Dedicated to Lewis Collins

Posted in Drumming on December 4, 2013 by barneyjames

Autumn 1972. Southend U.K.

I take a call from Badfinger’s manager Bill Collins, he’d heard that Legend had disbanded and did I need a gig? To this day it was the longest telephone conversation I’ve ever had (5 hours). By the time I got off the phone, I felt like I’d known him for years.

This incident sparked off a series of audition failures on my part which seriously undermined my self confidence.

Badfinger: Barney’s drumming is too “posh”.

Uriah Heep: Barney’s not ready for us yet.

Chris Spedding: Barney’s playing is too schooled, the Vibrators need a raw, hoodlum thumper.

However, this period of rejection ended later that year when I joined Warhorse, replacing Mac Poole on drums, the rest, you might know is history. Over the years Bill Collins would appear at gigs and offer his valued support. Fast forward to 1975, at Morgan studios London. I was playing for Rick Wakeman and we were putting the final touches to the “Arthur” album, when Bill turned up needing a favour. He was handling U.F.O. at the time and the drummer’s cymbals had gone missing, could I help? Later that day he sent a guy to pick up my cymbal case, and that was the first time I met Lewis Collins.

Fast forward again to 1979. Maggie Cartier, casting director for Euston Films who’d previously screen tested me for the ill-fated New Avengers series, ill-fated because it was “pulled” when it was still in post-production, had cast me in The Professionals. I played German terrorist Hans Russenhiem in the first series in an episode titled “Close quarters”. A kind of Bader-Mienhof group having executed a major British politician, make their way cross country to a private airfield, Bodie (Lew) intercepts them and after several car chases and shootouts all the terrorists are killed… Ta-da!!

Writer Brian Clemens who’d previously scripted and devised the highly successful original Avengers series, had cast Martin Shaw as Doyle and Anthony Andrews as Bodie, but a short time into the first episode he rejected Andrews as he didn’t like the chemistry between the two actors. He wanted a more feisty, abrasive pairing, and this decision along with the delays in shooting upset Martin, who despite the recasting of Lewis Collins as Bodie continued to object to this decision.

It transpired that Lew had overheard a telephone conversation between Martin and Andrews making it very clear that he (Martin) didn’t rate Lewis’s abilities, although I knew that Lew was pretty hard skinned, we all knew he was somewhat cut-up about the incident which began to fuel a kind of rivalry between the two leading men, a rivalry more played out by Martins rather lofty persona to Lew’s laid back, jovial nature.

Around that time Lew asked me to show him some martial arts moves to sharpen some of the fight scenes. He felt that Martin, who’d studied various forms for some time, had the edge on him. I pointed out to him that Martin, the lighter of the two, was more co-ordinated, with a physique more akin to Oriental combat than his. He was a bit miffed, but I suggested that he build up his body mass and adopt a more thuggish stance, which he did with great success, however, when I questioned him some time later about his weight gain, he fixed me with his cheeky scouser smile and opened his shirt to reveal two thick sweaters underneath. “Well” he said.”If you’ve got to throw some big bugger around, you’ve got to look like a big bugger yourself, right?”

Two weeks into the “Close quarters” shoot Lew rings me to say that he’s at Pinewood studios and would I like to try the “Pinewood walk of fame experience?”. Mystified, I pitch up at the studio bar to find Lew and actor Jon Finch in prankster mode, it transpired that the studio was running three major shoots, “Death on the Nile”, “Superman” and some action scenes being shot in the “James Bond Studio” and as a consequence Pinewood was waist deep in Hollywood celebs.

Jon explained that in order to capitalise on your appearance at the studio you should walk the full length of the dining room at lunch time. A short time later we re-locate to the rather grand entrance of the main building and make our way toward the dining hall doors, as Jon pulls the heavy doors open he said “Now, this redefines the term to see and be seen”  as we step inside, the full impact of the scale of the hall hit home to me. It seemed to be the size of a football field; acres of panelled walls and magnificently detailed ceiling areas, running the full length of the hall were several lines of linen topped tables flanked by wooden benches. As we walk down the steps I couldn’t shake the feeling that it reminded me of lunch time at a battery hen farm. As we make our way up the aisle, I attempt to attain a remote, aloof expression, an impossible task given that a thousand eyes are drilling you as you saunter by. I see a rather disgruntled Marlon Brando, I instantly fall in love with Mia Farrow, I literally bump into Superman, the actor Christopher Reeve and we actually have a chat… unreal!! As we re-enter the bar, I realise what Lew had meant by the “Pinewood walk of fame”. Later, over drinks, Jon said that I should consider it to be my “My grand cat-walk entrance”. Lew added that it also could be my “Not so grand cat-flap exit!!”

