“I still wish to become the drummer I always wanted to become...”
Interview with Pete Spencer
 

It seems unnecessary to introduce Pete Spencer, at least to the visitors of this site. But for the sake of propriety let's say that Pete is one of the four members of the original Smokie line-up. Having joined the group (then Kindness) in 1973 he left it in 1982. After that Pete wrote songs and recorded drums for many solo albums of Chris as well as played in his band for a long time. Along all those years Pete was a great part of the amazing composer duet with Chris, they had created quite a few real masterpieces. Many of us remember (mainly by videos) Pete as a very charming, ironical person with a strong sense of humor but at the same time rather modest - will you find many interviews with him?.. On the eve of his 60th birthday Pete Spencer has kindly agreed to answer the questions of our site.

 

— Pete, looking back over the past 60 years, what events in your life could you call most impressive and memorable? Please, mark out 3 such events, if possible. Is there something what you had wished to do but still haven’t done (also 3 ones)?

— I had a holiday in Oban, Scotland with my parents when I was about 11 years old. During this holiday I witnessed Scottish bagpipe and drum bands marching in the street. I was fascinated by the drums and drummers and from that moment on I was completely hooked on the snare drum and all things connected to drumming.

Seeing Buddy Rich play around 1971 made me realise how much there was (and always is) to learn about playing the drums. Seeing him inspired me to listen more and to study more.
All these answers to your questions about drums must be very boring, but that’s it.

Laying in bed on a glorious sunny day and hearing “If You Think You Know How To Love Me” from the loud speaker of the nearby factory when it was number 3 in the charts, Smokie’s first hit.

I still wish to write something really exceptional, I mean music. I still wish to become the drummer I always wanted to become. I wish I had learnt a different language.

— Many people consider you and Chris Norman as best friends. What qualities of character a person should have to become “a best friend of Pete Spencer”?

— We are best of friends. I knew Chris a little when I joined Kindness. We just sort of “hooked up”…we liked a lot of the same music …were both smokers at the time …things like that... I couldn’t say what qualities a person should have, who really knows why people become friends?

— Do you have your ideal of a woman? What kind of should she be to draw your attention?

— I couldn’t say what qualities a woman should have, who really knows why people become friends?!!!!! I think patience is an asset especially where drummers are involved.

— You once told that in your youth you could become a football player instead of a musician. Was your liking for sports really so serious and what was the reason to choose music?

— I don’t think I was that serious when I said that… I did like football and took part in various activities, played in school and youth teams. I was a pretty decent goalkeeper, quite similar to a drummer if you really think about it… but once I really got into drums it was bye bye football.

— Are you still a football fan and what are your favourite teams?

— I always supported Bradford City as a boy and still make a note of results but I haven’t been to a game for quite a few years… Being a fan of Bradford City was also something Chris and I shared in common.

— When did you start to practise music and what instruments did you learn to play?

— Even though I started playing drums (well drum really…no kit) at 11 years I didn’t really practise and study seriously until I was about 20. And I haven’t stopped studying since… I play guitar, flute, and keyboards.

— Why did you choose playing drums?

— They chose me really.

— How did you learn to play drums, whom you tried to follow, who was and still is your favourite drummer?

— I think I had a basic natural ability and in the early days I listened and watched other players. I played along to records from bands like the Shadows; Brian Bennett from the Shadows is still one of my favourite drummers. Later I studied with a drummer called Geoff Myers who taught at Leeds Collage of Music. I don’t really have a favourite… but I guess Buddy Rich is closest.

— Tell us about your musical activities before joining to Kindness. What were the Chevrons? Had you done any recordings with them?

