Sunday, 19 September 2021

 

How have you managed during the Covid-19 pandemic?


I have tried to make the best of it. Progressed some writing and recording for the next release whether that’s Theme Tune Boy or something else. But the week before the world shut down I'd had a small cyst removed from an index finger joint and it wasn't entirely successful meaning I'd have to go back for another go when the world re-opened. So lockdown rolls on into late summer and I went for a swim in the Headrace Canal near my home just outside Limerick, near Ardnacrusha Power Station in Co Clare.. Next thing I know I've a gangrenous looking septic infection that's right the way into my bones and I'm in hospital in Cork hooked up to IV antibiotics and they're slicing dead bits off the finger. It was insane!. A year later, I still have the finger but it's still a bit of a zombie with a mind of its own. I got the ability to hold a drumstick back handy enough but guitar and bass are going to prove a longer road. So I did the only thing that seemed logical to me -I wrote a song about it. More an essay really. Somewhere between Alice's Restaurant, Alien and The Walking Dead. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMHKyG0Udn0


When did you start drumming?

I started building my own practice kit at home from plastic tubs when I was 14. The first time I got to use an actual drumkit was the night before a live performance on the back of a truck in Limerick city centre. Soon after, my dad backed me with money. I'm sure he couldn't spare to get me a tiny Striker beginners set. He also gave me his drumsticks and céili block -he and his family were quite musical and involved in Ceoltas. I made shit of his sticks and céili block in no time -pretty much using it as a cowbell. Luckily I did a bit of woodwork in art college and was able to do a tidy restoration on the block at least.

 

How would you describe your drumming style?

Probably for others to say, but I'd guess they might say, historically at least, I'm in the Vera Duckworth range when it comes to subtlety and nuance. Though in more recent years I think I've developed something of a gearbox I can shift through. I did drums and percussion with my friend David Irwins, Tom Waits -the early years Tribute some years back which put it up to me a bit to consider creative alternatives to 'leathering' everything. I also play club gigs with a DJ and they can be long shows so it's better to start with a lighter palette and build up.
But generally I'm probably regarded as an old school heavy hitter and I think there's also a strong enough association with using twin kicks as well which is funny as I can't blast beat AT ALL. I mostly play them as Keith Moon did -knocking out a string of 8s.  It helps that being a songwriter I can build in bits for the couple of modest tricks I can do. There's an urban myth in Limerick (that I did nothing to reign in of course) according to which I was "banned" from playing drums at school masses because I went full-on 'Won't Get Fooled Again' on closing hymn 'Walk In the Light'. Also have a rep for having a "wide" set up with one drummer colleague remarking "your hi-hats are in a different time zone to your china but fair play you get around them". It's one of my favourite compliments along with someone messaging me to say "jaysis Niall, you're handy as a small pot on them drums" 

Who inspired you to take up drums?

I suppose the bands I was listening to in my early teens in the mid 80s. I think Vom Ritchie from Doctor & The Medics was the first person I used listen to that had me distinctly going "I wanna play drums" as opposed to any other instrument. I think I imagined it'd be easier than guitar the same way some people think bass will be easier coz it's only got four strings. But I started tapping along with my hands or improvised sticks to things like The Cult 12"s of Rain and She Sells Sanctuary. Those 12"s were very useful in terms of breaking the whole thing down into manageable chunks. Not just drumming either -guitar, bass, composition itself. 


Who are your favourite musicians?  

As well as the aforementioned Vom I suppose in my earlier days playing in my teens it would've been Keith Moon for the sheer energy as well as Mitch Mitchell and Ian Paice. 

As I got older I'd have gotten into the metallers like Philthy Taylor, then Lars Ulrich, Charlie Benante, Dave Lombardo, Igor Cavalera. A huge one in later teens for me would have been Fyfe Ewing from Therapy?. Fyfe has the power of metal, the nihilism of punk and the groove of dance. He brought it all to the party.

 

What are your favourite songs / albums?

