I don’t ever remember meeting Hugh Attwooll. He was the drummer of my first ever real band, the Stiff All Stars, and together we formed the rhythm section of a bunch of record industry acolytes with dreams of winning some respect and admiration from our peers. We probably never achieved the former and only had the latter because the word ‘begrudging’ was placed in front of it: after all, while some talked at coffee breaks about being enthusiastic music fans, we were actually out there doing it, playing at the Hope & Anchor, Dingwalls, and The Venue on weekends and nights off.
Hugh was bespectacled, quiet and even when he was in a funk he seemed good humoured and approachable. I would love to see him set up his kit. Nothing would hurry him. He would place the pieces in the order that suited him best and then pick them up again only to place them on what seemed exactly the same spot. He would sit behind the kit look at every stand and drum and then get up again, tour the podium, rearrange, somewhat delicately, a cymbal stand or a floor tom and then sit down once more. On sitting down this last time he would take a breath, adjust his glasses, pick up his sticks and ponder for a minute as if thinking about some other matter before he would look up, smile at us all and then, finally, be ready to play. Unlike most every other drummer in the world he had hardly made a sound up to this point.
Hugh and I were the worrying, rusty tack in the sole of our leader Andy’s rock n’ roll shoe. He wanted us to swing like Like Little Feat or rumble like Rockpile, and with my bass playing there was never any chance of that, but we were efficient and light-hearted and enjoyed ourselves and we would crack jokes behind Andy’s back about his Rick-Neilsen-sized guitar collection and his endless search for the right amp-placement on our postage stamp sized stages.
Out of the band Hugh worked selflessly at CBS, as it then was, and I would talk up the fact that without him Julio Iglesias would never have had a hit in the English speaking world. Hugh spoke Spanish fluently and apparently convinced Julio and the label to rerecord his biggest hits in English with the result that the one-time goalie took off in America and conquered the other half of the world he had not already seduced. As a result Julio was able to buy some more yachts, while Hugh received another paycheck.
It is maybe fifteen years since I last saw Hugh or spoke with him, perhaps longer. I realise that maybe I never knew him well – he was the lovely guy I met through friends who was married and had kids. His smile lit up rooms and the way he quietly corrected or disagreed with you was a master class in diplomacy.
As Joni Mitchell and countless others have pointed out, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Hugh died last week from cancer and suddenly it seems that my band suddenly has something in common with Zeppelin and the Who – we’ve all lost our drummers and there’ll never be a satisfactory replacement.
For pictures of Hugh and examples of his fine drumming check out www.myspace.com/stiffallstars