Drummer Brian Devoil (born Brian Ronald Devoil, on 20 July 1954) grew up in the East end of London, but moved to Norfolk at the age of seven.
“My interest first turned to drums,” says Brian today, “when I was just a kid, once I had failed to win a Burns guitar in a competition. My first drumming (on cake tins) was aged ten with a couple of primary school friends. We called ourselves The Lightnings. In 1970 I bought my first drum kit for £43 from Drum City in Shaftesbury Avenue, just round the corner from the Marquee. I was 16 and played along to my favourite bands/drummers of the time: Cream/Ginger Baker, Jimi Hendrix Experience/Mitch Mitchell, Jethro Tull/Clive Bunker, Genesis/Phil Collins, and Pink Floyd/Nick Mason. Later on Billy Cobham became a favourite too, though I never attempted to play like him! I would consider myself a feel player having had no formal training, which some might say contributes to a somewhat idiosyncratic style! While I was living near Sandringham in Norfolk my inspiration was Milly Mussett a local musician whose style I much admired: lots of double bass drums, wide eyes, and flowing locks. I roadied for his band Bone Orchard a couple of times, including a support gig to Patto, a well-respected band of the time.”
Brian went up to Reading in October 1972 to study for a BSc. Chemistry/Maths, and graduated just before his 21st birthday in July 1975. He stayed at Reading as a sabbatical officer: a full-time officer elected by the members of the Students’ Union retaining student status during his time in office. Brian ran the Students’ Union Social Committee from 1973 to 1976.
“I met at Brian at Reading University in 1972,” recalls friend and photographer Nick Powell. “We were on different courses but became friends when we both joined the Social Committee. Brian and I ran a disco every Friday night at the main hall at the Uni. We called ourselves ‘Mad John’. It was very popular. We did other gigs as well around Reading. Brian took it over after I graduated, and changed its name to ‘Crunchy Tiger’!”
Brian Devoil: “Nick and I promoted dozens of gigs in the period from 1972 to 1976. One of the highlights was the Wishbone Ash gig in June 1973 that provided some of the tracks on their superb Live Dates album. That was the first time I had seen inside a mobile recording studio”.
After graduating Brian declined several invitations to become a booking agent, however he did serve alongside Paul Loasby on the National Union of Students Entertainment Committee, having been elected by his peers at the National Conference. Paul left halfway through the year to join Harvey Goldsmith, and later became a successful promoter in his own right. Their paths were not to cross again until some eight years later when, in conjunction with the Marquee, Loasby co-promoted Twelfth Night’s Art and Illusion tour. He is still promoting and managing today, co-managing Pink Floyd with Tony Smith, another key player in the band’s story.
During this period, Brian also managed the theatrical punk band Clayson & the Argonauts, who made their London debut at the 100 Club supporting The Jam in January 1977. This led to a full-page Melody Maker spread, courtesy of its enthralled future editor, Allan Jones. Brian Devoil: “It was a big deal, getting the Melody Maker spread. The headline was ‘Is God an Argonaut?’ It was a great time. But the arrangement didn’t last.”
Brian subsequently joined a power-punk band called Trash, who were formed in late 1976 by students from the National College of Food Technology at St. George’s Hill, Weybridge, one of Reading University’s more distant campuses. After a series of gigs supporting the likes of 999 and The Lurkers, Trash signed to Polydor Records in August 1977. The songs Look and Priorities were recorded at the Old Smithy in Worcester, and released on a single in November 1977.”
Soon after this, Brian left Trash. Their second single was produced by the legendary Shel Talmy, while guitarist Mick Brophy went on to form pub-rock band The Cheaters, who had a brush with the charts with their cover of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit In The Sky.
During this period, Brian was a familiar figure at Reading University and found a common interest in music with Andy Revell and his friends Rick Battersby and Geoff Mann. This led to Andy & Brian’s winning performance at the annual student ‘battle of the bands’ competition in Feb 1978, and the rest, as they say, is history…
Brian Devoil performed 316 gigs with Twelfth Night between February 1978 and October 1987. The only member of the band to perform at every concert, he left the music business aged 33 and became an accountant.
A couple of years later, in an ironic twist of fate, Brian met Karen Meekings, a senior record company executive, now his wife. Brian points out a number of spooky co-incidences.
“The night Andy and I won the band competition my future wife Karen was in the audience. The following year I did the disco for her 21st birthday party, but it wasn’t until 1989, ten years later, that we actually met properly. At the time she was working at PolyGram TV, and prompted by my recollections found a copy of the ‘PolyGram dossier’ in her office! Although I occasionally suggested TN for her compilations, it wasn’t until she was at GTV that we finally found our way onto one of her releases, the critically acclaimed, Classic Rock presents Progressive Rock album released in 2005, featuring Love Song. I helped her put together the track listing; one reviewer who was clearly impressed said ‘it obviously wasn’t put together by an accountant’. He couldn’t have been more wrong!”
Brian and Karen married in 1995 and have two children Mariella and James born in 1997 & 1999 respectively. Karen’s career in the music business covered stints at EMI, CBS (now Sony) as well as PolyGram and GTV. She has marketed literally hundreds of albums, notching up total sales in the tens of millions. Karen now works for one of the biggest independent labels in the UK, Union Square Music.
“The Devoil family home is littered with gold discs,” laughs Brian, “but sadly none of them are for Twelfth Night!”