Ooh I've lots of those. Some not all that 'drummy'. Many of my favourite albums are by Half Man Half Biscuit 'Achtung Bono' and 'Urge For Offal' just for starters. Other albums that get spins uninterrupted are Bizarro by The Wedding Present, London 0 Hull 4 by The Housemartins, Mellon Collie by Smashing Pumpkins, Master of Puppets by Metallica, The It Girl by Sleeper, Murder Ballads by Nick Cave and and the absolute timeless belter that is Exile On Coldharbour Lane by Alabama 3.

As for individual songs - I'll never be able to play along to Slayers 'Angel of Death' properly but I like to try. I'm getting better at Metallicas 'Battery'. I love to play along to dance music -mainly big beat stuff like Fatboy, Prodigy ,Chemical Bros and 90's techno as well. Myself and Eric (The Hitchers guitarist) gig together in the guise of Decks&Drums where he spins the tunes and I leather away. We play the coolest of the cool to cheesiest of the cheese. It's too much fun and people seem to really enjoy it.


What drum gear do you use?

I've had the same kit since I rescued it out of a couple of inches of water in a coal bunker in 1988 though these days it's just the shellpack itself I use. It's a late 60's Japanese made student kit they used to make under the name Morris. I did a bit of research and found the shells are made of Indonesian mahogany ply -so they're pretty heavy. I'd to do a little restoration on some of the shells. When younger I always hoped to trade up eventually and I used be obsessed with Premier Resonators as a teenager. I had my midlife crisis in my 30's where I began obsessing over obtaining Ludwig Vistalites despite the fact I was drumming relatively rarely at that time.
Eventually I realised me and the Morris' are like an old age couple at this stage. I can't imagine playing anything else and it'd be vulgar to the point of treacherous to replace them now.  Its shells which had a damaged but beautiful mother of pearl wrap have long since been crudely covered in the posters and smash hits song lyrics off teenage Nialls bedroom wall in a homage of sorts to Keith Moons Pictures of Lily kit. I used to use two kicks but the second bass drum was always the first thing thrown out of the van when we got stuck for space so my band mates indelicately manoeuvred me to a twin kick pedal back in the mid 90's and I never looked back. My current Double-kick pedal is a Hayman. The rest of the kit is a 22" kick, 12" and/or 13" toms and a 16" floor. I use a 14" x 5" blue-olive badge Ludwig Supraphonic snare and I swear I wouldn't swap it for a Black Beauty.  

 

The hardware has been gradually replaced by Pearl stuff over the years. I know they make fabulous drums that record beautifully yet I've always found Pearl drums just not to my taste. But their hardware I've always found excellent in cost/quality terms. I do actually have an 18" Pearl floor tom which gets used as often as a kick with a jungle jig for dance gigs. But the Morris', which are skinned with a mix of Ambassadors, Diplomats and Emperors plus a pinstripe on the kick with Remo muffles on both ends to tighten the punch, have a superb and somewhat 'lively' sound that is very much of its era -sounds great with a 70s Glam Rock gig I've sat in on. It also puts that fear of god face on soundmen which is absolute gravy to me. I like to spoof them some pseudo-scientific drummer bullshit when they express concern and offer gaffa tape like "Oh no, no, it's imperative they're never tuned -but just left on the stage to 'room up' like a nice beaujolais".

Pretty much all my cymbals are Paiste which I presume your readers know is pronounced Pie-Stee and neither Paste, Pash-tee nor Páistí. I used have an endorsement deal with Paiste back in The Hitchers days but lost touch with 'my guy' there who I think moved on to C&C. I wish I'd taken further advantage of it to obtain some smaller and faster crashes. But I used get 18" heavy crashes -absolute bin lids because a lot of the time I was competing with a wall of Marshall Amps in semi-amplified/smallish PA setups. Among my crashes I've a vintage 18" Giant Beat crash/ride I picked up from an old jazzer. I rarely use it for rock gigs but for mellower stuff you can crash it, ride it, swish it. It's super. 