Some months later and the pilot show of  “The Professionals” opens to rave reviews. It’s being described as the U.K. Answer to “Starsky and Hutch” and Euston Films are back in business. It also transformed Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins into major stars almost overnight. As the show gained momentum, I noticed that my nights out with Lew looking for, in his words “deep and meaningless relationships” had dwindled. It was three years before I saw Lew again, although I’d kept contact with his father, who would keep me updated on his son’s ascendency into stardom. Lew had bought a small farmstead in Chalfont St. Peter in Buckinghamshire and moved his dad and his partner Marie in with him. Around that time I received an invitation to attend Lew’s birthday party at his new home. I was delighted to accept and duly turned up with my heavily pregnant wife Louise, to be greeted by Bill, who made a great fuss of Louise and her condition, stating that Lew and his partner were quite desperate to become parents. The party, a suitably star studded bash was well under way and Lew, never a big drinker, was quietly holding court, ever the genial host. Later he tells me he’s been screen tested for the new James Bond movie and with typical modesty, declared with a shrug, that he didn’t think he’d done well. When I ask after Martin who was absent, he does his mock-glazed eye number and changes the subject. We talk of new projects he’d initiated recently, setting up some free fall jumps involving celebrities and others (I knew that he was hanging with 23 SAS Territorial) to raise funding for a charity he’d set up, finishing a script and album we’d been working on, then he dropped the bombshell… he wanted to be the first man to exit a Jumbo jet in flight!!??… He was serious.

For many weeks after the party, I wondered about that plan. I knew I couldn’t get involved, I was a married man with a child now. However, a short time later he moved with his girlfriend to LA and we lost touch with each other. When I heard that Lew had died, I was shocked. He leaves a wife and three sons. So I thought I’d put down a few lines about him, memories of a character who became a friend in a business where friendships are rare, I think of our “Pinewood cat-walk of fame” and that cheeky scouser smile…

Low Lights, Big City

Posted in Drumming on November 26, 2011 by barneyjames

Between 1967-1970 I travelled extensively throughout Northern Ireland, Norway and South America, culminating in a short stop over in New York. It was there that I first got the acting bug it was my ‘period of self-indulgence ‘, attending jazz and poetry classes, digesting Kerouac and Kesey, Miles Davies and Chet Baker. By that time I was playing small jazz clubs and bars, it was on one of those gigs that I met actor John Cassavetes, I was a great fan, so when he asked if he could sit in on my kit I readily obliged. He had a very interesting approach to drumming, the technique was raw and unschooled, more style than content, when I told him this he was delighted, I was gobsmacked when I was later told that he had never played drums before.
I later attended some of his acting classes, at one point I asked him how I should deliver my lines, he said.”Think of the biggest, most outrageously comically large meal on the English menu”. I recalled the Desperate Dan character of the Beano comics. “Cow Pie”I said. He looked puzzled.”And the smallest?” I thought.”Jam butty,” I replied. After a rather pregnant pause, he said. “Right, to the power of ten we have Cow Pie, to the power of one we have a Jam Butty, right? He added. “Now consider all the meals of increasing volume from one to ten, lets say, Jam butty, pancakes, bacon and fries, club sandwich, beef and potatoes all the way up to Cow Pie, yeah?” I nod. “Right, now, deliver your lines….give me bacon and fries”. So, there you have it, Method acting chalked up on a blackboard in a greasy spoon near you.

Southend Rock. Spring 1970.

