Saturday, October 9, 2021

The Beat's Everett Morton Passes Away at 71

Everett Morton (photo by Adrian Boot)

Terribly sad news comes via Lee Morris of 2 Tone--Before, During & After: The Beat's wonderful drummer Everett Morton died on October 8, 2021 at age 71. His use of complex rhythms and unique style of reggae drumming and percussion lent The Beat an immediately recognizable sound and firmly grounded their music in Jamaican ska, while also allowing the other musicians in the band to take a more unorthodox, punky, and often aggressive approach to the genre--all of which formed the brilliant signature Beat sound.

According to Malu Halasa's essential 1981 biography of the band, The Beat: Twist and Crawl, Morton came to the attention of the fledgling Beat via a friend through David Steele's day job at a Birmingham psychiatric hospital:

"During one afternoon tea break, he [Dave Wakeling] was chatting with his black friend Paulette Sherley, telling her how difficult it was to find a drummer for his band. Band practice was every Saturday--that is when they could get it together. Paulette suggested a drummer she knew in Handsworth. The fellow, free since his last band had broken up, was considered an excellent reggae drummer, and had a van as well, which was what really sealed it. Steele phoned Everett Morton and invited him over to Andy's flat that weekend.

Tall and dark, Everett brought his mate Freddy to check out the mystery band in need of a drummer. While the two Daves and Andy [Cox] rendered "Click Click," "Two Swords" and "Twist and Crawl" on acoustic guitars, Freddy recorded them on his portable sound system. Afterwards, the five sat quietly together drinking tea and listen to the tape, which sounded oddly like The Beach Boys. They were unusually alright, agreed Everett, but it was little early to tell. With electric guitars and a couple of amps they could sound different. The band had arranged to practice properly in the upstairs room of a pub around the corner, The Yorkshire Grey, for a three quid rental fee. Morton promised to join them there on Tuesday night with his drum kit.

Tuesday's practice was a mess. The main problem was that the boys hadn't written any songs with a reggae beat, and Everett had been drumming in reggae and soul bands for some fifteen years. Without the bass and drums fitting together, there was little foundation for the music. Even the guitars seemed out of place. By the end of the evening the four of them, pissed and frustrated, decided to close with an early version of "Noise in This World," an extraordinary punk number. Somehow, it came together. Although vile and very noisy, they played for a long time, which for them determined if a song was any good. They decided to meet again the following week.

Everett had come to England from St. Kitts in the mid-sixties, working in a kettle-spinning factory and playing music in the evenings and weekends. He first learned the drums when his cousin asked him to join his band. After a stint at drum school at Yardley's in Birmingham, and practicing almost constantly on the settee and table in the house, Everett developed his own style and began playing around Handsworth [including Joan Armatrading's band]. He was the most experienced musician in the pack by far, and yet Steele and Wakeling wouldn't hesitate to tell him when songs went wrong.

"You're messing up, Everett. You're messing up." It was hopeless to talk about what the music should sound like. Dave and Everett talking about the same thing would describe it differently, and then end up in a vicious argument. In part it had something to do with Dave's current job at a building site in town. At twenty-three, he was an angry young man. If he offended someone, he expected them to put him right, but Everett didn't think he should have to do that. Strangers ought to have better manners."

When The Beat were preparing to record "Tears of a Clown" for their debut 2 Tone single, it was decided that they needed some saxophone on the track, so Everett introduced them to Saxa, whom he had played with in bands around Handsworth. Of course, Saxa was recruited to join the band almost immediately and his sublime sax playing completed The Beat's classic sound.

One of my favorite Beat tracks is "Psychedelic Rockers" (about dread of nuclear war: "On a night like tonight, when I'm losing my hope/I pray for the best with my heart and soul/It is the hardest...At the edge of your nerves where the lights are pretty/A change in the weather and it smothers the city/Psychedelic, psychedelic, psychedelic war...Well, it's an atmospheric shock...")--which also happens to highlight Morton's fantastic percussion work.

I offer my deepest condolences to Everett Morton's family, friends, and fans. May he Rest In Peace.

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