Tim Whittaker 1953-1996 Drummer, artist, poet ... and inspiration


Dave Balfe

I, like a good few of us in the late 70s Liverpool music scene, loved and admired Tim Whittaker enormously. Tim was a bizarrely disarming cocktail of guru and daftness, genius and nitwit, child of the north and sage of the universe. Extraordinarily unhygienic, sometimes childishly selfish and moodily bad-tempered, but more often wonderfully strange, dryly comic, totally silly, obsessed with art, rock'n'roll, philosophy and various wild cosmic imaginings. Like many artists and musicians I’ve known he was a mass of contradictions, sometimes resorting to a certain pomposity to hide his insecurity and vulnerability, but I think it was this vulnerability, desperately hidden by Tim but plainly visible to all his friends, that made him so intensely lovable. In the many late-night, sometimes drink or dope fuelled, discussions I would sit at the feet of the guru listening to his strange nasal Accrington accent declaiming his eccentric and original views on art, music and literature along with his latest semi-mystical theories. Some of the most captivating, stimulating and mind-expanding evenings of my youth were spent listening to Tim when he was in a loquacious mood. You could pick up his ideas and run with them in tandem, or argue, to little avail, when they were just too preposterously ludicrous to be entertained. Those few of us who were privileged to hear his mystical notion of the ‘Duck’ deity, based around a series of paintings he did of a little, yellow plastic duck toy, have thereafter never been quite the same again - or seen a duck in quite the same light - or, indeed, seen god in quite the same light! I first had the pleasure of meeting Tim in around ’78. I think we were introduced at Eric’s Club, or maybe some pub, by a mutual acquaintance. I mentioned I needed a new flat and he mentioned he needed a new flat-mate. I was nineteen or twenty, playing with Big In Japan at the time, and had been a massive Deaf School fan (they’d just split), so the thought of moving in with one of the actual band thrilled me enormously. I definitely needed that thrill when I later saw his flat, on the first floor in leafy Grove Park, off Lodge Lane in Toxteth. The bedroom I was given was fine, once I’d seriously cleared, cleaned and painted it, but the bathroom was shockingly filthy and full of detritus, useful for nothing that required more contact with the fittings than brushing your teeth. However the kitchen was infinitely worse. I’ve shared houses with a few musicians over the years so I’m used to the dishes piling up in the sink and the cleaning being almost infinitely procrastinated, as most of us can no doubt remember was the norm in our youth, but believe me none of you have seen a room so dirty and unsalvageable as Tim’s kitchen outside of some demented hoarder documentary. I lived there several months, and I remember vividly that in the chilliest depths of that winter just to keep warm we sometimes had to resort to burning the less important furniture, and even his ex-girlfriend’s clothes, rashly left behind in a wardrobe. We huddled round the fire desperate for every flicker of heat. Those were deeply poverty–stricken days, we often didn’t have enough money to buy even one pint, so as to be able to sit in a warm pub for an hour or two, or some dope, or even the cheapest item from the Lodge Lane chippy. But if such poverty must be endured, best do it young, starving with a genuine artist in his bohemian garret. It all seemed peculiarly glamorous to me at the time. Eventually, one Friday afternoon, I returned home to an empty flat – no sign of Tim. I popped round to our next-door neighbour, Kev Ward (Deaf School sleeve designer), who told me that Tim had asked him to pass on to me the extremely surprising news that Tim had disappeared off to his mum’s in ‘Accy’ (Accrington) and I must be out of the flat by Monday as then the bailiffs would be round to kick out anyone remaining and clear the flat! I discovered that though I had been paying my half of the rent to Tim for several months, Tim had not been paying it on to the landlords, or in fact any rent at all. The Landlords had been through all the appropriate legal procedures, the requisite notices had been sent, over a period of months, but Tim had shared none of this with me. Now, for any other friend this would probably have been an end-of-the-relationship-level transgression, but it was hard to stay mad at Tim – especially when he’d run away to distant ‘Accy’. He was almost completely impractical, and you forgave him all the chaos that resulted. Or at least you had by the time he half-sheepishly half-dismissively showed up in Liverpool again. A few years later, just at the end of my time in The Teardrop Explodes, I again moved into a house with Tim, in Hatherley St, just off Prince’s Ave, along with Pete de Freitas of the Bunnymen (also a previous flat-mate of mine), and Jake Brockman (chief roadie and sometime live keyboard-player for the Bunnymen), both lovely guys. (It’s a constant source of sadness to me that I'm now the only survivor of the four housemates). All three of us loved Tim in a way I don't think I've ever experienced with all the multitude of colourful individuals I've subsequently spent time with, maddening though he could often be. Again I was only there for a few months before my dubious career took me away to London. I kept in touch with Tim over the subsequent fifteen years or so and still visited him regularly for more late-night discussions of art and his unique viewpoint on the world, right up until the tragic end. I miss him enormously still. And, though I have many paintings of his up around my house, I have nothing else but a brief letter he once sent to remind me of his magical words, voice and mind. So, reading the wonderful long poem of his in Paul du Noyer’s magnificent Deaf School book was such a shock - I felt Tim was talking in the room with me again. Quite wiped me out actually, took me a couple of days to recover. Those who knew him - or didn’t and want a sense of what he was like - should definitely read that fantastic piece of poetry. I began as a fan, became a friend, and will remain both to my dying day. Rest in peace, ‘Truncheon, Leader of Youth’ (the unaccountable title he gave himself at some point in Grove Park), there are many left on this planet that love you still and miss you terribly. Dave

