Russell Hunter, the last surviving member of the classic 1973 Kings Of Oblivion Pink Fairies' line-up, and Deviants' drummer has died, aged 77. Both bands evolved out of, and were integral to, the Ladbroke Grove countercultural / underground scene of the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Often cited as a major influence on various prime movers of the British and US punk scenes, John Lydon, Captain Sensible, Brian James, Tony James, Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra among them. There was always more to Russell Hunter than the smash, bash and crash school of drumming. The late Tim Rundall, briefly a Deviants’ member in 2011, once said Russell had, “the power of [Keith] Moon coupled with his own love of Elvin Jones – [Russell] always said the approach of the Pink Fairies then was more like a jazz thing regardless of how it sounded, and that makes perfect sense”. Hunter’s own modesty was perhaps too great for his true stature to be fully realised, or appreciated properly by others throughout his career. Without question though, he is undoubtedly one of the great unsung drummers of his generation.
His former bandmate, and guitarist in the Deviants and original Pink Fairies, Paul Rudolph had this to say in the wake of Russell’s death last month: “Playing music with Russell was fun and creative. He always had lots of ideas and had a versatile, powerful and imaginative style. He was an excellent live drummer and contributed greatly to the spontaneous performance of the band. Every gig was different and Russell had a great talent for percussion and for listening”.
His good friend, and guitarist in the most recent incarnations of the Deviants and UK version of the Pink Fairies, Andy Colquhoun, also paid tribute to him: “Russell was a great personal friend of ours. We spoke every week and often visited each other. We first met in the early seventies and it was through him I joined the Pink Fairies in the late eighties. He is greatly missed and will be very fondly remembered by myself and [Andy’s wife] Helga, and his beautiful wife Andi”.
Barry Russell Hunter was born on 26th April 1946 in Woking Maternity Home, Surrey. It had been set-up during the war, but his family home was actually in Waterloo, London. When he was two years old his parents relocated to a village called Upton in Dorset after his father got a new job at pharmaceutical company, British Drug Houses, in the seaside town of Poole, near Bournemouth. After attending Upton Infants' School and then Lytchett Minster Primary, it was at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Wimborne that he adopted his middle name Russell, because of the confusion caused due to another pupil in his class with the same name. Russell was also in the same class as Robert Fripp and Gordon Haskell, both later of the prog rock band, King Crimson. At that time though they were in a band called The League Of Gentlemen, who Russell used to watch at their Friday night residency at the Cellar Bar in Bournemouth. In 2004, Russell actually attributed Fripp as being the main inspiration for him taking up drums, before continuing: “It had not previously dawned on me that ordinary people could do this stuff, and even eventually do it as ‘work’! I quickly realised that the guitar was going to be beyond me. I had – especially at that age – very small hands, couldn’t do the chord shapes, so the piano was also a non-starter. Drums were the obvious way.”
Russell soon acquired a drum kit and learnt to play listening to popular drummers of the time, such as Tony Meehan of the Shadows and DJ Fontana from Elvis Presley’s backing band. He honed his craft further by listening to Motown, other pop bands of the day, and by watching emerging local bands in clubs in the Bournemouth and Poole area. His first appearance on stage was with a band called The Dictators, but that lasted just one gig. He then joined a couple of other local bands, the Big Six Combo, and The Hurricanes, who soon changed their name to The Mob, and became the local “go to” band when local promoters wanted an opening act. The Mob opened for the likes of the Animals, Yardbirds, Searchers, Big Three and Jimmy Reed, who also used them as his backing band!
The Mob soon came to the attention of the legendary, but unorthodox, record producer Joe Meek, and it was in Meek’s Holloway Road flat that Russell had his first taste of a recording studio, albeit an unconventional one. The Mob recorded two songs, ‘Gypsy’ and ‘Don’t Make A Habit Of This’, but they were never released. Russell said in 2005, “I think about six copies were pressed on some label that died years ago”. Not long after, Russell left The Mob somewhat disillusioned with the lack of interest in the Meek recordings, and was replaced by Billy Nims. The Mob then changed their name to The Shame and were joined by Greg Lake, later of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, on bass. Of this period Russell has said, “What I was interested in was not so much rock’n’roll, as ‘the scene’, mostly I wanted to get to London, to where the action was”. In order to do this, he passed his civil service exam and got posted to Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, Farringdon House, Holborn in 1965. He was no stranger to amphetamine pills by this time, and wasted no time frequenting the more hip jazz and soul-oriented London clubs like Tiles, Whisky-A-Go-Go, and the Flamingo, the latter of which was known as a notorious pill den, particularly during its mod heyday.
