Laurie Allan

Born : February 19th, 1943 - London
Past Bands : Formerly Fat Harry (1970), Delivery (1971), Gong (1972-73, 1974), Barbara Thompson's Paraphernalia (1974-75), Peter Lemer Trio (1975-77), Mother Gong (1978), Steve Miller Trio (1979)

A Short Bio:

Certainly one of the most obscure contributors to Canterbury music during the 70's, Laurie Allan earned a solid reputation as a drummer touring and recording with Gong and Robert Wyatt.

Laurie Allan's career started in the early Sixties, when he began gigging on the London jazz scene and playing sessions, notably for folk singer Roy Harper on his album "Come Out Fighting Gengis Smith" (1967) and jazz pianist Chris MacGregor on "Kwela" (1968). In 1969, he joined Cream lyricist Pete Brown's band Piblokto for a short stint, playing on the "Art School Dance Goes On Forever" (1970). He was then the drummer in the band Formerly Fat Harry, touring and recording an album that was released posthumously in 1971. Also in 1970, he drummed on Nucleus guitarist Chris Spedding's debut album, "Backwoods Progression" and Bob Downes' "Deep Down Heavy".

In January 1971, he replaced Pip Pyle in Steve Miller's Delivery, working for the first time with bass player Roy Babbington. But this didn't last long as the band soon transformed into the drum-less DC and the MB's. In December 1971, Allan was once again asked to replace Pyle, but this time in Gong. This was the first in a series of short stints. As Daevid Allen once recalled : "Laurie was one of the most interesting drummers we ever played with. He would play differently every night, and when he couldn't think of a different way to approach it, he would leave the band. He was wonderful to play with, very sensitive... and also very paranoid, he would always play with his back to the wall, he was scared that somebody had to kill him...".

Leaving in the Spring of 1972 to play sessions (notably for Chris Spedding, Jonathan Swift, Roy Harper and Bert Jansch), he came back to the fold later in the year and played on "Flying Teapot" (1973), but the atmosphere of the recording sessions at the Manor was very tense, particularly due to bassist Francis Moze clashing with everybody (although Allan got on well with him). Allan quit once again and joined a new line-up of Delivery which Steve Miller and Lol Coxhill were assembling. The bass player for that was again Roy Babbington, but the latter quickly left to join Soft Machine and the band broke-up. Allan nevertheless appeared on several tracks of Miller and Coxhill's album, "The Story So Far/Oh Really?" (1974). Then he joined saxophonist Barbara Thompson's band for about a year, playing alongside Peter Lemer and Steve Cook.

In 1974, Laurie Allan was a major contributor to Robert Wyatt's comeback album, Rock Bottom, astounding everyone with his superb drumming that was very much in the vein of Wyatt's. This collaboration was repeated on the following year's sequel, Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard. And Allan was of course the drummer (alongside Nick Mason) at Wyatt's Drury Lane concert in September 1974 (Wyatt later described the trio of Dave Stewart, Hugh Hopper and Laurie Allan as "my dream rhythm section"). At that point, he rejoined Gong for the tour promoting the "You" album, and also helped out on subsequent tours whenever a dep drummer was needed.

Subsequently, Laurie Allan somewhat faded from view. In 1975, apart from his continued collaboration with Robert Wyatt, he gigged and recorded two unreleased albums with pianist Peter Lemer, in a trio format with Francis Moze on bass, and played with Lol Coxhill's quartet. Then, apart from appearances with Mother Gong for a couple of British gigs in November 1978 (alongside Daevid Allen, Hugh Hopper, Pip Pyle and Harry Williamson among others), and one with Steve Miller (in trio format with Jack Monk on bass) in 1979, he remained silent.

In March 1999, we finally tracked down Laurie Allan thanks to his old friend / guitarist Roger Bunn. Here's the little e-mail interview that resulted :

Born February 19th, 1943 - London.
Began playing drums at age 12.
Influences: Elvin Jones, Ed Blackwell, Billy Higgins, Roy Haines.

Your beginnings on the music scene in the late 60s were very eclectic - folk with Roy Harper, jazz with Chris McGregor, rock with Piblokto and Formerly Fat Harry... What was the reason for that?
This was the EARLY 60s... McGregor was with Roger [Bunn] on bass.

