Drums, Guitars and Storytelling

By Paul Balmer  

Paul Balmer at the age of 11I was born sixth of June 1951. My Dad was the drummer and ships painter Bill Balmer. Dad's great claims to fame were playing second on the bill to Billy Cotton at Walton Baths! And falling off the Adelphi Hotel - he was painting the windows and fell into the road - he made the front page of the Liverpool Echo.

My Mum was pianist and fish and chip shop manager Ruth Jones. We lived over the chippy in Mill Street, Liverpool 8. I was musically inspired by the Orange Lodge band, who marched past the chippy dodging bottles from our Catholic neighbours. Such 'commitment' and some good tunes as well! I wanted to join the band (for the music) but my Mum was too worried about the glass missiles.

My Dad retired from falling off buildings when we were 'moved out' to Kirby.

Kirby was a 'new town' dream, built on the old site of the Norman settlement of St Chads. It was built as part of the building frenzy of the early Sixties. Every politician was building his reputation on the basis of how many homes he built last year. It didn't matter that the homes had no roads, shops of 'community' as long as the house was built, it looked good in the paper statistics.

For the first two years we waded through a foot of mud to access our 'house on a building site'. But it did have an inside toilet and a sort of garden. For shops we made do with enterprising 'mobiles' - old buses converted into 'open all hours' convenience stores. There were no pubs, youth clubs or community centres for a long time. Eventually Jimmy Saville came to open 'Centre 66' complete with dance floor - STRICTLY NO STILETTOS. But in 1960 there was nothing but music and houses. Most people commuted to work back in Liverpool on the 544 bus.

Kirby was a challenging place to grow up. I once saw a boy throw a whole school desk at a teacher. There were bottle fights outside the chippy every Saturday and the kid who sat next to me in maths killed another boy with a 'half brick', in a row over a girl.

When the dance band era had ended in the late Fifties, my dad started managing groups - including the Victors, the Convicts and the Footappers. The latter were Shadows impersonators and even had a Fiesta Red Fender Stratocaster. I fell in love with this guitar and became committed to a life in and around music. I joined the Boy Scouts because they had drums. When left to my own devices I would make up a sort of drum kit, from the marching bass drum, snare and marching cymbals.

One night in 1962 my Dad was managing a group called the Neons at a gig in Walton. The drummer didn't show up and, aged eleven, I was 'volunteered' as a stand in. To the cheers of a hundred local teenagers I made my debut - struggling to sustain the energy required for a two hour set. I could hardly be seen behind the huge 'aquamarine sparkle' Premier drum kit.

At the end of the gig we walked home stopping at the chippy and larking about. To my amazement the band asked me to join full time - I was a gimmick and considered better looking than the old drummer (an important musical attribute).

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