Confounding genres and eschewing labels – Retelling the story of This Heat
There are some bands that seem born to confound genres and eschew labels and then there are others that seem to exist as a very means to destroy them altogether. The latter is an attribute most certainly applicable to the inimitable This Heat.
The band were a trio who were originally active between 1976-1982, consisting of Charles Hayward, Charles Bullen and Gareth Williams. Hayward was primarily a drummer, having played in groups before, most notably Quiet Sun, who disbanded in 1972 with their guitarist, Phil Manzanera, going on to join Roxy Music. Hayward put an advert in Melody Maker (“I think some of the words used might have been ‘wasteland’ ‘mutant’ and ‘aqualung’,” he reckons) and Bullen responded, turning up for an audition at Hayward’s parents’ house in Camberwell. “It was a tiny room with egg boxes on the wall,” says Bullen, “one he used as a drum rehearsal room – it was about six foot square and we just squeezed in an amp and a person.”
Despite a number of reputable musicians turning up, including David Toop, Percy Jones and John Etheridge, Hayward gravitated towards Bullen’s unique style of playing.
“Charles could play very hard and fast,” remembers Hayward, “but he would use an effect and make it feel like it was coming in from miles away. The sound would then feel like it was getting nearer because he was using a swirl peddle.”
The pair continued as a two piece for some time, experimenting and pushing the limits of their number, until they realised they were not quite complete as a duo. They brought in Gareth Williams, who was a complete non-musician. “Gareth had big ears,” Hayward says, “which was more important than his abilities as a musician.” This Heat was born and the combination of Bullen’s and Hayward’s profound musical ability and shared vision of experimentation, and William’s non-musician presence, solidified a truly unique export; one that challenged the conventional structures and approaches of music in the 1970s, often because one of their members simply didn’t understand them. “One of the most effective things about working with Gareth was that he just didn’t know,” recalls Hayward, “so he questioned everything.”