Did you consciously try to play in as many styles as possible?
No, just work.

This being said, do you consider yourself primarily as a jazz drummer?

In 1968, you were in the Gunter Hampel trio with John MacLaughlin. Was it then that you first met Daevid Allen? Allen has told the story of his band (Bananamoon) and Hampel's group sharing a rehearsal room in Avignon in the Summer of '68, but didn't mention you.
I worked with Gunther often. Occasionally with Roger on bass. Yes, I met Daevid in France in Avignon... That was where we met. John was there too.

In 1971 you replaced Pip Pyle in Delivery. How did you first get in contact with them?
I knew the late Steve Miller..

This period of the band's existence is sadly undocumented. What are your memories of the band's music ?
I can't really remember. I only did it occasionally. Just work. Roy Babbington was in that band, with Carol Grimes

How do you account for its early split?
I don't account..

Later on Delivery evolved into another band, DC & The MBs. Although not mentioned in the name you were, I understand, in that band too. Do you have particular memories of that?
I remember going to Holland with Lol Cox. That was a package deal. For some record company.. Lol, cleaned his teeth on a street corner.

Any particular memories of Gong?
YES!!! I never got paid for any of the records

Was it in any way uncomfortable to "replace" Robert Wyatt on the two albums you did with him - "Rock Bottom" and "Ruth..."?
No, very comfortable... And I was very flattered by him employing me.

Your performance on both albums is particularly well suited to the music, did you consciously adapt your playing to fit Robert's way?
Yes and no... You play the music for the music's sake, whatever is required.

After 1975, you did a lot of work with Peter Lemer...
Yes. There were loads of them, I worked with Pete through the 70s. But for many of us jazz musicians, including Roger, this was the beginning of the end of the possiblities of earning a living from jazz in the UK... The young jazz musicians of today are not faced with such problems. You should consider a focus on the work I did with Roger, which was part of the Little Theatre Club and Ronnie's Old Place set up.

What have you been up to in the last... well, twenty years!?! Still playing music to any extent? Where ?
In the 80s I went back to school and updated my education. I then started studying musicianship / harmony / theory etc. Then nothing. I don't do gigs any more. Now, Roger and I would both like to get back on stage and play jazz. But how can we do so??

Before we finally got hold of him, we'd asked some of his former colleagues whether they knew his current whereabouts. Their answers remain interesting, so they're still here :

Steve Cook : "I haven't seen Laurie in years, and I have no idea what happened to him. The last time I saw him I seem to remember he was studying something, maybe philosophy or politics. He was often a great drummer to play with : very original and with a wonderful sense of time and timing. I remember a gig with Peter Lemer and Laurie in Belfast, it was supposed to be a Barbara Thompson gig but Barbara never showed up, so we played it as a trio. It was a storm".

Roger Bunn : "The first thing we did together was probably the toughest work I have ever done : four-part close harmony jazz vocals - in tune.. without vibrato! - while playing an instrument at the same time; rehearsals four days a week, the US Air Force bases around France, the back seat of an early Volvo with a long-legged dancer form Manchester... Thrown out of an air base for not wearing shoes... and that was just France! I met Laurie when I joined Don Riddell of the Don Riddell Four. Don was one of the great vocal / arranging talents behind the Polkadots, Brit verison of the multi-instrumentalists the Four Freshmen or the vocal-only but fantastic Hi-Lo's. I would play bass, electric bass I think. And Laurie would be standing up playing half a kit. A la the Four Freshers (who swung like the clappers, I must add). And after we toured France and the UK with Don and a couple of replacement singers, eventually I left the band. Somehow, Lol then got "connected to" the Blue Notes. Maybe Don had taken him to see them after I had spilt the Riddell band?) But that is still vague memory, for Lol may have spilt the band before me... can't remember. And then by pure coincidence, as Don had taken me to the eer, can't think of the name of the place right now - to see the the Blue Notes for the first time. He had heard about them. And, of course, I loved their music from the very first. The guy I replaced, Johnny [Dyani], and the guy Lol replaced, Louis [Moholo], were fantastic players of that particular USA/South African influence... He worked with me again in the studio after Piblokto (dunno why he was in my band Enjin...) and I have all those tapes too, unheard for twenty years...".