Tapping out a rhythm: Keane’s Richard Hughes

Something new from me. While the world is at a standstill I hope to be speaking to some people you may have seen or heard in a variety of contexts, but who also enjoy riding bikes.

First up is Richard Hughes, the drummer with British rock band, Keane. 

Richard is a life long cyclist, who has ridden Land’s End to John ‘o Groats, l’Etape du Tour and the Tour of Flanders sportive amongst others. He’s also a Campagnolo user, so clearly a man of taste.

After years building their sound, Keane hit the public consciousness in 2004 with their first single, “Somewhere Only We Know” which made number three in the UK charts, as well as being an international hit.

It was the opening song of their “Hopes And Fears” album, itself the first of four consecutive UK number one albums.

After the 2013 release of their “Best Of” collection the band all but split up, only reforming in 2019 with their fifth album, “Cause and Effect” and a tour. The tour’s US leg was curtailed by the pandemic, and a series of European festival appearances have also been cancelled.

The new songs are filled with heartbreaking, stop-you-in-your-tracks honesty and the band’s signature keyboard led melodies.

Richard and I talked music and the band, but I started by asking how he got into cycling.

RH: I can’t remember not having a bike. I can remember my Dad spray painting a bike in our garage when I was very little. It had a back pedal brake and the garden was quite steep, I remember pushing it up the garden and riding back down and doing massive skids and going over the bars!

I’ve always had bikes, and in London it’s just the best way to get around. I find gyms really boring but I can sit on my turbo for ages, stick a TV show on and that’s my lockdown exercise.

A few years ago I moved to south west London and in Pearson Cycles one of their mechanics said I should check out Kingston Wheelers, so I went along for a try out ride and loved it.

I’ve ridden with them for a while, but the years since I’ve become a Dad I’ve found it quite hard to get to club rides, though I’m still in touch with quite a few people at the club.

[Kingston Wheelers recently organised a lockdown indoor elevation challenge in aid of a local hospital charity, raising over £13,000. click here if you’d like to donate]

OR: How much do you ride when the world is normal?

RH: When I’m not touring I guess two or three times a week, plus bimbling round to the shops. We [Keane] had quite a long break and I did over 10,000 km for a couple of years running, so I got quite fit then, but as soon as we started music again it’s so time consuming that I don’t get the time.

OR: How many bikes do you own?

RH: I’ve got one on the turbo, which is the one I did Lands End to John o’ Groats on, then my Field which is my keep forever bike. It’s a steel custom and absolutely beautiful, so that’s my main road bike.

I’ve got two mountain bikes, one if I go out in the Surrey Hills, I’ve got my old Pace mountain bike frame, so that’s five, plus the cargo bike.

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Richard’s Field Cycles Custom road bike. Photo courtesy of Field Cycles fieldcycles.com

OR: What is your favourite bit of bike kit?

RH: I got prescription Oakleys a few years ago and it’s the best money I’ve ever spent, they’re quite expensive but actually they’re worth every penny, I wear them on every ride.

OR: What’s the best ride you’ve ever done?

RH: I went to France to do the Etape a few years ago, then I went down to Nice to have a holiday with my sister’s family and my wife, and I stopped at Ventoux on the way. I cycled over to Bedouin and went up Ventoux and and back down to Malaucène and back to the hotel in time for breakfast.

It was a beautiful, still morning, the sun was out but it wasn’t hot because I got up early. I grovelled up there, it took me about two hours, I didn’t have any concept of how far it was. Turns out it’s a really long way!

OR: Why play drums?

RH: When I was quite little a guy came to my school with with one of the first early electronic drum kits and he played all this crazy stuff, it was very impressive and it just stayed with me.

I was very good friends with my band mate Tim [Rice-Oxley] at school and and we got into music, the Pet Shop Boys, who ironically don’t have a drummer, The Beatles and Depeche Mode and I always seemed to focus on the drums.

I was quite a late starter, but my brain had been paying attention to drums from quite a young age but I didn’t pluck up the courage to ask if I could have lessons until I was about 16.

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In rehearsals for the Cause and Effect album (photo: Alex Lake, courtesy of Keane)

OR: What is your relationship with “Somewhere Only We Know”?

RH: I remember Tim playing it to me for the first time and thinking ‘this is a brilliant, brilliant song, I can’t believe you’ve written this.’

Travis very generously asked us to open for them on a big UK tour and it was just going on the radio at that time. We would play it last in our set and you could tell that the audience had heard it on the radio. It was just a wonderful time when things suddenly felt possible. 

It got to number three in the charts, and at the time you wouldn’t think that it would be one of ‘those’ songs, but it is sort of becoming one of the songs that people know even if they don’t know the band, which is crazy.

OR: I read you’d not played drums for a couple of years, how hard was it to get going again?

RH: Initially it sounded dreadful! It was quite hard picking it back up for the first week and then my body remembered how to do it. It’s very different when you’re on stage, but when you’re in the basement with your kit it’s amazing what muscle memory can do. It’s like riding a bike! 

OR: Like bikes drums are beautiful things. What is your favourite piece of kit?

RH: I have a beautiful snare drum that was made by my late drum tech for me. He painted it the same colour as the crazy Aston Martin I had at the time, the car’s long gone but the snare drum is the one that sits with my kit in the basement. 

That’s very precious just because of who made it for me, and it sounds great. It’s a beautiful tube lugged, ten lug solid shell maple snare.

OR: Have we heard it?

RH: We might be doing some things in quarantine and that involves me recording some drums at home just by putting an iPhone down by the kit, which works unbelievably well. So we’re trying to do that and you will hear Scott’s snare drum on that.

OR: How was it being on tour again after a few years?

RH: It was very different. We’ve all got kids, we’ve all got slightly different perspectives on life, we’re a bit more relaxed and a bit more easy on each other, and I love that. We had a lot of fun, the gigs had a celebratory feel, the audiences realised that we’re enjoying it and they were enjoying it more as well, it’s been awesome. 

The bottom line is that we got into music to play together because we like each other’s company and we like music, and it’s felt much more like that. Those last couple of years did feel like a bit of a grind.

It’s a shame to have been cut short [the tour], but we’re hoping next summer festivals will come back and if not maybe the American tour we had to curtail. Maybe there’ll be a chance to do those things again.

OR: How do you feel about Cause and Effect?.

RH: Tim has definitely not held back with this one, I couldn’t believe it when I heard some of the demos. In a way it made me feel bad for my friend, because it’s one thing writing this stuff as art or as a song, but this is a guy that I have known my whole life, and what he’d been through, it’s brutal.

There were a couple of other tracks that we started recording that we didn’t put on the record because they didn’t fit thematically with the journey that he’d been on. So we were thinking of a way of getting a couple of songs out before all this coronavirus stuff kicked off, so there might be some more stuff coming from the same sessions. 

Keane by Jon Stone 2020 1

Richard Hughes, far left with Keane (Photo: Jon Stone, courtesy of Keane)
Main photo: Richard Hughes in stage with Keane (Photo: Jon Stone, courtesy of Keane)

 

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