Posted in Drumming on November 20, 2011 by barneyjames

After a brief spell in New York I return to the U.K.I land the job as house drummer at the Park Lane Hylton under Mike Mortimer, lets just say that residencies don’t blow my skirt up, so pretty soon I’m on the move. A new band is coming together in Southend, It’s a revamp of sixties band Champaigne. They’re about to lose their drummer Gil Levison, later of Squeeze now of Jools Holland. I’m offered the gig and embark on my most intense period of recording/rehearsaing to date. Together with Tony Boynes, Hammond organ, Bob Heath,guitar and Spud Murphy, bass, we created an incredibly tight four part harmony rock band, later to beI re-launched as Forum.
Local singer|songwriter Chris East is brought on board to provide original material. The songs were fine but record companies were’nt impressed, so we hit the Southend residency circuit in a bid to keep eating. I guess you could say we really haunted the Esplanade in those days,with stints at the Criterion pub, Alpha 2 nightclub and Southend Pier. The Pier gig must have had a jinx on it, because during our residencies there, it burnt down, twice. It also turned out to be my swan song, the band fired me without reason or notice. Obviously, I was a bit miffed, but Tony Moynes searched me out a few days later and apologised, but gave no reason why I’d been fired.

Just around that time,another Southend band, Legend were about to lose their drummer,Bill Fyfield to T-Rex,so, I was about to meet the one true curmudgeon of Rock, Legends front man,Micky Jupp. Right from the go, I don’t think Micky was duly enamoured with me or my playing, I did however hit it off with guitarist Mo Witham, so I got the gig. Legend were essentially a blues band with a penchant for Chuck Berry flavoured material, and as such, did’nt provide me with much opportunity to break out of the “Shuffle” patterns vital to that kind of blues music, so I tried to impose a funkier, more open feel to the shows. Problem, Mo Witham and the bass player loved it, Micky hated it. This prompted him to say to Mo”I don’t know what it is that Barney’s playing, but it aint rock and roll”..

We did however, reach a compromise and our first gig at the Marquee club went down a storm. Legends manager, David Knight also ran the affairs of Procul Harum and Doctor Feelgood and on many gig’s, the Feelgoods would act as support band for Legend, after they had finished their set, the roadies would clear their equipment and install ours. It was during the changeovers that that I noticed a rather strange character on stage, a somewhat grubby, bedraggled figure, dirty raincoat,cloth cap and a battered suitcase, a conjurer comic who would produce something in a blues audience I had’nt heard before, hysterical laughter, it transpires that I was watching an icon in the making, it was Ian Dury in his transient period from performing artiste to rock star.

Around that time I had meeting with manager David Knight, who told that Micky Jupp had been approached by non other than Ry Cooder, on offer was a writing deal that involved Micky going to L.A. To write exclusively for Cooders next album. Both management and record company execs were aghast when Micky turned the deal down, saying that all he wanted to do was to hang with Legend, wear a gold lame suit and live without interruption in Southend. Needless to say, he got his wish, surely a dreadful career move given that not long after this Legend were involved in a head-on collision, which by some miracle nobody was hurt, so we proceeded on to the gig at a London club, which failed to provide us with a single audience member, I’ve never been in a band that actually broke up on stage, but we did that night. A Legend is dead….The choking irony hear is that Southend became the source of some truly great acts, Kursaal Flyers, Doctor Feelgood etc.However, I’ve heard recently, that Micky and often to keep the Legend alive.

Things that go bump in the Knight

Posted in Drumming on November 13, 2011 by barneyjames

After the Crystal Palace gig we went into intense rehearsal for The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table …on ice!! It was planned as a three nighter with French Television covering the first night. A huge podium was erected at the center of the arena floor to accommodate orchestra, choirs the band and Rick, with the remaining perimeter transformed into a gigantic ice rink.
It was a daunting task, because of the great many elements involved the whole operation was annexed, with the hope that the whole thing could be assembled successfully later. Oh boy!!On the first afternoons sound check-rehearsal, everything was going at snail pace, a kind of slow moving mayhem. It was decided that for the benefit of the French TV company, a shortened version of the album would be performed, no mean fete to amend a score for nearly two hundred musicians, choirs and dancers. Needless to say, some of the band members retired to the dressing rooms to “relax” As the audience began to take their seats, the French camera crew had still not completed their lights and camera checks. Some moments of panic, then the show begins.
The opening bars of Arthur are played to a muted,darkened setting, the tv cameras and light are focused on the principal ice dancers as they begin to circle the podium. As the piece gathers pace, the cameras and lights flood the whole podium in blinding white light. Chaos ensued, Nobody on stage could have predicted this event. I couldn’t see Rick or the conductor,the choirs and orchestra couldn’t see anything and of course, the dancers couldn’t see where they were skating.
Then, more fuck ups as certain members of the band, the worse for wear, forgot that we were playing an amended version of the album and proceeded to clash with the orchestra and choir.
By now, some of the dancers decked out in costumes, armour and some of the dumbest looking pantomime horses ever, were crashing into barriers and sprawled on the ice. It was like the D-day landings,Hiroshima and the 1812 overture, on ice!!!

