Pip Pyle

Drummer and lyricist


Philip Pyle, drummer and songwriter: born Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire 4 April 1950; twice married (three sons, three daughters); died Paris 28 August 2006.

A stalwart of the extended Canterbury music family, Pip Pyle drummed with Gong, Hatfield and the North and National Health, three of the groups which evolved out of the original Soft Machine and Caravan. Combining elements of progressive rock, jazz and a peculiar brand of Anglo-Saxon whimsy, these bands were mainstays of the underground scene throughout the Seventies and often drew bigger audiences in continental Europe than in the UK.

Pyle subsequently played with various groups connected to the Canterbury scene, like In Cahoots and Soft Heap, as well as leading Pip Pyle's Equip' Out and Pip Pyle's Bash. An early signing to Richard Branson's Virgin Records, Hatfield and the North reunited last year with a line-up of three of its original members - Pyle, the bassist and vocalist Richard Sinclair and the guitarist Phil Miller - and Alex Maguire on keyboards. Pyle died in Paris on Monday, two days after playing a concert with Hatfield and the North in Groningen, Holland.

He was born Philip Pyle in Hertfordshire in 1950, but soon became Pip. " My father changed his mind when I was two weeks old," he said. " Perhaps Philip was too long a word for him." Pip made friends with Phil Miller at kindergarten and also began banging on biscuit tins, a portent of things to come - on Gong's Camembert Electrique album (1971), he was credited with playing tables and chairs as well as drums. Mostly self-taught, Pyle formed Bruno's Blues Band with Phil Miller and his pianist brother Steve. The trio soon joined the bassist Roy Babbington (later of Nucleus and Soft Machine) and the singer Carol Grimes to become Delivery.

In 1970, the group recorded their only album, Fool's Meeting, but Pyle left after an argument with Grimes. He had a brief stint with the British blues band Chicken Shack and auditioned for Kevin Ayers, formerly of Soft Machine. Pyle had also befriended Robert Wyatt, the Soft Machine drummer, who asked him to come along to the Marquee Studios in 1971 to help out on the recording of Banana Moon, the solo album by Daevid Allen, another ex-member of Soft Machine. "There was a track which Robert, for some reason, couldn't face doing himself, so I did it," Pyle recalled. "That's how I met Daevid Allen and ended up joining Gong."

Pyle only stayed with Gong for eight months, but this was a productive time for the group, who lived in a commune near Sens, in France. They recorded Continental Circus, the soundtrack to the motorcycle documentary directed by Jerome Laperrousaz and Camembert Electrique, the album which made their reputation as cosmic rockers; backed the poet Dashiell Hedayat on the cult album Obsolete; and also appeared at the second Glastonbury Festival. Pyle left at the end of 1971 and was replaced by Laurie Allen and then Pierre Moerlen but he remained part of the Gong family and rejoined them in the Nineties. He also put in regular appearances at conventions and events organised by group members.

Back in the UK in 1972, Pyle worked with Paul Jones, the former singer with Manfred Mann, before reuniting with his erstwhile Delivery colleagues. With Dave Stewart - on heavily treated organ and Fender Rhodes - replacing Steve Miller, they became Hatfield and the North, after the first sign they used to see when driving to gigs up the M1. They signed to Virgin in 1973 and joined Mike Oldfield, Henry Cow, Gong and Robert Wyatt on the roster. Wyatt guested on "Calyx", one of the best tracks from their eponymous début recorded at the Manor studios near Oxford and released in 1974.

Pyle's already excellent playing blossomed further in Hatfield and the North and he was able to incorporate complex time signatures on compositions like "Shaving is Boring" and "Fitter Stoke has a Bath", one of several contributions he made to The Rotters' Club, the group's superlative second album, which charted briefly in March 1975 and inspired the Jonathan Coe novel of the same title. Pyle wrote a lot of the group's lyrics, including the quirky "Let's Eat (Real Soon)", their only single.

Hatfield and the North broke up that summer and Pyle freelanced with various jazz groups before in 1978 joining National Health, the group which, at various times, included Phil Miller and Dave Stewart alongside Alan Gowen (keyboards) and John Greaves (bass, vocals). Pyle played on National Health's three studio albums and also did session work on Neil's Heavy Concept Album, the 1984 spin-off project from the television show The Young Ones. That year, he also met the French pianist Sophia Domancich, who became his girlfriend and occasional collaborator.

Always in demand as the Canterbury scene drummer par excellence, Pyle toured and recorded with the Soft Machine alumni Elton Dean and Hugh Hopper, and his Gong colleague Didier Malherbe, and undertook a myriad other projects. In 1998, he finally issued his only solo album, entitled Seven Years Itch, which featured many of the musicians he had been associated with over the years.

"Sometimes even the simplest thing in music can be almost the most difficult," Pyle once said, talking about his drumming:

I've spent all my life trying to play a really slow, laid-back rhythm-and-blues shuffle like Jimmy Reed or something. Adrenaline usually seizes hold and ruins it. Technique, energy and exhilaration can be an obstruction sometimes. You just need to play what you hear in your head. Perhaps sometimes I think too much.

Pierre Perrone

Pip Pyle was in a league of his own, writes Jonathan Coe. In the 1970s, when I first became aware of his playing, most other rock drummers just seemed to be holding down a beat. Pip was the only one who seemed to approach the drum kit as if it was a musical instrument. His playing could be light and feathery - one critic at the time, I remember, likened it to a grasshopper rubbing its legs together - but also wildly propulsive and exciting. At the same time, he could hold his own as a composer in some of the most musically sophisticated bands Britain has ever produced. And he was a wonderful lyricist - witty, sardonic, unpretentious.

In 2000 I wrote to Pip Pyle in France, where he had moved in the 1980s following a cross-channel love affair. I asked if I could quote some lines from his song "Share It" in my novel The Rotters' Club - the title of which he had unwittingly invented, since it was also the title of Hatfield and the North's second album. He seemed pleased by the hommage and thereafter, whenever I went over to Paris, I would try to squeeze in dinner or a drink with Pip.

He was terrific company, whether talking about music or books or politics or any of the other subjects in which he took such a keen interest. Neglected by the British public and press, he seemed to nurse no bitterness and revelled instead in the fact that his music was still very much appreciated in - among other places - France and Japan. He once told me of his delight in going on tour to Tokyo and discovering that a bar there had been named "Pip's" in his honour. He was even more delighted, on his next visit, to take a disbelieving female fan there in order to impress her, and discover that the place had been razed to the ground and turned into a McDonald's: it gave him a story he could live off for years afterwards.

Recently he had been touring Europe with a revised and rejuvenated version of Hatfield and the North. I learned of his death with the kind of stunned disbelief that hits you when the person concerned seemed to represent an unstoppable life-force. When I e-mailed Pip's friend and musical colleague Dave Stewart to say this, he replied:

Richard [Sinclair] said the gig they played in Groningen on Saturday night was the best they'd done with the revised line-up and that Pip played particularly well.

Afterwards they went out for a meal in good spirits and stayed up till 3am, so you know who would have been the last to bed! Sounds like his career ended on a high, happy note in the company of lifelong friends.

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
Jourdan Dunn on modelling, motherhood and Cara Delevingne
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
News
i100
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene
tv
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PE Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary PE Teacher (maternity cover) f...

English Intervention Teacher

£23000 - £33000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: English Intervention Teac...

Teacher of Citizenship and RE

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leeds: Teacher of Citizenship and REMaternity L...

English Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary English Teacher for a academy ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments