There likely weren’t many impassioned “Where’s Bev?” cries at the several dozen shows Electric Light Orchestra founder Jeff Lynne performed as “Jeff Lynne’s E.L.O.” during 2015 and 2016, and that’s understandable. Though longtime drummer Bev Bevan formed the Electric Light Orchestra with Lynne out of the ashes of his previous group, the great psychedelic-era English combo the Move—which Lynne joined in its latter stages—the pair hadn’t shared a stage or recorded together since the mid-’80s. Besides, to the rock world at large, E.L.O. was always viewed as Lynne’s baby—a vehicle for his baroque-meets-Beatles ambitions. His supporting cast wasn’t a primary concern, especially after a long absence from the stage.
But know this, rock world at large: Bevan was a central force in helping his fellow Birmingham, England, native achieve those grand ambitions and forge an instantly identifiable sound. It’s not just the strings that help you spot an E.L.O. song within eight bars. Bevan’s big beat is also a calling card, especially on rockers like “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “Do Ya.” And there are many dimensions to his drumming. He could supply power, elegance, a convincing disco groove—whatever Lynne’s songs required.
Even before he crossed paths with Lynne, Bevan was lighting a frantic fire beneath the Move with Keith Moon–inspired bashing and a fearless approach that suited leader Roy Wood’s creative whimsy. If you’re not familiar with the Move—understandable, as they never had much of a commercial impact in the U.S.—the recently released CD/DVD compilation Magnetic Waves of Sound: The Best of the Move is a great jumping-off point.
As if charter membership in E.L.O. and the Move didn’t already amount to a sterling CV, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Bevan’s cup-of-coffee stint on tubs with Black Sabbath during the band’s Born Again tour of 1983–84. Though recorded documentation of his tenure with the metal pioneers is limited to a bonus live disc on a Born Again reissue from 2011, it warrants mention because Bevan sounds as natural summoning the slow-burning menace in “Black Sabbath” as he does putting the Beatle-y bounce to E.L.O.’s “Turn to Stone.”
It’s been quite a career for Bevan, who still plays around the U.K. with various outfits, and hopefully his body of work will receive more recognition with E.L.O.’s recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Let’s break down ten choice performances.
“I Can Hear the Grass Grow,” the Move, 1967
The Move proved from the beginning that a band from rough-and-tumble Birmingham could produce mind-expanding pop to rival anything coming out of Swinging London circa 1967. Bevan’s insistent beat here—dig how he lays into the bell of the ride cymbal in the verses—serves notice that this is not some psychedelic trip through a field of daisies. This is psychedelic rock. He turns in a Moon-like performance in the bridge, rolling across the toms through the eight-bar breakdown, then snapping off a torrent of four-stroke snare rolls as the band kicks back in.
“Brontosaurus,” the Move, 1970
Bevan’s work on this lumbering slab of rock might be the reason he landed the Sabbath gig thirteen years later. He’s beautifully behind the beat at every turn—the main groove, his fills, and even the shift to double time. And the heft of his playing is mighty; it sounds like he’s smacking the tubs with cricket bats in a gravel pit. Yet it doesn’t feel like a standard-issue hard-rock song. Bevan’s natural swing makes it feel more like an early rock 45 being spun at 33 rpm on a poorly calibrated turntable. That’s probably what Roy Wood was after.
“Fields of People,” the Move, 1970
One of Bevan’s greatest achievements is this ten-plus-minute epic, which skips from a psychedelic approximation of English folk to proggy hard rock to, naturally, raga. The array of sick fills (especially the lightning-quick snare lick at the 5:39 mark) deserves notice, but it’s the cohesion Bevan gives this beast of a composition that’s most impressive. By sparing the subtleties and preciousness some drummers might apply to such a complex piece of music and simply hitting ’em hard throughout, Bevan makes the whole crazy business flow seamlessly.
“California Man,” the Move, 1971
Had Bevan not taken up membership in E.L.O. upon the Move’s demise, his work on “California Man” would suggest that he might have been well qualified to back up Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard. His early-rock roots are showing here, as he drags 8th notes across the snare and settles into that sweet spot between rocking and swinging like he’s tracking at Sun Studios in the mid-’50s. The triplets in the breaks before the first and second verses might be two of the tastiest drum licks Bevan’s ever played. The second set is particularly nuts, as he starts the pattern slightly after the 1 yet lands perfectly in time when the band kicks in.
“Dreaming of 4000,” E.L.O., 1973
Jeff Lynne completely goes for baroque on this early deep cut, requiring Bevan to unleash the full might of his skills. As shredding guitars, dramatic strings, wild synths, and beautiful melodies collide amid a succession of drastic changes, Bevan locks it down with creative touches. He taps out 16th notes on the hi-hats behind the heavy riff and plays a sweet little groove during one soft passage, with the snare landing on the “&” of 2 and kick hits on the “&” of 3 and on 4. He gets in some powerful flourishes too, like the Hal Blaine–style rolls in the chorus. It’s a truly grand performance.
“Showdown,” E.L.O., 1973
If you’re playing E.L.O. word association, groove and pocket probably won’t be the first words that spring to mind. But Bevan and the band do indeed lay down a sweet groove on “Showdown.” No fills or flash from Bevan here, just a fluid pocket created by alternating the kick pattern and making a subtle slide into double time for the chorus. It hints at some of the sweet grooves to come from the band later in the ’70s.
“Fire on High,” E.L.O., 1975
Though it never achieved the stadium-rock ubiquity of “We Will Rock You” or “Rock and Roll Part 2,” this instrumental from 1975’s Face the Music was in regular rotation at U.S. sporting events for many years. Who knows how many late-game comebacks were directly inspired by the track’s ominous energy, but thousands definitely thrilled to Bevan’s thundering groove and dramatic fills, from the powerful flam pattern that ushers in the half-time section at the top to the busier figures he plays as the song builds. Fun fact: The backward message at the beginning of the song on the album version is Bevan saying, “The music is reversible but time is not. Turn back. Turn back. Turn back. Turn back.” That was probably just as crucial to establishing his cred for the Sabbath gig as his work on “Brontosaurus.”
“Telephone Line,” E.L.O., 1976
E.L.O. found massive success with a string of beautiful ballads where Bevan showed first-rate skills at handling the grandeur of Lynne’s slow and pretty stuff. He’s at the peak of his ballad-playing powers on “Telephone Line,” giving the soaring melody an extra lift with a down-tempo groove that swings, and elegant fills—like that neatly delivered four-stroke tumble on the toms before the second verse—that don’t disturb the classic track’s sweet sway.
“Mr. Blue Sky,” E.L.O., 1977
Bevan’s free-and-easy shuffle provides a solid foundation for so many moving parts in this dense production, from the “A Day in the Life”–type elements (the rhythmic panting, the clang of a fire extinguisher) to those from Lynne’s sonic playbook (the vocoder solo, the choral explosion, the symphonic rock postscript). It’s so simple, but it’s so swinging. The busiest Bev gets here is the “ting, ting-a-ting” on the ride cymbal during that choral explosion, which still feels like a solid payoff.
“Shine a Little Love,” E.L.O., 1979
Established rock bands were embracing disco with varying degrees of success in the late ’70s. “Shine a Little Love” is right up there with “Miss You” as one of the top rock-disco fusions, thanks in large part to Bevan’s propulsive groove. His four-on-the-floor game is strong, and he drops brilliant, subtle bits throughout, especially the snare fills he plays into the top of the choruses before crashing on the 2, and the hi-hat kicks on 1 and 3 in the instrumental interludes.