Despite terrible revues for the opening night,the two remaining shows went well enough, but fell short of the rave reviews the show had previously drawn. There was a feeling of unease in the Wakeman camp after Wembley. With the impending tours of Japan, Australia and New Zealand just ahead of us, we retreat back to Farmhouse Studios in Buckinghamshire to rehearse m and revise the show in the hope that we could ward off any repeat of the Wembley shambles.
It was during these rehearsals that we spotted the huge figure of Vangelis emerging from a limo parked in the studio courtyard. More limos arrived to reveal the entire line-up of Yes, Steve Howe, Jon Anderson, Chris Squire and Alan White as they greeted Vangelis and entered a studio opposite ours.
During my time with Rick, rumours would occasionally surface that Yes were desperate to bring Rick back into the line-up, that offers of huge amounts of money were made to reconcile him back into what was at the time one of the biggest bands in the world. It was a mystifying situation and one that evoked thoughts of underhanded tactics being brought to bear, for instance, why were we not told by the owner of the studio, a longtime friend of mine,fellow drummer Trevor Moraise that Yes had checked in ?..When I questioned Trevor later he said that a record company executive had booked the studio to audition a keyboard player, it begs the question, does Vangelis do auditions?? and if so, why conduct them in that studio. Surely a dark agenda was being played out, it was my guess that the creator of that agenda was none other than Ricks manager Brian Laine, who, by coincidence was also Yes’ manager.

Although the full story never did surface, my conjecture is that Brian was tiring of Ricks projects , that due to the enormous cost of albums and tours, he feared that the lack of profit would deny him his percentages earned on a typical Yes success. Questions abound, was the presence of Yes and Vangelis a tactic to enrage or embarrass Rick, indeed,did Yes have prior knowledge of Ricks presence at the studio?
The next few days produced some unlikely, sometimes amusing events, watching Vangelis learning to play darts in the local pub the White lion, in Little Chalfonte, watching Brian sweating it out as he moved from studio to studio trying to pacify both parties, but best of all I got to jam with Chris Squire, a stunningly talented bass player, a real revelation.
Pretty soon the music press got hold of the story and Vangelis and Yes simply disappeared.
The only positive thing to emerge from the Farmyard incident was that some time later Jon Anderson and Vangelis teamed up on some very successful albums and tours.

Sebastiane and the dodgy producers

Posted in Acting, Drumming, Film, Jarman on October 13, 2010 by barneyjames

The cast and crew are assembled at Derek Jarman’s apartment in London, prior to leaving for the airport. Government policy at the time limited the amount of actual cash you could take out of the country, so ‘The Producers’ of the film hatched a plan, each member of the cast would secrete huge amounts of cash about their person. I don’t know the collective amount, but I did know that if we were searched, it was straight to jail.

We fly to Sardinia via Rome without incident and check into our hotel in Cagliari a small village on the southern tip of the island. The next morning the costume truck arrived and we are all decked out in Roman armour and togas. I’m delighted to be wearing Richard Burtons costumes as featured in the epic Antony and Cleopatra. But, there’s a setback, the people of the village are an inquisitive lot and are hellbent on finding out the nature of our business there.

Derek Jarman’s film, “Sebastiane” centres around a young Pretorian centurion during the reign of Emperor Diocletian in 32 AD Rome. The centurion, or St. Sebastian as we now know him, is a favourite of the emperor, who becomes enraged when his young lover turns to christianity. The senate in Rome would have Sebastian thrown to the lions, however, the emperor is more lenient and simply banishes Sebastian to an outpost far from Rome. Once there, he falls amongst a motley crew of exiles under the command of Severus, a brutal centurion. The story culminates in the death of Sebastian, an iconic figure depicted throughout the ages as a homoerotic figure, naked and tied to a wooden stake then shot through with arrows.