— I was still at school when, along with some school friends we started the Chevrons. With a great deal of help from my Dad and other parents arranging transport etc we played the local village hall and similar gigs. No recordings were made and once we all left school we didn’t keep in contact. After finishing school at sixteen I had a couple of “normal” jobs before travelling to work in Germany with a local band called The Collection, which was in 1967. From that time until joining Kindness I had many drumming jobs, various groups (nowadays referred to as bands), night club residencies, holiday camps, I was a ship’s musician for a while playing on a liner sailing out of Southampton and around the Mediterranean.

— How did you get to know for the first time about the band of Chris, Terry, Alan and Ron?

— A band I was in used the same local entertainment agency.

— How did you join to Kindness? What was the reason to join them?

— Their drummer, Ron, was on holiday or something like that so I stood in for him for a week or so of gigs. After which they asked me to join permanently. I said OK because I liked them and their attitude. They also sounded great….with a fantastic harmony blend.

— Why exactly Chris Norman did become your co-author? How did you usually write songs, who wrote words and who tunes, was there any division of work?

— I’d always messed about with song ideas on guitar. I can’t really remember how it came about with the two of us, but I think because we shared a similar liking of certain music helped. I might play him a “bit” of an idea and he might say “I like that, I have a “bit” that will work with that”. We would get together every now and again and play each other our ideas, usually both having an idea based on melody and feel rather than words, then we would make a song out of that. Off course, that wasn’t always the case, sometimes we both might each write a whole song, but we were always happy to share the song with each other. It really was the ideal fifty fifty.

— Did you write lyrics?

— Yes, I wrote/write melody and lyrics. Nearly always melody first along with some “nonsense” lyrics.

— The first real hit from your author’s tandem with Chris was “Mexican Girl” which did not yield an inch to compositions of two “Ch” being the same melodious and catchy. And what were your feelings when you got to know about the success of that song? Was the song dedicated to any particular Mexican girl? ;-)

— I never really liked the song that much really but of course was thrilled with its success. The original opening lines were “Jennifer came to me last night” but we changed that to Juanita to fit a kind of story we came up with.

— Recently Chris told audience that originally that was a song about your daughter Jennifer…

— Yes, at first that was so.

— But, in this connection, weren’t the first lines of “The Girl Can't Help It” - “Little Jenny came out of school...” written about her too?

— No. It's just a nice name to sing I guess.

— How the idea of recording “Petesey’s song” was born?

— I started the song by messing on any piano that might have been hanging about at the halls we were gigging in. It was always “tongue in cheek,” for a laugh about being the drummer (goalkeeper) at the back. We finished it any way. I never thought it would be recorded, but our producer Mike Chapman heard our demo, liked it and suggested we record it for “The Montreux Album”.

— Tell us, please, how and where did rehearsals usually go? How did you usually record in studio: separately or all playing together?

— Well, rehearsals for recording would be done in a room close to were we would be recording… getting the feel and tempo right, working out harmonies, solos etc. Generally speaking in the studio we would play the song together with a view of getting the drums right, if Chris, Alan or Terry made a mistake then they could over dub their part with the drums later…I found this process nerve racking but satisfying. In the days before digital recording, where all manner of “magical” things can be achieved, a drummer could find himself three minutes into a good take and thinking “shall do a fill here, risk making a mistake and have to re record the track or shall I play safe and play it straight and simple”… I usually played it safe. After the drums were ok everything else would generally be added layer by layer: bass, acoustics, lead vocal, harmonies, solos and any outside musicians, strings etc. I think that is how most recordings were put down in those days.

— Did you sing back vocals in studio and on concerts? Everybody says no, but we can see a microphone for your voice in the Smokie film.

— I did sing one or two back vocals in the studio, but not many. Even though Chris would sing the lead vocal he would also over dub a harmony part. I did some backing vocals at live gigs taking Chris’s overdubbed studio part. That would explain the microphone.

— Had you any side projects during the time in Smokie?

— Chris and wrote and produced a couple of football records: The England World Cup Squad 1982; a record with Kevin Kegan, a well known English footballer at the time who played for Hamburg; the anthem for the Liverpool FC… Though not exactly rock and roll these records were very successful.

