The Return of China Drum

Interview -The return of China Drum

By Mike Aartsen
21 Feb 2013
The Garage – London (UK)

After waiting for 13 years, China Drum finally announced to do a one off show on 21 February in London. The response to this news on Facebook was immense and also the ticket sales were a real good indication of how much the band is still loved. From all over the UK people showed up to see the guys play in The Garage and as it turned out even Germany, Holland and the US would be represented in the audience that night

In 1996 I had the pleasure of doing an interview with the guys at Reading, which was published in a skate magazine in Holland. The basic idea was to do an interview to see what they were up to and what happened during the past 13 years that they were away from playing clubs throughout the world. In the interview I had intended to go partially down memory lane with the guys, but what I had not expected was that it basically became storytelling time. So here is the result of 30 minutes chatting backstage before the show with Adam and Dave. Their old soundman John, who also did the sound that night (!), joined in from time to time as well.

M: So guys, welcome back. Thank you!
D: (in a pitched voice like the singer of The Darkness) It’s good to be back!!
(In normal voice) You lined that up especially didn’t you!
M: But you’re not back in black are you?
D: Not back in black.
A: We’re back in charcoal.
D: Back in a variety of colors probably. We haven’t decided yet what our glittery stage costumes look like. You’ll see them when we do.
M: Jumpsuits and all?
D: Guantanamo Bay. Orange jumpsuits.

M: What have you guys been up to?
D: That’s a good question. How long do you have on that phone?
M: We’ve got a while.
A: So you want us to go over 13 years?
M: I wasn’t expecting you to go over it week by week.
D: A diary? Dear Diary!
M: Well, you guys stopped playing 13 years ago and at some time you decided to do a show here tonight.
D: The abridged version (looks at Adam and says: Jump in any time!) is that by the time we finished in 2000 we spent 10-12 years living in each others pockets – pre and post having a record deal – we spent all that time with each other. I think we were due a rest from it. And we all had other stuff going on: kids, houses, mortgages, jobs – all that stuff. There was no falling out at all. There wasn’t a moment when we all walked off and did the cue. There was none of that stuff. It just felt like it had run to a natural end point. So we went our separate ways and did our own stuff for a long time.
A: Eventually we all got proper jobs and started living an honest living.

M: Are you guys still Self Made Maniacs?
A: Yeah absolutely! Even more so Self Made Maniacs now, cuz we had to get back together again, realizing how mint it was playing in a band.

M: Now this night – how did this come about in a nutshell?
(At this point David Houston (Future Sound Share) walked in who organized the show)
D: Your timing is impeccable! Because Mike just said ‘How did this night come about and you walk into the room.
A: We got a message from David Houston who asked us if we wanted to do a gig and we kinda went Yeah!
David: It came about because I missed it so much. It was one of the highlights of my life – all the gigs were so amazing. You were my favorite band ever.  Instead of waiting around for something to happen, i started doing. I then did a bit of scattering around and saw that they did an acoustic set in Holland. I contacted Mike and he was like: Right! This is exciting! Let me know if anything happens.  It took me ages to work the all important introductory email.
D: Did it?
David: Just to get it right, to make it subtle.
A: You were very polite! We were expecting something like: ‘Get it back on ya basterds’!
David: Well it also had to sound business like. I’m not just a fan who wants to put on a gig, as I knew I actually could do it.
A: It works!
D: It definitely works. It was the right thing at the right time. I think that answers your question!

M: Major question time now.
D: Oh
M: How does it feel, that after more than 10 years being away, you’re packing The Garage tonight?
A: It feels absolutely fucking awesome. Absolutely awesome! We could not have imagined the response that we’ve had to get back together. It’s unbelievable.
D: And it’s about this venue as well, because we did our first London shows in here. Fourth on the bill, third on the bill, second on the bill, headlined the bill, played here with Green Day, played here with The Flying Medallions, played here with Tim Wheeler…
A: Hung around the fire escape
D: Did favors for sailors… eh no, that was somebody else.
A: Steady on
D: Well, we needed the petrol money. Eh, we digress. It is of all the venues the best. It couldn’t have been a better venue.

