It is with great sadness that we report that Robert Heaton died suddenly on Thursday November 4th 2004. A multi-talented instrumentalist and song-writer, Robert joined the band in 1982 and for the next fifteen years co-wrote many of the band's greatest songs, including being responsible for all the music to the anthem 'Green & Grey'. A consummate professional when it came to recording and performing, in public Robert was the powerhouse behind the rhythm driven sound of New Model Army. In the media and in private, he was always the perfect gentleman.
Robert left NMA in 1998, having recovered from surgery to remove a brain tumour, and since then has worked tirelessly to promote live music and original talent in his home town of Bradford in Yorkshire. His latest project, Fresh Milk, is such a scheme - encouraging young bands, playing wholly original music, onto the live circuit by producing low cost, high quality live recordings for them. He had also been working composing film scores for independent films as well as working on his own new material under the guise of Gardeners of Eden.
A post mortem has determined that Robert had been suffering with pancreatic cancer and it is almost certainly this that was the cause of this unexpected tragedy..
Robert's passing will be mourned by family, friends and fans around the world. He leaves a wife, Robin, and young son, Marlon.
Tributes to Robert have poured in from all over the world and obituaries have run in many publications including The Independent, The Times and MOJO magazine. The text of these is accessible below, but perhaps the most fitting and heartfelt tribute is that posted by former NMA bassist Moose on his website on his return from Robert's funeral service.
Rest in peace Robert, you are greatly missed
THE INDEPENDENT - 8th November 2004
Drummer/songwriter with New Model Army
Robert Charles Heaton, drummer, multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and producer: born Knutsford, Cheshire 6 July 1961; married (one son); died Bradford, West Yorkshire 4 November 2004.
The radical rock group New Model Army exists outside the mainstream of British pop but their alternative outlook and rousing music have earned them a dedicated cult following.
Robert Heaton joined the group - named after the Sir Thomas Fairfax/ Oliver Cromwell revolutionary forces in the English Civil War and still led today by Justin Sullivan (a.k.a. Slade the Leveller) - as their drummer in 1982 and stayed with them for 16 years. He contributed to their breakthrough recordings - the mini-LP Vengeance in 1984, the single "No Rest" and the corresponding No Rest For the Wicked album in 1985 - and effectively became Sullivan's right-hand man both for live appearances and in the studio. Despite lack of airplay, New Model Army carved their own independent niche throughout the Thatcher years and always remained true to their militant beliefs even when signed to major labels such as EMI and Epic/Sony.
Following surgery on a brain tumour, Heaton left the group in 1998 and set up his own recording studio - simply called Mutiny 2000 in Bradford.
Born in Knutsford, Cheshire, in 1961, Robb Heaton began playing guitar and drumming along to his dad's collection of trad jazz recordings. He developed a very eclectic musical taste, taking in obvious rock influences like Led Zeppelin and ZZ Top but also but also the country music of Johnny Cash and classical composers - Beethoven, Mozart Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi. His wide-ranging musical interests are manifest when he wrote the music for the anthemic "Green and Grey" as well as co-writing with Sullivan the New Model Army singles "Better Than Them", "Brave New World", "51st State", "Poison Street", "White Coats", "Space" and "Here Comes the War".
Heaton had moved to Bradford at the beginning of the Eighties and in 1982 joined the second line-up of New Model Army which, as well as Justin Sullivan, the guitarist and lyricist, also featured the bassist Stuart Morrow with the fire-haired punk poetess Joolz as manager. Five years earlier, the post-punk agitprop of Gang of Four and the Mekons had come out of neighbouring Leeds and groups like the Three Johns (featuring the ex-Mekon John Langford), the Redskins from York and Bradford's Southern Death Cult kept the area's music scene buoyant.
New Model Army mixed punk and folk influences with a leftist agenda and material like "Spirit of the Falklands" and "Small Town England" struck a chord with clog-wearing students, John Peel listeners, readers of the weekly music magazine Sounds and workers opposed to the Tory government policies of the day.
