Mark Richards is a rockin’ legend for those in the know, and a musician still in love with his day job. This is HIS story.
After coming down from an almighty high, having recently performed at one of Glastonbury’s club venues that runs until the wee small hours once the main festival site closes its gates each and every night, Mark Richards, legendary drummer for numerous rockin’ outfits along the length and breadth of England’s South Coast, now finds his feet firmly planted back in the land of the living.
It was a moment to saviour no doubt, and one that many artists are very unlikely to have the honour of experiencing, but a return to civilization after the Glastonbury Festival appearance is not such a bad thing because it’s where Mark Richards truly earns his living.
Having performed in a variety of rockabilly, neo-rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll bands that makes the weekly shopping list look like a footnote, Mark Richards has built up a reputation of being the ONE to go to if your band has a need for a sticksman. The reason why Richards’ name is recognised in terms of the rock and roll scene in the South of England is down to the previously mentioned longlist of band names he’s been involved with (See From The Tapes opposite), but also due to many hours learning and honing his craft from a young age, which has seen Richards develop into a talented and reliable performer, and one who is flexible to the creative needs of the frontmen he has performed with. Such adaptability has also derived from performing a variety of gigs whether that be club venue, public house, busking or weekenders, Mark Richards has clocked up a high mileage of live performances that has seen him travel extensively throughout the world.
With such a lengthy résumé in his back pocket therefore, and witnessing first-hand a live performance purely by coincidence only a matter of weeks before attempting to make contact with Mark Richards, Famous Last Words (FLW) saw this renowned figure on the UK rockin’ scene as the ideal candidate for a feature in these very pages.
As soon as a time and place had been established for the interview with Mark Richards, it was down to the King of the Jungle to save FLWs’ blushes. The reason for this was due to a complete breakdown in terms of directions after venturing through a concrete landscape of a nondescript town for some considerable time. Despite use of a route planner to locate the agreed site (They probably never had this problem in the 50s!), it was the above mentioned King of the Jungle, a certain landmark to be precise, decked out in a dark shade of red and standing proudly way up on high for the whole town to see that proved a saviour, because now the conversation with Southampton’s premium rock ‘n’ roll drummer could truly get underway. So, with tape recorder poised, Famous Last Words (FLW) would like to establish where the life of a rock ‘n’ roller all began for Mark Richards?
“For me, I grew up listening to my dad’s vinyl records as he was into rock and roll including such artists as Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis and rock ‘n’ roll in general,” begins Mark Richards before taking another swig of the beer in front of him. “The groove [rock ‘n’ roll] got me straight away and that was it, I was hooked!”
So has it always been rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly in terms of your own tastes in music?
“Yes, always,” Mark replies with no hesitation. “However, when you’re growing up and you start to broaden your horizons, you end up liking other things as well. For example, I love gospel as well as jazz, swing, blues, in addition to the rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll. I have never ever stuck to one genre of music, I always find that I go off at a tangent and explore other avenues. With me being a drummer, if it’s got a groove, I’m there, whether that music is African or Samba or Latin or whatever. If it’s got a groove and it gets you there [points at his chest], then that’s what it’s all about. I don’t just listen to one genre of music.”
Do you still remember the first band you got involved with as a drummer?
“Ooh, that was way back!” replies Mark as he sits back in his chair and starts to think. “Middle school,” he continues before adding, “I think we got a band together and ended up playing songs like ‘Peggy Sue’ and we actually performed in front of the school at the Guild Hall [Southampton] in the afternoon and we must have been very, very young. That was my first experience of an audience and I liked it [laughs]!”
What about once you left school, do you remember the first band that you played in?
“First one…”ponders Mark, “that’s a difficult question as I can’t honestly remember! That was kind of the beginning of it [school band] and there were a few bands with rehearsals but nothing came of it. My first serious band was Get Smart in the 1980s, and that was my first gigging band I suppose. Roy Phillips was the lead vocalist for Get Smart, and he’s now performing the same role for Black Kat Boppers. I was in brass bands at secondary school and we ended up going abroad a few times, and that was really enjoyable. I was the only one who couldn’t read music though, as I was literally playing by ear, and that’s how I’ve always played. I’m self-taught and I can’t read music. I go with the flow basically. The scenario when you’re in a brass band is totally different when they say stop and go back to bar fifty-six. I remember sitting there thinking, ‘I’ve no idea what’s going on here. I’ll wait for everyone else to start,’ and off we’d go again.”
Did that work out for you every time?