With all this going on, Russell soon tired of the 9-5 grind of being a civil servant. He told Jonathon Green in 1987, “[I] went to work like a good boy for about four months. I found a friendly doctor who used to give me these great big purple pills called Barbidex: like blues, only twice as strong, with a hefty dose of barbiturate to calm you down at the end”. And that was the end of his career in HMSO!
As the mod scene faded with the emergence of psychedelia, the club scene also changed, and in the autumn of 1966, Russell discovered a club called UFO in Tottenham Court Road. It was here, through the club’s lighting man Mike Laslett, that he met up with Mick Farren, front man of the Social Deviants. Their drummer was a born-again Christian, who wore mohair suits, and had a fixation with Joe Morello of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. This didn’t really sit comfortably with the ethos of the Social Deviants, who were more into The Fugs, Mothers Of Invention, and the Velvet Underground, and their own brand of raucous agit-rock, than modern jazz. The final straw for the old drummer came when the Social Deviants supported soul man Geno Washington and His Ram Jam Band, and the largely mod and skinhead audience launched themselves towards the stage to attack the clearly conspicuous Social Deviants with their long hair, leather jackets, paisley shirts and other fancy finery, as soon as the stage curtains were drawn open. He left the band soon afterwards and was replaced by Russell.
For the first time since The Mob, Russell was in a band again, and had his drums sent up from Dorset. His first gig for the Social Deviants was at The Dialectics of Liberation Congress at the now legendary Roundhouse in Camden. Organised by the radical psychiatrists, R.D. Laing and David Cooper, the conference comprised of a number of seminars and lectures, not only concerned with issues relating to Vietnam, Black Power and the student movement, but also ‘free interaction’, and the relationship between personal and political liberation. It was arguably another inappropriate booking. According to Mick Farren in his autobiography, Give The Anarchist A Cigarette, the entertainments booker “was under the impression that we were some electronic wind-chime ensemble, or at least the basically acoustic cacophony of the Fugs, because when we slammed into a teeth-grinding fuzz-tone thrash, a few people actually blanched”.
Not only were the band woefully under-rehearsed, their performance was bedevilled by technical issues too, as they thrashed their way through an appalling set, winging it by dint of ferocity rather than sound. Talking in 2004, Russell recalled, “I remember it well… just about everything broke or blew up, and I had to fill in time with some god-awful impromptu attempt at a solo - then the drums fell to bits and silence reigned - probably a mercy”. Somewhat self-deprecatingly, Russell said of his influences around this time, “I was very impressed by Mitch Mitchell who was emerging at the time with Hendrix. I wasn't consciously copying anyone, but with the benefit of hindsight I guess I was rehashing [Keith] Moon & Mitchell - badly”.
After this inauspicious start for the new Social Deviants’ drummer, the band underwent some significant personnel changes, shortened their name to The Deviants and established a core nucleus of band members that would remain relatively stable enough to record three albums, Ptooff!, Disposable, and Deviants III, before imploding on a visit to Canada in late 1969. Frontman Mick Farren returned to England suffering a meltdown caused by a combination of heavy psychedelics and amphetamine psychosis. Stranded without airfares home, Russell and the other remaining Deviants had little option but to try and earn their passage back to the UK, by playing their way down the West Coast to San Francisco. It was here they began to hone some of the Deviants’ tunes and change their direction slightly. Having eventually earned enough for their airfares they travelled up to Montreal before returning to the UK where they hooked up with John ‘Twink’ Alder, the erstwhile drummer of Tomorrow and the Pretty Things.
