev (except, maybe, Kyle).   What a conundrum.  Exploring their options, they woke Kyle (who had passed out under a table) and asked him what he would think about joining the band.  Squinting, he replied, “Er, sure—but only if that other bloke and I both get to play.”  By other bloke, he meant Kev.

How novel, thought Reg and Pat.   Two drummers in a rock band.  That means two times as much “bang” for the pound.  Maximum percussion!

And so (after clearing it with Kev and Jimmy, who were surprisingly indifferent), Grey Anemone became a quintet.  They had to modify their bookings in order to find venues where two drummers could set up (sometimes resulting in Kyle, as the newest member, playing from the kitchen or the street).  But audiences dug it.  It was revolutionary—not just because two drummers seemed the height of rock excess, but also because the veritable wall of rhythm created by these two particular drummers was its own irresistible force (even though it frequently rendered Reg's vocals unintelligible). 

A talent scout caught the act and convinced the band to sign with ZyloFone Records, a start-up in Middlesbrough.  In June 1968, the band entered the studio to work on their debut album.  Pat was adamant about recording what he called a “rock opera” on which he had been working (tentatively titled “Mommy”), but the rest of the band wanted to draw from the dozen or so originals they had crafted over the past two years.  After three days, the band had completed the songs for Double Bull.

To promote the album, ZyloFone secured the band a booking at the inaugural Leeds Pop Shindig, an outdoor concert featuring eleven of the newest and hottest bands (well, those bands rejected by the Isle of Wight).  Despite torrential rain, the event was reasonably successful; the power stayed on, the latrine remained functional and the hundreds in attendance generally stayed for the duration (albeit, reportedly, due to a batch of “magic truffles” in circulation that had the dual effects of irrational exuberance and motor function shutdown).

Double Bull sold exactly 6,300 copies—not bad for a band of Geordies who, only a few years earlier, did not know a chord from a cork.  The band continued gigging but never could get its big break.  In the summer of 1969, on the cusp of launching a five-city tour of the American Southwest, ZyloFone folded (something about tax fraud) and the band was forced to regroup.  Pat was in favor of bringing on a female vocalist--his girlfriend Koko, who couldn’t sing; Jimmy thought maybe a horn section was the way to go (mostly because he wanted to switch from the cumbersome bass fiddle to the more portable euphonium).  But Reg argued that the band should stick with its core sound and take another stab at recording; the band agreed, and studio time was booked for the weekend of October 11, 1969.   Then tragedy struck.

While tuning his snare before packing his kit to head to the studio, Kyle apparently overtightened two adjacent tension rods, resulting in the catastrophic failure known in drum circles as “explosive head release.”  The details are gory and unnecessary to repeat, but the band was later told that Kyle’s demise was quick and, most likely, painless.  (Not so for the painters called to rehabilitate the walls of the flat.)

Grey Anemone never recovered.   Although Reg, Pat and Jimmy were willing to persevere as the original quartet, Kev simply refused.  He had discovered a kindred spirit in Kyle and felt that their dueling percussive attack had become the very purpose of the band.  Sure, he could play over Reg’s vocals and undermine Pat’s solos like before, but when there were two of them doing that, it was nothing less than sublime.  Kev soon called it quits.  The band folded.

Jimmy returned to his beloved euphonium and moved to New Orleans, where he became something of a novelty busking in the French Quarter wearing a redcoat.  Reg and Pat formed a folk-rock duo named “Reg & Pat” that had some success (mostly at children’s birthday parties).  Kev, after a lengthy period of mourning, decided to start his own rock band in the spring of 1971.  It featured three drummers.