“Always,” he replies confidentially. “For example, I deputized for the Southampton Wind Band where I went in totally blind with no rehearsals and I played the gig. They [audience] stood up and applauded, and I was told that I played it as it was written. So again, I played by ear. I blagged it, but it worked!” he finishes laughing.
Who do you regard as influences in terms of your own musical development?
“My dad was a drummer, so he was my main influence,” says Mark. “I started on pots and pans before I got my first drum kit, but definitely, 100%, my dad was my biggest influence. He’s not here now, and he’s missed so much of my success, which I’m gutted about to be honest. Later on in terms of influences, I would say Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich because they’re like my idols to be honest. There are lots of modern drummers that are phenomenal as well, but I always go back to that genre of big bands because I love the sounds of their kits.”
Moving on down the line a bit in terms of bands you’ve been involved with, FLW has done its homework and noticed that you have been involved with many different musicians over the years. However, one name cropped up on more than one occasion, and that was Jim Jeffries. Care to elaborate further on this particular working relationship?
“He used to work in a clothes shop in the 80s called Saks, which was down near the Waterfront pub [Southampton] basically. I can’t remember how or where we met, but he saw me a few times playing and got in touch. It was years later that Whip Crackin’ Daddies (One of the main bands Mark and Jim Jeffries collaborated on) came about, which also included Paul “Choppy” Lambourne on bass and who’s now in Guana Batz as well as about twenty-five other bands at the same time! We basically had a band that worked really well, and with very little rehearsals. We had an album out called ‘Playing With Knives’. We did a few photo sessions and even before the album, we’d been abroad to Germany a few times and there’s a good psychobilly scene there. We recorded the album and it did really well. It was a good band and good fun. Jim’s a very talented fella; writes all his own material and he’s always got other things on the go as well. So the band lasted a while and we had some fun and we got some trips aboard, and I loved playing abroad.”
Anybody who has heard the album ‘Playing With Knives’ will know that it’s a difficult beast to tame, due to emotions running high where anger and resentment often spill over as lead singer Jim Jeffries fails to contain himself, which is further highlighted by a red-hot rhythm section by way of Mark Richards and Paul Lambourne. It’s a truly scathing piece of work and not for the fainthearted, but an album that makes for fascinating listening considering the raw, open wounds openly on display and the no-holds-barred approach when communicating its feelings.
“It’s a lot to do with Jim’s musical tastes, basically, as he likes the dark stuff and rockabilly and psychobilly and he’s always been smart,” comments Mark in relation to FLWs’ observations of the album ‘Playing With Knives’. “You know when he goes to work that he’s suited and booted the whole time as he was a Financial Advisor once, so he was always suited and booted for that positon. He suggested to us that such a look was a good look and would suit the band. So we had a photo session and the photographer did a great job with it (Hear, hear, FLW).”
Did the band appeal to a broad range of people at the time considering the combination of different genres and smart fashion sense?
“That’s the good thing with The Whip Crackin’ Daddies because you can’t pigeonhole it, and the best thing of all is that we appealed to the rockabilly crowd and the psychobilly crowd.”
So you were in a win-win situation?
“Exactly! It wasn’t a psychobilly band, and it wasn’t a rockabilly band because there’s harder stuff on the album, and there was more rockabilly tracks on there as well, you know, boppin’ and groovin’ things, so the best of both worlds as you say.”
When and where was the album ‘Playing With Knives’ recorded?
“I think it was in Portsmouth, but I can’t remember the name of the studio,” Mark replies. “It’s quite a produced album where I’d go in the studio and lay the drum down first with headphones on, and Jim’s playing acoustic guitar. A rhythm track in other words, so that I know where I am in a song, and that’s how it was done. It was built up separately, which is a great way of doing it with more control when you go to produce an album. I am happy with it [‘Playing With Knives’] as it’s a good sound on the album.”
What are your memories of the album with the Whip Crackin’ Daddies?
“When you record something that you’re proud of, and you know that it sounds good and that you’ve put work into it and the productions great and you play in front of a crowd and play those songs and see people singing along as well and they want your autographs, especially in Germany, it’s a big compliment and a job well done because people like what you’re doing and it’s nice to be appreciated.”
Did you ever get involved in the writing process with the band at the time?
“Not really with Jim’s stuff,” says Mark, “but in the recording and rehearsal process I did have ideas. Still to this day, if I’ve got an idea I will put that forward. With Jim, he gives you free rein really where he’ll never tell you to play in a certain way. I love that because I don’t want to be told how to play and what to play because it’s good to have free rein to do exactly what you want and he always likes what you do, so the music working relationship with Jim was always good.”