Gary Dwyer

Steve Tempest

After following Deaf School round the North West as a teenager for a couple of years, I eventually got to know some of the band and got invited to travel on the tour bus along with them, which pleased me no end.

I remember Tim sitting at the back of the bus with Sam. Tim always had a little suitcase with him to keep his drumsticks in, always tapping along to the beat. He was uber cool, slick back hair and crisp white shirts, never said much, just an “Ay-up, Gary,” and a knowing nod of the head.

Later on we became great friends, along with Steve ‘Tempo’ Tempest. Tim would send Tempo or me to the local chippy to get as many pieces of chip shop paper we could muster. Tim reckoned the paper was the best to paint on. He done his first painting of his duck project with this. Tim was the first person who taught Tempo and myself to think outside the box.

We miss you Tim.

Tim: “Now then lad, where y’from?’
Me: “Keighley.”
Tim: “Thats just down the road from me. Y’coming for a pint or what?”

That was it - best mates for the next 25 years or so. That was the first time I met Tim, backstage after a Deaf School gig at Leeds Poly, must have been about 1975. I was a total Deaf School fan, used to follow them everywhere. There he was that night, sat at the back of the dressing room, tapping his drum sticks, looking like Billy Fury, unlit rolly hanging from his gob, cool as fuck! Tim – the musician, the artist, the writer, the poet. Tim, my mate.

The one thing that sticks in my mind about Tim was that everything was an adventure - whether going for a pint, playing a gig, or watching him paint a picture, we were always having a laugh.

I truly miss you, bro’. I thank you, Truncheon Leader of Youth. It was a privilege to know him and to be a mate. Miss you, Tim. Thank you for opening my eyes.

Tell everyone YOUR memories of Tim

  1. The first time I saw Deaf School, in October 1976, I instantly knew this was MY band - and I knew that Tim Whittaker (as I later found out he was called) was MY drummer. He was just so cool - just as cool as Eric Shark, but in a completely different way. And he could really beat those drums, despite what it says in the advert on the right!

    Years later, I got to meet and get to know the band, but sadly long after Tim had passed away. Listening to Clive, Enrico, Bette, The Rev, Ian and Avo talk about him tells me he was a great man - and had a huge influence on the band, both then and now. The tributes on this page, from friends, fans and great names from the Liverpool music scene (all three in some cases), tell you all you need to know about Tim. Loved, respected, admired and an inspirer of awe!

    (Posted on 2014-09-27 21:02:00 by Mark Adamson)

Bill Drummond


Paul du Noyer

I wanted to interview each band member for my book “Deaf School: The Non-Stop Pop Art Punk Rock Party”. But of course the two key Deafsters that I couldn’t talk to were Sam Davis and Tim Whittaker. And it was vital that their voices were represented.

Thankfully an important old interview with Sam was made available to me. Then I had another stroke of luck: the band’s great friend Bernie Connor had a cherished exercise book that Tim had given him for Christmas in 1992. It contained Tim’s epic “Liverpoem… Five Til Nine”, painstakingly hand-written in ballpoint pens of many colours.

I thought the poem might be interesting. In fact, as I soon realised, it was a masterpiece. So I included every word. I began to understand why every other member of Deaf School speaks of Tim in such awed tones, mingled with great affection. He was not simply the band’s original drummer: he was an artist in more ways than one, who helped create the special magic that we recognise in Deaf School to the present day.

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