A Short Bio:
THE drummer of the Canterbury scene, period. Need one say more? As Hatfield and the North and National Health's drummer, Pip Pyle deserves mention as one of the greatest drummers on the progressive rock scene.
Pyle was born in Sawbridgeworth (Hertfordshire) in 1950. Why 'Pip', by the way? "Well, Pip is diminutive for Philip, as you'd probably guessed. My father changed his mind when I was two weeks old. Perhaps Philip was too long a word for him...". Pyle became friends with Phil Miller in the early 50's... yes, that's right, they actually went to kindergarten together! It was also during this period that Pyle started playing on biscuit tins. Although he took a few lessons from jazz drummer Buzz Greene, he is largely self-taught.
In 1966, at age 15, Pyle was a founding member of Brunos Blues Band, later renamed Delivery (whose sole album Fools Meeting was finally re-released on CD in 1999) with the Miller brothers. "I was in Delivery until 1970 when I was fired after a row with the singer, Carol Grimes...". Then followed a short stint with blues band Chicken Shack of which he holds few happy memories : "I reluctantly admit to having played with that band... I was fired from that, again, for laughing at the guitarist Stan Webb when he did a terribly heartfelt and ghastly version of "If I Were A Carpenter". So much for the blues...".
Fortunately for him, a major career opportunity was around the corner. In April 1970, Delivery played Upstairs at Ronnie Scott's while Soft Machine had a residency in the main room. Pyle became friendly with Softs members Elton Dean and Robert Wyatt, and it was the latter who recommended him to Daevid Allen who needed a drummer to finish his Banana Moon album in early 1971. "There was a track which Robert, for some reason, couldn't face doing himself, so I did it. That's how I met Daevid Allen and ended up joining Gong". Meanwhile, he'd briefly joined Steve Hillage's band Khan.
Although Pyle's stint with Gong was very short (April to December 1971), he remains, along with Pierre Moerlen, the most fondly remembered drummer in the band's history, playing on the classic Camembert Electrique album. In 1992, twenty years after his departure from Gong, Pyle would rejoin the band for the Shapeshifter sessions and subsequent tour!
Back in England, Pyle joined singer Paul Jones' backing band alongside guitarist Gary Boyle (shortly to form his own band, Isotope) and his old Delivery accomplice Roy Babbington. After yet another stint with All Wet And Dripping, a Canterbury-influenced band in which he replaced Charles Hayward, he resumed his collaboration with the Miller brothers and Richard Sinclair in a reformed Delivery, in the summer of 1972. "Then Dave Sinclair replaced Steve, and later Dave Stewart replaced him... Meanwhile, we found the name Hatfield and the North. It took a long time to get a group together in those days, we were too stoned!".
Hatfield and the North lasted until June 1975, with Pyle contributing most of the lyrics and a fair share of the compositions. After the break-up, Phil Miller and Dave Stewart went on to National Health. For various reasons, Pyle wasn't in that band, although he helped them while they were looking for a permanent drummer. "During that period, I did a fair amount of playing with various musicians on the London jazz scene in various clubs and workshops. I had a group with Elton Dean, Keith Tippett and Jim Richardson on bass, called the Weightwatchers, which I remember for a totally unreasonable and delirious tour of Europe in 1976...".
Upon Bill Bruford's departure, Pyle eventually joined National Health and played on the band's three studio albums. He wrote a piece for the band, "A Legend In His Own Lunchtime", later retitled "Binoculars" and recorded on Of Queues And Cures (1979). During the last period, he penned another piece : "Seven Sisters", which belatedly appeared on his 1998 solo album Seven Year Itch then, in its original NH incarnation, on the Play Time live CD - re-titled "Pleiades" for obscure copyright reasons.
By the time of National Health's demise, Pyle had been involved in Soft Heap, a parallel jazz band, for a couple of years. The original line-up of Elton Dean, Alan Gowen, Hugh Hopper and Pyle underwent a couple of changes, with Hopper's replacement by John Greaves and, after Gowen's untimely death in 1981, the recruitment of Mark Hewins on guitar. In 1980-81, Pyle was also involved in Rapid Eye Movement, a low-key combo led by Dave Stewart with Jakko Jakszyk (guitar and vocals) and Rick Biddulph (bass and vocals). That quartet toured Europe twice and did unfinished recordings. This marked Pyle's earliest use of Simmonds electric drums. Some of his compositions were played by REM, including a new version of "Seven Sisters" with lyrics, and another epic instrumental, "The Mensa Membrane".
Later in 1981, Pyle of course took part in the reformation of National Health. "Well, we never really reformed, just enough to do a record of his tunes we found written out in his music room, and three gigs, one in London and two at the Edinburgh Festival". Again, Pyle made occasional use of the controversial electric drums on D.S. Al Coda, but his interest for this instrument had faded by 1982 : he used them on John Greaves' first solo album Accident and for a few gigs with T-Mit, a band also comprising Richard Sinclair, Mark Hewins (guitar) and Vince Clarke (percussion).