In 1983, the three-piece group released their d�but single, "Bittersweet", on their own Quiet label before signing to Abstract Records. The following year, the 45s "Great Expectations" and "The Price" and the Vengeance mini-album knocked the Smiths off the top of the independent charts. EMI decided there was a market for New Model Army, who sounded like the natural heirs to the punk pioneers Crass and predated the Levellers by nearly a decade.
New Model Army signed to the major label and survived the backlash from the hardliner constituency amongst their fans. The trio broke through to the mainstream in 1985 with No Rest For the Wicked and never compromised, famously appearing on Top of the Tops wearing T-shirts proclaiming "Only Stupid Bastards Use Heroin" to promote "No Rest", their first bona fide hit single (the B-side was indeed called "Heroin"). New Model Army grew in stature throughout the rest of the Eighties, with Sullivan and Heaton the only constant members of a trio completed by Jason "Moose" Harris and subsequently Nelson on bass with the violin-player Ed Alleyne-Johnson in tow for the Thunder and Consolation (1989), Impurity (1990) and Raw Melody Men (1991) albums.
Heaton and Sullivan also contributed to several recordings by Joolz, in particular the Love is Sweet Romance and Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know EPs and the Hex album (1990).
Despite setbacks such as a ban by the American Musicians' Union - possibly because the lead-off single from The Ghost of Cain album in 1986 depicted Britain as the "51st state" of the Union rather than the "poor musical quality" then given as justification - and Sullivan's being electrocuted on stage in June 1992, New Model Army soldiered on regardless, building a large following in Germany, Holland and Scandinavia as well as the UK. In 1993, they moved to Epic/Sony for the equally uncompromising The Love of Hopeless Causes album which addressed the Gulf War and other issues. The following year, New Model Army released a dance remix of "Vengeance", the title track from their mini-album, as a protest against the Criminal Justice Bill.
"It's important to believe in what you're doing. If you can't find anything to sing about, then sing about something that is important. That was maybe the core of what we did," said Heaton when reflecting on his 16 years with New Model Army. He left the group after the Strange Brotherhood album in 1998 but helped them complete the Lost Songs double CD of B-sides and Abandoned Tracks issued in 2002. He subsequently tried to give new Bradford bands a helping hand through the weekly Fresh Milk night held at the Love Apple music venue. "There are a lot of kids with guitars strapped to their backs, it's the do-it-yourself attitude," he explained. "I still get a buzz from recording people." He started a solo project under the name Gardeners of Eden and composed instrumental music for various small-budget films.
In a 1985 New Model Army tour program, Robb Heaton was asked his hates in life and came up with a scathing list which also summed up his beliefs. He hated boring intellectual musos, pretentious revival bands, bands with no songs, fascists, racists, the New Musical Express, tortured artists, cigarettes, people who smoke dope all day, heroin, rock stars, engineers who dampen drum kits, warm lager, Mrs Thatcher & co, London, cold greasy curries and DRUM MACHINES.
Amongst his ambitions, the drummer said he wanted to make a good record for New Model Army and Joolz to be joint No 1 in the charts, to break down the rock-and-roll myth, to leave a lasting impression on the world, to live by the sea and to die with my clogs on.
Vengeance topped the Indie charts back in 1984 and New Model Army subsequently placed 14 singles and eight albums in the Top Seventy-Five. They remain active to this day and will undertake a European tour next month.
Paying tribute to his former comrade, Justin Sullivan said: "Robert Heaton was the perfect gentleman and the powerhouse behind the rhythm-driven sound of New Model Army."
(c) Independent Newpapers 2004
THE TIMES - 23rd November 2004
Drummer and songwriter for New Model Army, whose minimalist punk put Bradford on the map in the 1980s
ROBERT HEATON was a key figure in New Model Army, the band that put both Bradford and bile back on the musical map in 1983. As the drummer and songwriter, he framed a new minimalist wave of punk - a surprise return for the idiom in the early Eighties, when British music languished to the tune of Bananarama, ABC and Haircut 100, and the received wisdom was that politics and fury had not worked in music and would not soon be back.
