Friday 30 December 2016

Stephen Whelan - Session Drummer and Professional Music Teacher

Currently based in Dublin, Stephen Whelan has worked as a session drummer all over the world. He begun his journey at the age of 14 learning from many experienced and well respected teachers. From 2012 Stephen spent four years touring worldwide with Irish band God Is An Astronaut and in 2015 he began teaching professionally. It is a combination of these experiences and hard work that have allowed Stephen to built up an impressive resume as he continues to become one of Ireland's leading teachers. Stephen has also created his own online interactive website for online tuition and prides himself on giving back to the drumming community while always trying to become a better drummer in the process .
Drums: Yamaha Absolute Hybrid Maple in Jade Green Sparkle
Sticks: Promark TX5AW
Cymbals Paiste Twenty Series 18" Crash Paiste Twenty Series 19" Crash Paiste 2002 14" Hi Hats Paiste 2002 20" Power Ride Paiste Swiss Flanger 14" Stack
Skins Kick - Evans 22" EQ3 Resonant Bass Drum BK Evans 22" EMAD2 Clear Bass Drum
Hi Tom - Evans 10" G2 Coated Tom Evans 10" Resonant Head Tom Clear
Middle Tom - Evans 12" G2 Coated Tom Evans 12" Resonant Head Tom Clear
Floor - Evans 16" B16G2 Genera G2 coated Evans 16" Resonant Head Tom Clear
Snare - Evans B14HD 14" Snare Drum Head Evans S14H30 14" Snare Resonant Head
Snare 2 - Evans 14" EC Edge Control Snare RD Evans S14H30 14" Snare Resonant Head

All Audix Microphones

Photo Credit - Chris Connolly

Tuesday 27 December 2016

Mark Grist- Professional Session Drummer/Teacher,Owner Drumshed Drum School.

Irish Drummers; Mark, when did you start playing drums?
I started playing at 4yrs of age, early influences through my Keyboardist Dad’s record collection, from The Beatles to Swing Jazz and all in between. By age 13, I was playing in his band. First  lessons at 7 years of age, rudiments training  at Dublin’s musician’s union with Peter Pringle and Mick Ward then studied with some of the top Jazz players of the time, John Murray at The Dublin Drum School and privately with  John Wadham. I also studied piano through The Royal Irish Academy of Music.

Irish Drummers; Can you tell us some of the artists you have played / performed with
In a career, now into it’s fourth decade, along with a huge array of working cover bands and shows I’ve played with and for a diverse variety of artists, musicians, producers and musical directors in the live studio recording, TV and movie soundtrack settings, the artists include; Dean Friedman, Michelle Heaton, Shush, Jacobs Ladder, Stano, Billy Farrell, Tony Perry, Tim Ambler, Tony McGuiness, Dickie Rock, Connor McKeon, The Legends Of Swing, Steven McKeon, The Camembert Quartet,etc.

Irish Drummers; You also provide drumming lessons  
I’ve been teaching from my own Drum studio here in Dublin for 20 years. I’ve had the privilege to teach  hundreds of drummers. Some former students of note include; Vinnie May, Rob Kennedy, Ian McTigue, Donal Bowens , James Mackin. On occasion I’ve also lectured on drum studio set up, in Pulse Recording Studios and Colaiste Dhuiligh Multi Media College.

Irish Drummers; Mark, can you tell us about your hybrid drum set up?
I’m one of the original guys using hybrid drum set-ups here in Ireland. From the beginning of the 80’s, Simmons Drums, right up to current Sample triggering technology etc, I’ve been a demonstrator for Roland V Drums at music exhibitions. As a Meinl cymbals endorsee, I’ve opened clinics for Mike Terrana and Thomas Lang. Depending on the application, I play Pearl and Ludwig vintage kits and Yamaha maple custom, Natal maple and ash kits and Roland TD30 and SPDSX se-ups.  I’m endorsed by Meinl Cymbals, Evans drumheads and Pro-mark Sticks.

