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Drums And Band During Strike


Back in the mid 1970s at Hammersmith fire station, large blocks of the stations ground was being demolished under slum clearance. In the main these housed were old 1900 era two story back-to-back terraced houses.
So it was that with whole streets of vacant houses awaiting demolition the local kids and villains would set fire to them, Many of these houses retained some of their old furnishings, and so would burn well. The fires ranged from small fires in the hearths, for itinerants to cook their dinner and keep warm, to whole houses being consumed by fire.
I myself would always without fail, walk or search these derelicts, on the off chance that if one of the itinerants or kids ignited themselves in the process, and be lying undiscovered by me, to blemish a so far untarnished career.

During my wanderings of these derelict premises following fires over the years I found many interesting things. Drug dens, hidden torture chambers, illegal spirit stills, human middens inches deep in human faeces’

On one of these occasions I found a drum kit, yes a full drum kit, bass drum with pedal and brass cymbals snare drum on a stand, and a drummers stool, the drum kit was a bit battered, but never the less a full drum kit apparently abandoned, I gave it some thought and could only surmise that some father/mother on getting ready to leave for their new home took this opportunity to finally abandon their offsprings horrendous noisy percussion set, less it cause a major falling out with their new neighbours to be.

Well of course the drum kit was duly loading into the back of the fire engine and transported back to Hammersmith fire station, where there was no fear of us annoying our neighbours, the famed Hammersmith Palais dance hall who conversely would emit some hundreds of decibels each night until two o’clock in the morning.
It was intended that we would have some fun with the drum kit, then see if one of the local schools would want it, but instead it seemed just to hang around the station in a hidden store and came out occasionally for a little jape now and then. In fact the bloody thing was a frigging nuisance, the usual gag was for some idiot to come through the dormitory at three or four in the morning banging the blood great big bass drum.

The thing made its next appearance during the 1977 fireman’s strike somewhere in the month of December, around six or seven weeks into the strike. The firemen at Hammersmith around this time were getting a bit blasé, bolshie even, uttering “come the revolution brothers” and all that sort of stuff. Somebody, and it is not known who, had the idea of getting the big bass drum and banging it the appliance room to attract the attention of the punters (those who would hopefully donate some cash into the strike bucket). After around ten minutes or so of this banging the man was told to piss off, cos he was in fact frightening away the punters.

I don’t know why it is (I do really) that really good inspirational ideas seem to be thought up following a session down the local pub. The half a dozen or so, off piquet firemen that were overnighting on the fire station were exiting the Laurie Arms public house, and passing the large Saturday night crowd queuing up to get into the Hammersmith Palais, when one of the firemen had this really brilliant idea. Lets go and get the big base drum and annoy the buggers, this of course was swiftly vetoed. Annoying up to a hundred people already half pissed people patiently queuing up to get into the Palais, was a definite No No. Are you mad said another fireman, if anything kicks off, they will be twenty to one against us, even the old Bill don’t fight against them odds.

Back in the fire station up in the first floor mess room, whilst imbibing our ‘clinkies’, this term was explained in a previous book. It was a derivation of the word ‘tinnies’ this I believe an Australian term for take away cans of beer. Well at this period of time when you purchased take away beer from a pub, it came in the form of bottled beer, so therefore QED and all that stuff, when you walked down the road with a plastic bag full of bottled beer, it went clink, clink, thus clinkies.

Then somebody came up with a much more acceptable idea, rather than annoy them why don’t we serenade them going on to explain. Back in the old days after the two world wars groups of itinerant musicians, usually disabled or out of work soldiers would form bands and whilst they kept; moving along to avoid the soliciting/begging laws would entertain the crowds at street markets etc relying in contributions in the hat from members of the public. In the main, these bands tended to play traditional jazz music, the instruments usually comprising trumpet, clarinet, banjo, etc, plus of course a base drum.

