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Drums Not Dead: An Interview With Si Wolstencroft
Mick Middles , December 27th, 2014 10:26

Mick Middles interviews the man whose book charts turning down a role in The Smiths, being an early member of the Stone Roses and eventually joining The Fall

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Turning down the drum seat in The Smiths, albeit in a Smiths lost in the uncertainties of recording their first demo, proved a hinge moment. For lesser men, that one decision might have gained in intensity down the years. Perhaps, every time Morrissey's vocals howled from a radio; perhaps every time Stephen Wright's iconic photograph of the band standing solemnly in front of Salford Lads Club was encountered.

For Simon Wolstencroft, a highly talented sticksman who would go on to endure eleven torrid but brilliant years with The Fall and then a less tortuous spell with Ian Brown.

But it was The Smiths incident that eventually provided the inspiration to write a memoir. In this instance, Simon was relaxing in front of a television from which BBC's Mastermind was seeping. A Scottish contestant with the specialist subject of The Smiths was asked by presenter John Humphries, "Who played drums on the first Smiths recording?"

The moment seemed elastic. Them, eventually, came the reply.

"Simon Wolstencroft."

"Thank God he got it right," the drummer explains in the book. "Gone, but not entirely forgotten."

Recorded at Decibel Studios, The Smiths demo featured two songs, 'Suffer Little Children' and 'The Hand That Rocks The Cradle' although the former was called 'Over The Moors' at the time. It was all too much for Wolstencroft, who felt uneasy about the singer and frankly, found his lyrical subject matter "incredibly depressing".

"I was massively into funk at the time," he tells me, over pints in Flixton.

"Light of the World, George Clinton… uplifting stuff like that. I didn't like the name The Smiths and I felt that this was another new band with unrealistic hopes of making it big. I had already seen a lot of that. Musicians becoming delusional. I couldn't see why this would be any different."

Simon couldn't have known at the time, but, three years before his brief stint with The Smiths, he had already performed in a band featuring future Manchester icons. As drummer with the Trafford based outfit, The Patrol, he found himself gigging frequently alongside his college mates Ian Brown and John Squire.

"The Patrol were a punk bank, really," he says. "We were learning our chops, performing to a few aggressive looking punks in Stretford and Sale. Youth clubs and places like that."

Unlikely venues indeed, which included a youth club in the picturesque Cheshire village of Lymm and, even more rural, Dunham Massey Village Hall, during which they performed a steely version of The Sweet's 'Blockbuster', with Ian Brown on vocals. (Any video footage of THAT would surely have gone viral).

Such tales postulate on every early pages of this punchy and addictive memoir. Written in conjunction with freelance journalist, Stuart Bisson-Foster, You Can Drum But You Can't Hide proves as endearing and self-effacing as Wolstencroft himself. While he could so easily have dipped to an Otway-esque barrage of angst and glorified failure, Simon neatly assembles his many triumphs with not a jot, no a hint, not a flicker of bitterness nor ego. Yet another near miss – a performance with Terry Hall's Colourfield on The Tube - flicks by before the true meat of the tale, that eleven year stint with Mark E. Smith and cohorts, reverses into view. Of course, this lengthy section add the book to the unholy genre of books about The Fall, a genre to which I have contributed. And so have many others. In fact there has been an extraordinary amount of work written about this band who, while obviously granted 'God-like' status in areas of alternative media, remain generally lost in the shadows of much mainstream recognition. Interestingly enough, I believe all the books offer fresh perspectives. Odd too, how different Simon's account seems from Fall veteran Steve Hanley's The Big Midweek, published earlier in the year. So, why is it all all so interesting. What is it that drives ex members to share their thoughts?

"Well it is mainly down to the fact that Mark is a truly unique and complex character," explains Simon.

"I really think that people are genuinely fascinated by how and why someone behaves in such a way and what it is really like to be a part of that band. Whether you like them or not, there is nobody quite like them, is there."

Must have been hell.

"Not really," counters Simon. "For the most part, he was really good with me. I remember when I first met him, he took me to one side and we had a pint. He was very friendly and very supportive. This is why the book isn't bitter; it's simply because I had an incredible 11 years, going round the world, playing in some extraordinary places while featuring on, what I believe, to be some of the peak albums of The Fall's history. It is something to be proud of." (The Frenz Experiment, Cerebral Caustic, I Am Kurious Orange, Shiftwork, Code Selfish, Middle Class Revolt).