Irish Drummers;  Mark, who are your drumming influences?
My influences are many and diverse, from song based drummers through to my love for Jazz funk fusion and progressive rock. Names include; Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl, Ricky Lawson, Stewart Copeland, Steve Gadd, Billy Cobham, Dennis Chambers, Omar Hakim, Simon Philips, Benny Greb, Johhny Rabb, Gavin Harrison, Phil Gould, Marco Minneman, Thomas Lang, Virgil Donati. I’m  continually influenced and inspired by all the amazing drummers both  past and present and the pupils that come through my door.  The list is endless. Some great Irish drummers I’ve been influenced by include; Brian Downey, Robbie Brennan, Fran Breen, Paul Moran and Paul McAteer.

Irish Drummers; What projects are in the pipeline for 2017?
Busy heading into 2017 as the drummer  with Prog-Rock band M-Opus, we’ll be gigging in support of our “1975 Tryptich” album while pre- production and recording work begins on our 2nd album. Regular gigging with “The Favours”,pit band, panto duties January, teaching as usual and also rehearsing for “Legends Of Swing “gig at National Concert Hall in February.  

Irish Drummers; Thanks Mark, much appreciated.

Photo from Robert Graham 

Links:My Youtube channel:MK Grist1

Facebook: Drumshed/Mark Grist Drum Tuition

Friday 23 December 2016

Cion O'Callaghan - Drummer and Percussionist

Irish Drummers; Cion, when did you start drumming?
Having played biscuit tins and the furniture from the age of 10, it wasn't until I was 17 that I bought my first drum kit (from Jimmy Shields, brother of My Bloody Valentine founder and frontman Kevin, who lived nearby). 

Irish Drummers; Did you study with anyone and after that when did you realise that drumming was to become your career?
I studied with John Wadham soon after and then, after a few years in college, I began to embark on a career as a musician and not knowing where to start I decided to just go out and join musicians on the street with a set of bongos. Luckily for me, an entire generation of Irish artists like Paddy Casey, Mundy, Glen Hansard, the late Mic Christopher, to name but a few were already out there plying their trades. Jump on a year or two and those strays on the streets were being signed by major labels.

Irish Drummers; Cion, what was your first real gig?
My first proper playing gig was with Mundy's first band, recording his debut album Jelly Legs with him. The next few years were spent touring alongside and opening for acts like Neil Young, Alanis Morissette and The Long Pigs (in which Richard Hawley played guitar). Since then, I have played live or recorded with all sorts of artists, everyone from Adrian Crowley, Rosey, Ami Grady, Shane Mc Gowan & Ronnie Drew (just the once!), James Vincent Mc Morrow, DFF (fronted by the great Dr Dave Flynn and including Niwell Tsumbu and Viv Long in the line up), Gavin Glass and the Holy Shakers, Kid Coy, The Rags, The Tigers of Tin Pan, Daniel Anderson, A Sample Answer, LotusEater as well as many years playing percussion with Paddy Casey.

Irish Drummers; Cion, you certainly have been busy as a drummer
I would call myself a session drummer, only a great Irish drummer once told me you shouldn't call yourself that until you are waking up one morning to play with Tina Turner or Lionel Richie! Jim Keltner is a session drummer, Josh Freese is a session drummer, I'm a jobbing drummer. Call it what you will, I have loved every minute of it!' 

Irish Drummers; Have you taught anyone?
As a teacher, I have had Dara Kiely (Girl Band), Conor Egan from The Coronas and Danny Lang amongst my past pupils.

Irish Drummers; Who are your drumming influences?
As for my own influences, I love the likes of Steve Gadd, Matt Cameron and Paulinho da Costa (one of the most recorded percussionists of modern times), but my greatest influences have been those around me, you can only really learn about being a good musician by playing with good musicians and I've been very lucky. Long may that continue. 