M: What is the best memory of back in the days?
D: Obviously a tough question, cuz there is a lot. It would all set around playing live, going places, seeing things, that ya never thought you’d see. I remember touring the US and the bus driver taking a detour via the Grand Canyon for our day off. So we pulled back the curtains and there was the Grand Canyon! And I remember being blown away by that. Playing the Viper Room in LA, the Whisky-a-go-go, playing CBGB’s in New York - the fact that we managed to play some of the most famous venues in the world.
M: CBGB’s – did you manage to check out the bathrooms? They were shit.
D: In the dressing room in CBGB’s the toilet was in the middle of the floor, so if you wanted to take a dump you did that in front of everybody else in that room. Amazing!
M: That’s what the normal bathrooms were like too.
D: Stuff like that, but honestly I could give you ten hours worth of best moments. There was the whole Bosnia thing, which you probably read in the book ‘Rock in hard places’.
M: Was that the story about playing football…
D: In a mine field
J: And taking a dump in a minefield. I’m still scarred by that.
D: So is the land mine! And we got out of Bosnia with a monopoly card – we ran out of green cards. There were a few near death incidents on that trip, mainly around land mines.
M: But not about people sticking heads out of tour buses while bridges were appearing?
D: (pointing at Adam) No. That was his territory.
A: (whistling and turning away his head) I can’t believe I did that.
M: Sorry guys, but I know quite a few.
D: Yeah I know, it’s one of those interviews.

M: So what’s the worst memory? Like something that you totally hated that happened.
A: This is gonna take us ages to come up with something.
D: I got one and it’s a comedy one as well. It involves food poisoning and getting the shits.
A: In Sarajevo?
D: No it was in Vienna and we went over the Alps that night and the shits kicked in. And we had the only bus driver in Europe that couldn’t read.
M: Was that the same one as in Hamburg?
D+A: (in harmonic vocals) YES!
D: He was a legend but he could only read the first 3 letters of every word, so he knew his way around Europe from memory. Good trick if you could pull it off! Anyway, we were coming down the Alps and everyone was in bed. And it was one of those moments where you go urgh… Where it could go horribly brown! I ran to the front of the bus and said to the bus driver: I’m in all sorts of trouble here - you gotta find me a toilet. There was one on the bus, but we weren’t allowed to use it. It was literarily a foot of snow outside, going over the top in December. Luckily we ran into one of those outdoor toilet things. I went in, but it was so cold that my ass stuck to the seat.
A: That was where Paul climbed the lamppost and got stuck as well!
D: It was so cold outside! Anyway, if that wasn’t bad enough we got another one the next morning. We thought that this would be a more appropriate opportunity and true to Italian toilet style, it was a hole in the floor and no lock on the door. So we coined what has become known as the Bruce Forsyth, where you lean forward to keep the door shut with your elbow and pull your pants back with the other hand. I was ill for about a week after that.
A: It was bad I remember. You were just on fluids for about a week.
D: No solids! Well, before we get too graphic, plow on Mike.

M: Well I dug up some quotes.
D: Oh!
M: Well, they’re actually from Phil.
D: Barton?
M: Yeah, at some point back in the days I got these. At that moment in time I got a quote about Bill: ‘Ace guitarist and Kebab munching hero Bill is a dedicated and life long Chili enthusiast’. Still correct?
D: Yeah, and Garlic. Chili and Garlic.
M: Well, spot on then. The next one then: ‘Cursed with being born on April Fool’s Day hasn’t stopped Adam Lee from turning himself into an expert practical joker. Usual victim of his own personal brand of lunacy is Bill.’ Who is it nowadays?
A: It’s my poor 14-year-old son. No! I’ve given up now. It wasn’t funny really.
M: And Dave
D: Oh no!
M: ‘As you know Dave is a gadget collector and going through airport security is a problem for him.’
D: Still is.
M: ‘He’s usually got more wires hanging off him than Greggs have got cheese and onion pasties.’
D: I’m still a gadget freak. I’m actually worse with gadgets now and the gadgets have become much better than they used to be. I’m guilty as charged.

M: Well I found something else, which actually you sent me at some point in time. This is part of a concert review. (The credit goes to Kriss Knights, published in Paint it Red, July 1997) ‘The celebrations went on until 8am by which time the group of people from Peterlee who’d brought a tent were fast asleep outside the pub. A lad who’d come over from Holland for the gig had been drank virtually to death by a local lass and the kid who stage dived face first into the ceiling fan had actually stopped bleeding. A pretty normal night in High Spen then?’ (Dave starts laughing) My question is: How is the ceiling fan and have you ever heard of the guy again?
A: That night actually broke the building!
D: Yeah, that was the end of it.
A: Well, the building inspector came after the show that we did and condemned the building. He said it had to close. So they closed the building and demolished it and they build houses there instead. So we actually broke the building.
M: So High Spen is no more?
D: It’s gone.
A: The main structural beam running through to support the floor in the cellar had broken due to the mosh. (After a pause and some comments between the two of them he continues) And the landlady still talks to me!
D: Well, while we are on embarrassing stories about that night. YOU (points at me and continues trying to imitate my voice) ‘Get me more sex on the beach’!

The next 2 minutes were spent with going through my whereabouts of that night. In a nutshell it was about drinking too much, ordering more cocktails and ending up unconscious on the bathroom floor. I guess I had it coming!

