Biography

Drumming days

  

My first gig, in 1975 at the age of 17, was with Mick Stubbs, singer and guitarist in Home, who had split up the year before after three albums. Cliff Williams, soon to join AC/DC, was on bass. Mick became a friend and I played with him many times until his all too early death in 1999. He was a brilliant singer and musician, but never achieved the success he deserved. I also played with Tony McPhee of The Groundhogs and Phil Harris from Ace. From '81 to '83 I was in the The Raunch ‘n’ Roll Band (latterly High Roller) fronted by ex-Iron Maiden guitarist Bob Angelo. The band I enjoyed being in most was Agenda ('77– '79) with Wishbone Ash inspired twin-lead guitarists Dave Wyatt and Gary Attwood playing very melodic original material.

  

Switching to synthesizer

  

I'd long been a fan of Tangerine Dream and was fascinated by their sound textures and rhythms which led me to explore the creative possibilities of synthesizers and sequencers. David, my younger brother (an electronics expert by his mid-teens), built me a handful of oscillator units, a Transcendent 2000 synthesizer and digital sequencers. I incorporated the electronics into some of the rock gigs and by the early 80s, I’d bought a second hand 4-track TEAC reel-to-reel recorder and one of the first full size Casio keyboards and had begun to write and record. 

  

I got bored with drumming the same old rock and blues covers, although I loved gigging and always put 100% into every performance. I had a reputation for being a very hard hitting drummer. I would’ve loved to have joined a progressive, jazz-rock influenced band, but never found the right musicians. I decided to get a ‘proper’ job (which involved shift work) and concentrate on my electronic music, with which I could express myself better. I didn’t sell my drum kit though and did occasional one off gigs for a while.

 

Self tuition

 

I've never had a music lesson for either drums or keyboards. I learnt to play drums without even having a kit. I closely watched drummers on TV and listened to records to associate the sounds to match what each limb did. When I bought my first kit (in 1976), I found I quickly got used to it, as I’d been 'drumming' on my knees for several years. My philosophy is - if you can clap your hands (preferably in time), you can play the drums.

 

Playing a keyboard is a different matter. I learnt to play quite fast with my right hand, practising scales, though my technique is completely unorthodox! My sense of timing and dynamics as a drummer helped. Some of the best keyboard players were originally drummers - Rick Davies of Supertramp for example - it shows in the feel of his playing.

 

Getting noticed

 

In early ‘83 I sent a demo tape of four tracks to 'Electronics and Music Maker’ magazine. Mark Jenkins reviewed it enthusiastically and awarded it ‘Tape of the Month’. Shortly, Mark moved to my area and we became friends. I bought the new revolutionary Yamaha DX7 digital synthesizer (apparently I was only the 3rd person in the UK to order one) and began composing more material. I wrote 'York Aspiring' during the first part of 1984 and premiered it in July at the Festival of Mind, Body and Spirit at London's Olympia where Mark, Dave Titchen and I gave two performances along with one of Mark’s compositions ‘Dune’.

 

Formation of AMP Records

 

The following year Mark introduced me to Ash Prema and the three of us formed AMP Records – initially to release our own music. In the second half of 1985 I recorded three different styled tracks for ‘The AMP Records Compilation Album’. 'Ollie’s Camera Looks', a melodic, bouncy slice of pop with an improvised middle section, 'Cherub' - a solo piano lullaby and 'Parchal Papaguio' – a dark, ethereal ambient piece inspired by being stood up on a date with a night club dancer in Portugal. 'TARCA' was released on Christmas Eve 1985 and Mark and I played a few London gigs to promote it.

 

Recording Coruscation

 

The second release on AMP was intended to be 'Coruscation' (AMP002 unsurprisingly) and I spent a few weeks in Spring ’86 recording 'York Aspiring' and 'Qwerty Uiop' on loaned equipment (including the ‘video tape format’ AKAI MG1212 recorder/mixer). The album was lined up for November release and I started arranging a UK Tour to coincide with the release. But disaster struck during a final mix of 'York Aspiring', when the multi-track tape got horribly mangled-up, leaving me no option but to re-record a large part of the track. This meant that the album wouldn’t be ready in time, but I still went ahead with the tour.

 

1986 UK Tour

 

Looking back now, over a quarter of a century later, I realize possibly what a unique tour it was. Live performances of instrumental electronic music are rare enough and most of the time it happens is when several artists play at a specially arranged one off event or part of the DJ/club scene. I'm not aware of any other amateur instrumental electronic musician who has played a headlining UK tour, unsupported, unsponsored in small rock venues.

 

Dave Titchen assisted me on synthesizers and Chris Adams was a fantastic Road Manager. We had a thoroughly enjoyable time on the road. It was intended to be 9 gigs in 9 days but the first one in Brighton was cancelled through the fault of the venue who had double booked an American punk band and proposed gigs in Bristol and Liverpool fell through. I remember the opening night in Southampton. Before we went on, I was thinking “What the hell am I doing? I’m going on stage to play 80 minutes of keyboard music and I can’t even play keyboards”. Dave and I were under rehearsed, but that first night turned out to be one of best performances of the tour.