Heaton, however, was aware of exciting undercurrents even in the most mainstream pap. He could see that world music beats were replacing the four-four plod in everything from Musical Youth to Peter Gabriel, and was keen to embrace these as he was for Bradford - always his beloved home - to embrace the different cultures that had flocked to it. In 1983 New Model Army released three singles on minor labels, followed by the album Vengeance - the title track of which was a frothing four minutes on escaped Nazis, drug dealers, polluters, racists, debauched pop stars, corrupt businessmen and fat lawyers. The group was a threesome, comprising Justin Sullivan, the frontman, Stuart Morrow, the bassist, and Heaton, who became the first permanent drummer after a succession of fill-ins. They made their name playing miners' benefits up and down the country with the rather less combative Billy Bragg. When Morrow left the band in 1985, Sullivan and Heaton became the band's creative axis for the next 13 years.
New Model Army were signed by EMI in 1985, silencing the inevitable claims of mainstream capitulation with a brilliant album, No Rest For The Wicked. But they never broke in America: a condemnation of Britain's poodling to the US in the single 51st State even earned them an outright ban from the American Musicians Union.
Heaton admitted to influences as diverse as his parents' Johnny Cash records, Elvis and Sidney Bechet, and said he fell in love with the drums while watching Buddy Rich on the Lucille Ball show. Talented on several instruments, he co-wrote the music for such pointed numbers as Poison Street, The Hunt, Lights Go Out, Bodmin Pill and I Love The World.
His greatest single work may be Green and Grey from the album Thunder and Consolation (1989), a perfect marriage of Sullivan's thoughtful lyrics and his comrade's blistering rhythms. The partnership ended when a brain tumour forced Heaton's retirement. New Model Army exists to this day, but to many it never had quite the same spirit without Heaton.
Although he had been born in Cheshire, Bradford was Heaton's spiritual home. After returning to settle there he became a key figure in the city's cultural life, helping to publicise and market new bands and arts projects. He was active in Mind the Gap, a mental health drama group, and the "1 in 12" anarchist collective. He worked too on a solo project, Gardeners of Eden, and befriended the film maker David Lynch, whose work he greatly admired.
Robert Heaton, musician, was born on July 6, 1961. He died of pancreatic cancer on November 4th, 2004, aged 43.
(c) Times Newspapers 2004
MOOSE - NMA Bassist 1985 - 1989
From MooseHarris.com with kind permission
Robert Charles Heaton
6th July 1961 - 4th November 2004
A true gentleman - sorely missed.
It's Monday 15th November and I've just returned from Yorkshire, exhausted and emotionally drained having seen Robert on to his final resting place. The day was cathartic, and has helped me come to terms with the loss of my best friend. The fact that so many people were present is testament to the level of feeling Robert inspired in others. There were a lot of faces from the past and many who I'd never met, all united by his passing. It's sad that we only ever meet some old friends at occasions like this, but still good to see those I'd lost touch with over the years. There's one, of course, who I won't be seeing again.
I first met Robert back in the early part of 1985, as a punter (though not a paying punter) at a New Model Army gig. Within the space of a few short months I was no longer a punter, but a member of the band, and this is where Robert first took me under his wing. Over the next five years, he taught me more about life than an arrogant, ignorant teenager would normally ever be shown. Robert was a man of fine moral character, and always tried to instill me with some trace of his values.
Handshakes were important to him, both parties should always be standing as a mark of respect, and exert the correct amount of pressure as a show of character. A man with a weak handshake was a man without character, and therefore not to be trusted. Having shaken hands with Robert's father and brother on a number of occasions, I can understand where this idea came from, although Robert's dad described him as a bit of a bone crusher when I spoke to him today. Handshakes were not everything though, and I think Robert showed me how to treat people correctly by his example. Certainly he was a true gentleman in both thought and deed, and I hope that some of this rubbed off on me.
