David Humphrey interview

First published Fodderstompf, April 2004
© 2004 Fodderstompf.com

Fodderstompf.Com: After Jim Walker left (but before Dudanski joined etc etc) David Humphrey was recruited to drum on the ‘Metal Box’ sessions. With virtually no information about him existing, David’s short time with PiL was always a bit of a mystery until he got in touch with Fodderstompf to clear things up. This was the first time he had ever spoken about his time in the band... Interview conducted for Fodderstompf March 2004.



The mysterious David Humphrey, so you do exist!

Well, I never knew I was such a mystery! I have to admit I didn't keep pace with it all, but it was good seeing some of the stuff on your web site, one of my students actually saw it, so I went on there and I thought yeah, its my name but it's not what I did, so I thought I'd put the

Yeah, we'd mistakenly stated you were brought in as a one off drummer for the Manchester, King's Hall gig on February 23rd 1979, but apparently that's not the case...

Yes, I was only around for the recording sessions and didn't do any live gigs, as was stated.

So how did you get involved?

Well, it basically started because Tony Dale, who was the keyboard player for the band I was in, Seventh Seal, also doubled as one of PiL's roadies. Paul Calver our manager owned Rollerball Studios in Tooley Street where PiL were rehearsing at the time, and obviously, we used to rehearse there on a regular basis too. And what happened was that the band got involved with PiL and basically ended up doing some roadie-ing for them. That's how I got the introduction. Because when the first drummer... was it Jim Walker?

Yeah, he was the first.

Well, when he left my understanding at the time was that he had left, taking all his equipment and everything else, that's my recollection of what was said. So anyway, PiL did some auditions, and through Paul Calver I was invited to go down, and I got the job! Literally it was out to buy some new drum equipment, which thinking about it now tied in with what I was told. Then it was straight down to the Manor in Oxfordshire, and straight into recording. I remember doing a lot of the stuff, stuff from the original PiL album, and also some additional tracks like, 'Death Disco', or 'Swan Lake' as it was known at the time, and 'Albatross'. I think there's a mish mash of drumming that probably ended up on 'Metal Box' but I know I definitely did a couple.

Yes, like you were saying there is such a mish mash of drummers. Wobble played on 'Careering', Keith played on 'Poptones', then there's Dudanski, there's Martin Atkins, and there's yourself. I don't have that good an ear so I couldn't really tell, and I just presumed it was Dudanski that had played on 'Death Disco'.

John & David at the mixing desk, The Manorr, 1979 © David HumphreyI have a copy of the 'Death Disco' single and it's definitely me on it! I've got a particular style, every drummer has his own signature and even over this time you can't hide it. I can tell from the production and sound it was me. I have distinctive hi hat and snare work and use a couple of my favourite chops ! I still use some of it today so no doubt it's me! I remember we bought a red Rogers kit for the PiL sessions and used Paiste sound edge hi hats that really cut through. Oh yeah, I also remember getting Tama Octoban drums, long tubular shells you can tune in octaves no surprises there! Keith always called them "ash trays" funny how things stick in your head. Anyway, have a listen to a track I wrote 'I Couldn't Live Without You' which is posted on my website, It was written for lead guitar, very commercial but nothing fancy drumming wise just what was needed for the track, but you can compare the style played on the snare and hi hat you will see what I mean about my signature... I have to admit though that I felt I never really got the chance to show my real ability with PiL, or put into practice my own style as I could with Seventh Seal as I was asked to play as close to Walker's style as I could.

It's interesting you mentioned earlier about working on tracks from 'First Issue', I'd heard in the past that they had started re-recording the first album, but I'd asked about it and nobody could remember doing it, but that must have been right enough then...

We recorded at the Manor, though some of it was also done at Townhouse in Goldhawk Road, and I definitely recorded over the top of some of the tracks. They were actually recorded in the snooker room in the main Manor house where I was set up on my own with cans and patched through to the studio which was some distance from the Manor. John just didn't like the sound in the studio it was to dead and he wanted a much more live feel to the tracks. I remember most of all working through the night to do it only to find a lump of coal in my bed when I got back! Still it appears I was more fortunate than Karl Burns !!!