— What instruments did you play in Smokie times in studio and on concerts besides drums? Please, at greater length about “milk bottles” on “The Other Side…” album ;-)

— I played a little acoustic guitar on one or two tracks. I played acoustic on one tour were all four of us played acoustic together. I played flute on a couple of records, “Here Lies a Man”, a B side was one, I think. I have a vague recollection of the milk bottles, I think I must have blown into them, flute style, to achieve a certain sound.

— So you all four played acoustic together? What tour was that and what songs did you play in that way?

— I really can't remember when it was (I’m nearly 60!). I know we played “If You Think...” and I think “Too Many Pennies In Hell”.

— What is your favourite album of Smokie and why? The same question is about Chris’s solo albums many of which you also did work over?

— I would say “Changing All The Time”. Even though personally I am not happy with some of my playing on that album I love the sound of the harmonies and it was a good time making it… four young men in Paris at the very beginning of it all. As for the Chris’s albums, best of all I like “Reflections”.

— Why did you leave Smokie?

— For private reasons, it was a difficult time for me and I didn’t want to do as much touring.

— Had you any plans for creative work at that moment?

— Not really, but I certainly wanted to pursue my drum studies.

— Whose works of colleagues, musicians in 70-80s did you like?

— I can only think of Nik Kershaw.

— What song’s author would you like to be?

— “Salty Dog” by Procol Harum.

— If you had a choice, then what historical epoch you’d like to live in?

— Probably in UK, USA late forties early fifties… lots of work around for good musicians, and not a drum machine in sight.

— Do you have any wish at the moment to be a member of a band, go on tours, gigging like it was in Smokie?

— No, not at my age.

— If a miracle would have happened and 4 original members of Smokie would have decided to make a record and go on tour with it, would you agree to “return to the ranks” and write songs as it was before? What music would you like to play then, in what style?

— Well, they say never say never, don’t they? If that did happen I would think the best music to play would be in a similar style to what the band is best known for, good tunes good harmonies…

— Do you work with Chris nowadays?

— I’ve played drums on his last album. I’m sure we’ll do some more writing maybe some time in the future.

— Saying “the last album” do you mean “Million Miles”? Or the new one which is planned for release to Christmas?

— Both actually.

— We know you took a big part in making Alan’s last album “Solitary Bird”. Could you say how the songs were written and recorded, in what conditions?

— Well, that took some time to make. We both have the same computer recording systems at our homes. So I would, say, record some drums or acoustic guitars and then put them on a file to transfer to Alan’s system and then he could add a guitar solo or whatever. We wrote most songs individually. Though the song “Wild Horses” was a combination of a verse of mine and a chorus of Alan’s.

— Do you plan to work with Alan again over his next album? To ask in general, what are your creative plans?

— We haven’t talked about it. As you know Alan has his own band now, maybe he would do something new with them. At the moment I am deep into drum studies (surprise!!)… As for plans, I’ve never really had any kind of plan.

— What are you doing nowadays? Do you still continue to work with Chip Hawkes in Class Of 64 project?

— I’m no longer with Class Of 64. I’m concentrating (as you know) on drum studies, writing, recording and I take the odd gig here and there if I get a “call”.

— What are your children about? Has anybody of them choiced a profession of musician?

— I don’t really talk about my children, but they are great people, are happy and doing well for themselves…Neither has chosen music as a profession.

— Dear Pete, thank you very much for your answers! Surely all Smokie fans, both old and young, always and especially now, on your dear Birthday, wish you only best things in the world: health, peace and happiness!

— Well, I'd like to thank everyone for their good wishes. It's amazing after all this time that has passed... Many many thanks for your interest and support. All the very best to all.

 

Pete Spencer's page in the Web: http://www.myspace.com/mypetespencer.
 

Thanks to everybody who sent their questions for Pete!

October, 2008 © www.chris-norman.ru