Words by Hugh Jones

Newport, May 2020

For a while I lived next door to a drummer in a rock and roll band. We became mates.

To be accurate, at this time Stephan Fidock’s rock and roll days were mostly behind him and his drumsticks appeared to be in retirement. But he’d had an exciting past, including with The Reels in the early ‘80s, and then Sacred Cowboys in the ‘90s. He’d toured the world and had been on Countdown.

When he moved in next door, around the early 2000s, Steph was working for a union as an organiser. Sometimes I’d meet him on my way to work as he was coming home from having worked through the early hours of the morning talking to migrant cleaners at Melbourne’s hotels about their rights and entitlements. Usually he was tired and angry that so many of these vulnerable workers were being exploited by some of our richest employers.

He liked cooking so we often socialised over food; he introduced us to delights such as barbecued eggplant strips wrapped around ricotta.

We didn’t always talk about music as I sensed a history there he was keen to let rest, but it was fun when we did. He told me Burt Bacharach himself had congratulated The Reels for their version of This Guy’s in Love, but only many years later did I discover Steph had sung La Mer on that same album, Beautiful.

One night we sat around the dinner table deciding the playlist of the Great Australian Songbook. (“We’d have to include Khe Sanh, wouldn’t we?” “Yeah, have to.”) Another night he brought around one of Johnny Cash’s last albums, mesmerised by the passion in his voice. We went to see Bob Dylan together, a favourite of our wives.

One day he arrived on our doorstep to say he and wife Ros were extending their house and the renovation would include a small bungalow music room. It was tastefully built and they sportingly paid for our shared fence to be replaced. It heralded something of a return to music for him; the union job was wearing him down.

Some high-calibre musicians started turning up at Steph’s place. People like RocKwiz/Models bass player Mark Ferrie, former Ferrets frontman Billy Miller and Models leader Sean Kelly would jam away in the allegedly sound-proofed bungalow. (We reached a compromise that rehearsals would finish about dinner time.) The guys would pick up gentle gigs in local pubs.

Steph harboured a passion to hand-craft his own drums, and bit by bit the rehearsal bungalow next door became a workshop for building these beautiful wooden drums, lovingly shaped and sanded by Stephan himself. Fidock Handcrafted Drums became his second career – less lucrative than union organising but so much more satisfying.

Around the time I turned 50, Steph used his influence with Brian Nankervis to get me an audition on RocKwiz. Remarkably, I won my way on to the show and ended up on the winning team (beating the opposition led by Normie Rowe). On the same night, they filmed an episode with Steph’s old Reels frontman Dave Mason. Dave was in very unpredictable form, taking all the wiles of host Julia Zemiro to keep him on topic.

I can’t remember why, but Stephan and Ros moved away from our street, first to St Kilda and then to a little cottage in Maldon that Steph had found on the internet. Sadly, we saw much less of them both, but Stephan was good at Facebook which kept us in contact. He made these quirky little films where he’d detail the features and virtues of particular drum set-ups, all the while taking deep, long drags of his cigarette. I joked with him it was the smoke that made all the difference.

Steph liked the peace and quiet of Maldon, where he could sit in the sun with his cat and his dog, or retreat to the shed to polish another drum or tap away on the skins. Occasionally he played with local musos at venues around central Victoria.

Just a few months ago we heard Steph was sick, very sick, but we didn’t expect his death to come so quickly. Regretfully, I hadn’t had a good chat with him for almost two years.

Ros and his two sons didn’t let the coronavirus restrictions stop them from having a “do” for Steph (their word). Last week a dozen or so people gathered safely in the front garden at Maldon while many more of us Zoomed in from home, including his brother from New York. Mark Ferrie spoke and Billy Miller sang This Guy’s in Love.

All of us shed tears.

 

Stereo Story #511

Photo sourced from Fidock Hand Crafted Drums website.

 

Hugh Jones is an experienced media manager and journalist. He worked for News Limited in Australia for more than 20 years in a wide variety of editorial roles, including as a newspaper editor. He has also worked in the United Kingdom, both in London and the provinces. He now works in public relations and strategic communications, advising a wide range of organisations on their communication needs.