Chris Wright pays tribute to Eric Delaney
© Dave Hughes
The drum world was saddened last month to learn of the passing of Eric Delaney. Eric was a genuine icon of the industry and will be sorely missed by the drum community.
Chris Wright, Managing Director at DrumWright, attended Eric's funeral service and has paid tribute to the great man below. Rhythm's full tribute features in our September issue which is available from 30 August.
Eric Delaney died peacefully in his sleep on July 14th aged 87. To my mind, he was the ultimate showman drummer, the British equivalent of Gene Krupa, and sadly we will not see his like again.
As Mike Dolbear comments on his website, if you were to mention his name in the company of younger drummers, they would probably say, "Never heard of him". However, to a generation who grew up in the '50s and '60s (and not just drummers – lovers of big band music too), he was a household name. He was a wizard behind the kit and a real showman on timpani, with lights inside the drums, superb technique, unrivalled showmanship and boundless energy right to the end. He started his career well over half a century ago and was still actively gigging right up to the time of his death.
His hit records such as 'Manhattan Spiritual', 'Oranges and Lemons' and 'Big Noise From Winetka' were regularly played on the old BBC Light Programme (the forerunner of Radio 2) and Eric was a regular performer on TV variety shows.
I first came across Eric in my home town of Great Yarmouth where his band was both featured on stage and in the pit for the Morecambe and Wise Show at the ABC Theatre. His electrifying performance is still etched clearly in my mind 44 years on. At the time I had a late evening gig in a local restaurant and I can remember my embarrassment as a gauche 17 year old struggling with my brush work behind the kit when one of Britain's greatest drummers walked in for a late dinner post show!
Many years later when I first met Eric in DrumWright, I recounted this story to him. He roared with laughter and said that he remembered that summer season well because he had received a "real rollicking" from Eric Morecambe. Apparently, unbeknown to Eric, his keyboard player had been in the habit of taking a portable colour TV into the pit and watching it during the show. Eric Morecambe was not amused and I think Eric Delaney in turn probably didn't bring much sunshine into the life of his keyboard player when he confronted him!
Eric had a fantastic memory and when I next saw him he presented me with two timp heads on which he had written a personal dedication to me and included the words, "These are not the same heads I used in 1967!".
He was a very welcome guest at the 80th birthday lunch DrumWright organised for Bobby Orr and remarked on many occasions what a lovely event he thought it had been.
I went with Bobby to Eric's funeral on July 29th along with around 250 others. Bobby told me a great story about Eric's showmanship. Many years ago, they did a nationwide tour together to promote Gretsch drums. As part of his routine Eric had incorporated a nine foot diameter gong which had to be struck with great force on the last note of the last bar of the last number. Instead of getting up from the drum seat to do this, Eric would hurl the hammer about 12 feet across the room so that it struck the gong at precisely the right moment. Top that for showmanship if you can!
There were many laughs and many emotional moments at the funeral. Apparently on one occasion Eric turned up at a performance by his daughter Hannah – a one time professional dancer – at a very prestigious venue. She was somewhat shocked to look down from the podium and see her dad's upturned face with a wide grin holding a huge sign over his head proclaiming "You are the dog's bollocks!"
As well as Bobby, there were several other great drummers, both of his era and more recent times, present at the funeral – Terry Jenkins, Pete Cater, Lloyd Ryan, Terry Parsons, Bobby Worth. Kevin Miles, one of Eric's closest friends in recent years and a member of the RAF Central Band and The Squadronnaires was present in full uniform and played the snare drum as the mourners entered the crematorium. The hearse itself was decorated with a floral bass drum and timpani. One of the readings was given by Sheila Tracey, who was a trombone player with the legendary all female Ivy Benson Band in the 50s, and who later went on to be the first female newsreader on BBC Radio 4. She subsequently took over from Alan Dell as the presenter of the BBC Radio Big Band programme.
At the wake, there was some very fine music from trumpeters Tony Fisher and Ronny Hughes, trombone players Ray Wordsworth and Bill Geldard and keyboard player Don Innes, with Guy Walsh and Bobby Orr on drums.
I started by mentioning Gene Krupa's name. As far as I know, he was the only drummer in the world to have had a film made about his life story. I wonder when we will see Eric the movie?