Photo by Lucy Warren 

Wednesday 21 December 2016

Jay Oglesby - Professional Drummer and Drum Tutor

Irish Drummers; Jay, when did you start playing drums?
I started playing drums at the age of 7 when I joined the Artane Boys Band. It was here that I learned to read music, and also studied xylophone. There was also a strong emphasis on rudimental drumming which has stayed with me to this day.
Irish Drummers; Where else did you study drumming?
 I also studied with Dan Breen at the Royal Irish Academy of Music for 3 years and then one year with Johnny Wadham. More recently I attended a one day intensive masterclass with Dave Weckl. I’m currently in my 5th year teaching at BIMM Dublin.
Irish Drummers; Jay, what artists have you played / performed with?
Over the years’ I have played with many artists on TV, Radio, In Studio or live including…Rob Strong, Laura Izibor, Don Baker, Sharon Corr, Brian Kennedy,Picturehouse, Royseven, Delorentos, Luan Parle, Glen Baker, Jet Harris, Stano, White Chocolate, Claudine Day, Mickey Rooney, Whole Lotta Zepp, Gotcha, Mal O’Brian Band, The Beau Motives, Aoife Underwater.This year I toured with Andrew Strong and hope to hit the road with him again in 2017.
Irish Drummers; What are your other plans for 2017?
Next year will see the launch of a new project that I’m involved in called The Livestrong Band who play a mix of blues influenced Americana. I’m also a founding member of Dublin electronic band Liquid Wheel, who have new material, also to be released in 2017.
Irish Drummers; What drum gear do you prefer?
My current kit is a Brady Jarrah ply, Craviotto snare, Sabian Cymbals, Vic Firth sticks and Evans heads.
Irish Drummers: Who are your drumming influences?
My drumming influences are Buddy Rich, Jojo Mayer, Phil Collins,Simon Phillips, Keith Moon and Ian Paice.

Sunday 18 December 2016

Ian McTigue - Touring Drummer and Music Teacher

Touring drummers are accustomed to playing in old venues, but few can claim to have twirled their sticks in a 5,000 year old establishment. Yet Ian McTigue has done just that, the drummer took to a stage at the Giza Pyramids in Cairo, Egypt, in his role as percussionist for Riverdance, the globe-trotting Irish dance phenomena while in town to share a headline gig with legendary diva Mariah Carey.

The Irish drummer has played with Riverdance in the iconic surroundings of New York's Radio City Music Hall & The Lincoln Centre, Pantages Theatre LA, Mexico City's Auditorio Nacional, Atwood Concert hall Anchorage Alaska, Atlantis the palm Dubai, Astana Kazakhstan, Soon after he joined the Women of Ireland show with tours to Orchard Hall in Tokyo, Teatro Municipal De Las Condes, Santiago Chile, Zurich Switzerland & all over Germany. Ian has worked with many other artists - Camille O' Sullivan, Moya Brennan, Ronan Keating, Carlos Nunez, Donal Lunny, Don Baker, Mike McGoldrick, Zoe Conway & Robin James Hurt - his theatrical credits also include Improbable Frequency, Mac Becks, Guys & Dolls, All Shook Up, Anything Goes, Calamity Jane & The Wedding Singer.

Ian is a certified Grade 8 drumkit teacher qualified through London's international music and performance art's RSL. He also specialises in the traditional Irish Bodhrán Drum & tutors from the Drum Room in Dunshaughlin Co Meath. He is currently the drummer with Harlequin band and proudly endorses Allegra Drums.

Irish Drummers; Ian, what is your preferred drum gear?
I love my Allegra Drums, - any shells which are maple for the optimum sound , Remo Ambassador heads on every drum. A nice mix of Zildjian A custom crashes & K medium heavy ride & hihats. Vic Firth 5B sticks.

Irish Drummers; Who are your drumming influences?
Influences would be Buddy Rich, Steve Gadd, Vinnie Colliuta, Ray Fean & Robbie Casserly!

Thanks Ian. Photo by John Jordan Photography

Tuesday 13 December 2016

Paul Kenny - Drummer with James Vincent McMorrow

Paul Kenny is an Irish drummer who is currently on tour with James Vincent McMorrow.

