Robert Heaton

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Robert Heaton
Robert Heaton - New Model Army (1989)
Robert Heaton - New Model Army (1989)
Background information
Birth nameRobert Charles Heaton
Born(1961-07-06)6 July 1961
Knutsford, Cheshire, U.K
OriginBradford, West Yorkshire, U.K
Died4 November 2004(2004-11-04) (aged 43)
Bradford, West Yorkshire, U.K
Occupation(s)Drummer, songwriter, musician
Years active1982–2004
Associated actsNew Model Army, Hawkwind

Robert Charles Heaton (6 July 1961 – 4 November 2004) was an English musician best known as the drummer in the English rock band New Model Army (NMA). Besides being the drummer for the band, Heaton was also responsible for much of the band's songwriting, contributing particularly heavily towards the musical content of the album Thunder and Consolation. He was probably the first person to play a synchronous drum and harmonica solo, doing so in the song 'Shot 18' on the No Rest for The Wicked tour.

Although Heaton was the fourth drummer in New Model Army he was the band's first touring and recording drummer, featuring on all albums from the band's first; 'Vengeance', released in 1984, until their seventh 'Strange Brotherhood', which was released in 1998, shortly before his departure due to health related reasons. Heaton also drummed for Hawkwind for a brief period in the 1980s, featuring on 'The Earth Ritual Preview' which was recorded in late 1983 and released in 1984.


Early years[edit]

Heaton was born in Knutsford, Cheshire and lived in Canada and Belgium as a child. He was musically gifted, eventually mastering the guitar and harmonica as well as the drums, for which he is better-known, and also played keyboards and fiddle. Heaton began playing guitar and drumming along to his dad's collection of trad jazz recordings. He developed a very eclectic musical taste, taking in obvious rock influences like Led Zeppelin and ZZ Top but also but also the country music of Johnny Cash and classical composers; Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi.


Heaton worked as a drum technician for Hawkwind from 1981 through to 1983. However following the departure of Ginger Baker in 1981, and the band's de facto leader Dave Brock's increasing frustration at the inability of several replacements to keep perfect time, Heaton and The Cure's Andy Anderson filled the position for a brief period. With Heaton recording the 'The Earth Ritual Preview' EP with the band in 1983, and performing with them at that year's Stonehenge Free Festival, deputising for Andy Anderson. Heaton left the band in 1983 in order to focus fully on his new project New Model Army whom he had joined in 1982, replacing previous drummer Rob Waddington.

New Model Army[edit]

In 1982 Heaton joined New Model Army who had formed in late 1980 but had yet to find any real success. Heaton's arrival, however marked the start of NMA's professional era, the band had previously had a few other drummers, but had released no music during this time. Having spent several years as back line roadie and tour manager for several other bands, including Hawkwind, he brought professional experience to the band's touring life and was responsible for their hiring of their long-term tour manager 'Tommy T' Walker, a fellow member of the Bradford St George's and Bradford Univ TSA stage crew. Together with frontman Justin Sullivan, Heaton was the core of the Bradford-based band, originally alongside Stuart Morrow on bass and then later with Jason 'Moose' Harris. Heaton's wide-ranging musical interests are manifested in the music for the anthemic "Green and Grey" as well as co-writing with Sullivan and others the New Model Army singles; ""Brave New World" (Sullivan, Heaton, Harris, Denby), "51st State" (Sullivan, Heaton, Harris, Cartwright), "Poison Street" (Sullivan, Heaton), "White Coats"(Sullivan, Heaton, Harris), "Space" (Sullivan, Heaton, Nelson) and "Here Comes the War" (Sullivan, Heaton, Nelson). He was responsible for many of NMA's best-known compositions, which are still played nowadays at their gigs. He left NMA in 1998 due to health reasons - he had long suffered from sarcoidosis, undergoing repeated surgery, and was then diagnosed with a brain tumour - and was replaced on drums by his roadie Michael Dean. Though the surgery on his brain tumour was successful, he was advised by his surgeons that he would be unlikely to play musical instruments professionally for several years, which ultimately resulted in the end of his career with New Model Army.

Work after New Model Army[edit]

Following his illness Heaton began a successful landscape gardening business and eased himself back into music, initially as a New Deal adviser, then producer and recorder of local bands in Bradford under the 'Fresh Milk' project, eventually launching a touring and recording band called 'the Gardeners of Eden' shortly before he died. The demo recording for the Gardeners of Eden remains unreleased, but copies are held by his family.[citation needed]


Having faced prolonged health issues including; sarcoidosis which had required several surgeries, and the brain tumour (and successful surgery to remove the tumour) which had forced his departure from New Model Army in 1998, Heaton died of pancreatic cancer on 4 November 2004 at the age of 43, leaving a wife Robin and son Marlon. Tributes to Heaton came in from all over the world, and he received obituaries in numerous publications including; The Independent, The Times and MOJO magazine.


New Model Army[edit]

Studio albums