The version of 'Fodderstompf' we did came out on the b-side of the 'Death Disco' 12" single, and I remember doing 'Religion' and the actual 'Public Image' track, recording that as well, plus maybe a few others. I had a cassette with some of the outtakes on but for some reason it's either been wiped or it's gone, shame, because it would have been good to have kept that. When I did 'Public Image' I remember John saying at the end 'Oh Christ that was crap wasn't it' and that was still on the tape (laughs).

Do you know why they were re-recording the album?

I've no idea, I had no idea at the time. I dunno if maybe there were some copyright issues with the first drummer or whatever, I really don't know. But I remember sitting down with Wobble and going through some of those tracks from the first album, but to be honest I can't really remember the names. And it's the same with 'Metal Box' because a lot of the stuff was named after I left, but we did lay down some tracks, and I presume they edited them or redone them etc after that. On one tape I remember being copied at the Townhouse it had a track called 'Beat the Drum?' but that might just have been the original title for and existing track?

A track called 'Beat the Drum For Me' later appeared on Wobble's solo album, so it's most lilkely that.

The Manor recording studios, Oxfordshire, 1979 © David HumphreyTo be honest I'm really not that familar with the material. The title "Beat The Drum" was on the cassette that was wiped so I can't even remember how it sounds. I'm sure it would have been me, at least on the demo version I recorded then, I will have to try and hear that somehow. It's a shame because there was a lot of stuff Wobble was working on at the time that I never got to finish with him...'Death Disco' was definitely while I was still there, I remember hearing that on the radio afterwards, I remember the bass riff in that, it's a good track. I think it made it into the Top 10? To be honest I must admit I didn't kept pace with it all, because when I did it, that was it. I didn't even have the record, it was my stepson that actually gave me a copy, my stepson is a keen PiL fan!

When you joined PiL were you just brought in for sessions, did you not come in as a member?

Originally I was sort of joining as a member, sort of a member come session type thing, but it never really got a chance to go much further. To be honest with you I was just 19 at the time and I was just starting off, wanting to get on a bit, and around the same time I was offered stuff for Sparks and Mike Oldfield. I'd did a few 'Top of the Pops' and 'Crackerjack' for them, and I suppose looking back in hindsight I should really have said to John that this stuff is going on now with TOTP, and I just want to do a few sessions. But I didn't! It all happened so quickly. I don't think they took kindly to that, and that's why I exited a bit earlier than I probably would have done, I think it probably put his nose out of joint that I did some other stuff, but that's just inexperience more than anything else.

Were you under contract to Virgin or something?
No, what happened was while I was working with PiL I was up and around Virgin, so I was offered some of these additional sessions while I was at the office. The press and publications girl, I think her name was Tessa, asked me if I was free to record on TOTP with Mike Oldfield on the Wednesday and Thursday that week. I had no rehearsals with PiL or other commitments that week so I did it , but that's how I did the first TOTP with Mike Oldfield, and then Sparks saw me and said do you mind doing a few TOTP with us, so it was just word of mouth really, it started off that way...

Wob at the Manorr, 1979 © David HumphreySo PiL never called back, it just petered out?
My recollection is that it was Wobble that broke the news to me when I was at Townhouse studios, and I remember that he was disappointed that I had to go, but he said John wasn't happy that I had done the sessions without him agreeing to it! I felt crap at the time and very hurt, but in hindsight I can see John was right and I should have told him, fair enough. You live and learn, and move on. It was great experience at the time. I have 30 years under my belt now and that's all part of my history and experience.

So how long were you in the band? Do you know when you joined, probably February or March '79?

About that, possibly till early April. I wasn't there for long, a couple of months at most.

How did you find it working with PiL?

