|“You are the people who made Smokie...”|
|Interview with Ron Kelly|
— Ron, what happened to you during the period since late 70s up until you joined Alan Silson?
— I actually retired from the music scene in 1980 for a while. Mick, the singer of Stormer, was involved in a serious road accident and spent almost one year in hospital. When he was admitted to hospital straight after the accident it was touch and go whether he would survive. He spent weeks in intensive care but eventually, thankfully he pulled through. When we were told that he would not be able to work for at least one year we tried out replacement singers but unfortunately none of them came anywhere near Mick’s standard so we reluctantly called it a day.
At first I worked in a music shop in Cleckheaton as well as teaching drums but eventually I had to get a proper job as I had a wife, two children, two dogs and a mortgage to support and couldn’t exist on the living I was getting from the shop and teaching – so I became a postman for the Royal Mail. I sold my Ludwig drumkit and retired. Two years later I went to see a band at my local pub and immediately realized how much I missed playing. When I moved to Blackpool in 1986 I bought a drumkit and got myself a gig with a local band as well as playing as an accompanying musician in some of the many clubs of Blackpool. This is what we call dep. (short for deputy) drumming.
I played in various small band in Blackpool and when I finally left there I also left the Post Office and became a taxi-driver instead. I moved back to the Bradford area and met up with an old friend the legendary bass-player Malcolm Siswick and joined his band 69 Ways, which then became El.Loco. I also joined his Irish Cedilah (pronounced Kayley) band and played many Irish wedding gigs. When this band split up I dep’d with many local bands and played blues, rock and even jazz just so that I could keep my hand in playing. Then in August 2005 I met Mr. Silson again after 25 years and he invited me to join his band.
— Ok, let’s talk about your musical tastes. Logically, first question should be about your favourite drummers, so who are they?
— Ringo Starr, Charlie Watts, Keith Moon and Mick Avory were my favourites when I first started to play drums. These guys really inspired me.
Buddy Rich is my all time hero and it was my dad who was a drummer introduced me to Buddy Rich and I was lucky enough to see him live seven times over the years. Buddy Rich is the best drummer there has ever been in the world. He has influenced more drummers than any other drummer, and he always played on a single kit. His bass drum foot is faster than most guys who play double kick and his left hand speed is incredible. Buddy's talent was God given although he started playing drums at 18 months old and was on stage at 2 years named ‘Traps the boy wonder’.
— Now what about other musicians, who were your favourites and maybe whom you were happy to meet or play with?
— The Shadows tracks were my favourites to play along to when I was a kid practising my drums on my Mum's Biscuit tins. The ones I loved play to the most were F.B.I., Frightened City, Shadoogie, Shindig, Man of Mystery, Guitar Tango, Quartermasters Stores, and the Savage. I used to practice all the drum fills that were on the records so that I could play them all beat perfect.
— Have you ever been to The Beatles gigs? Did you ever meet any of them besides Ringo?
— I saw The Beatles at the Bradford Gaumont Theatre in 1963 but you couldn’t hear them for all the screaming girls. It was just great to see all my heroes on stage in front of me.
— Ok, here come some specific drum questions. Imagine if you had to put together ideal drum kit, then what it would be? Tell please in all numerous details about it.
— My ideal kit is a difficult question indeed. I have played so many different kits over the years-Premier (which I play now in England) Ludwig-Tama-Drum Workshop-Gretsch-Pearl-Yamaha-Mapex and Promuco. I enjoyed each kit for different reasons and because they suited the kind of music that I was playing at the time. For instance with Stormer I had a Ludwig Octoplus kit which consisted of 11 drums and 8 cymbals all mic'd up. With Owl I had a Pearl Export which was a great kit too. Ideally I would have a Yamaha Maple kit with 6 ply shells instead of the normal 4ply. I would have a 22" Bass-10"-12"-13"-14" rack toms and 14"-16" and 18" Floor toms. I would have all Tama hardware including snare drum stand with a ball and socket adjustments. I would have Iron Cobra pedals especially a double pedal on the Bass. I would have three Snare drums-a standard 14"x5" maple shell, a 14” maple piccolo snare and also a 14"x7" maple shell. I would have 14" Heavy High hats on the High Hat Pedal and 15" light High hats on a remote stand on my right next to my main ride cymbal which would be my Paiste 3000 heavy ride which I have now. I would have 6"-8" and 10" splash cymbals all mounted to my left over my High hat pedal. Then I would have 14"-16"-18" and 20" crashes running in sequence left to right and then a 22" medium ride next to my 3000 ride. Above these I would have 16"-18" and 20" China types. All cymbals would be Paiste. Sticks would be 5a Shawstix. All heads would be Remo-Ambassadors all round. My cases all would be protection racket flight cases. There, I think I have mentioned everything.
