In 1980 there was a new and exciting music scene starting to emerge in Ireland as punk moved to the post punk and new romantic era. I was playing with ‘Deaf Actor’ at the time, a band that had started as a ‘Doors’ style rock outfit called ‘Sounds Unreel’ but had developed into a very experimental hard-edged post punk outfit. About this time a new agency opened up in Dublin called MCD. They were a two-man outfit with one guy in Belfast and one in Dublin. They seemed to have their finger on the pulse and were bringing in some great bands to smaller venues in Dublin. I managed to get one of their numbers, that of the young Denis Desmond, and from that moment on I plagued him for gigs. Eventually, in 1981, we hit the jackpot as Denis gave us two great support slots in the now legendary McGonagles. The first was to open for a Liverpool band called ‘The Teardrop Explodes’. Fronted by the charismatic Julian Cope, they had just had a couple of hit singles and were a band on the up. The second was for another Liverpool band, and our biggest influence at the time, Echo and The Bunnymen. They had just released their second album ‘Heaven Up Here’ which had been heralded as an even bigger triumph than their first album ‘Crocodiles’.
When we arrived in for the Bunnymen gig the band was still sound checking. I remember they were playing ‘All My Colours’ or ‘Zimbo’ as it would become better known as. The song featured a great backdrop of tom playing by their drummer Pete de Freitas and the sound coming through the PA was one of the best drum sounds I had ever heard. He was playing a black Tama 5 piece kit with the bottom heads removed from the toms and he hit the drums harder and with more attitude than anyone I had seen before. As soon as they left the stage we were told to get our gear on and do a quick sound-check. As we played a couple of numbers I noticed Pete watching me, which of course made me completely self-conscious. When we stopped he came over to me with a big smile and started to talk about my kit and in particular my electronic drum or Pollard Syndrum as it was known. I used it for a big explosive sound to boost the odd snare hit. Pete told me that he had done the same when he recorded Zimbo but had wrecked his from hitting it too hard. Then he asked me if he could borrow it for their gig. That was probably my proudest moment to date as a drummer. Pete de Freitas was going to use MY syndrum. We had a great time playing our 30-minute set to a packed house but my enduring memory was the thrill of watching Pete beat the shit out of my Syndrum. I also changed my approach to drumming that night and decided to hit the drums harder to try and make that clear sound from every hit that Pete was so good at.
Years later, in 1987, I was in Holland with In Tua Nua playing at the Pink Pop festival. We were on in the afternoon (in the lashing rain) and The Bunnymen were headlining that night. All day long I had strolled up the steps onto the side of the stage to watch other bands with no problem but the band I really wanted to see up close, and in particular the drummer, was the Bunnymen. As I arrived at the steps there was a security guy telling everyone that only the band’s guests would be allowed up. At this I nipped around the back of the stage before I was corralled and moved on with the rest of the crowd that had assembled. I figured if I waited for a few songs I might get lucky with a second attempt. As I hung around behind the massive outdoor stage someone started to pull open the tarp which closes off the back of the stage. To my amazement Pete de Freitas emerged undoing his fly for a quick pee before his gig (obviously one too many beers in the dressing room). Just as before he greeted me with a big smile and we got chatting. I told him the story about McGonagles and he politely pretended to remember the gig and the Syndrum. When he discovered why I was hiding out he told me to hop up and he brought me in to watch from behind the kit, which is the only way to really see what a drummer is doing. Once again I saw the passion and determination with which he played even when using brushes on some of the newer numbers like ‘Ocean Rain’. After the gig Pete came over to me to say goodbye and then vanished in the post gig entourage. On other occasions I would get to sit behind Larry Mullen (U2) and Mel Gaynor (Simple Minds) to watch their technique also.
In 1989, I spent 4 months in LA writing and recording In Tua Nua’s last album. I was in the smaller group sent out to do some advance work on the songs before the studio sessions began. Of course we found a great little bar near our apartment to hang out in when we weren’t busy and the barman turned out to be my old pal Mark Shepherd, the drummer from Dublin band ‘Light A Big Fire’. We spent plenty of evenings and sometimes afternoons in there with Mark and our new friend Bonnie Stern. On June 14th 1989 I walked in to the bar and Mark called me over looking very grim. He asked had I heard the news about Pete de Freitas. I had not. Pete had died from a head on collision while riding his high-powered motorbike in England. He was only 27.
RIP Pete de Freitas.