The story goes that while the other Deviants were stranded in America, Twink had already attempted, and failed, to make a go of a band with his girlfriend, Mick Farren and Steve Took, tentatively called the Pink Fairies. They apparently played just one disastrous gig, if it can even be called that, in Manchester. It was obvious this was going nowhere, so Twink made advances towards the other Deviants instead. It’s been said that the idea for two drummers came about after seeing the Grateful Dead in America, but both Deviants and Pink Fairies’ guitarist Paul Rudolph, and Russell himself have refuted this. Apparently the original idea was for Twink to become the lead singer, but when Russell’s drum kit was impounded for several weeks after arriving back in the UK, Twink had to take on the role of drummer anyway, until Russell’s kit was released. By that time, Paul Rudolph had stepped up to the plate as frontman, and Twink remained on drums too – thus the classic dual-drum line-up was born. Paul Rudolph has said, “It was not a nod to the Grateful Dead. It was about not only the drive of two drummers with the guitar and bass line-up, but the energy of Russ and Twink playing together, which was powerful”. Russell, on the other hand, went as far as to suggest that he didn’t really figure in Twink’s long-term plans for the Pink Fairies, Talking to Saša Milakara from a Croatian website in May 2020, he said, “I was very touched when [Paul and Sandy] apparently refused to hook up with him unless I was included, and that’s how the Pink Fairies ended up as a band with two drummers. I know Twink has denied this in the past, but I am certain that my inclusion was an afterthought, which is somewhat ironic when one considers that ultimately I spent far longer in the band than Twink’s relatively short tenure.”
The Pink Fairies’ manifesto was quite simple from the outset and included playing as many free gigs and festivals as possible. What is now sometimes regarded as the first true free festival, Phun City, was also one of their first festival performances. It’s not only notable for being where the MC5 played their first gig on British soil, but also because Russell and Twink ended up on stage together cavorting naked during the Pink Fairies’ set. With a voracious appetite for dope, the band’s shows were typified by anarchic performances, and unleashed in tandem, the energy of the two drummers was powerful indeed, often with awe-inspiring results, like Glastonbury festival, where the band were peaking on LSD. They also played outside the main perimeter fences at both the Bath and Isle of Wight Festivals in 1970, where an alliance of sorts was established with fellow freak band, Hawkwind, when members of both bands took it in turns to join each other on stage and jam, sometimes for hours on end.
Soon after the Pink Fairies played Glastonbury, Twink upped sticks and left the band. A big part of the band’s popularity was down to the percussive onslaught of both Russell and Twink, so when he left it could’ve been disastrous for the band. But Twink’s departure only served to improve Russell’s technique, and he was more than capable of maintaining a formidable drum sound on his own. Paul Rudolph had this to say when remembering Russell, “The Pink Fairies fans at the gigs loved Twink and he was able to roam free knowing that Russell would still be laying it down. When they were both in sync on the drums it was a powerful boost to the live sound and energy.” But, he continues, “Russell was more versatile, and played for the whole set, unlike Twink, who liked to cavort about on stage – Twink was a showman, Russell was a drummer”.
The Pink Fairies weren’t just a festival band though. Based in the counterculture enclave of Ladbroke Grove in West London, they quickly earned themselves the reputation of being a people’s band, and with Hawkwind they further cemented their community band credentials by jamming together, sometimes using the moniker Pinkwind, under the arches of the recently constructed Westway flyover. It was on one of these occasions, after the police turned up again, that Russell allegedly had to be forcibly removed from his stool by police officers while still carrying out a full onslaught on his drum kit!
They also played many benefit gigs for various minority groups, equal rights movements and anti-establishment causes of the time - the Mangrove 9, White Panther Party, and Angry Brigade among numerous others. Beleaguered underground press publications, which were constantly under pressure from the authorities eager to silence them, frequently benefitted from the Fairies’ munificence – the Gay Liberation Front Dance at Camden Town Hall being another good example. In an interview from 2006, Russell remembered the evenin: “I went in full drag, and the others did hideous things with lipstick and make-up – Paul looked particularly alarming, like a belligerent aunt who’d lost a chainsaw”.
Elaborating on his proclivity for cross-dressing, Russell also said, “I often wore drag, since the summer of 1968 in fact. Around the clubs [Marc] Bolan and I were about concurrent in starting to apply kohl to our eyes, and the rest of the make-up and clothes just followed on from there… It wasn't so much dresses I used to wear, I just used to wear a lot of very effeminate clothes, lace trousers, colourful girls' velvet applique shirts, and an awful lot of face make-up, and eye make-up. We were really into being an outrage band.”