M: Music wise, you’ve been on tour with quite a few bands. Looking back on it what would you name as your favorite band(s) and what would be the worst?
D: Good thing about this one is that we all remember different stuff. (Dave looks at Adam) You pick out bands that I have forgotten about and the other way around.
A: Meeting Green Day for the first time, when they weren’t massive at all. Was that here when we did the first Green Day gig?
D: We did the one here and one in Leeds.
A: They were coming from the same sort of stable of punk rock, having fun and not taking themselves too seriously and playing really good music. That was probably the best point for me in realizing that a band from halfway around the world can do the same sort of thing. So that was really nice to know.
D: We were definitely on the same page. But when you think of it, Samiam was brilliant.
A: Oh yes!
D: Ash were great. A good live band.
A: Ash were awesome.
D: The Hosen in Germany – that was a great tour.
A: I remember that the bassist in Ash, Mark, he just had no fear, did he?
D: Surgically removed.
A: And he used to jump off balconies, speaker stacks, onto the stage, but he never used to wear any shoes when he was playing. And he jumped off this one night and we thought that he was gonna kill himself there. He’s got no fear whatsoever. We were really quite worried and he landed on an upturned screw that was on the stage. That went straight into his foot. I just remember the fucking aftermath after that.
D: A lot of blood.
A: And the manager telling him off and there’s blood all over the place. He was a little more sensible after that, but not much!
D: I really liked Unwritten Law. They were a really good tight band. Nice bunch of blokes as well. Other than that…

M: Well, and then the worst one?
A: The worst tour we did was with Lordz of Brooklyn.
M: I totally agree with you.
D: A New York hip hop band!
A: That was probably the most depressed and close to suicide that I ever have been.
M: Well, it was a very good mix.
A: Yeah, it was perfect!
D: Interesting! The other thing that irritated us was that for years we played with ‘Rage against the tumble dryer’ bands. Every support band for like 2 years was this Rage against the Machine copy. It was before we were signed. Everywhere we went you saw us looking like: Is this another rage against the tumble dryer?
A: Yeah!
D: But the Lordz of Brooklyn: The best thing about the Lordz of Brooklyn though, was that there was a good level of comedy value associated with it.
A: The one thing I remember about them was the lead singer coming in after we’d been on tour with them for about eight weeks, nine weeks.
D: He had no idea who we were!
A: He had no idea they had a support band in the first place. He came in and went: ‘Who the fuck are you?’ And we were like: ‘We’re China Drum’. ‘Ah, you’re just playing with us tonight?’ ‘No, we’ve been with ya for 8 weeks!’
D: He literarily had no clue. And they were giving out our beer every night, cuz they thought it was theirs. (Dave imitates him) ‘Who wants a fucking beer?’
A: We went: ‘Hold on a fucking minute!’
D: So we started taking the piss out of them going (Dave puts on a British Royal like accent): ‘Excuse me, would anybody care for a cup of tea?’ It was the worst tour. We were playing to a hip-hop crowd every night.
A: It wasn’t the best choice in touring.
D: I actually liked them in the end in a weird sort of way.

M: Well, after all these stories and of course the show tonight, is there any chance of another show in the future or … everybody is hoping for a new album of course.
D: We got one penciled in for 2025, haven’t we?
A: Yeah, in another 13 years.
D: We all just said, let’s just get through tonight!
A: Let’s just see how it feels. I’m up for writing new stuff, Dave is up for writing new stuff and I think Bill is as well. We’ll just see what happens.
M: You’ll just take it one step at a time then?
A: The same as usual, we’ll just take it as it comes.

M: Guys, have a lot of fun tonight!
A: Thank you very much!

I am a bit biased. If you hadn’t noticed it yet during the interview, then let me say it out loud that China Drum was THE band that influenced me the most. From being inspired to writing my own lyrics, singing in a punk rock band, up to still telling tour stories at dinner parties!
But really, the show was spot on! The band played (in my opinion) one of their finest shows to date after being away for 13 years. With the help of John Steel on guitar and Kate Stephenson on drums the band rocked The Garage.

The most precious moment of the evening was not a rock n roll moment like you might expect of me, especially after being known for lying on toilet floors of venues before. I am a family man myself nowadays and to me the most unique picture of the evening was a young boy, who couldn’t have been more than 10 years old, who was going to see his first China Drum show ever. His dad (Andrew Kenrick) told me he had been begging him to go see a China Drum concert since he was 7 years old.
I saw him sing along all the words to all the songs. Amazing!

Mike Aartsen
21 Feb 2013
The Garage – London (UK)

You can check out the interview Future Sound Share conducted with China Drum in the run up to the gig here.