Wednesday, September 20, 2006

RIP Pip Pyle

Entering one's 40s, one also enters the period of the big losses, the places where parents leave you to adulthood on your own. It is not supposed to be the place of other big losses, where musical or cultural heroes, whose work shaped the adolescence that shapes adulthood and independence, die off also. But now it is beginning. Pip Pyle, drummer with Gong, Hatfield and the North and National Health, died on August 27. However yawningly-inflected one's voice when discussing the obtrusively, if very much de jour sub-Python humour of said bands, Pyle was a master drummer; he made utility the criterion of style and vice versa. In a band as dedicated to pure music as National Health, his gift was to make the drum kit sound like a melodic, transposing and rhythmic instrument sometimes within the same bar. Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones and, more recently, Christian Vander are his spiritual homologues. Pyle was also a singular exception to the British dread of mixing and matching the Apollonian and Dionysian, the abandoned and the intellectual. Whether pounding through a punked-up jam with Gong or playing a refined 13/8 with the Hatfields, Pyle was a natural - in other words a natural musician. Scarce wonder he emigrated in the early 1980s from this unmusical country. That his friends have united in their mourning for him, and that the (quality) national press have at least acknowledged not only his passing but his contribution to thinking and creative musical endeavour, shows that British music's flame is not dead.

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