His girlfriend at that time, Jenny Ashworth, has similarly said, “I remember a pair of green lace trousers and a tight pink jumper he used to wear, not to mention the make-up. This was in the Deviants days. We knew a girl who was a dressmaker and she made him a suit from pink Noddy and Big Ears fabric… This was all entirely his own idea, so he was certainly not following any fashion. He might have been pushing gender barriers, but it was on his own inclination. It certainly wasn’t a fashion trend!”
By dressing like he did when he did, it could be argued that Russell was something of a trailblazer when it came to breaking down gender barriers, but he never got the recognition that the likes of his more commercial and famous contemporaries, such as Marc Bolan did, and even David Bowie, who Russell pre-dated by a couple of years in that respect!
When not playing benefit gigs, members of the Pink Fairies sometimes participated in acts of civil disobedience themselves. One such occasion was when Russell and several female friends took part in some co-ordinated direct action by the Gay Liberation Front and infiltrated the launch of a Christian church-based morality campaign at Westminster Central Hall called the Festival Of Light, whose luminaries included Malcolm Muggeridge, Mary Whitehouse, Lord Longford and Cliff Richard. Under the pretext of being Festival of Light supporters, Russell and his companions hired nuns’ costumes to disguise themselves – they would never have got in otherwise! Interviewed for Jonathon Green’s book Days In The Life in 1987, Russell said, “They were vetting everybody at the door and they turned away a lot of people: obvious hippies who were there to make trouble. But we went straight through, they were all smiles. At a certain point in the proceedings we all stood up, started heckling and throwing the cushions. Then we did a conga up the middle aisle. We all lifted our skirts and started making obscene gestures until the Christian bouncers turned up and beat us up, especially me, when they discovered I wasn't what they thought. My habit got torn beyond repair. It wasn't a deep commitment to gay liberation, who were also involved, just a deep feeling of mischief-making. Them Christian bouncers sure play rough”.
By early 1972, Russell’s drug intake was escalating, and by his own admission, he was now heavily into heroin. Russell always felt responsible for Paul Rudolph’s departure, “Paul was definitely unhappy about my increased consumption of smack... And I don’t suppose it was doing much for consistency in whatever drumming ability I had, so yes, I believe it was quite a big factor in his departure”.
The Pink Fairies had recorded just two studio albums with original singer and guitarist Paul Rudolph, but both failed to live up to expectations, and the production on debut album Never Never Land in particular lacked the spark and energy of their live performances, although What A Bunch Of Sweeties had its moments. After Paul’s departure, Larry Wallis eventually joined on guitar, and they released Kings Of Oblivion in 1973. It was markedly different from the previous two albums. Larry brought to the table a brand of glam rock tinged heavy metal, which in hindsight has an air of proto-punk ferocity about it too.
The mainstream recognition they arguably deserved still eluded the Pink Fairies despite this change of style and direction and they split up in 1974. It wasn’t for long though. A number of reunions followed throughout the mid-1970s before they called it a day again, and Russell travelled to South America for a few months. For the next few years he worked at Dingwalls as a barman, chef, dishwasher and even assistant manager for a while. His only musical activity of note during this period was a short spell in the Theresa D'Abreu Band, with whom he recorded one single 'Sister Revolution’ in 1978. Russell remained in thrall to heroin until he was jolted out of his narcotic stupor in 1981 by the death of his girlfriend from an overdose. In October 2006 he reflected on the tragedy, “It was a terrible shove back into reality. I ask myself ever since why it was necessary for someone I loved to be sacrificed just to make me see what a mess my life was. I stopped immediately with the minimum of withdrawal problems, it was a fucked-up game I’d unwittingly been playing. Kiki’s death was so much more painful than a few aches and pains that it was suddenly easy to stop the game”.
He began to turn his life around, and between 1983 and 1990 he worked as a bus conductor for London Transport, for whom he continued to work until his retirement in the 2000s. While working as a bus conductor he met the love of his life, Andi, who he married in 1986 and remained with until his death last December.