During our five years together in New Model Army we became very close. I spent the first three years of my tenure sleeping on Robert's old sofa when we were not on the road, and became a little like a bit of the furniture around his flat. He taught me how to drink beer, a feat at which I excelled for some time, eventually surpassing my tutor. After my first day of rehearsal with the band, we repaired to the Westleigh Hotel, where Robert introduced me to the crew, suggesting that I should perhaps buy each of them a pint and get to know them. As a seventeen-year-old who could normally string out two pints over a three hour drinking session, the rate of consumption, coupled with the low cost of beer in Bradford left me reeling and stumbling for a taxi within an hour. By the end of my six days of rehearsal before the first gig, Robert had me up to five pints and a curry before bedtime, so thanks for that one old mate, because I turned into a right fat bastard when my metabolism began to slow down. Unlike myself, Robert rarely touched spirits, but we spent some time exploring the culture of the grape together as we attempted but failed to become wine buffs. He could pick out a decent bottle though, and would love to show off his latest discoveries.
Obviously our relationship didn't centre around drinking. Robert also taught me how to enjoy food and how to cook. When we met I had no idea how to scramble an egg. My limits were ready meals and fry-ups. Never one to balk from experimenting in the kitchen, Robert soon had me trying to prepare some of his favourite recipes. We managed to work on a budget, shopping for cheap cuts of meat and bulking it out with spuds or pasta. Our Saturday Night Special was to take the week's empty cider bottles back to the Off-License, where they were traded for a tin of corned beef, an onion, some eggs and a bag of spuds. There was normally enough money left for a further bottle of cider apiece to enjoy with our garlic-infested corned beef hash, liberally garnished with a couple of fried eggs and a dollop of tomato sauce.
Such basic cuisine was the first step on the road to culinary excellence. As we toured, we dined in fine restaurants, sampling the delights of continental cooking. Once back home, we'd attempt to recreate the flavours of our travels, each of us trying to outdo the other. Who knows how many innocent snails perished to become our starters. Naturally there were cock-ups along the way. Robert decided to try vegetarian cuisine in France, a country wholly ignorant of the concept. After three days of boiled carrots and plain pasta, he was back on the meat. He and Justin shared a long running debate over who's favourite local curry house was the best, which allowed me to get fully into the concept of the Bradford curry, a style that is not repeated anywhere else in the world. The Shimla or Shaheen debate soon became academic; they both closed down within a few weeks of each other. Whilst touring, we had an unofficial vote to see who ordered the best dinner of the evening, thereby broadening our gastronomic horizons by dint of experimentation, and it is here that the enormous Steak Tartare faux-pas came to be. Ordering from a menu entirely written in French, and with nobody present sufficiently fluent in the language to translate it accurately, eleven people managed to order something totalling in the region of five pounds of ground raw meat, with a raw egg cracked over the top of each portion. Personally, I love the stuff, but it's an acquired taste and at the time it was an eye-opener. Only Robert stood up to complain, demanding in a loud and slow English voice tinged with the worst French accent imaginable, the better for the waiter to understand him, that he should take all of this stuff away, and bring it back when it had been properly cooked. Lighting Designer Mick Thornton watched bemused as he attempted to enjoy the section of beef femur he was expected to suck the bone marrow from. Thankfully I'd ordered the fish, but the general conclusion was that French Cordon-Bleu cookery was bollocks. Robert's influence opened my eyes to the world of food and cookery, which I later went on to gain a formal qualification in, and contributed a little more to my levels of fat bastardry.
Musically we clicked from the outset, and thought almost as one within the rhythm section, on occasion we would find ourselves following each others' dynamics and fills without speaking or even nodding to each other. Robert was an incredible talent, equally at home with his drums, a guitar or a bass. He made good noises with a harmonica, strangled the cheap violin he bought and could just about bash out a tune on a keyboard. As a band we were an efficient and effective unit, somewhat unburdened by the complexities that would come into Robert's later musical career.
As a drummer he was a powerhouse, pounding his kit with remarkable strength, but always with dexterity. Robert never subscribed to what he referred to as the 'idiot school of drumming', which explained his innovative style and incredible feel for mood and dynamics. He was metronomically precise, astonishing seasoned producer Glyn Johns with this ability. Glyn asked Robert to double track a small section of ride cymbal on All of This, during the recording of Ghost of Cain. Glyn was looking to produce a slight flam effect, but Robert struck the bell of the ride with such precision every time that the double track was undetectable. Glyn was convinced that either Robert wasn't playing it, or the machine wasn't recording it, because the two tracks were so perfectly synchronised. Having checked the tape, Glyn concluded that Robert was the most perfect drummer he'd ever worked with.
