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Richard Newman - Interview

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 23 / 2 / 2013

Richard Newman - Interview


Drummer Richard Newman has worked with among many others Steve Marriott, Rory Gallagher and Alvin Lee. In a rare interview, he speaks to Nick Dent-Robinson about his extraordinary career

Richard Newman never seeks publicity and rarely gives an interview. But, at 47, he is widely respected in the music business as one of the UK's most accomplished rock drummers. In a career spanning three decades Richard has played with many of the legends of rock music, including Steve Marriott, Joe Brown, Mark Knopfler, Jim Capaldi, Dave Gilmour, Rory Gallagher, Glenn Hughes and Alvin Lee. Richard's dad was top 60’s drummer Tony Newman of Sounds Incorporated who subsequently worked with Little Richard, Jeff Beck, David Bowie, Crystal Gayle, Marc Bolan, Albert Lee and the Everly Brothers. And Richard's mum, Margot, sang with the Vernon Girls and their spin-off group, the Breakaways. So Richard was raised amidst all the mayhem and madness of the late 60s/early 70s rock scene. He was born to perform and was a capable drummer by the age of 10. But Richard's life has been far from easy. He was taken into care as a child following a turbulent time after his dad became addicted to heroin and left the family and Richard's mum had a major breakdown. Thanks to the kindness of family friend and fellow musician Joe Brown and his late wife Vicki, Richard was rescued, fostered and launched on his own successful career. Though more trauma and turmoil were to follow – along with many musical triumphs and some euphoric times. Relaxing in the beautiful Tudor cottage near Wallingford, Oxfordshire that he shares with his partner Kim, a barrister, nd their two children, Daisy, now in her young teens and Archie, 8, Richard reflects on the highs and lows of an eventful life providing the rhythm behind some of the icons of rock 'n' roll. Richard greets me as I enter through the large security gates of his village home. He looks very rock 'n' roll; powerfully built with fair pony-tailed hair and fiercely bright blue eyes. But he is warm and very welcoming and proudly shows me some of the extensive refurbishment he's been undertaking on his pretty cottage. I meet his two children and the family's small terrier dog as I am ushered inside, narrowly avoiding crashing my head on the low beams in the cosy period sitting room. It seems a happy domestic scene – perhaps rather more so than in Richard's own childhood? “Well, I hope so, yes – and more stable,” Richard readily agrees. “Though I had some happy times, too. My dad Tony Newman was always out working on the road, touring. He'd played with Gene Vincent and had been the drummer in Sounds Incorporated for years. They were a Brian Epstein-managed band and my dad was with them when they opened at New York's Shea Stadium in '65 for the Beatles. He's in the video of that concert. Then he was with David Bowie and Marc Bolan and Crystal Gayle and later the Everly Brothers and Albert Lee. Always touring, always working. And my mum Margot was often away working too, singing with the Breakaways – a spin-off group from the Vernon Girls. We had au pairs but often my mum and dad would leave me with Joe and Vicki Brown and their children, Sam and Pete, who then lived nearby at Chigwell in Essex and who had a live-in nanny. Vicki Brown had been in the Vernon Girls with my mum and was in the Breakaways too. She was from Liverpool, like my mum. Joe was one of the first generation of British rock stars and knew my dad well. I enjoyed being at the Browns. There was always music there and they had a recording studio so all kinds of musicians would be coming and going, lots of parties - though as kids we just took everything for granted really.” “When I was at home it was less happy. My parents were only 21 when I was born. They were both caught up in the music business from a very young age and I think that in the midst of so much craziness, parenthood came hard for them - which I can understand now. The 60s were a strange era, so many things happening for the first time and it was tough for some people to deal with all the fame and glory.....all that pressure from managers and record companies and from the fans. George Harrison once said to me he spent ten years in the Beatles trying to get famous and the next thirty years trying not to be. Anyway, my mum and dad didn't handle it well.” Did Richard see his parents performing? “I remember being flown off at age eight with my mum and baby sister Martha to join my dad on the summer segment of David Bowie's ‘Diamond Dogs’ North American tour. I recall flying on the Boeing 707 and my first impressions of New York – the yellow cabs, the skyscrapers – just like on ‘Kojak’ - and feeding squirrels in Central Park, plus the luxury hotel where we stayed. I'd meet my dad with Bowie before the show and it would all seem so normal. But then we'd suddenly be in the auditorium at Madison Square Garden or in some huge arena with thousands of fans going wild, screaming and I just wouldn't know what to make of it. Very scary for a child. And then we'd be on a plane every other day or on the Greyhound tour bus, peering out as we sped along the highways and then staying in a whirl of different hotel rooms with my mum, my baby sister and me trying