What happened to the Whip Crackin’ Daddies?
“The band doesn’t exist anymore, it just fizzled out. I think it just took its course and Choppy [Paul Lambourne] and I went off and did other things. So yeah, it just kind of took its course.”
So Jim Jeffries never asked if you were both up for recording a second album?
“No, nope,” admits Mark. “In terms of Jim, from Whip Crackin’ Daddies there was quite a long gap, and then he was a member in 56 Killers, which he is no longer a part of now. Between those bands there was Restless Souls, which was a spinoff from the Whip Crackin’ Daddies and was very dark rockabilly really.”
Mark Richards continues to relay a few other details regarding his stint with Whip Crackin’ Daddies where the band used to rehearse in a caravan situated just over the road from Jim Jeffries parents’ farm, or failing that at Jim’s own place in what sounds like an attic space, not to mention stories of their gigs in Germany where alcohol was often free and you were treated like a popstar. He sounds like a man who misses such times, and who can blame him really.
“I just used to love travelling abroad because we were treated so nicely,” reminisces Mark. “Within six weeks of being in Tennessee Rhythm Riders – a seven-piece western swing band – we had toured many countries in Europe and we were in America early 2000s where we toured twice. At one point, we had a manager who worked for TV AM where he was a cameraman. He managed to get us gigs and a video shoot in Carnaby Street, which was a lot of organisation but went really well. We were up for CMA Awards [Country Music Association] for Best Album and Best Single, and up against artists such as the Dixie Chicks at that time. We went to Nashville as well and played there, and that went great. So, for a band with the majority of its personnel from Aldershot and Portsmouth to get a tour of America and actually got to Hollywood and Nashville was unbelievable really.”
What happened to Tennessee Rhythm Riders in the end?
“They’re still going but under a different name with Lynette Morgan & the Blackwater Valley Boys, and with a few line-up changes.”
It’s no lie that Mark Richards has been involved with so many bands that the numbers run into double figures as he confirms:
“Easily over the years in terms of double figures, and there have been little projects that have started and didn’t go anywhere. So if you include those as well, then quite a lot I would say.”
Do you see yourself more as a session player, therefore, because of the amount of different bands you’ve been involved with?
“No, no, because I see myself as a proper member of a band. Even today, Mick [Robbins] from The Ace Trio (See FLWs’ interview earlier this month for more information) has got his own band where, if his drummer can’t make it, he’d get in contact to see if I can do the gig. Therefore, it’s nice to be appreciated and nice that people want you to play for them.”
With Mark Richards finding his time filled with a variety of bands and the success Whip Crackin’ Daddies experienced, especially overseas, it was another band by the name of 56 Killers which started to take centre stage in his life.
“Again with that band, it’s hard to pigeonhole its sound,” Mark replies in terms of 56 Killers. “It’s not rockabilly and it’s not psychobilly. It’s got its harder edges, and it’s got a groovy section, and it’s got a kind of rockabilly section, so you can’t label the whole album because it’s got everything really.”
There’s a bit of a discussion that ensues regarding 56 Killers and a live appearance of theirs where Jim Jeffries is present on guitar and Lee Barnett gives a very enigmatic turn on vocals complete with fashion sense that’s equally tricky to label, if you’re into such things, but suggests 1920s – 1930s period attire.
“Lee has been very eccentric in his fashion sense since the 80s,” comments Mark. “He’s a one-off because he’s one of these guys that will go out in a flowery shirt and not care what anyone thinks. He’s an individual and doesn’t care as he will go out and wear exactly what he wants, and he looks sharp, you know.”
If you don’t mind FLW asking, why are you not involved with 56 Killers anymore?
“Basically it fizzled out,” responds Mark. “From the back of the album ‘Last Of The Lawless’, we’ve had some radio play and had some magazine reviews that have been positive and really good stuff, and then we did nothing basically. Mark [Pennington] who also plays in The Racketeers, which is a ska band based in Portsmouth, and he’s also involved with Lee Barnett in the Caravans as well as Choppy [Paul Lambourne] were always going abroad doing gigs as well. So it just fizzled out and went quiet and nothing happened. Then I got a phone call the other day saying we’re all busy and we’re going to do one more gig and you’re not playing on drums,” he finishes sounding a bit dejected yet stresses it was amicable in the end.
Bringing your career up-to-date, how many bands is Mark Richards a member of now?