The downside to life in that particular band is mostly delivered in good humour. Even the moment when Mark emptied a pint of ale over Simon's head, mid-song for absolutely no reason. That is the split second when you when you cross the line from drink buddy to worker drone. Life is never quite the same again.

"I was absolutely furious. I felt degraded and simply had no idea whatsoever why he did that," explained Simon. "I decided I was just going to leave, that I just couldn't see myself putting up with that kind of shit. I had pretty much grown accustomed to Mark's on-stage belligerence; his tampering with mics and speakers and all that. I even had a dummy mic set up in front of my bass drum so, when Mark came and knocked it away, it made no difference at all. I don't think Mark ever twigged. But the beer was a step too far for me. He deliberately degraded me in front of the audience and the band. I just thought, 'What an absolute cunt.' Eventually Craig [Scanlon] and Steve [Hanley] calmed me down. They basically explained, 'Look he is just a dickhead, you have to learn to deal with it."

I have often wondered, as so many have over the years, if Mark's testy tampering ever had any positive effect on the music whatsoever, or is it just mere showmanship?

"Mostly it is just nonsense and serves only to wind the musicians up. It could be, of course, that it retains an edge to the music… that's is what people say but I'm not so sure. During my spell there were some exceptional musicians in that band and, frankly, most were beyond that kind of shit. True enough, that is what people come to see and I can understand that. But, day in, day out, it gets wearing, to say the least.

"Not that I have any regrets at all. I got to travel the world, see some amazing places. At the band's peak we were getting around £300 per week, which wasn't bad at all. It dropped later, when the band fell out of fashion a bit. There were times when it just didn't seem worth all the hassle of travel and touring with a group. Especially when the leader treats you like shit. I started to wonder what kudos there actually was with this. At least in a major selling band you get financial reward."

Simon left The Fall in 1997. The period, post Middle Class Revolt marked something of a low point for the band.

"Crowds were getting thin and people were turning up to heckle and take the piss out of Mark", he explains.

There were other contributing factors. Mark hadn't, as promised, paid a large VAT bill leaving Simon in fiscal jeopardy although he jettisoned himself from The Fall before the band surged into the Julia Adamson era.

Before long, Simon was happily driving cabs in Altrincham, mercifully estranged from despotic rock stars. He didn't see Mark again for 14 years.

There is a neat couple of twists towards the conclusion of the story, with Simon performing again in Ian Brown's band and, later, with A Certain Ratio's evergreen Jez Kerr. A couple of chance meetings with Mark in Manchester pubs seems to have softened the angst.

"I am happier than I ever was," he tells me. "I still play but my livelihood doesn't depend on it. I drive vans and that seems to suit me."


And you write books, I remind him.

"Oh yeah… that" he laughs, as if it has completely slipped his mind.

You Can Drum But You Can't Hide is published by Strata Books, price £9.99

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funkiy si
Dec 27, 2014 6:38pm

this is boring

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taxman
Dec 27, 2014 6:39pm

the taxman is coming for bisson-foster wolstencroft and strata books by the sounds of it

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lacey green
Dec 28, 2014 9:26pm

he never drummed in the stone roses that was Reni! He drummed for the Patrol He never wrote a Smiths or roses song he was never in he Stone Roses either clutching at straws...he failed and is now trying to cash in on the back of the smiths and the roses good luck to him i suppose but never going to be a millionaire like he could have been

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Tim Russell
Dec 29, 2014 7:44am

"Trying to cash in"? Yes, memoirs by former members of The Fall are outselling JK Rowling & Dan Brown these days. What a ridiculous comment.

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artdamij
Dec 31, 2014 8:25pm

what's with the negative comments you pricks?,why not read it to get the facts,he explains it all and why,it's a fuck of alot more interesting than anything you've done or 'nearly done' i bet..he's a nice guy,very humble,very real....he was there you were probably not.

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taxman
Jan 2, 2015 8:12pm

the taxman is coming for jk rowling and dan brown whoever they are

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lacey green
Jan 2, 2015 8:24pm

this celebrity obsession must stop i reside in the usa so yes I wasn't there does that render me useless and i goddamn wanna be as great as this man my life is just a wasteland

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mozzalover
Jan 2, 2015 8:35pm

to quote from Mozzas autobiography "johnny calls in bass player Andy rourke and drummer Mike joyce after a few stop start sessions with other muscians" Morrissey does not even mention him being in the smiths.Given that they weren't actually called 'The Smiths' at the time why does Si Wolstencroft insist on peddling the 'I was The Smiths original drummer' story?