Another example of this was during the protracted gestation of Thunder and Consolation. Robert's complex rhythm pattern for the bridge sections of I Love the World was proving to be a nightmare to record in such a way as to do it justice. Eventually we decided to sample the individual drums to get enough separation, as the rapid bass drum flicks were becoming lost in the thunder of the toms. John Cornfield and I transferred these samples to Robert's nemesis, the drum machine. Robert then explained the pattern to me in beats and measures and I programmed the hated box, a task he couldn't bring himself to do. The finished programming sounded like Robert would if he'd had his soul ripped out of him. It was rubbish, lacking feel and ambience. Robert suggested using just the ambient mics above the kit to record him playing along with this soul-less machine. John and I were sceptical, but once again he was perfectly in time. There was not so much as a flam of the bass drum pedal through the whole song. I think Andy Wallace just used those ambient tracks in the final mix.
His guitar playing speaks for itself, just listen to anything he did. His bass playing was excellent too. During Thunder we went the full way with a system of working that had begun on Ghost and developed a little during the White Coats sessions, where we became less precious about who played what. Because Thunder was far more of a studio created project than Ghost or White Coats, whoever played something the best got the final shout in the studio. Robert played a lot of guitar on his own compositions during the final recording, and played bass on Ballad of Bodmin Pill. He also did Archway Towers and Green and Grey during the Manor sessions, although I re-recorded these two myself at the Sawmill and those takes are the ones we used in the end. I never got the feel Robert was looking for with Bodmin Pill, it wasn't my style and he did a great job of it there was no need to replace it with my frankly inferior attempts.
His own musical tastes were varied, reflecting his early roots in heavy rock, his graduation to soul, a passion for reggae, a love of classical and an interest in modern styles. Robert enjoyed music that evoked emotion in the listener. A good song will out, and so he was very dismissive of manufactured or contrived rubbish, but liked a good pop tune from time to time. My limited listening was a source of amusement and amazement. Whilst discussing Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album with Justin on the tour bus one day, he was appalled to learn that I had never heard it (I still haven't). I tried to point out that I was only four years old when it was released, but was told by both of them that this was no excuse. My band mates proceeded to deliver a good natured ribbing about how I knew nothing because I was but a callow youth and had no soul. They repeatedly attempted to educate me in the traditions of northern soul, whilst Robert made a point of taking me through his album collection at the next opportunity. This education would last for several weeks at a time, as album followed album. For every donkey like Robin Trower - Live there was a classic like ZZ Top's Tejas. George Clinton, Al Green, Bruce Springsteen (mainly thanks to Justin forcing 'The Boss' onto Robert until it stuck), Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin, Jackie Wilson, Jimmy Clifft, a rather long season of Vivaldi, all four of them I recall, and a host of others were all pushed my way. It took years to break me down, but I finally saw the point he was making. Passion, heart and soul, coupled with a decent and memorable tune will win the day. I've got a load of soul now, thanks to him.
As time progressed we lived pretty much in each other's pockets. Robert met Robin, his wife to be, in America towards the end of 1986 and renewed their acquaintance when we returned in 1987. Pretty soon Robert was bound for California for the long haul, spending as much time as he could there between sessions on Thunder. It was with great pride that I accepted his offer to be his Best Man in 1988. Robert was already in Orange County when I flew out to join him and Robin for their nuptials. We spent two weeks in the States together around the wedding, enjoying the Californian sun and lifestyle before I was forced to drag him away from his new bride back to a wet English spring and the next recording session.
Robin eventually sold her home and moved to England to enjoy the weather with her new husband. By now I'd left Robert's sofa and was living in London with my then girlfriend Jackie. Robert and Robin would spent almost all their time with us in London if we weren't away touring or up in Bradford with them. Unfortunately things were getting tense within the band and I could only see one way out, which was to quit once Thunder was finally done and dusted. The tour lasted a full nine months during 1989 and although I was happy to walk away after the UK and European legs, Robert persuaded me to stay for the US section and beyond. Finally I'd reached the end of persuasion, and left the band after the final gig of the year, although Robert and I remained close despite this.