to do my school work. It was all very disorientating for a small boy. To this day, I have never really enjoyed touring. But if you want to play live music which is what most good musicians live for, then touring is just the price you have to pay. It doesn't work to take the kids along though. It's not fair on them.” How old was Richard when he first started to play the drums? “They say I was trying to play my dad's drums from the age of about two! He'd leave a couple of his drums in the front room after he'd finished a late gig and, when I was six or so, I'd be up in the morning, set them up and play them in the bay window to passers by. When he had time my dad did teach me some of the basics. The rudiments – like two strokes and three stroke rolls and the paradiddles and triplets. If you are ever going to be a proper drummer you must know your rudiments; you can never get the rest of the kit working without that. And you never stop perfecting your technique; you are always learning.” “Great drummers are probably born with a gift for it. You can sometimes see someone who is technically good, but they still don't quite have it; they don't move you, they are not helping to make a song really sing properly. And audiences pick up on that. It's hard to explain. But less is often more, good drumming is about light and shade, subtlety and feeling. And that takes time to perfect. Even if you are a natural you still need to learn the basics thoroughly. People with great natural talent and good technique are Ian Paice of Deep Purple and the late John Bonham of Led Zeppelin. But the absolute king of rudiments and drum technique was Buddy Rich.” “Once I was six I could reach the bass drummer's seat on my dad's drums and I started to put it all together from then really. My dad was encouraging when he was around, but that wasn't often.” “By the time I was ten, the strain of the rock 'n' roll life was getting too much for my dad. Like so many then, he was into drugs and became addicted to heroin. He was working in America a lot and he left the family. Then my mum started to suffer mentally. She soon had a major breakdown. After all the excitement of the 60s, the music scene was changing. Prior to punk it was getting very self-indulgent. And that brought a lot of people down. In different ways my dad and my mum were casualties of that, I think.” “My reaction to my parents' problems was to play truant and run wild. Before long I found myself being taken into care and, after being assessed at a centre in Maidenhead, I was sent to a secure children's home in North Wales - miles away from anyone I knew. I really struggled there but fortunately the staff recognised I had ability as a drummer. They got me some drums and were very supportive. Soon I was playing with some other kids locally in the Wrexham area but it was frustrating because they weren't too good a standard. At Easter and again in the Summer I was allowed out to stay with the Browns who by then had moved to a lovely house in Stoke Row, Oxfordshire. They'd take me away with their family on wonderful holidays too. But I wasn't thriving at the children's home and had lost a lot of weight with worry. So, eventually, Joe and Vicki Brown agreed with the manager that they would take me in permanently. They gave me a home and I became like one of the family. Then they started me off in the music business.” How did Richard get his first professional job? “Steve Marriott was a regular visitor to the Browns. One day I was just in a back room practising on the drums – I used to jam a lot with Sam and Pete Brown – and Steve who was down in the snooker room called out, 'Who's that?' I said, 'It's just me' and he came in and said, 'Well, go on, then, let's hear you' and he stood and watched and listened. Then he said, 'Do you want to come and do a gig with me?' I was just 14. Anyway, I went and did it – just in a big pub in East London and Sam Brown came too. She sang and I played drums with Steve. It was the first professional gig for both of us. Part way through I froze with nerves, the only time I've ever done that mid-performance. But Steve just shouted, 'Get on with it!' and that brought me back and I was fine after that. So that was the start of my professional career.” Richard was to work again with Steve Marriott in later years. “Yes, and it was odd how that happened. After I left school I'd gone off to London and stayed in a flat with Sam and Pete Brown who were also making their way with their music careers. I played with a band called Yip Yip Coyote who the radio presenter John Peel was keen on and then I did my first proper tour with Joe Brown all around the Middle East. Pete Brown was working as an engineer in Powerplant Studios and occasionally I used to help out there between other jobs. One day the public phone at Powerplant went and I happened to pick it up. The person on the line said they wanted to talk to Richard Newman which was a strange coincidence. It was Steve Marriott and he asked me to tour with him. I couldn't believe it. Anyway, I agreed and that took care of the next year and more. That was when I really got my road legs on. After six weeks any dreams I'd ever had of touring were gone – I knew what a grind it was. But Steve Marriott was such a great artist to work with. What a fantastic voice and what a spirit. He just meant everything he did and that makes a big difference. He