Didz Hammond has enjoyed something only a handful of musicians have been able to achieve; acclaimed success in two rock and roll bands, becoming something of a character on a scene littered with wannabes and acts that never quite made it.
Didz was an integral part of The Cooper Temple Clause and, later, in Dirty Pretty Things with Carl Barât, a band formed while the corpse of The Libertines was still warm. Nowadays, Didz is managing another indie legend band, Suede, keeping himself very much in the heart of the music business.
While the Coopers hailed from Reading, London played a huge part in their rise, and ultimately in their break-up, as Didz explains.
“Success with the Coopers came really early. Tom and Ben had the vision to get in to London, record in a shitty studio, make a demo and fire it off to record companies. We used to play the Bull and Gate in Kentish Town a fuck of a lot, to the extent that when we were releasing the second album, we went back there and did a fan club gig which was fucking brilliant. So, we used to play there a hell of a lot and then one A&R guy we sent the demo to came there to see us. And a press girl – I’ve no idea how she heard about us, but they really, really liked us. It turned out they guy had been an engineer with Motorhead and later gone on to sign a load of things – the biggest of which was Take That.”
Subsequently, RCA records signed the Coopers and the stage was set from them to make a big-bang on the scene. When asked about if there was a time that they thought ‘we’ve made it’ Didz reminisces the moment fondly.
“I remember us being played on [BBC Radio 1’s] The Evening Session with Steve Lamacq. It was absolutely perfect. We were driving across TowerBridge as it was playing and me and Tom were out of the sun roof going ‘Fucking hell, this is amazing!’”
“So, all of those nights I spent driving in and out of London on the M40 and the A40 and looking at all of the sparkly lights and going ‘oh yeah, I could live there’ – you spot a tiny flickering light in some tenement and think ‘that’s what its going to be’. That dream thing of ‘I’m getting twenty more steps closer to the Good Mixer [a pub in Camden with a huge musical legacy].
“Just being in London, being able to get on the train down to Covent Garden in ten minutes was great – fucking amazing”.
Didz played bass and sang backing vocals in both the Coopers and Dirty Pretty Things. Unsurprisingly, he looks up to Paul McCartney as one of his musical icons. In fact, he has a picture of him as his screen-saver on his ageing Blackberry.
Asked why he took up the bass, Hammond said: “The bass is like the guitar but with only four strings, so it was like the guitar but easier – which it is to some extent. There’s something iconic to the guitar. You get that almost as much with the drums. But you certainly don’t get that with the bass! It was literally like: ‘Well, this is easier and I can stand up there and be in the music rather than just being the listener. We used to swap instruments quite a lot in The Coopers and, arguably, I was the fourth or fifth best bass player in the band”
While he’s certainly not insecure, there’s almost a self-depreciating tone to Hammond’s words. But there shouldn’t be, considering all he’s achieved. He has also come a long way from being the new kid on the block to a well known and well established musician. His anecdotes are too long to recount here, but they include being caught playing strip pool by Kink’s front-man Ray Davies and watching in awe as Joe Strummer left a campfire sing-along to pick up litter at a festival. He continues to be well known – even if he hasn’t always been recognised.
“I remember being on Tottenham Court Road one day and running in to Graham Coxon. I used to carry this sketch book around with me. Coxon was on a skateboard with a book and I was like, ‘Can you just sign this?’ and he drew a skull bouncing along. I’ve met Graham loads of times since – he’s never drawn me a skull again.”
After finding success with The Cooper Temple Clause and recording three albums with them, London became an even bigger draw to Hammond, and he ended up moving to the capital full time. This, and the birth of his daughter put a strain on the band and in 2005 he left – a departure which would ultimately lead to the six piece’s break-up.
“I’d met a girl who was a producer at Radio 1. We started going out and I basically moved up to Golders Green with her, so I was living in London. Then our first child Nico was born. So I was living in North London. I ran in to Carl at a lot of festivals and whatever and we’d become mates and we were just hanging out a lot. The Coopers recorded the first album in this place just outside Bath. So I had this new baby that I had to be near, and Anna was still working and the Libertines had kind of imploded and Carl was putting a new band together. I was driving 150-200 miles, three times a week, and it was just too much.
“I started thinking that I’m much more on the same page as Carl. The sort of reasoning was: look at Ronnie Wood and loads of 60’s musicians. They were journeymen, they switched about a lot, the scene was so inbred that it…well, it doesn’t pull the blanket out of any loyalty, but it sort of makes it ok.
“I was just a bit out of the Coopers’ world; I was so detached that it seemed to make so much more sense to just go with Carl when we were knocking about everyday anyway.”
Didz clearly regrets the break-up of the Coopers, not because it shouldn’t have happened, but because it had to happen because of circumstance – it was the only logical solution.
“Now, when I look back at it, those first two Coopers albums are the albums I’m most proud of,” he says. The breakup meant that singer Tom Bellamy was able to join up with XFM legend Eddie TempleMorris and form Losers, whilst Didz was presented with his own opportunity to step out of his melodic comfort zone.
“Musically, in the Coopers, there was a lot going on. There were six members of the band and you had to be very confident in the instrument, which I wasn’t – at least when we started — to stake your claim for your part. There’s loads of great bass parts but Tom plays that amazing sliding part on ‘Who Needs Enemies?’. We wrote ‘Panzer Attack’ around a bass line that Fisher wrote and I fucked about on synth. The switching was great and gave us a fluidity. We made music and sculpted the best bits into songs. In Dirty Pretty Things, it was much more about the song first and we’ll put the instrumentation around it. With the Coopers it was much more jammed out.
“In Dirty Pretty Things I had a lot of space to play melodically and complement the actual song. There was less room for that in the Coopers. It was something I lapped up. It was a real learning curve for me.”
Didz has always been a character on the music scene and in his own right. He ‘doesn’t get awkward in any situation’. His and Carl’s appearance on Sky’s Soccer AM – then hosted by Tim Lovejoy – gave an insight in to what it was like to be in a rock and roll band on-tour.
“We did a gig and we were still up the next day. We were on the set and they were like ‘Do you want something to drink?’. I said ‘Can I have a pint?’ and the producer was like ‘errrrrrrrr…’ and brought us a pint of milk.
“So we went on with these pints of milk. Carl was being pretty good and I was keeping my mouth shut just going‘ um-hmm, um-hmm’. Paul Robinson [former England goalkeeper] and Noel Gallagher were also on, and Noel – who I’d met loads of times and who knew all too well what was happening – but Paul Robinson didn’t know what the fuck was going on. They asked me something – can’t remember what it was – and I ended up spitting milk at Tim Lovejoy. We were supposed to be on the show for an hour and a half more, but we didn’t even make it to the penalty shoot out.”
Nowadays, Didz is managing indie stalwarts, Suede, who recently released the album Bloodsports, recorded in Sarm Studios – the very one where Live Aid was put on tape. Didz has made the transition from artist to manager seamlessly. The music business is clearly where he belongs. It’s safe to say, however, that he won’t be invited back on to the Soccer AM couch in a hurry…