With me outside of the New Model Army environment, we strayed from each other's constant company as our separate paths now decreed, but we always stayed in touch and met up whenever we could. We'd discuss our individual projects and occasionally venture to see each other's respective bands. If I was up north with The Damned, I'd stay with Robert and Robin, and if New Model Army were in London, then they'd visit me. Around 1995 Robert began to suffer from stress and depression. When he visited, he looked gaunt and ill. Subsequent glandular biopsies revealed a rare illness causing his symptoms, and by late 1997 he'd been diagnosed with a brain tumour. Following an operation to remove the tumour in January of 1998, he quit the band and concentrated on his recovery, battling back to health against the odds. He became a gardener, whilst keeping an oar in with his love of music through projects like The Gardeners of Eden and developing his talents as a producer. I struggle to think of anything he couldn't successfully turn his hand to. When the Heatons decided to buy a house, Robert renovated the property from the cellar up.
He and Robin had a son called Marlon and whenever I spoke to him he seemed happy with life, certainly happier than he'd been for the two years previously. We played a couple of gigs together with some of Robert's friends from the west country and saw each other on occasion, but less frequently than before. With Robert unable to drive following his surgery, and with a young son to look after, the family were less able to travel. Beck and I went up to Bradford for his fortieth birthday party where we dined and drank at his home, and played a few songs together in MacRory's bar. When Beck and I found out we were expecting a baby he rang with congratulations and we promised to meet up soon. Although there were more phone calls, we never did meet up. After Josie was born I called to pass on the news. We spoke for a long time about everything and nothing and he seemed well, but it was to be the last time we would speak to each other.
On November 4th I got a phone call that made my blood run cold. Robert had died suddenly following a fall that day. It was such a shock that I felt physically ill at the news. The post mortem revealed that he had been suffering with pancreatic cancer which had reached an advanced stage, metastasising into his lungs. I was devastated. In the time that has passed since his death, I've found it difficult to accept, but have consoled myself with the fact that it was a quick end, sparing him and his family the protracted decline so often associated with cancer.
In the near twenty years I have known Robert, there's barely a day that has passed that I haven't thought about him. Discovering a new wine, trying out a new recipe, recording a new piece of music, in fact, in any number of situations, I always thought about what Robert's opinion would be. In the week before his death I was beginning to put together a small package for him, baby pictures and a copy of some recordings I'd made earlier in the year, just so he could have a listen and pass on his judgement. Now I'll never be able to send it, a fact that saddens me enormously.
The funeral was a difficult affair but allowed me the chance to say goodbye to him and offer condolences to his family. It was also a time to reflect with old friends. Justin very bravely got up and played Green and Grey, one of Robert's finest compositions, and I don't think there was a dry eye in the house.
Robert left a huge hole in many lives, and it's a void that nothing can fill. I'll miss him more than I can express and I thank him for all that we shared in our years together - Robert Charles Heaton, my friend forever.
MOJO Magazine - January 2005 issue
Drummer Rob Heaton (b.1961) drove New Model Army's distinctive percussive sound. In his 15 years with NMA he co-wrote a number of their biggest tunes, including Green And Grey. A successful brain tumour operation in 1998 saw him leave the band. More rcently he encouraged young Bradford based musicians through his Fresh Milk development project and recorded with the Gardeners of Eden. He died on November 4 of pancreatic cancer.
THE FLY Magazine - January 2005 issue
Bradford. This is where I harp on about Fresh Milk, thanking them for signs of life in a live music wasteland. With the council's refusal to cater for us (who needs arts when you've got a new shopping centre?), Fresh Milk is the most creative, promising and generous enterprise Bradford has seen for ages. One of the driving forces behind it was Rob Heaton, who died unexpectedly in November. He is sorely missed by those fortunate enough to have known or worked with him.