A further Pink Fairies reunion ensued in 1987, when the Kings Of Oblivion line-up of Russell, Sandy and Larry reformed, with the return of Twink, and the addition of Andy Colquhoun, who, along with Sandy, had played in Larry's variously named bands since the early 1980s. What was originally only touted as being maybe one or two shows then turned into a full-scale reunion that lasted nearly three years and included an album of new material and numerous live dates. When it eventually ground to a halt, Twink and Larry Wallis had fallen by the wayside on the journey, but the remaining Pink Fairies, Russell, Sandy and Andy continued for a while as Flying Colours, and in the process formed a bond that would not be fully realised until later incarnations of the Deviants and Pink Fairies were resurrected some 20 years later. Russell continued working for London Transport, but also became very involved in the, then new, music-and-home computers scene. In 2006, he told me, “I spent a lot of money on sound modules, synths, SMPT generators and recorders. Atari were the pioneers in home computing in this field – they were the only affordable machine with a Midi-Port and I devoured technical manuals on midi”. Russell’s love of new technology wasn’t just confined to home recording equipment though, and Andy now amusedly recalls how he earned himself the soubriquet 'Fad Gadget' because “If you heard about a gizmo, the chances were high that Russell had two or three of them already”.
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Russell's musical activities were largely confined to playing around on his home set-up. A few of his solo home recordings were released on various Pink Fairies fanzine compilations. Indulging himself in his other passion, cricket, he qualified as an umpire in the early ‘90s, and regularly officiated matches in the Surrey county league for 15 years. Then, in 2006, it was announced that the Kings of Oblivion line-up of the Pink Fairies were reforming for a prestigious one-off show at then recently renovated Roundhouse in Chalk Farm. Unfortunately, it fell through at the last minute when guitarist and singer Larry Wallis was incapacitated due to a trapped nerve in his back brought on as the result of sciatica. It was clearly a huge disappointment not only to those involved, but also the fans. The next time Russell became involved in Pink Fairies related activity was in 2009, when he, Sandy and Paul Rudolph were approached to record a new version of one of their most loved songs, ‘Do It!’ for a testimonial CD for former Pink Fairies roadie Boss Goodman, who had suffered a debilitating stroke a few years earlier. This was just a one off though as Paul Rudolph was only in the UK on vacation when the recording took place. It is also notable for the fact that Jello Biafra, who had recorded a song for the CD, had the opportunity to meet up with his heroes at a pub on the Portobello Road. It was an encounter Russell was genuinely pleased to have had.
When Mick Farren returned from LA to live in England in 2010, shortly followed by Andy Colquhoun, Russell became involved in a Deviants reunion, which also included original Deviants member, Sandy, and two musicians who were veterans of Brighton’s alternative music scene, Slim Tim Slide Rundall and Jaki Miles-Windmill. In 2011, Russell got the opportunity to play at Glastonbury festival again – forty years after he had first appeared there with the Pink Fairies. Typically, Russell was not overly impressed! Talking in June last year he said, “The Spirit of 71 stage was a nice idea in theory, but in reality it’s an irrelevance in the modern Glastonbury; nobody knew or cared about obscure bands from fifty years ago. It was a stage at the edge of a particularly boggy mud pit with a few people who looked baffled, ill or lost, looking on. It’s safe to say we didn’t enjoy it much - except Jaki it seems - except as a sort of outdoor rehearsal. It’s not that we were overwhelmed… in fact we were distinctly underwhelmed, but there was just no point in us being there, or any of the other acts… nobody cared, it was utterly divorced from the rest of the action, which it’s fair to say everybody appeared to be loving.”
This line-up of The Deviants continued for another three years before Mick Farren collapsed on stage and died at the Borderline in London in July 2013.
Ever contrary, whereas his Deviants and Pink Fairies band mates Mick and Andy had already chosen to relocate to the more cosmopolitan and happening town of Brighton AKA 'London-by-the-Sea', in 2014, Russell, having lived in London for nigh on 50 years, moved from Ladbroke Grove to the south-coast seaside resort of Eastbourne, better known as a more sedate retirement town than a hotbed of rock ‘n’ roll insurrection. It was as much for his health as anything else though. A life-long smoker, like Mick Farren, Russell also suffered from bronchial related issues, although he wasn’t quite ready to be put to pasture yet.