— Would you like to add any special percussion units to such a drum kit? Did you ever use them before and do you like play percussions at all?
— I have never really been into percussion totally although I have played congas and bongos and timbales many times. I wouldn't know where to start if I bought a percussion station! I have never been into electronic drums either and I hate it when you get guys setting up an electronic kit to sound like an acoustic kit. Why not just buy an acoustic kit in the first place? I have also used cowbells before but I think wood blocks, skulls etc. are specialised sounds and personally I doubt whether I would ever use them. I have also used brushes many times when I have played jazz and also I use wood-whackers (rods) in many of the Dylan numbers.
— Do you like to play drum solos? Tell please about your own solos. Did you prepare them beforehand or they came as improvisation just during the show?
— I am not a fan of drum solos only those played by the best i.e. Buddy Rich. I think five minutes is long enough for a drum solo unless you are Buddy and he could play for twenty five minutes and not repeat himself.
— Can you remember any funny or comical incidents which probably have happened to you along your drummer carrier?
— One funny incident I can remember very well was falling off my drums during my drum solo whilst I was playing with Stormer. We were playing at Herriot Watt University Edinburgh and my drums were positioned on my riser which was 5 feet high. I used to do the solo in our version of “Smoke On The Water” and when it came to the solo our crew would flood the stage with dry ice smoke from two kettles – one at each side of the stage. Dry ice gave great smoke but also made everything very wet. I was playing my double kit at the time and the bass pedals had metal foot plates. These became very wet and when I pushed back on my stool to do a double bass drum roll my feet slipped off them. I toppled backwards, my sticks flying through the air, and I landed heavily on the stage behind my riser which knocked the breath out of my body. I lay there in the quiet, not knowing where I was and all I could hear was John, Mick and Steve laughing loudly at the side of the stage. Out front, there were about 4 thousand people wondering where the drummer had disappeared to until I crawled across the stage to my drumsticks which were lying at the side of the stage. I suddenly appeared out of the smoke playing the stage floor, up and down the mics along my riser and by this time, Alan my drum tech had got my steps behind the riser and I played up the steps and back to the kit. By that time Alan had also wiped my pedals down and as I sat down I launched into the loudest longest double roll and just went berserk until the end of the solo. The crowd went crazy and it was a great feeling when I finished. Trouble is whenever we played again in Scotland people expected me to fall off my drums. They thought it was part of the act!..
— Ron, are you a football fan? What is your favourite team? You mentioned that you were into football in your early days, could you become a football player instead of a musician?
— I am a Huddersfield Town supporter. Huddersfield is a town about 10 miles from Bradford and I have supported them ever since I was seven years old. They have had some great players – the left back, Ray Wilson, was in the England team that won the world cup in 1966 and Denis Law, the great Manchester United and Scotland striker, started his playing career at Huddersfield and I saw him play there. In 1957 my father took me to watch Huddersfield Town and the famous blue and white stripes have been my favourite team ever since. I actually had trials with them and played for the junior team in the Northern Intermediate League (Academy League nowadays) and also had an occasional game with the reserves. Unfortunately training interfered with gigs with the band in the early days and after I missed a couple of training sessions the Town manager, Mr. Tom Johnson gave me the unlimatum, football or music. There was only one outcome and music won hands down.