I respected John and what he was trying to do with his music, but I was used to rehearsing with my band five days a week and PiL never really did much rehearsing to be honest. The rehearsing really took place in the studio which I thought was odd, but heck it was their advance money. I remember working through the night at the Manor. It was working upside down for me, but they preferred to sleep during the day and work at night (laughs). I had come out of working a straight job, it was literally one day doing that, the next day off and doing stuff with the band, so it was a period of adjustment, and a bit difficult for me at times. OK, I had plenty of experience with Seventh Seal, but not in terms of the lifestyle and things like that, so it was a real eye opener.

How did you get on with them?

I got on really well with Wobble, I think in some respects because I was the youngest he always looked out for me. I remember Jeannette Lee being around, and going back to Gunter Grove with the band. I don't think Keith would remember me much if I was being truthful. I never hit it off with Keith so I never really engaged with him unless I had to. I got on well with John but he was always very aloof at the time. Wobble was the guy I mainly had a rapport with, struck a chord with, if you pardon the pun!, obviously because of the drum and bass side of things. And if anyone, I suppose I'd like to get back in touch with Wobble just to catch up really and see how he's doing, and who knows what masterpiece might follow! I've got some photos that were taken at the Manor when we were recording. I've got one of Wobble on bass, there's one on my web site of me and John, I've got some others somewhere. I had one of Keith on a skateboard at the back of the Manor, and there's one of me recording at the Manor after we went out and purchased the Rogers drum kit, but I'm still looking for that one...

Keith at the Manorr, 1979 © David HumphreyTell us a little about Seventh Seal, the band you were in prior to PiL, I think it's safe to say they weren't a punk band!

We were doing a lot of progressive jazz fusion stuff. It was quite complex stuff for that time. We'd been together about three years, we actually auditioned for CBS but to be honest I think a lot of the stuff was quite ahead of its time. We played at venues like the Music Machine in Camden and even at the Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford but had trouble finding the right venues. We would have needed quite a lot of money pumped in to get a good record deal. A lot of it had pyrotechnics and dance and film shows, it would have cost a record company an enormous amount to do it, so unfortunately we didn't quite swing a deal, although they said the music was great...

What did you do after the session work with Sparks and Mike Oldfield?

I think because I was so young at the time there was a little bit of disillusionment to be honest. It had been my ambition to be a professional drummer, and once I actually did it, I suppose I lost a bit of interest because I was doing a lot of stuff that I either didn't like or wasn't quite into. It really disillusioned me, so I dropped out of it a while, and you know, family things happen and life goes on. I kept it going but not professionally and it's only in the past few years that I've got back into doing that, plus into teaching full time, I'm a drum tutor and run my own school called Blue Drums, which is all down to my partners belief in my ability. The teaching is really, really good, and I suppose it always helps having it on your CV that you've actually worked with bands like PiL.

Are you still based in London?

Yeah, I'm in Barking, East London, but I'm getting students from even as far away as Ipswich coming, which is great. All levels, beginners to semi-pro's. It's really working out well. I work from home so I've got a dedicated room here with practise kits, plus electronic and acoustic kits. I've got everything geared up here, and if I go out I take a kit with me or work on the kits at the clubs I'm at.

I'm also getting a four piece together, I really miss playing live It's frustrating knowing I should be playing more. I really want to get back into gigging again, and doing more session work. So I'm open to more offers now. That's where I'm at, and obviously over 30 years I've developed a little bit! (laughs).


Picture Credits (top to bottom)
David Humphrey; circa 1979 © David Humphrey
John & David at the mixing desk, The Manor, 1979 © David Humphrey
The Manor recording studios, Oxfordshire, 1979 © David Humphrey
Wob at The Manor, 1979 © David Humphrey
Keith at The Manor, 1979 © David Humphrey
Engineer Hugh Padgham & ? at The Manor © David Humphrey
Keith skating behind the Manor, 1979 © David Humphrey
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