Following Mick’s death, the remaining Deviants reconvened as the Pink Fairies. Their old friend and veteran of the Ladbroke Grove music scene, George Butler, was recruited as a second drummer, as much as a nod to the old dual drum line-up of the early 1970s as it was for Russell’s health. Interviewed for Vive Le Rock! magazine in 2015, Russell said, “It was my idea to enlist George: I like the two-drummer format, and the fact is I need the help these days, as my own health and stamina in my 70th year is not what it was when I was (much) younger”.
Russell’s health did prohibit him from performing on several occasions, but George Butler was capable of maintaining the beat in absence, and Sandy’s son also deputised for Russell on one occasion at The Hop Farm Festival in Kent.
The new Pink Fairies line-up didn’t just re-hash old Pink Fairies favourites, they also included a smattering of Mick Farren penned numbers, as well as newly written songs, and even recorded a new album called Naked Radio. Lead vocals were shared by Andy, Sandy, Jaki, and Russell occasionally sang on a couple of numbers live on stage.
Even though she’d already been with Andy, Russell and Sandy in the Deviants for the last few years, Jaki’s inclusion in the Pink Fairies did polarise opinion among some fans on social media. When asked for his view, Russell leapt to Jaki’s defence, and retorted incredulously, “My views are that this question does not merit an answer. It’s 2015 for fuck’s sake - a woman!”.
Russell didn’t always suffer fools gladly then, and he was also a self-confessed “miserable bastard”, sometimes coming across as a bit prickly and contrary at times. Of the band’s early days, Mick Farren once referred to him as being the Deviants’ “resident black wind of negativity”, but beneath that bluff exterior was a self-deprecating, sensitive and caring soul. Andy Colquhoun says of his old friend, “Russell was a man of great warmth, a perfect gentleman, and a loyal and generous friend” and Paul Rudolph is equally laudatory, “Russell was a great drummer and one of the most generous, creative and forgiving persons I have ever met”.
He also possessed a sense of humour that could be as droll as it was inclined towards the gallows. When it was announced that the Deviants were continuing without Mick Farren to tour as the Pink Fairies in 2014, Russell half-jokingly referred to it as the “pension credit tour”. And on the subject of relocating to the South Coast, according to the Bournemouth Beat Boom website in 2020, “When he told friends he couldn’t stay in the smoggy atmosphere of London any longer and he was moving to Eastbourne, one wag said, ‘That’s where people go to die, it’s God’s waiting room’, he replied, ‘So, what exactly is your point?’”.
As his health continued to deteriorate, various options were explored to alleviate his worsening COPD. In November 2023, a week before he was due to have a risky operation to try and enlarge his lung capacity, Russell sent me a very touching email explaining the risks of such a procedure, especially for someone his age, and said he hoped to be in contact with me again, but, if it was not to be, he wanted to thank me not only for my Deviants/Pink Fairies book, but also my friendship. As it turned out, I did hear from him again, unfortunately not because the operation was a success, but because it had been cancelled at the very last minute. The anaesthetic team were no longer satisfied that his heart was strong enough to survive the op, and it was too risky without serious reassessment.
We emailed each other several more times over the next couple of weeks, and I even received a Christmas card from him. However, on the morning of 19th December 2023, Andy Colquhoun contacted me with the bad news that Russell had been rushed into Eastbourne Hospital, and several hours later called back to tell me that Russell had sadly passed away. Despite the seriousness of his health, I still never thought this would be the last time I would hear from him. I thought he’d still be here for us to exchange birthday greetings in April, but sadly that is not to be now. I am grateful to have known Russell for the last twenty years, and that I got to see him play live on a number of occasions since 1987, with both the Pink Fairies and Deviants. In 2015, when I commented that the Pink Fairies reunion was still going strong, and asked him how long he envisaged it lasting, he replied in typical Russell fashion, “Going strong eh? Well, going anyway. I don’t know is the honest answer. I’m aware that I have only a finite number of gigs left in me, but I’m replaceable”.
The truth is he wasn’t, and he’s still not – Russell was one of a kind and is truly irreplaceable. He will be sorely missed by all his family, friends and everyone who ever knew him. R.I.P. Russell – I hope you’re thrashing the hell out of your drum kit wherever you are now, and getting ready for the cricket season, let’s hope there’s a village green there too!
Russell is survived by his beloved wife Andi and daughter Jess.