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5 December 1959|
Sheffield, England, United Kingdom
14 January 2012 (aged 52)|
|Occupation(s)||Drummer, music producer|
|Associated acts||Alphaville, Skunk Anansie, Diamond Head|
Robbie France (5 December 1959 – 14 January 2012) was an English drummer, producer, arranger, journalist, music educator, and broadcaster.
France was born in Sheffield, and emigrated to Australia in March 1972. He studied at the National Academy of Rudimentary Drummers of Australia until 1974, under tutor Harry Lebler. At the age of fifteen, he began to teach at the Australian Academy of Music (1974–1975).
While living and travelling in Australia, France formed the jazz-fusion group, Carnival, performed at the Oz Jazz Festival, and supported John McLaughlin. He worked with Stevie Wright of the Easybeats, Marty Rhone, Tim Gaze, and other major Australian artists. He amassed over 1,000 television, radio, and advertising credits, including eight documentaries and four film scores, including Band on the Run, one of the most successful surfing films ever made.
France left Australia in 1982 to return to England, where he joined Diamond Head the following year. Part of the NWOBHM movement, they performed at Castle Donington Monsters of Rock, then went on to record their third album, Canterbury. He played on the hit single "Making Music". Despite the bitter end of Diamond Head, France had nothing but good memories of band members Sean Harris and Brian Tatler. France stated, "I was a green, rather naive kid from Brisbane who was suddenly on stage in front of 90,000 people baying for metal... they got us', referring to the new sound of DH reflected in the recordings of Canterbury. Poorly managed and seemingly drifting between genres of the music of the time, Diamond Head imploded and split."
It was at this point where France was noticed as an extraordinary player. He performed at the first triple headliner drum clinic with Simon Phillips & Steve White, worked with Motown UK's C.E.O., 'Ivan Chandler's All Star Quintet' alongside Andy Hamilton. Also in the quintet were Spike Edney, and Mike Ashley. Playing at various venues around London, including Nick Rhodes' wedding party. In 1984 France toured with UFO, replacing Andy Parker.
Leaving UFO in 1985, he formed One Nation with Kipper (now Sting's producer). France stated, 'Kipper is a true genius [sic?]. That's such an overused cliché in our business, but with Kip it's clear he knew he was special and eventually he proved to everybody he was right. I loved him then... and I still do.' They worked together at Tony Visconti's studio in Soho, London on a fabulous array of recordings. One Nation were being managed by Bill Lawrie, a well-known figure in the music trade. But the crunch came when France's wife, Annette, was asked to leave One Nation and he felt compelled to leave with her. By now France was also teaching in drum clinics, usually on behalf of the Avedis Zildjian cymbal company.
He set up a teaching studio in Kingston upon Thames, where he worked with Gary O'Toole, Hugo Degenhardt, Gary Wallis, Mike + The Mechanics, Power Station, 10cc, Jean Michel Jarre, The Style Council, Gary Ferguson, Mark Price, Tim Burgess, touring through Europe & the UK as support act with Ellis, Beggs & Howard. France had started writing for magazines in Australia, at the age of fifteen. During 1987, he began a monthly column for the British drummer's magazine Rhythm. In 1987, France joined Ellis, Beggs, & Howard (E.B.H.), whose first single, "Big Bubbles No Troubles", won the Diamond Award for best new group.
It was around this time that France was asked to fill in for drummer Frank Tontoh with jazz saxophonist Jean Toussaint. Meeting up to open a venue called The Soho Jazz Shack, Jean asked France to play with him on a more permanent basis, as he (Toussaint) had a regular slot at the Dingwalls club in Camden Town on Sunday afternoons.
After E.B.H., in 1990 France joined Wishbone Ash, with whom he toured and commenced the recording of the album Strange Affair. However, friction occurred between France and Wishbone Ash bassist Martin Turner, resulting in France's dismissal from the band. He was replaced by Ray Weston, who was one of his students. He then joined Anxious Records' band, Pleasure, touring as support act to the Eurythmics. By this time, however, France felt too drained to commit to any more touring or recording work.
In 1991, after working with Simon Ellis (East 17, D:Ream, S Club 7) and others, on the set pieces for his popular drum clinics, France returned to Australia to form a solo jazz project, The Gab. Based loosely as a tribute to the jazz greats Elvin Jones and John Coltrane, their first album was recorded at EMI Studio 301 in July 1993.
In 1994, he returned to London, ostensibly to promote the solo project where he became a founder member of Skunk Anansie and recorded and co-produced their debut album Paranoid & Sunburnt. He co-wrote the hit track "Weak", which has since been covered by Rod Stewart. He also recorded the B-side, "Army of Me", with Björk.
France left Skunk Anansie in 1995, joining the German group Alphaville the next day. He toured and recorded with Alphaville until an accident in which he severed his Achilles tendon. He lived in Poland for over two years, hosting his own radio programme, and appearing on various television shows. In 1998, he moved to Mazarrón, Spain, to concentrate on writing his first novel. He was running Pulpo Negro Records, Pulpo Negro Publishing, Pulpo Negro Studios, GCBC Productions, with his partner, Tim Oldfield up until 2004. He produced the award-winning Spanish bands Second, Renochild, and Blue Aliens Temple, as well as Screw Coco. He also produced, wrote, and arranged for London-based artist Keke.
France broadcast for a number of different radio stations in Spain over the last decade including Costa Calida International and TKO Gold. His most resent preoccupation was a return to radio broadcasting for both Real Radio 95.6 FM in Torrevieja on the Costa Blanca and One Radio Spain on the Costa Calida, providing simulcasts between the two Costas. France's first novel, Six Degrees South was published on 7 December 2011.
France died on 14 January 2012 in Spain after reportedly suffering a ruptured aorta. He was 52.