I never tried to count how many times I saw China Drum at the legendary Broken Doll in Newcastle but it was a lot. They were, at first glance, three daft kids rattling out energetic, tuneful punk rock with the novelty value that the singer Adam Lee played the drums at the same time. The standout show for me was when I took my mate Alison to see them and said, “Oh this is my favourite!” at the first song then, “No hang on this is my favourite!” at the second third and fifth song until she said, “Are all their songs your favourite?” and I had to admit that, “Aye pretty much” was the honest answer. The songs had energy, heart, soul, enthusiasm and Adam could really, really sing. With power and yearning and mischief and passion all at the same time. What was so endearing about them was that they seemed to have no idea how good they were and were embarrassed by compliments.
I am deeply mistrustful of nostalgia but China Drum in their mid 90s pomp (Touring America with Green Day, Steve Lamacq and a bus full of London media types up in High Spen for the release of debut album Goosefair, Single of the Week on Radio 1’s breakfast show) intertwines with a time of tremendous hope and optimism for Newcastle: we had the best football team in the country, a Labour leader (who claimed to be a Toon fan) finally kicked out the Tories, The Simpsons was still funny and Wifey and I bought our first flat.
In the same mad August week China Drum played the main stage at the Reading Festival, Newcastle won at Bolton and Sheffield Wednesday (with Ginola and Ferdinand awesome) to announce their arrival as genuine title contenders. In fact bass player Dave McQueen sang “we are top of the League, I said we are top of the League” while the band threw inflatable Newcastle Brown Ale bottles into the massive festival crowd. I spoke to John Peel backstage and he was besotted with them – life burned white hot with excitement and hearts pulsed to the beat of The Drum’s Can’t Stop These Things. On the last day of that football season some genius at Sky Sports played their Last Chance on a goal montage before our final, doomed, attempt to stop the League title being stolen by them red bastards from Salford…
I should say Adam doesn’t like football, which might explain why he always seems so cheerful.
The splendid second album Self Made Maniac might have had a few less stone-cold classics than Goosefair but the title was so brilliant I nicked it for a Furious feature in The Mag. By this point Adam had long since emerged from behind his drum kit as a genuinely charismatic front-man.
Where it went wrong is a complicated mix; an experimental third album, a name change, live bands being bulldozed by DJ culture, some stuff I’m still too polite to ask about and the fact that the lads in the band were more at home riding powerful motorcycles around Northumberland than they were schmoozing with the London media set. They went their separate ways and at one point I took all their songs off my I-pod because they made me sad and nostalgic.
Anyway China Drum reformed in 2013 for a show in Newcastle that Wifey and I drove up from Norfolk for. They were met with a massive and enthusiastic crowd which inspired a full tour some months later. There was new material and another tour that started in Newcastle early December 2014. We drove up from Norfolk again, despite the fact that their tour included a date in Norwich just five days later. We met some old friends before and during the show, and China Drum were (to use their own terminology) “fucking mint.”
So they are a going concern, a proper band and loving them isn’t nostalgia so I don’t feel compromised by doing so unreservedly, defiantly and joyfully.