ROD LATTER – NOVEMBER 11, 1949 – NOVEMBER 16, 2019
Sometimes, you hear that somebody’s passed away… somebody you’ve not spoken to in years, if not decades… and it shocks you just how hard the news hits you.
Rod Latter’s like that. It’s thirty-six years since I last spoke to him, probably June 1983. No big falling out; I think I moved and because he didn’t have a phone, there was no way to give him my new number. Just figured I’d run into him some time and we’d carry on as we always had. Except we didn’t. It didn’t even cross my mind that he’d turned seventy just days before his death. In my mind, he’s always been twenty-something, and I think he’ll stay that way.
Rod, for those who spent the late seventies living in a yurt on Mars, was drummer with the Maniacs when I first met him, during those days when the Maniacs themselves were a duo of Rod and guitarist/singer Alan Lee Shaw, who toured the London pubs playing a glorious mix of Shaw originals and Velvets covers, while audiences looked on wondering how two men could possibly make such a threatening, grinding sound. Oh, they were good. Before that, he and Shaw had had a clutch of bands together, most memorably one named for Shaw himself, whose first and only single, 1974’s “She Moans,” was rereleased just recently.
The Maniacs went unrecorded (although a live track sneaked out a while back), before becoming the Rings, with Pink Punk Fairy Twink; and then became the Maniacs again, without him. Only now they were a four piece.
And then Rod was in the Adverts — who, as even Martian yurt dwellers are aware, were just about the greatest band that ever walked this earth. I never tired of hearing him remember the day of his audition — he was packing up his drums and about to set off for the studio, when it suddenly started snowing. And snowing and snowing and snowing. By the time he was ready to leave, London was in the heart of a blizzard and there was no way he could face dragging his kit across the city in that. So he got a bus, arrived late looking “like a drowned rat,” played his audition on whatever drums lay round the studio, and was adamant that he only got the job because the only other applicant who made it had a very long beard. “He was every bit as good a drummer as me. I think I got through on image.”
Eighteen months he was there, from spring 78 until almost-the-end, and I lost sight of Rod once he left… for sessions and stints with the Psychotic Tanks and a metal band called Gormenghast. And then he resurfaced in the immortally-named Severed Dwarves, alongside Shaw and Brian James, and they were opening for TV Smith’s own new band, the Explorers, so I didn’t even need to go looking for them. Just walked into the Hope & Anchor one night, and then TV turned round and said “you know that’s Rod on drums, don’t you?”
For the next couple of years, Rod and I were fairly inseparable. He and his wife and daughter were living in a squat in Hackney, a disused doctor’s surgery that they had transformed into the most homely hovel you have ever visited. He had a practise space in one of the upstairs bedrooms, there was gas, phone and electricity still piped in, and if you ignored the gaping hole in the floor of what had been the doctor’s surgery (which we did), it was a great place.
We’d sit around, watch telly, play records, complain about whatever had been on the radio that day, and await the arrival, at some point most evenings, of Mr Ballsworthy. Who was an obnoxious small-time east-end shop keeper who Rod pulled out of his imagination one day, and whose wholly improvised adventures and opinions could keep us entertained for hours. Ah, dear Mr Ballsworthy. He was such an arsehole.
What else? Going to see Rod’s next band, the Lone Sharks, playing lunchtime gigs at the Moonlight Club. Trekking down to St James’ Church in Piccadilly, where the Latter clan had a Saturday market stall, selling bric-a-brac… Mr Ballsworthy, of course, was always there as well, just to keep an eye on things. Babysitting with their friend Sheila, those nights when the parents needed an evening out without the baby, and being rewarded for our services with a bag of fish and chips.
Happy times, stupid times, utterly-insignificant-in-the-overall-scheme-of-things times and yeah, I knew Rod had a bit of a problem with the bottle, but when you’re twenty-one, twenty-two, you really don’t pay attention. He’s too pissed to stay up all night playing Stones records this evening? Okay, we’ll do it next time.
Except, eventually there wouldn’t be a next time, and now there never will. So everyone reading this, whether you knew Rod, or his music, or simply his name… tonight, let’s all raise a glass to him, a glass to Mr Ballsworthy, a glass to the Maniacs, the Adverts and the Loan Sharks. And then we’ll sit up all night and play Stones records.
Sweet dreams, Rod…