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mozzastato
Jan 2, 2015 9:01pm

Morrissey statement

I am indebted to three sources that have placed their own well-crafted videos on You Tube for the song World peace is none of your business. The three individual sources are named as Sharon Jheeta, Héctor González and wpeace123456. These videos fully understand the intent of the song, and I am relieved that these films exist. Yes, a similar document ought to have been harvested by the record label, but please understand that the pop or rock industry can be as dedicated to perpetuating public deception as the world of politics itself. God bless social media!
Liberty, equality and fraternity are the essence of the song; no monarchic rule, no political hierarchies, no bought-and-paid-for government thugs, security forces no longer beyond prosecution, and an end to megalomania, repression and corruption. Meat consumption is climate change, and if ever there were a self-evident lost cause it is the British so-called "royal family". Societies have never been so nervous; Pan Am Flight 103 differs not a jot from Malaysian Flight 17. The United Nations failure to imprison Tony Blair and George W. Bush for war crimes against Iraq has told us all that there can never be enough bloodshed, and the world is suffering its worst nervous breakdown. Do not feel powerless!
Many apparently powerless causes have succeeded in shifting political stupidity and greed. You are intellectual sanity. It is possible for nonviolent change; there are more people than there are aging despots; there are more people than there are world leaders. In truth, the world is leaderless. Please stop watching Fox News; anti-monarchial Britain has given up on the BBC – we know that every slot is paid for. We know that the number 1 position on the pop charts is "bought"; this is not 1955.
Thank you to all of my friends in Israel, Chile, Sweden, Poland, Argentina, Hungary, Romania, Finland and Italy who bought World peace is none of your business. It is 30 years on since The Smiths album entered the UK chart at number 2 with zero airplay and zero promotion, and the struggle for the airwaves remains difficult. Yet, I am writing this to you now, and you are reading it.
In answer to many people who have asked, I should like to finally make it clear that I have not received any television invitations – worldwide! – to either discuss World peace is none of your business, or even to sing any songs from the album.

Thank you for reading this. We have our first World peace is none of your business concert booked in Lisbon (Portugal) on October 6th.

All we have is each other.

for the animals, for intellectual sanity ...

MORRISSEY
5 August 2014.

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mozzastato
Jan 2, 2015 9:06pm

In reply to mozzastato:

This story is old, I know, but it goes on.

One day prior to giving a public plea on behalf of animal welfare (!), Prince William is to be found in Spain (with Prince Harry) shooting and killing as many deer and boar as they possibly can! Although William's speech (no doubt written by his publicity aides at Clarence House) will concentrate on endangered species, William is too thickwit to realize that animals such as tigers and rhino are only driven to near extinction because people who are precisely like himself and his brother have shot them off the map - all in the name of sport and slaughter. Whenever you shoot an animal in the head the outcome is usually the same: death. Just why William kills innocent and defenseless deer does not matter – the fact is, he does it, and we must go on and on asking why any form of violence is acceptable to the British establishment. It is easy for privileged people to assume jealousy to be the reason why anyone would wish to condemn them, but the British Boil Family never fails to be a colossal embarrassment to the United Kingdom. The Spanish trip is more than likely unwillingly funded by the British taxpayer, and we know very well that the British press is duty-bound to always defend and cleanse the bad behavior of the Boil Family - no matter how abysmal and hypocritical their actions. But the rationalists amongst us - who are never allowed to speak, are intelligent enough to realize that endangered species are dying out only because of people like William and Harry, and, for this we can only pray to God that their hunting guns backfire in their faces.

MORRISSEY
9 February 2014, France.

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pas
Jan 5, 2015 1:59pm

didn't he played in Bend Sinister too?

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Dan
Jan 6, 2015 4:35pm

Did Si not drum on the Infotainment Scan too?

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yawn
Jan 7, 2015 3:32pm

In reply to artdamij:

yawn

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mrsimonwolstencroft
Feb 16, 2015 2:26pm

In reply to yawn:

disgusted that simon wolstencroft supports fred talbot in his book!!!

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