The only non-Paiste cymbal I own is a a 14" Meinl wafer thin crash a friend quite generously gave me that I use for the club gigs. It cuts through everything, super-fast decay. In-out. 
So my cymbal set up for The Hitchers and any other live rock gigs would be 2002(top)/Rude (bottom) combo 14" hats, 12" Signature Flanger Bell (tiny bin lid that cuts through EVERYTHING! Long decay mind. As Nigel Tufnel said you can go for a bite and that'll still be going) and to avoid a forest of cymbal stands that shares a boom with a 16" 900 dark Crash. Similarly sharing a boom over the other side are an 18" 2002 Crash and an 18" Rude China the latter of which I got 2nd hand for IR£80 in 1993 and it's still hitting me back. I alternate between a 20" Signature or 2002 Heavy Ride though I sometimes use both -more overhanging than stacked so I can play 16ths jiggling a stick up and down between them. 

 

What advice would you give someone wanting to take up drumming?


If you can dance you can drum, and I mean if you can dance at all as in sway in time to a piece of music -then you can drum. Drumming is articulated dancing is all. 
Also -protect your hearing from day one. There's nothing rock'n'roll about tinnitus. 


What advice would you give someone starting out in music?

 I used give a standard smart-arsed answer to this along the lines of "don't take any advice from beaten dockets like Niall Quinn".  But then I heard a story about the second world war that gave me pause for thought. Its a story of incomplete datatsets really. The allies were concerned about the number of planes they were losing on raids over Europe. Unsustainable losses. So trying to enhance survival chances they looked at the damage sustained by the planes that made it back and made a chart or diagram that mapped out the most common areas of damage to the planes. They were about to embark of a program of adding heavy armor plating to those locations when someone cried 'STOP'.-having realised that's where the planes that survived were hit. That means it must be possible to survive being hit in those locations and inversely it must be impossible (or at least unlikely) to survive being hit in the places those planes HAD NOT taken damage. They added armor to the locations showing little damage in their charts. Survival rates shot up. So the planes and crews that never made it back still provided data that saved others. So I guess that makes me one of the planes that never made it home and therefore I may actually have useful data to contribute. In that spirit and with the caveat that I'm in my late 40's, can't work Instagram and the landscape of the music business has changed beyond recognition to when I started out here goes...


- Be more generous and open than I was with the ideas, suggestions and creative inputs of your bandmates. They are your greatest asset and are as invested in your success as you are.

-Turn up on time.

 

-In any and every contract you're offered don't presume the independent legal advice you will of course be getting will spot everything. Have each band member who will be signing the contract go through it counting and highlighting every instance of the word ALL. Now each of you write out what you understand the sentences containing the word ALL to mean. Where differences of interpretation occur seek clarification until you have consensus. With consensus reached -you now have your battleground. You'll want as many of those "ALL"s as possible changed to something like "certain specified" or "certain defined". 


-Work as hard as you can, play as hard as you like and set reasonable boundaries between the two. It took a long time, far too long, for the penny to drop with me that "heh ...the barman isn't pissed, the girl on the door isn't pissed, neither are security. So -why am I pissed?" Now when your work is done -drink paint for all I care. There's no Just Say No lectures from me beyond suggesting you make informed choices on what you put in your body. But respect the fact you've chosen to work in an industry that floats on alcohol. 
And beyond that I'm afraid I really haven't a clue. Noel Redding once said "Eat well, sleep well and try not to get your dick caught in your zip". I think that advice has held up well. 

 

 


What is the music scene like in Limerick at the moment?


As ever It's very, very good. I'm not one of these people who imagines golden ages for bands or music or whatever. Limerick has always had loads of creative people doing exciting stuff in any and every genre. What can ebb like the tide a bit is opportunities for those creatives to show what they can do and develop -be that access to venues putting on gigs or recording facilities or even rehearsal spaces -the latter of which ironically there are often more of in economic downturns. But a lot of those boxes seem to be ticked at the moment and hopefully more so as the world opens up a bit. Limerick has always had it covered with the indie-guitar based thing and singer/songwriters but there's a thriving hip-hop scene now too that's given rise to the Make a Move festival and sure the whole world has heard of Denise Chaila by now. And metal has always been chugging away in the background thriving just fine in the dark -and Siege of Limerick which happens twice a year when the clocks change has become a cultural jewel in the crown. 

 

What’s next on the horizon?


Well I'm still writing and recording and getting over damage to the left hand. 2022 will see the 25th anniversary Vinyl re-issue of The Hitchers first album It's All Fun and Games Til Someone Loses An Eye so I'm looking forward to doing some gigs around that.

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