In November 1982, Pyle was a founding member of Phil Miller's In Cahoots, and has remained in the band for nearly fifteen years. In 1984, he met French pianist Sophia Domancich, who became his girlfriend and with whom he formed Equip'Out. The pair's first project was a quartet with ex-Edition Speciale keyboard player Ann Ballester and Urban Sax bass player Bernard Weber. In December of that year, Equip'Out was formed with Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper and Didier Malherbe, and a first album was recorded the following year. Apart from Pyle's "Foetal Fandango" (originally a middle section for the original "Seven Sisters"), the material was written by Domancich and Hopper. With Malherbe soon leaving, the quartet continued gigging occasionally.
In 1985-86, Pyle worked extensively with French guitarist Patrice Meyer alongside Hugh Hopper, for several tours and the album Dromadaire Viennois (1987). In 1988, Hopper left Equip'Out, and gigs became more sporadic. Charles Calamel, the bass player from Domancich's own Trio Davenport, joined for a while, as did guitarist Mimi Lorenzini. Eventually, the band became a quartet again with the addition of British double bass player Paul Rogers. A second album was recorded in 1990, again with only one piece by Pip Pyle, the others being penned by Domancich and Dean. Sophia Domancich, who also took part in the reformation of Hatfield and the North in March 1990, eventually left Equip'Out after her relationship with Pyle came to an end.
In 1991, Pyle was a founding member of Short Wave with Hugh Hopper, Didier Malherbe and Phil Miller. He also rejoined Gong during the sessions of Shapeshifter (1992), having played at the band's televised reformation concert in April 1990, and toured regularly with them between 1992 and 1996. "For me, Shapeshifter was a very difficult recording date : Daevid had already finished the record with another drummer [Nick Danger], but after a tour, he insisted that I replace him on the multitrack... Not an easy or particularly rewarding task although in the end I think I managed to bluff my way through it all with all the dignity I could muster...". Pyle took part in the 1994 25th Anniversary concerts, even replacing Pierre Moerlen at the last minute in the 'Trilogy Line-Up' set. This led to extensive American and European tours with Gong in 1996.
As a sideline, he played in the backing bands of Greaves, Mimi Lorenzini, Malherbe, Faton Cahen, Claude Barthélémy, Michel Godard and Emmanuel Bex (the trio Tertio, with Patrice Meyer on guitar) among others. As far as Equip'Out is concerned, the band's later line-ups were fluctuent : Francis Lockwood (piano, Didier's brother) joined for a while, then was replaced by Meyer on guitar for the band's final gigs in 1994-95, as documented on Hux Records' Instants CD, recorded at Les Instants Chavirés in Montreuil in April 1995.
Between 1991 and 1997, Pyle was also hard at work on his long-awaited debut solo album, the aptly titled Seven Year Itch, which was finally finished in time for an autumn 1998 release. "It is a collection of songs and instrumental pieces written over the last ten years that no-one seemed to want to play, plus a demented cover of "Strawberry Fields Forever"...". The prestigious line-up assembled on the album reads like a who's who of the Canterbury scene : John Greaves, Richard Sinclair, Dave Stewart, Phil Miller, Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, Barbara Gaskin, Jakko Jakszyk, Michel Godard, Didier Malherbe, Fred Baker, François Ovide, Paul Rogers, Alain and Yvon Guillard, etc.
In 1997, Pyle left Gong to make way for Pierre Moerlen's return to the fold, and for a while after that he chose to devote his energy to In Cahoots. In 1998, he joined forces with Daevid Allen, Hugh Hopper and Mark Kramer in Brainville for dates in the UK and the US, documented on a recent CD, although he has since been replaced by Chris Cutler. With Short Wave and Equip'Out both inactive, Pyle has joined the American progressive trio Absolute Zero, touring and recording in Florida and California in the autumn of 1999. He of course contributed to Phil Miller 's 'blues' project, Out Of The Blue, but following disagreements with Phil Miller, he left In Cahoots following the Japanese tour of 2001.
Pyle chose to concentrate on a new 'solo' project, a band named Pip Pyle's Bash which made its live debut in August 2002 at the Progman Cometh festival in Seattle (USA). The quartet consisted of himself, Patrice Meyer on guitar, Fred Baker on bass and Alex Maguire on keyboards, and performed material written by the drummer over the previous couple of years, as well as pieces by other band members. A live album, drawn from that concert and (mainly) a second one in Paris the following year, Belle Illusion, was released by Cuneiform Records in May 2004, followed by a short European tour. There was another short tour that year, producing half of a projected second album.
In 2005 Pyle joined Phil Miller and Richard Sinclair in a Hatfield and the North reformation, with Alex Maguire handling the keyboards. On January 29th, all three were reunited for the first time in 15 years when Pyle sat in with the Richard Sinclair Band for a few old numbers ("Above And Below", "Share It", "Halfway Between Heaven And Earth" and "Didn't Matter Anyway") during a gig at Whitstable's Horsebrdige Arts Centre. The rejuvenated Hatfield made its official live debut on March 18th, 2005 at the Mean Fiddler in London, and a brief tour of Europe followed in June. More international touring followed in 2005-06, including dates in Japan, Mexico, the USA and Europe. On August 26th Pyle played his last gig, with Hatfield, in Groningen, The Netherlands. He died in his sleep in a Paris hotel early in the morning of August 28th shortly after returning to France.
A chronology of Pip Pyle's post-National Health career is available on this site