Well we had a base drum and we had a snare drum, which with a bit of ingenuity and bits of string, plus old wire coat hangers whatever, they could be then suspended from a man in order to play them on the move, but clarinet’s and banjo’s were thought to be beyond our skills.

One of the things about the fire brigade watch system is that you will have a group of around twelve to fourteen firemen working together over a period of many years, to solve just about every emergency occurrence that could be thrown at them, so problem solving in the main, is what they are good at,. Our current problem was, how to provide the brass, and reed section to our proposed new band.

The first problem to be solved was the brass section by somebody suggesting railway warning horns, two of these being carried on the back of every fire engine. One of these was duly brought up to the mess room from below. Now for those of you not in the know about these things, they are used by railway workers, and firemen when working on railways, they are intended to give a loud audible warning of approaching trains. They are about one foot in length, and a bit like the old fashioned ear trumpets, but fitted with a reed at the narrow end, which when blown give a loud trumpet sound. Unfortunately when blown the sound could not be varied, just a single long loud sonorous note. But But, if the reed section was to be unscrewed from the railway warning horn it could then be blown trumpet fashion like the fox hunters hunting horn, problem solved, we now had our brass section for the band.

Strangely enough the reed section problem was solved quite easily. It was remembered that in the original ex services street bands, most of them would have been fairly accomplished musicians. They usually made room for one of their ex comrades who had no musical skills, this being the man that rattled the money box. This man was then taught to play the very basic instrument that could be played with one hand, whilst the other hand rattled the money box ‘The kazoo’. That was it, solved it, cracked it, we were going to make our very own Kazoo’s the boy scout way, ordinary combs with cling film stretched over them. This kind of thing now snowballed a bit, for we now had base drum, snare drum, two men on the railway horns, four or five others on Kazoo. Now we had to rehearse, apparently we all only knew the one tune in the traditional jazz style. So we practised that over a half a dozen times and we were deemed ready for our grand debut.
Outside the station in the Shepherds Bush road, just yards away from the busy Hammersmith Broadway, and next door to the famed Hammersmith Palais, all was at relative peace and quiet. The time was quarter to twelve at night, it was turning out time for all the local pubs crowds of people were wandering by, and the queue outside the Palais was four deep and twenty five yards long.
The lads were all lined up in the end bay of the appliance room clad in fire tunics and soft caps, busker style.

A big heave on the braided cords hanging down from the ceiling, and the big double appliance room doors swung inwards. Boom Boom Boom crashed out the big bass drum, tootle tootle, tootled the railway horns, Hum Hum Hum’d the combs and clingfim ( I think that’s the noise they make) and off we marched into the Shepherds Bush road, Booming, tooting and humming away, with the man in front rattling the two gallon galvanized iron strike bucket. The public did not know quite what had hit them, the like of these marching bands had not been seen of the streets of London for around 30 or 40 years.

The result was actually quite good, we had picked a tune, which we all knew well, one that was an old standard, and played with much gusto. So as we sauntered down the road playing that old jazz standard ‘when the saints come marching in’ we raised quite a few cheers, even the bounces were outside the Palais watching us all smiles. We paraded up and down the Palais queue for around ten minutes or so, collecting a fair few shillings in the strike bucket.
The suggestion that we then go and serenade the police station, another fifty or so yards down the road, was given a definite no no, on the grounds, that the Met officers stationed there were considered to be an unmusical mob, also that we might frighten the police horses stabled there.

Later safely ensconced back in the fire station, the whole event was adjudged to have been a grand success, and even though not planned as such, it was a financial success, It was found that though expenses monies had been taken out of the bucket (half a dozen take away kebab’s) there was still a considerable amount of cash left in the bucket for the strike fund.

Finally, and to round off the evening on a slightly grimmer note, Biff Baker, a very senior, and very big physical man, warned us all as he left the mess room bound for the dormitory above. He turning back saying ominously if any bugger comes near my bed at three o’clock in the morning banging that bloody great big drum, they will walk away wearing it as a frigging hat.

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