A Brief History of Aiken Drum
What possibly happened. We can't really remember.
The time: 1988, the start of term at the ‘Lanch Poly’.
The event: One of many drinks evenings enjoyed by a small group of chums from nearby Lynden House.
And why not? They each had a few musical skills: Bez had prodded at keyboards in a band before somewhere up North, John had provided some skins to his school-mates, and Simon was just getting to grips with his tuning nuts. Student grants were a little more generous back in those days, and before long the band had equipped themselves with a 4-track cassette recorder, a drum machine, new guitars and limousine rides to and from the local drinking establishments, where Bez would invariably get John into fights with Rugby players.
Initially the tracks were from Simon's Red Book of Songs, a tatty schoolbook full of teenage angst and surreal poetry. They began recording with re-nude enthusiasm; PC Thompson 619, In a Lay-By (Late At Night) and Postcard From Coventry were early crowd-pleasing classics. A few weeks later a colleague of Bez's appeared to steal the band's Tizer. His name was James A Bostock, and he too had a Big Book of Songs, but his had a hardback cover, so he was immediately taken on board and the band called themselves Aiken Drum.
It was during these heady days that the band reached the giddy heights of appearing in issue 50 of that esteemed organ, Q Magazine. They relocated to a squalid terraced house with less-than-stunning PeugeotTalbot views, and sat on the damp, yet alive, carpet of an upstairs room and with cold-numb fingers formed the delicate chord shapes and riffs that would become their seminal second album, AD90.
Here was all the variety we had come to expect, with the depth of textures expanded yet further, the sheer range of lyrics almost shocking and yet still reassuringly familiar, with subject matter ranging from social commentary (What’s The New Mary-Jane? and Mad Cow) to rebellion (I Don’t Want To Be A Pop-Star and City Life) via religion (It’s Sunday and Angels) and the plain bizarre (Astley In An Acid Bath).
Here was an Aiken Drum as we had never heard them before, cleaner, brighter, more focused; Jim's ying and Simon's yang at their most perfectly balanced and opposed. They were joined by the astral Claire Gibbs and her Little Book of Songs. Claire added new dimensions to the band's sound with her more organic writing, her soft, yet aggressive vocals, as well as recorders and delicate keyboard riffs.
Their third album, somewhat predictably, proved to be difficult. Relationships within the band were less chummy and cracks were starting to show. Planet Claire was hurled into space and left them adrift after only half-a-dozen gorgeous recordings. Bez and John found themselves with less and less to do as Simon fed his voracious appetite for all aspects of music production and built backing tracks with soulless, chugging sequencers. The resulting album, Days Like These, was more gothic and darker than those that had shone before.
Planetary forces continued to tear at the band; as the final track on Days Like These faded out, James drifted into space, Bez spaced out and John needed his own space. By 1992 the original Aiken Drum were no more, with all the boys taking ‘proper’ jobs and going their separate ways.
Only Simon remained in the heart of Coventry, where he was joined by fellow ‘Yes’ fan, Colin Rainsforth, who didn't have a Big Book of Songs, but did have a Back-of-a-Fag-Packet With a Few Chords On It, which is close enough. They worked on the epic and grungy (it was 1995, after all) album Nine with gravel-throated rock-vocalist Adrian Case.
Simon continued to work on a range of material with various musicians including, bizarrely, a Christian folk songwriter called Michelle under the band name Proof in 1996, but eventually even he conceded defeat and headed towards London for a steadier income in the television industry.
...so what of the Drum? Lost forever? No, because he played upon a ladle and his name shall live for evermore! Some years later, walking down Fleet Street, Simon espied a familiar face... older, greyer, but it was he! It was James! They collapsed into a pub and began to reminisce. Well, time wounds all heels and it was only a matter of time before all the original members were e-mailed and the band was back. The thunderous 2000AD and the eponymous Aiken Drum followed, and the band are now working on their most ambitious and progressive album ever. The definitive Aiken Drum album: Codename Victoria. Coming soon!