— Can you call yourself a musical collector? Do you have a large collection of LPs, 45s, tapes, DVDs, CDs etc?
— I have always been a collector of music and I used to have a large collection of vinyl albums including all the Beatles original albums which Ringo personally signed for me and I had a signed David Bowie album which had his signature plus all the Spiders From Mars as well. I have a large collection of CDs and DVDs too and I love the thrill of putting on a new disc which I have never seen or heard before and listening to the new tracks. I love reading the sleeve notes too and finding out about the musicians, the producers, the studios etc. I have so many that it is sometimes years before I play an album again and when this happens it is like discovering a new CD. I love to lay on the sofa with a glass of wine and to listen to music through my headphones when you hear much more than you would if you listened without.
— Imagine that you’re going to an uninhabited island. What 10 albums would you take with you?
— The question about albums is a really hard one. My choices change all the time. At this moment the 10 albums I would take are:
— Well, and what song of Smokie do you like most? Which of their albums do you think is the best?
— I think that the best album is 'Solid Ground'. All the band play wonderfully well on that CD. Pete's drumming is immense and he is an inspiration to me. Chris's vocals and his rhythm guitar playing are extraordinary and as for Alan, his guitar work on this album is incredible and in my eyes he ranks alongside people like B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Blackmore and Hendrix with his playing on this album. This was his best period for his playing and he was one of the greatest guitarists in the world around this time. The whole band's vocals were so tight and close and they rank alongside Crosby Stills and Nash vocally as the greatest of all.
The best single track of all time is the 'Train Song'. It is exactly my kind of music, what with Alan's superb guitar playing, the wonderful harmonies, the time changes, both subtle and otherwise and the sheer power of their playing especially Mr. Spencer's all adds up to a brilliant piece of music. Just as a whole it’s a wonderful track.
— Smokie's music is still popular in Europe and post Soviet countries. But what about England? Are there any Smokie tribute bands among other things?
— Smokie still have a fan base in England and Terry's Smokie still do an English tour every year but the venues never sell out. Smokie fans in England only want to hear the old Smokie hits and are not interested in new material, which is a shame. Alan will just not play in England at all and that is why we have the 'Spirit of Smokie' project with Dean Barton. This band sounds just like the original Smokie as Dean has a voice very similar to both his Dad and Chris and the harmonies that Andy, Graham and Kevin sing complement the sound very much.
There are no Smokie tribute bands in England as far as I know, but between Terry's band and our band with Dean we can keep Smokie's music alive in England. It will never be popular with the younger people but those of our generation and our children's generation will always love the songs.
— What do you do nowadays besides gigging with Alan Silson?
— Andy and I are playing with a local band from Wakefield. They are a Bob Dylan Tribute band and are called The Dirty Dylans. Two of the guys from that band J. and Adam also have a 60s and 70s band called The Britrocks who I also play with when they are gigging.
I would like to tell about the musicians that I work with both with Alan’s band and other projects as well. I will talk about them in no order in particular except to say for all of them I value their friendships, I am amazed at their musicianship and I feel privileged to be working with them.
Andy Whelan. I have enormous admiration for Andy’s musicianship. The first time I heard him play I knew he had a God given natural talent but I also knew straight away that he has worked hard to perfect that talent. Whenever and whatever kind of music he is called on to play, his preparation is always thorough and he leaves nothing to chance. He is the ultimate, consummate professional and what he doesn’t know about anything to do with guitars, amps, speakers, effects, sounds etc., you could probably write on the back of a postage stamp and still have plenty of space left. He is a real family orientated man who is cheerful, happy and caring at all times and he has a wicked wit and a sharp sense of humour. He has also got strong principles which he will stick by whatever the cost will be to him. If anyone is in trouble I know that he would be one of the first to offer help and assistance to solve whatever problems have arisen. All in all a perfect gentleman and a good friend too.