The controversy of the films content would have had the Italians up in arms, so a way of placating the local feeling had to be made. Once again up step ‘The Producers’ and some more of their illicit practises. A press conference is called at which the producers simply lied through their teeth, saying that the movie was a semi-doc centering around early Roman occupancy of Sardinia. I was then approached by ‘The Producers’ to deploy other session musicians to the island and perform a free concert by way of a diversion. Despite the minor setbacks, filming continued at a pace with instructions to never mention the S word.

Arthur Promotion

Posted in Drumming on October 13, 2010 by barneyjames

By early summer of 75, it became clear that the Arthur album was not doing as much business as Journey had done. In an attempt to boost the sales, Brian Laine, Ricks manager, agreed to a BBC 2 proposal to make a documentary film loosely based on the Arthurian period, but more broadly aimed at promoting the album. So off we went to Tintagel in the west country. It was an appallingly embarrassing experience, with Rick, at six feet five dressed up in Merlin guise complete with wizards hat and cape, the rest of the band dressed as associated knights.

In one, thankfully edited scene, I’m filmed falling from my horse into a lake. Not until I hit the water did I realize I was lying in the stable drain off area, I was up to my arse in horse piss, but hey! I was in the movies. Needless to say, further filming that day had to be abandoned due to hysterics.

Later back at the hotel, I was talking to the film crew’s director, Peter Middleton, the conversation led to what was to be their next project, an “Arty farty film” to be shot in Sardinia. Some weeks later, my agent rang to say I’d been offered a film part, it seems that the “Arty farty” movie in Sardinia had run into trouble, two weeks into shooting, one of the principal actors had walked off and Peter Middleton had shown footage of me, arse deep in horse piss to the director Derek Jarman. Hey! I’m in the movies…again.

I first met Derek at his Sloane Square apartment, it was a bewildering experience, full of beautiful men, some lispers, some hunks and some just plain chunks. I remember I just wanted to bellow, I’m not gay! Derek handed me the script and a black marker, I was to play Severus, a centurion obsessed with the films central character “Sebastiane”. The script had many scenes of explicit gay sex, Derek must have seen my expression, and said “Don’t worry darling, just black out the scenes you feel you can’t do”. Handing back the almost totally redacted script, I feared that he would reject me for the part. But he was fine and said I looked great in horse piss, but was concerned about my long blonde hair, not a good look for a centurion. I got the part and kept my hair.

Crystal Palace 1974

Posted in Drumming on October 13, 2010 by barneyjames

With the Journey album a huge success, the scene was set to promote Arthur, or the Table Fable as we called it, to similar heights. So we kicked off at Crystal Palace. Big problem! The transmitter. All of Ricks synthesisers had gone radiophonic and were transmitting radio broadcasts. Panic! To make things worse, the insulator circuit designed to screen out the transmitter, had gone missing. I go backstage to find Rick tearing into the promoter Harvey Goldsmith, who was responsible for delivery of the insulator. The huge banks of keyboards designed and programmed to do Ricks bidding, were now announcing football results, Magic Roundabout and weather reports.

As the support band Argent start their set, a mad flurry of activity back stage as roadies and technical people set about the task of rectifying the problem. Then another blow, I get stage fright, I’d played scores of huge venues throughout the world,but this was my first open air gig. The stage lighting in stadiums and theatres doesn’t allow you to take in the capacity of the audience, but here in broad daylight with many, many thousands of fans, I felt that every one of those fans were waiting for me to blow it.

As Argent leave the stage and with moments to spare, the roadies announce that they have cured the technical glitch, but not so my non Marine jitters. As the choirs and orchestra take the stage, I’m standing in the wings, when Faces drummer, Kenny Jones appears and tells me that he had heard the first sound check ,that he liked my style on kit and loved the sound of the bass drums. That did the trick, I went on to play what the music press described as a set “sparkling with aplomb, from Barney James’ hard hitting drums” Whoa!! Somebody stop me!!!

Some weeks later, we’re back on the Ken Russell set, when I hear a story about Ringo Starr. Now here was one of the worlds greatest debunkers, it appears he was in the dressing room at one of Johnny Cash’s gigs. As Mr Cash, a man not known for his sense of humour, came off stage, up jumps Ringo proclaiming loudly “Oh! Johnny, Johnny I thought you were absolutely fantastic, I thought you were totally amazing, but you were’nt”.

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