Ted Frickleton

By: Janine Knap Blues  05-Apr-2012

For a man who has been teaching drums for more than 20 years, Ted Frickleton admits he never really had any grand plans to instruct Palmerston North's youth in the art of keeping time. He tells Jono Galuszka how a cinema upgrade, an annoying guitarist and his old high school gave him a career in music.

When Ted Frickleton first came to Palmerston North from Christchurch in 1966, he had long hair and a passion for British bands like The Beatles, but no plans for taking up the drums.

Forty-five years later, the man some call "Steady Teddy" has carved himself a unique niche in the Manawatu music scene.

He is Palmerston North's most in-demand tutor, plays with musicians all over the region and is on a first-name basis with international drumming heavyweights Steve Smith and Pete Magadini.

But the journey started with guitarist and Queen Elizabeth College schoolmate Kevin Downing badgering him into buying a run-down Star drum kit, complete with old-school cow-hide skins.

"I had no idea how to even set the thing up," he says.

"Kevin saw me after a week and asked `how's the kit'?  I said it was good, but it was sitting in a pile in the corner of my room."

After getting Kevin to set his kit up, Ted practised hard before he began playing in bands around town for a few years.

However, he quit the music business temporarily after getting constantly ripped off.

"You know, bar owners saying `sorry, we can't pay you this week'," he says, with a disbelieving eye-roll.

He went off to work as a film projectionist, but decided to give that up after nine years, when new technology made his job as good as redundant.

"I didn't want to push play, then go sweep the floor and sell popcorn," he says.

So, in 1984, he decided to get back into the music industry, once again providing the backbeat for various bands.

Over the years Ted has played with New Zealand  entertainment legends Rodger Fox and John Rowles, and has also worked as Centrepoint's drum technical adviser. The whole time, Kevin  who is now the city's premier guitar tutor  kept hassling Ted to get into teaching.

"People would ring Kevin and say `do you know any drum tutors?' He would reply `sure do, but he hasn't started teaching yet'."

In 1988, he got a call from his old college asking him to give drum lessons.

His response: "Eh? Me?"

After taking that first teaching job, things snowballed for Ted, with schools across the region requesting his services.

He has scaled things back a bit lately though, giving up Saturday morning lessons to  avoid some dhembarrassing moments.

"I fell asleep [while teaching] a kid once .. but when you play a gig on Friday night, you may finish at 12am and you don't get home until two and aren't in bed until 2.30am."

Performing is something Ted  sees as an important part of learning an instrument. "What I'm trying to teach the students, after they can play a bit, is how to perform," he says.

"If you're not performing, it's just a bedroom hobby."

He tries to get out to see his students perform as much as possible, but does his best to stay out of sight to ensure they play how they usually do.

"If they see who I am, they're more likely to either play harder or pull back," he says.

His students hold much love for him, more often than not giving him credit on their recordings.

"I've probably appeared on more recordings in name than in person," he says.

Over his 23 years of teaching, Ted has noticed a change in what people want to learn.

"Everybody wants to be able to set off and start playing songs right off," he says.

But he tries to get his students to learn the basics, which he compares with an All Blacks performance.

"In the Rugby World Cup when they played the semifinal, they played the basics right and it was magic.

"It's the same in music  you always should play the basics."

Teaching can be trying for Ted, even after "tens of thousands" of lessons, but he loves it all the same.

"I love [teaching and performing] equally, but teaching is stressful," he says.

"When performing, I blow it all out.

"That's why I do it  I love banging the tubs."

Ted plans to bang away for as long as he can, which does worry a few people.

"I'll go into my bank and they'll ask me if I have a retirement plan," he says.

"I just tell them, `when I retire, I'll expire'."

Published courtesy of Manawatu Standard.

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