Graham Kearns. What can I say about Graham? On the musical side his bass playing is superb, not fussy or over complicated but solid and reliable. He is such an easy musician to work with and all I have to do is to lock into his basslines and my job is made much easier. Of the many superb bass players I have worked with including Gerry Smith and Bruce Foxton, Graham ranks in the top three or four. Off stage he has a wicked sense of humour, a laugh that is infectious and loud and is such a charming man, as you ladies already know. He is also the kind of guy that you want by your side if there are any problems as he is intelligent, articulate and confident and can deal with people from all walks of life. Also the perfect gentleman and a very good friend too.
Kevin Fitzpatrick. Many of you may already know of Kevin through his playing with Chris Norman as well as Alan Silson. Kevin is a brilliant musician on keyboards and a good guitarist too. His vocals are awesome and enhance any band that he plays with. He is another perfectionist who has a God given talent that he has worked hard to perfect over the years. He is equally at home fronting a band as he does with ‘Off The Wall’ or playing quietly in the background as he does with both Alan’s band and when we work with Dean Barton or The Dirty Dylans. He is another person with a dry, wicked sense of humour and his one line ripostes over the years have brought many people down to earth with a bang. Kevin is another one who is intelligent and very articulate too and very well read on certain subjects. He also likes his own space when touring and is quite happy to be alone with his own thoughts.
Barney Brands. Barney is an all-round musician equally at home playing keyboards or accordion. He is an extremely busy musician dividing his time between four bands but whenever he is with us his playing is sound and he never lets us down. He too is confident, has a great sense of humour, enjoys a laugh and is a real party animal who can eat, drink and smoke with the best of them. I count him as a very good friend even though I only see him whenever we are gigging. He too has a lovely family and his musicianship has been passed on to his son Tommy who amongst other things is a drummer. I shall have to look to my laurels!! :)
Gerard Rolfe. Without him at the mixing desk both the band and the audience would notice a huge difference in the way our sound is presented. He is an expert in his field and his knowledge of sounds and frequencies, speakers, amps, desks and also instruments particularly guitars is second to none. I know that when he is behind the desk my drums will sound awesome and that the whole final mix will be brilliant. He is extremely articulate, intelligent and a very well read man. His knowledge of music and musicians is also complete and the number of famous artistes that he has engineered for would need a full roll of wallpaper just to document their names. He is another real charmer where the ladies are concerned and his telephone contacts list of ladies is absolutely full. Mind you, he never seems to use them. Another one with an extremely quick wit and a good sense of humour.
Dean Barton. As you all know Dean is Alan Barton’s son and has inherited all the talents that his father had. If you close your eyes when he is singing, particularly any song that his father wrote, then it could be Alan singing. He has an outstanding voice, he is a talented songwriter and lyricist and a good guitarist. He is also very at home in his studio where he is always working on new things. Alan was such a nice guy, charming, unassuming, caring, funny, witty and he loved playing with Smokie – a role that was perfect for him when Chris left. Dean has inherited all these things too and when Dean is singing in front of me his enthusiasm shines through and transfers to the audience. I was proud to call Alan a friend and his friendship meant a lot to me. I feel the same way about Dean and know that Alan would be extremely proud of his son. He too has a wicked sense of humour and always has a smile on his face even when he has a severe hangover. ;) He enjoys life to the full.
— During the last 3 years you often were to the former USSR countries, from Siberia to Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Can you describe your impressions of that countries and people, did that match your expectations?
— Funny really, but when I was at school my father had a great interest in Russia and its history and his library contained many of the great Russian authors. He would have loved to have visited Russia and I feel privileged that I have been able to do something that would have been one of his greatest wishes.
— Any kind of wishing to Chris-Alan-Smokie fans?
— To Chris, Alan and Terry's fans (Not forgetting Pete too) – I just want to wish them all the very best and much happiness for the future and to keep on listening to the great Smokie tracks that each of them continues to play. Keep coming to the gigs too and please make yourselves known to us. We love to talk to the fans afterwards. You are the people who made Smokie and none of the guys will ever forget that.
|Page of Ron Kelly in MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/ronkellydrummer|
The interview was made with the participation of Dmitriy Kraskovskiy (Chernigov, Ukraine).
|February, 2009 © www.chris-norman.ru|