“Two,” he says laughing in response to FLWs’ previous line of enquiry regarding the total number of bands he’s been involved with . “The two bands are Catballou and The Ace Trio. With The Ace Trio, which includes my rhythm section main man Bryan Andrews on upright bass, and Mick Robbins who is the lead singer. Mick also has his own band called Rockin The Joint, and he’s flat-out the whole year, meaning that he travels the length and breadth of the country every single weekend. So if a gig comes in and Mick can’t do it as part of The Ace Trio, then I will always say that I have another band, slightly different but similar with Catballou, which Bryan Andrews is also a member of. Therefore, if Ace Trio can’t get the gig, then 99% of the time Catballou will. So they’re predominately my main two bands now. Cataballou tend to do a little bit more than Ace Trio for the reasons mentioned earlier, but it’s been great and really, really busy the last six months as we did Glastonbury. We had a ball!”
And here, dear readers, we come full circle to the beginning of this interview with Mark Richards participation at this year’s Glastonbury Festival which he proudly recounts the finer details to FLW.
“With Catballou and Ace Trio both bands have done it now (Wow! That was news to FLW as Mark Richards has not only played at this major music festival once, but twice as well). We landed the gigs at Glastonbury because we’ve played at Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues, which is a club in Soho run by Gaz Mayall. He’s got his own venue at Glastonbury as well called the Rocket Lounge, which is where we played and roughly about four in the morning. So we’re outside the venue before going on and it’s pitch-black, and then when we were finished and walked outside it was blue sky and sunshine! So that was strange, but we had a great time.”
There are some other famous names mentioned in relation to The Ace Trio’s appearance at this year’s Glastonbury Festival, with Lilly Allen’s father and actor, Keith Allen, involved with a band at Glastonbury, not to mention seeing Bez backstage from the Happy Mondays who, apparently, has a club near the Rocket Lounge as well.
With much already discussed regarding Mark Richards and his involvement with The Ace Trio in a previous interview at Famous Last Words, very little is known about his other band Catballou. So let’s get a bit more information on this second identity of his because the actual band is something of a mystery to FLW.
“Jim Hammond is the lead singer of Catballou and very talented as he plays awesome guitar and awesome boogie-woogie piano. He’s a natural and makes it look really easy,” Mark replies in relation to his other main band. “It’s nice with both bands because it’s like mates going out and enjoying themselves really, which is good as it’s nice when you get something that gels really well. We never rehearse anything with Catballou, we just get up and play. The thing is with Jim [Hammond] there’s a lot of eye contact going on (Mark gestures with his eyes just exactly what he means) and the rhythm section has to stop and you don’t know where you’re going next and that’s good as it keeps you on the edge. Our sound is very bluesy based and there’s rockabilly and boogie-woogie and again, it’s nice to mix it up.”
Are there any releases planned with Catballou?
“Well the Catballou album has been done for about a year now, but has not been released yet. It’s been tweaked and is such a good album and it sounds great!”
With the interview approaching the finishing line and various stories regarding albums, musicians and other odds and ends being discussed that involves, “Busking in a high street and some guy shouts out, ‘Do you know any Stray Cats?’ and it was Zane Lowe of BBC Radio One. So we ended up playing ‘Rock This Town’ and he loves it! And then a year after, we’re headlining to seven and a half thousand people at the Cowes Marina during Cowes Week, and Zane Lowe was also present at this festival”, you are left with the impression that Mark Richards has many tales to tell, which is ironic considering he informed FLW earlier that he’s not much of a raconteur.
The final conclusion is that Mark Richards is a talented musician and one who is still very much in love with the profession he finds himself involved with, considering the levels of enthusiasm he demonstrates throughout this interview whether directly related to music or the anecdotes he tells. In fact, Mark Richards will inform you in his own words that, “It’s only rock and roll, but I love it!” And you know that he means it.
...but definitely, 100%, my dad was my biggest influence. He's not here now, and he's missed so much of my success, which I'm gutted about to be honest."
FLW - From the Tapes
As already noted in our main interview, Mark Richards has built up an impressive CV over the years by being a member of quite a few bands. For those who love a bit of trainspotting once in a while when it comes to obtaining all the facts, then the following list of band names involving Mark Richards is likely to be just your ticket! So here goes, the complete list of bands Mark Richards has been proud to serve with, and currently still involved with.
Git Fiddle and The Frenchies; Get Smart; Tennessee Rhythm Riders; Rancho Deluxe; The Caravans; Whip Crackin’ Daddies; The Restless Souls; 56 Killers; The Borderlines; Jim Jeffries; The Ace Trio, and finally, Catballou.