He is also a member of German band Get Well Soon, electronica band Jape in addition to various other session work.

Paul is a tutor at the prestigious BIMM music college in Dublin and has previously studied with Benny Greb and Udo Dahmen. 

Some of his recent studio work includes albums with producers Rob Kirwan (Hozier, U2, Depeche Mode) and Dani Castellar (Paulo Nutini).

Paul is a proud endorser of C&C drums.

Some previous highlights include:

With James Vincent McMorrow:
- 2 nights at the Sydney Opera House with James in May 2014
- 2 appearances on Jools Holland
- 5 tours in U.S including venues The Roxy in L.A, The Bowery Ballroom in N.Y.C
- 2 appearances at the Coachella Festival
- Recording of James' live album in L.A in 2014 : "Live at the Theater at the Ace

James Vincent McMorrow kicked off his European tour in October with a
performance on Jools Holland followed by 19 shows in 10 countries in Europe. There
are 18 dates on the U.S tour including a performance on Jimmy Kimmel in

With Get Well Soon:
- Albums "Vexations" (2011), "The Scarlet Beast O'Seven Heads" (2013) and
"Love" (2016)
- Multiple festival appearances at Haldern Pop, Hurricane, Southside, Roskilde etc
- Appearance on Harald Schmidt

Some links to several performances:

Jools Holland

Harald Schmidt

Tutor Profile BIMM

Get Well Soon live clip Frankfurt

Sunday 11 December 2016

Dónal Bowens - Session Drummer

Dónal Bowens is a session drummer from Co. Meath.

Dónal has been making a name for himself in the Irish music scene playing a diverse range of styles live and in the studio including; metal, alternative rock, folk, indie, pop, rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll and country.

In 2014 Dónal received a Diploma in Professional Musicianship from Dublin Institute of Technology and is currently studying a level 8 degree in Commercial Modern Music at BIMM Dublin.

Dónal currently plays with Irish acts Penrose (indie), Rosa Nutty (singer-songwriter), Antidotes (metal), Alabaster (metal) and Visor (alternative rock).

Watch Dónal here:

Photo credit to Ruth Medjber / Ruthless Imagery 

Martay Galbraith - Session Drummer

Martay Galbraith is a Northern Irish based session drummer hailing from Downpatrick, Co Down.  Starting drums at 13 he has been mainly self taught, but received some foundation lessons with former Taste/Rory Gallagher drummer, John Wilson.  Early influences included Roger Taylor (Queen) and Neil Peart (Rush), but since then he has studied with some of the worlds finest drummers including Benny Greb, Mark Guiliana, Jojo Mayer, Ash Soan, Keith Carlock and Mike Johnston to name a few....Recently supporting Level 42 on the Irish leg of their UK and European tour, he can also be seen behind Outkast's Andre 3000 (Andre Benjamin) in the Jimi Hendrix biopic, Jimi: All Is By My Side, currently on Netflix.

He is currently in the process of recording a new EP with his band from Dublin, De La Rose (originally from Brighton) and just completed recording a new album with Northern Irish singer/songwriter Chris Keys.  With a German tour in the pipeline next summer with Chris, writing/recording with former Co Dot front man Joe Brush, and also Northern Irish country artist Amanda Agnew, its sure to be an exciting and busy year ahead.

Martay is proud to play and use Sonor Drums, Meinl Cymbals, Vic Firth Sticks, Shure Mics and Evans Drumheads.

