Henry Danowski

Old Bedalian 2003

Henry Danowski started to play the drums at the age of seven, long before Bedales would play a part in shaping his musical ambitions. “My parents made me do it when I was young, partly I suppose, because I was always so full of energy,” Henry recalls. “At that age, of course, I wasn’t thinking about drumming in a particularly musical way.”

Arriving at Bedales at the age of 13, Henry found that the all-round ethos of the school suited his natural temperament. “When I had first visited Bedales, it reminded me of the campus atmosphere that I’d seen my brother enjoy at university in the US, so I was quite excited to be going there,” he says. “Looking back, I think that I just wanted to play the drums and I wasn’t too good at being told what to do, but because the school generally allowed me to organise my own time, I tried my hand at everything that I could.”

Bedales’ strong emphasis on the arts would appear to have been tailor made for a boy who is the grandson of one of the twentieth century’s towering artistic figures, Henry Moore. However, such a distinguished lineage can be accompanied by impossible expectations. “My grandfather died when I was very young, so I didn’t know him, although I’m extremely proud to be associated with him,” Henry observes. “People did expect me to be naturally good at art and my siblings were all following creative paths, but I soon realised that I was into more conceptual things than painting and drawing. I enjoyed the outdoor work at Bedales and loved the theatre, but I was never that good academically, which probably made me doubly determined to succeed with my drumming.”

There’s no doubt that it shaped me and, I’d like to think, shaped me for the better

 

By Block 4, Henry had realised that music was something that could be a long-term proposition. In his last year at Bedales, he and the 16 year-old Stephen Davidson started a musical association which was to remain at the centre of his life until the present day. “Stephen was into stuff like Idlewild and I wanted to study jazz in America, but we somehow connected and organised a tour around the UK,” Henry says of the origins of the band Tellison. “We were quite ambitious, looking back, but thanks to the internet, we did that tour with another band from Scotland and continued to play even after I went to university in the States.”

Berklee College of Music in Boston was another eye-opening experience for the young Henry. “In the end, I’d been quite a big fish in a small pond at Bedales,” he relates, “but at university, everyone was ridiculously talented, which came as a bit of a shock! My Bedalian upbringing helped me, though. You had to be self-reliant at university and seek out the right choices from a huge variety of options, which was just the same at Bedales. I was still into my jazz, people like Elvin Jones and Art Blakey, and increasingly, performing, rather than studying, became my biggest focus.”

Summer gigs during university vacations were soon followed by a year off for Henry, during which Tellison recorded their first studio album, Contact! Contact! Despite returning to Berklee for a third year, Henry was now launched into life as a career musician. “I think we realised quite quickly that being number one wasn’t going to be the be-all and end-all for us,” he ruminates. “We were lucky that people came to our shows and liked us, but we weren’t necessarily seeking critical acclaim, even though there’s a part of you that imagines that the next record might be the one that really makes your name. We do it because we enjoy it.”

Tellison is, in fact, just one element of Henry’s extensive musical career. A prolific session musician, he has a number of side projects to complement his principal thread. “I get involved in anything from hand percussion to electronic music,” he explains. “It’s a matter of fingers and pies. I feel that I should spread myself as widely as possible; what I don’t want to be is just another 40 year-old drummer a decade or so from now. Probably about 70% of what I do is music – the rest is devoted to helping out with the running of the Henry Moore Family Collection.”

Henry is at pains to stress his love for his profession, but he retains a clear head about it. “I do love it, but it is my work as well, so I have to try and keep things fresh and creative. I don’t want to be playing the same stuff. What you’re looking for when you’re on stage is that magical feeling that you have really made a connection with other people. There might have been a time when every gig was an event; now, I definitely feel that I need something to feed off.”

If he is conscious of a growing maturity in assessing his present and future, Henry has also been given particular recent cause to reflect on his past. “I’ve just got married,” he reveals, “to another Old Bedalian, as it happens. “We got together in our last year at school and it adds to the pleasure that I feel when I look back at my time at Bedales. There’s no doubt that it shaped me and, I’d like to think, shaped me for the better.”

Henry Danowski was interviewed by James Fairweather in October 2013.