 

Our equipment was:- Yamaha DX7 and Korg DW8000 synthesizers for Dave, and I played a DX7 and a Prophet 600 synthesizer, though I used a Roland JX3P instead for the London date. Most of the sequencing and percussion was on a backing tape. We had a small P.A. and a six-channel stage mixer that I controlled along with reverb and digital delay. For the London date, Gary Attwood joined us to play guitar on 'Qwerty Uiop' and former Tangerine Dream member Steve Jolliffe shared the bill with us. We hired a bigger P.A. and we videoed it using two cameras, but unfortunately, the cameraman doing the close ups had it on ‘Pause’ all the way through, so all we have is a one camera job. But it’s not bad. See video page. 

  

All the dates were recorded and a composite live album released in April 2010.

 

Leaving AMP and becoming independent

 

We were investing money into promoting other artists and putting on big shows like the lazer spectacular at the London Planetarium with Michel Huygen and Steve Jolliffe in 1986 and Logan Hall in 1987. Despite selling out shows, we still lost money. I couldn’t afford to keep doing that and I really wanted to concentrate on my own music rather than promoting other people. So I left AMP in the autumn of 1987 and released 'Coruscation' independently.

 

Release of Coruscation 

 

Although I’d had an extra year to re-record 'York Aspiring' and a new number 'Hunger Hill', which had been specially composed for the tour, the album was still rushed in the end. 'The Swaggering' and 'Nullified' were two improvisations I’d recorded straight to cassette in 1985 and in the end I put them on the album in keeping with the up-tempo feel I wanted for the whole of side one. Originally the title track was to feature, but I didn’t think this fitted well (it will be on the new album, re-titled 'Lime Heart').

 

UK Electronica 1987

 

I didn’t really enjoy playing at the 1987 UK Electronica Festival (at the Gatehouse Theatre, Stafford). I 'd been rehearsing with a new keyboard player, but he pulled out a couple of weeks before the show through nerves, so I had very little time to find a replacement. In the end, my next door neighbour put me in touch with Geoff Bowles who agreed to do the gig at short notice. Geoff transcribed all the music and made a tremendous effort on stage, reading as he played. But his unfamiliarity with the material meant it was not quite as tight as it should have been. But, the audience enjoyed the set and it was a great opportunity to promote 'Coruscation' on the day of its release.

 

I remember that one of the stage monitors wasn’t working and whilst we were playing it was difficult to keep time, because we could hear the echo bouncing back off the far wall of the theatre. I’ve never really enjoyed playing in large halls. There is so much outside your control, so unless you’ve got a crew who you can really trust, its pot luck that you and or the audience get a good sound. In a small venue, you can control it much better and I think there’s a better atmosphere. You feel more intimate with the audience. The gig we did in Swansea on the ’86 tour was in a cellar bar and there was a fantastic atmosphere. I’ll never forget ‘York Aspiring’ that night – one guy in the audience seemed genuinely petrified by some of the sound effects.

 

Imaginary Soundtrack

 

After the release of 'Coruscation', I thought ‘I’ve made my statement. That’s it’. I’ve always admired Michael Hoenig who made the classic ‘Departure From the Northern Wasteland’ and then didn’t follow it up for nine years. I thought I’ll either pack it in or spend five grand on some new equipment. I don’t quite know why I felt this way. I chose the latter and bought a Tascam 16-track recorder, 18 channel Seck mixing desk,  AKAI S900 sampler and a UMI 3s sequencer.

 

Inspired by Tangerine Dream's soundtrack albums, I set myself a project of improvising and recording a series of short demos. As the project progressed, I found myself composing more than improvising. I recorded about 45 minutes -  the results are available as a free download from last.fm. With the new equipment I recorded several other pieces (some of which will finally see the light of day on the new album). But  from 1992 other events in my life took over – the usual things – getting married, moving, mortgage, the patter of tiny feet. When my daughter was born, my music studio had to make way. So the equipment was packed away for many years. To this day, I’m still without a studio.

 

Return to music

 

Philip Woolston had been encouraging me to put 'Coruscation' out on CD, so during 2006 and 2007 I spent long hours cleaning it up using Audio Cleaning Lab software and released it in time for the 20th anniversary. At the same time, I discovered the wonderful world of music software, virtual synthesizers and DAWS (Digital Audio Workstations). To think that just one DX7 synthesizer cost me £1,300 in 1983 and today for a fraction of that I have a complete software studio (Propellerheads Reason) with unlimited synthesizer modules, sample players, drum machines, mixers, processors, effect modules and sequencing – all on one PC.

 

Parkinson’s disease

 

In 2003 I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It’s a progressive condition which occurs when nerve cells in the part of the brain that enable control of movement die. It causes many symptoms, including tremor, freezing, muscle tension, fatigue, depression and involuntary movements.

 

It’s not known how Parkinson's is caused and there is no cure. I’ve lost fine control, in the right side of my body and no longer have the dexterity or strength in my fingers to play a keyboard accurately or the strength or precision in my arm and leg for prolonged comfortable precise drumming. It’s very frustrating and I was under treatment for depression, which never really goes away. It's restricted me in composing style and I'm using step sequencing more frequently than I used to and often no keyboard. But I'm still trying to play and record in real time as much as possible.  

 

Live performances

 

I'd love to return to live performances, but the Parkinson's battle needs to be won first. I was hoping to have Deep Brain Stimulation this year - an operation which doesn't provide a cure, but can control the symptoms extemely effectively. But after a year of tests I wasn't considered a suitable candidate against the risks (for the time being). The current research and success with stem cell transplants indicate that a cure may not be too far off. 

 

Peter Beasley

November 2014