meant what he played and sang what he meant. He wrote beautiful songs. ‘Tin Soldier’, ‘Whatcha Gonna Do About It’, ‘All or Nothing’ – wonderful records. Looking back, it was such a privilege to have worked with Steve. Though he was pretty burned out with the business when I knew him.” Meanwhile, Sam Brown's career had started to take off and Richard was soon to work with her. “Through the 1980s Sam had been working hard and was getting more recognition in the industry – she was a really great singer and always had been. From when she was 14 or 15 we'd all known she would do something special. In the late 80s she'd recorded her ‘Stop’ album which became a platinum success internationally, and she had asked me to play on it but I wasn't available for most of the tracks. I'd been touring with Steve Marriott and working with John Sykes from Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake. I'd had and rejected an offer to go to work in Los Angeles with John Sykes. Then Sam asked me to join a band she was putting together to promote ‘Stop’. We also recorded her second album, ‘April Moon’. We did loads of touring – worldwide. It was an exciting time. Pete Brown was with us too – playing guitar. In Australia we appeared with the Essex-born Australian singer John Farnham. The last night there was brilliant. Sam made us all go on stage in fancy dress. She was a fairy with a wand, Pete was in a mini-skirt and I was in a huge ball gown - and this was in front of 18,000 people! A night I'll never forget. John Farnham took pictures of it all.” “But then Sam's mum Vicki became seriously ill with terminal cancer and Sam just stopped her career to nurse her. It was a very difficult time for all of us, emotionally. And I'd spent most of the money I'd made on flash sports cars and flash holidays with flash girlfriends – as you do at that age, in your twenties. For a while I just did some painting and decorating. But that's quite a funny experience, you know. There I am, trying to paint a wall of a customer's house for £30 a day, and thinking that a few weeks ago I was in Australia, staying in big luxury suites at the best hotels, riding in limousines and playing to 18,000 people. That's how fickle the business is. It is good to learn all that young, though – it keeps you grounded.” Was it then that Richard met up with Rory Gallagher? “I did a few small projects for a while and then one day the phone rang with an invitation to work with Rory Gallagher. I was 26 and I didn't know much about Rory's work. But I went to meet him and he said he'd known my dad. We got on immediately. There was something very fierce about him, very passionate. Even more so than with Steve Marriott and that's saying something. Every gig we ever did was sold out; his fans were crazy about Rory. His agent's phone was constantly ringing with offers to play huge stadiums all over the world. I'd never seen anything like it; the biggest eye-opener of my life. Probably the best performances, the best nights I ever remember were with Rory on his 'Walkin' Blues Tour'. That was a real high point of my career. “But the pressure on Rory was massive and he'd say to me, 'They just expect too much of me, you know'. They make people into icons but they demand so much back from them. Rory's refuge was drink. And he became increasingly sick and then died in 1995 after getting an infection following a liver transplant. It was a tragedy and Rory's death made me very sad. It was his own doing but I can understand why. He'd become a good friend and I could still see him as just the young lad from Donegal he always was; he stayed very down to earth.” Did Richard start playing with Alvin Lee immediately after that? “First I did some work with Glenn Hughes from Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. This was challenging; really complex arrangements by Ian Paice. I was getting very tired – there'd been a lot of touring and heavy studio work. Quite suddenly I had a kind of breakdown. I just couldn't face playing and needed to stop. The drums sat in a corner of the place where I was living; I had almost a terror of them. It must have been a cumulative thing. I had a dread of touring, of constantly flying, which might have been rooted in my childhood, travelling with my dad. And I'd been badly affected by Vicki Brown's death and by Rory dying. Plus Steve Marriott had died. The pressures had got to me and I'd started to do some drugs and was drinking too much. I still don't quite know what happened – but suddenly I couldn't cope. I was just burned out.” “But then some good things happened. Sam Brown asked me to work with her again which was great. We did three more albums together and a bit of touring, and I gradually regained my confidence again working with Sam. I'd met Kim by then – and she became the anchor in my life. We moved out of London to Marlow in Buckinghamshire and then bought this cottage in Oxfordshire thirteen years ago. Kim was a barrister and not in the music business which is a major bonus. You need one person in the house who gets up in the morning and provides stability and perspective. Otherwise you just live in this music-world bubble and lose touch with normality and that's never healthy. But it has taken me a long time and some counselling to get fully on my feet again. I had to come to terms with my difficult childhood, and learn that drinking hard is not the way to