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?’
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.
TEXAS IS NOT WHAT YOU THINK IT IS
‘Texas is not what you think it is’
‘What do you mean?’
'Well it is not all Monument Valley and tumble weed.’
‘So what is it?’
‘Well mile after mile. Make that hundreds of miles after hundreds of miles of pine forest.’
Imagine this rather abstract conversation being had in a Lancashire burr and a tempered Scottish accent.
The conversation is between Tim Whittaker and myself. And we are having it in the bay window seats of The Grapes in Egerton Street, Liverpool. It was Tim Whittaker telling me about Texas. This was back in the Summer of 77.
I had first been in awe of Tim Whittaker in late 1972, when I had just started at Liverpool School of Art. It was his prowess on the bar billiards table in the common room of the sculpture department that I was in awe of. No, that is not quite right, it was not so much at his prowess at the game, it was the way that he would talk while playing the game. He would just come out with these random facts, that you could never be quite sure if they were actual bona fide facts or not. But the way he said them made you believe you were hearing them from a Zen master. I had a tendency to believe everything he told me.
Between late 1972 and the summer of 1977, Tim Whittaker had graduated from Liverpool College of Art to become the drummer with local superstars Deaf School. And I was still in awe of him. But this was the first real conversation that I had ever had with him. Before then, it was as if Tim had been addressing the room, or eternity or some other vague higher presence, but on that summer’s evening in The Grapes in Egerton Street, Tim was actually talking to me. He was telling me, Bill Drummond, what Texas was really like. Like how it did not look like anything we knew from the Cowboy & Indian films we used to watch as kids. And Tim knew because he had been there the week before.
Deaf School had just returned to Liverpool like conquering heroes from their coast-to-coast tour of the USA. Nobody in Liverpool since The Beatles in 1964 had done such a thing. (Okay, that last statement is not quite true as I know The Liverpool Scene toured the States in the early 70s, but I will not let that get in the way of this story.)
And here I was actually talking with Tim Whittaker on the day they had flown back, and he is listening to what I have to say as well. Not that I remember what I had to say.
Tim then went onto tell me about a film he had seen in Los Angeles – Yes, they had actually gone to Los Angeles and played at the Whisky A Go-Go, where The Doors used to play.
‘Bill, it will go down in history as the greatest film ever made. It was like The Bible and A Hard Days Night rolled into one, but set in the future and in space.’
‘What was it called?’
Over the next 19 years I had many other conversations with Tim, all of which seemed to contain a strange ethereal magic that was not entirely down to the words he said, but the way that he said them. It was always if Tim was dealing with a logic that was not quite of this world. Without him The Lonely Spy would not have sounded so lonely.
THE LONELIEST SPY
David Balfe and I had attempted to make our version of a disco record. This was back in 1979. But we were neither black or from the USA, thus it was not a disco record as would be understood by the makers of disco records in New York or Philadelphia, where the great disco records were being made. But our disco record did feature Syndrums which in our book was the hallmark of any great and unashamed disco record.
As far as we knew no one else in Liverpool had attempted to make a disco record*. Nobody else would have dared. Our disco record was called Touch and we, the artists, were called Lori & The Chameleons. Lori was an art school girl we had seen on the street and thought looked the part, Dave and I were The Chameleons. We released the record on our own independent label Zoo. It was then picked up by a major down in London. Dave Lee Travis made it his record-of-the-week on his afternoon show at BBC Radio 1. This meant he played it on every afternoon for one whole week. It rose to number 70 in the national charts. This seemed phenomenal to us. But it did not rise any higher. If you were to listen to the record today on You Tube you might be surprised that it ever got that high in the first place. It was also the end of our career as the producers of disco records.
But the major record label that had put the record out wanted another record from us. So we wrote a song called The Lonely Spy, it was as far from disco as you could get. Even as we were writing it we knew it to be a sure fire number one. But we also knew for it to be a number one it had to have an X-factor. Something mysterious and that could not be explained. All the greatest number ones in the history of pop music had that mysterious thing that could not be explained, whatever the genre, be it Strangers In The Night by Sinatra or Albatross by Fleetwood Mac. I could give you at least another 40 examples but now is not the time. Instead I will tell you that the most mysterious thing that we knew and it was something that definitely could not be explained was Tim Whittaker. If we only got Tim Whittaker on the record in any capacity then some of his mystery would rub off onto the recording. Tim agreed to play timpani drums on the record.
We drove down to Rockfield Studios in Monmouthshire south Wales in Dave’s dad’s car. Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen had been recorded there, that had definitely been a number one with mystery and a record that could not be explained. If Queen could make that record at Rockfield studios we could make our number one there too.
It took us three days to make the record. Other than Lori doing her vocals, Dave playing keyboards, Tim playing percussion, me playing the acoustic guitar parts we got in a bloke to play the trumpet. Tim didn’t play an actual drum kit, he just played a military side drum as if he was in a marching band and on top of that he played a pair of timpani drums. On a pop record even at the birth of Post Punk this was unheard of, it gave the record mystery way beyond what Dave and I could muster.
On the eight-hour drive back to Liverpool, we knew we had a record that had enough weirdness and unexplainability it would probably not just be a number one in the UK but around the world. Nothing would stop it. Tim did not seem as convinced as Dave Balfe and myself.
When the record was released, it did not even make the top 100. That was the end of Lori & The Chameleons. But it was not the end of Dave Balfe and I working at Rockfield and using trumpets and timpani wherever we could on the two albums we made down there. These were the debut albums by our then charges Echo & The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes.
Tim Whittaker’s unseen influence can be felt wafting through both of those albums without him ever actually being on them.
As an artist Whittaker’s greatest works were not the actual paintings that he did or the percussion he added to certain recordings. His greatest works were contained in the conversations he had with people. The influence of his mystery and unexplainability found its way across a whole generation of Liverpool music maker, poets and thinkers. Without those conversations the cultural life of not only Liverpool but this country would be different in all sorts of unseen and subtle ways. And far less the rich for it.
We loved Tim for reasons we could not explain then and still not to this day.
*‘What about the Real Thing?’ I hear someone at the back mutter.
I was on Foundation at Lancaster College of Art in 1970-71 with Tim Whittaker and we both went on to Liverpool School of Art in the same year. Tim did Fine Art and I did Graphic Design. We also lived in the same house on Princes Road for six months in 1972. I was sharing a flat on the ground floor. Tim and his girlfriend, Ziggy, lived in a flat shared with others on the first and second floors.
Tim was very funny and LOUD! On Foundation he used to sing Neil Sedaka's "Oh Carol" at the top of his voice in the studio and tell stories. He told us one about snogging a new girlfriend in a bus shelter. She suddenly pushed him away, slapped him and shouted, "Oi, are you pointing at me!" Another girlfriend ate chips over his shoulder as they had a knee trembler, again in a bus shelter.
Whilst we were at Princes Road Tim bought his drum kit and we'd hear him playing night and day. I think I remember him having a saxophone too. We also heard him shouting "Ziggy!" or "Ziggita!" up and down the stairs. Also at this time he sold a painting or won a prize and came into some money. He spent nearly all of it on black paint that he used to paint everything in his bedroom: walls, ceiling, floor, curtains, bed, window, everything. It was almost impossible to see anything in the room but Tim loved it.
We saw Deaf School play from their inception onwards. They were the college band after all. As everyone else has commented they were a fantastic live band. Every gig was a performance. Bands today like Arcade Fire are direct descendants.
I was sorry to hear that Tim and Sam had died. I knew Sam too but not as well as Tim. He also lived in a flat on Princes Road at one time. Happy memories of 40 years ago.
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.
Paul du Noyer
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