John Dummer is probably best known for being the drummer for Darts (also writing ‘Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love’, ‘How Many Nights’ and the truly wonderful ‘Late Last Night’.)
For those youngsters amongst the readership of aTasteOfGarlic, Darts was a nine-strong, energetic doo-wop group whose brand of visual excitement and tight harmonies earned them rave reviews wherever they played.
They had a string of chart hits in the late seventies and early eighties and were one of the hardest working bands of that period.
John left Darts in 1980 and, with his wife Helen, moved to France.
After a few years there and a few years in Portugal, they moved back to France in 1999 to renovate a 300-year-old farm in Aquitaine near a spa town called Dax.
|John and Helen decided to register as brocanteurs – antiques dealers – and set about trying to earn a living in the traditional French open-air markets.
John has written a book about his experiences – Serge Bastarde Ate My Baguette.
Just click on the cover picture for more information.
I wanted to find out how John came to meet a man named Serge, what John Peel was really like and, most importantly of all, what John thought of the Johnny Hallyday Crisis?
I knew that I’d have to be extra careful with this interview because, no matter how cool we were trying to be in the late seventies (pretending to like punk and all that rubbish), secretly we were all big fans of Darts.
Potentially I could upset a lot of people!
Most of them of an age when they can afford to sell up and move to France.
I didn’t want to get kneed in the goolies by a complete stranger at the Saturday morning market at Josselin just because I’d inadvertently said something nasty about THE BEST BAND IN THE HISTORY OF MUSIC!
So, cautiously, I picked up the phone and dialled John’s number….
|John Dummer’s sharply focused descriptions of the landscape, towns and villages, and the weather of the South West of France form a animated background for a series of adventures with an array of characters from some intimidating and belligerent peasants to a sad little old man whose only companionship is a collection of antique dolls.
1). Darts really led the way for fun serious music groups of which I guess Squeeze is the greatest example. Everyone loves them but not quite in the same way that we love Jimi Hendrix or Charlie Parker. Looking back at the Darts era, are you proud that you were part of making music that still brings a smile to the faces of pretty much anyone over the age of 40? (And I do promise most questions will be far shorter than this one – way too much coffee, you see!)
John Dummer – I enjoyed doing it – it was a good time – I don’t know if pride is the right word but it’s great to know that people got pleasure, and are still getting pleasure, from Darts.
|2). Do you find yourself being recognised by screaming fans when you pop down to the market (or do you thank God every day that you don’t look as weird as Den Hegarty?)
John Dummer – Well, I was never really recognised which was pretty much a blessing!
I once saw Griff (Griff Fender – vocalist and writer of Darts’s hit.. It’s Raining) get all his clothes torn off him between walking from the dressing room door to the bus!
There was nothing we could do! That sort of thing never happened to me though.
3). What advice do you have for anyone determined to jack in a good job, sell everything they have, put the kids in storage and drag the wife off to South West France to restore an old ruin?
John Dummer – Think very carefully about it – when we did it in 80s it was easier and luckily nothing went wrong. Property markets have changed since then. We were lucky to sell at the right time.
Having said that, I love France and have never regretted moving here.
4). In as few words as possible – what are the differences between the English and the French.
John Dummer – That’s a big one… How do you answer a question like that? The French wear berets and the English bowler hats? The French often ride bikes with onions?
I don’t really know. I do think that the longer one lives over here, the less easy it is to spot the differences. Having said that, some of the stereotypes aren’t so far fetched….
5). You’ve got some incredible reviews on Amazon for Serge Bastarde Ate My Baguette. Did you write them all yourself?
John Dummer – No, they’re all genuine.. really!
6). You’ve been away from the UK for a few years now. Do you remember football and, if so, what do you say to those people who think that Thierry Henry should be banned for life and sent to Peckham for perpetuity for his outrageous cheat in the World Cup qualifiers?
John Dummer – I’m afraid I don’t really follow football – sorry, you’ve got me there. I wasn’t all that keen even when I lived in England. I was the only one in Darts who wasn’t mad about football. Even Rita was a real fan – every time the tour coach stopped they’d all be out kicking a ball around.
7). What do you say to the people who believe that Elvis isn’t dead but is quietly earning a living in rural Aquitaine and is planning a comeback tour once people get bored with all this modern hippy-hoppy techno rap rubbish?
John Dummer – He is dead, I’m afraid You should see Johnny Hallyday instead. He’s still alive although he’s got a bad back.
8). When you’re not writing, you work as a brocanteur. Are you ever tempted to buy a new piece of furniture, knock it about a bit, dunk it in the pond and then try to sell it to an American for an absolute fortune? Or haven’t you come across that trick yet?
John Dummer - (Laughs) No. I don’t do that. There’s no shortage of old stuff in that sort of state, in any case.
9). You still play the drums a bit. What do you think of all this rubbish that the youth of today have to listen to and do you have any plans for a comeback?
John Dummer – Yes, I still play but, you know, I quite like the music. I’ve recently worked with DJoe The Architect – did some drumming for him. Not sure about a comeback though! Editors note: Take a look at John’s MySpace page and click on the Music link (right hand side) for Walking the Blues (performed with JC Manuel.)
10). Your decision to move to France, was that in order to be nearer to, possible the greatest rock star of all time (I speak, of course, of the incomparable Johnny Hallyday), and do you think that Que Je t’aime should be the new French National Anthem?
John Dummer – No, that wasn’t why I moved to France. In any case, I’m not really familiar with his music. And, anyway, the French have got a very good national anthem.
11). Are you writing a new novel and, if so, does Serge Bastarde feature in it or have you found someone else to write about?
John Dummer – I’m in the process of writing an autobiography. And there’s also a novel based on our experiences in Portugal. We met lots of characters there!
And there are certainly a lot more stories to tell about Serge Bastarde so, who knows…..
12). Life in France; why is it so much better than being back in the UK?
John Dummer - Where do I start? I live in the south-west of France, near the Atlantic coast. We’re only a few miles from long sandy beaches, the weather is fantastic here – our winters are very short. I do go back to England quite often and I still like it but here the Health Service is excellent, there are less people, it’s less crowded, there’s less traffic…..
|More information – or to buy this CD||13). Do you want to answer any more questions or shall I just put the kettle on and make up the rest of the answers?
John Dummer – Well, it’s up to you Keith. You’re welcome to ask more questions if you like.
And if any of your readers want to ask any questions, I’d be happy to answer them.
I’m sure you wouldn’t mind passing on any questions, would you? (No Problem – just email me the questions and I’ll pass them on.)
For anyone still in the UK, I’ll be attending The France Show 2010 so you can come along and see me from 8th – 10th January at London Earls Court.
Well, thank you very much John. I shall be buying a copy of The Darts Platinum Collection very soon and thank you for taking time to answer these questions for the readers of A Taste Of Garlic.
I put down the phone and then realised that I’d forgotten to ask the John Peel question. Bugger. Bugger and Shit!
All the best