do that. I live a more moderate life now and I am clear that my priorities are Kim and the two children. If ever I work away, I'm always just focused on getting back here to Oxfordshire.” “I had played with Alvin Lee in the past and had known him a long time. Like George Harrison and many others, Alvin had been a regular visitor to the Brown home. Anyway, I ended up doing tours with Alvin which was good as he's a very impressive performer. Though sometimes as the audience was going wild, I'd still find myself wondering at the craziness of it all. I'd done various things with Mark Knopfler - including at the Albert Hall, with Jim Capaldi and with Bernie Marsden (ex-Whitesnake) too. I have done gigs since with Never the Bride who tour a bit in Scandinavia, Austria, Switzerland and sometimes do small 'house concerts' - including in pubs around here in Oxfordshire. I have also played with Pete Brown when he has toured promoting his own album; we had a great evening performing at the famous Crooked Billet in Stoke Row in Oxfordshire a while ago. Like Pete, Sam Brown produces now and also runs three ukulele orchestras. I'm always happy to do a session for her whenever I am available. Lately, though, I have been working a lot in Deborah Bonham's live band which I thoroughly enjoy. She has a new album out, ‘Spirit’, and we have a current tour. Deborah's brother John Bonham from Led Zeppelin was a great drummer - someone I always admired - and it is good to be supporting Deborah now.” Has Richard ever produced records himself? “I have a studio here but I don't have the patience to produce for others – unless it is someone I know well and respect. My temperament is too fiery. You do get a lot of keen amateurs wanting to record. But I'm not the person to take their money and be all encouraging when nobody can sing and everyone's playing out of tune; it is not in me to do that. I've also had people asking for drum tuition. But unless they have a natural talent and will work really hard, I'm not prepared to tutor them. Sam Brown has done a lot of tuition and mentoring. I really admire her for it; I'd simply get too frustrated with my pupils. I did produce a song called ‘Hooly Gooly’ that my dad and I performed together. I wrote it - I do some writing on the keyboard - and we recorded it here when my dad visited a while ago. He and I have kept in touch and I've visited him at his home in Las Vegas. He's been married three times – he likes wedding cake – and has two other sons who've been drummers. My mum never performed again after her breakdown in the 1970s. She lives quietly back in Liverpool where she was from. My sister Martha is there too. She's a dentist and earns far more than I do!” Looking back over an eventful life, to whom does Richard feel he owes the most? “No question about that. It is four people really. Joe, Vicki, Sam and Pete Brown. When I was at my very lowest, they opened the door and gave me the home I'd lost, a basis to build a life from. That made everything else a possibility for me. It's the sort of kindness you can never pay back really. But what is great is that Joe, Sam, Pete and I are still close friends and they are always there for me as I am for them.” “Of course, after I met Kim, she and then Daisy and Archie have given a meaning to my life and a sense of security that is everything now. I am the most contented I have ever been. I like nothing more than to be here in Oxfordshire and out in the garden, or working on the house, or doing some woodwork with the family around. I enjoy watching films and listening to music on my old vinyl record player – Crosby Stills Nash & Young, the Beatles, Paul Simon, but nothing too modern! And I'm back to enjoying playing my drums again – just trying to get everything right, always learning, hopefully improving. That's one of the joys of music. There's so much to learn.” For news of Deborah Bonham's tour dates (featuring Richard on drums) see www.deborahbonham.com. The photographs that accompany this article were taken by Benjamin Carr Evans.

Visitor Comments:-
744 Posted By: Wayne Blanchard, Fredericton, NB, Canada on 17 Mar 2015
A very insightful read. I know Richard and Tony Newman, though only through my previous business affiliation and now via Facebook. Though I knew about Tony's history, I knew nothing of Richard's aside from the names of some of his affiliations and his association with the Brown family. Indeed, reading about the extremes of his childhood and the role the Browns had in helping him shape his life to point of happiness he has achieved today is very inspirational. Much respect to whoever had the idea to interview Richard. And also to Richard for being so upfront about his situation, while being respectful of those who have been a part of his life along the way.
718 Posted By: Bob Henrit, London on 01 Sep 2014
Hello I really enjoyed this article and wonder if you would be interested intalking to me. I have an autobiography out called 'BangingOn!'
717 Posted By: Paul Monkcom, Ringwood, Hampshire on 30 Aug 2014
I have the privilege of knowing Rich, not that well but every time I have met him he has always been smiling and is always up for a laugh! His drumming skills need no further mention as the proof is in his pudding! I hope he spends many a year to come 'bashing the skins' ! Gawdblessya, Rich! Cheers, Paul 8~)

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