Photo credit Ruth Medjer / Ruthless Imagery 

Thursday 8 December 2016

Stephen O' Brien - Drummer with DECCA Artist Brian Deady

Stephen O' Brien has rapidly become one of Irelands most in demand drummers. He plays on a full time basis with DECCA Artist Brian Deady, he regularly performs with Voiceworks Studio (Vocal Tuition Centre) as part of their house band, Wedding band The Stars, Soul Driven, Ian O' Doherty and was the drummer for well known original funk outfit Jericho + many more.
He has played at many of Ireland's leading music festivals including Electric Picnic, Longitude, Forbidden Fruit Festival, Body and Soul and Mitchelstown Indiependence and has played support to Chic, The Rubber Bandits, Billy Ocean, Omar, José James, Beardyman and Ham Sandwich to name a few. Steve has also shared the stage with Artists such as Kendrick Lamar, The Lumineers, Kodaline, Picture This and Walking On Cars. Steve has played on many national radio stations including RTE Radio 1, NewsTalk, 2 FM, Today FM, Red FM and 96 FM and has made TV appearances including RTE's The Late Late Show. He is due to tour Europe with BRIAN DEADY in 2017, one of the dates being the well known Eurosonic Noorderslag festival.
Tom; Steve, who are your drumming influences?
My drumming Influences include , JR Robinson, James Gadson, Benny Greb, Chris Dave, Ash Soan and Chris Coleman to name a few. But all drummers influence me to be honest, these guys named had the biggest impact on me though.

Tom; Steve, what drum gear do you prefer?
My Gear, Sticks are Vic Firth Steve Jordan signature stick, Cymbals are and always have been Meinl, mostly the Byzance series, Drumheads are Evans, different variations. Kick Pedal, DW 9000XF single pedal. Mixed bag of hardware. Drums mixed, Vintage REMO kickdrum 20x14, 2 snares 14x6.5 Yamaha Stage Custom and 14x7 Pearl Masters Custom Extra Maple snare. Gretsch toms 10x8 rack and 14x14 floor. Electronics, Roland SPD-SX and RT30 triggers. 

Think that's it Tom.

Thanks Stephen. 

Sunday 4 December 2016

Rob Kennedy Drummer and Session Musician

For a drummer who has played since the tender age of 2, it maybe only fair that, by 22, Rob Kennedy has been described by Ireland's Hot Press magazine as a prodigious talent. Given his ability and success as a player to date, both in drumming competitions and in reviews of his live and recorded work, it's hard to disagree. Rob's stellar ability is displayed on his personal YouTube channel, with an ever increasing subscription to original performances and re workings of favourite songs by established artists. He is most at home when given the chance to challenge himself through this medium. A graduate of the prestigious BIMM college, Dublin, Rob's musical skill set has found him involved in projects as diverse as rock, progressive rock, funk, blues, punk, R&B, math rock, fusion and more. Somehow he has also found the time to study with some of the great international players and teachers of today. A regular at the world famous studios at Grouse Lodge and Windmill lane. Rob has toured and recorded with many up and coming Irish artists such as Hare Squead and Rocstrong. On top of his career as a session player, Rob is also a member of up and coming Alternative band Little One. 
Rob proudly endorses Sabian Cymbals, Vater Drumsticks and Ludwig Drums.

YouTube links:

Irish drummers thanks Rob for the words and Jack Farrell for the photo.

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Tom Dunne - Professional Drummer / Music Teacher

Tom; Tom when did your drumming career start?
My career started at the ripe age of 6 in a pipe band in my area of Greenhills, D12. Here l learned the roots of good drum skills, discipline, dynamics and most if all, rudiments!

Tom;  Did you undertake any further musical studies?
After several years playing with The dada's back in the late 80's, early 90's, l took myself off to study in other areas of music less known to me. Then l met the Great John Wadham. I studied jazz with John for 3 years while playing with a new jazz outfit "The Jazz Globetrotters" taking our name from the The Globe Bar in Dublin where we held a 14 year Sunday residency.

Tom; Wow, 14 year residency, that’s impressive!
I'm still playing with this band and after 3 other residencies we are now playing our 4th year every Tuesday night at The Leeson Lounge Dublin with a mixture of bebop and hardbop.

Tom; Tom what about your recording career?
In 2014, l was approached by Eleanor McEvoys producer to arrange a jazz instrumental album of some of her songs. So l put the best musicians that l work with together, a tight quartet with pianist Myles Drennan, bassist Dave Fleming and saxophonist Ciaran Wilde. With two days rearranging the selected 13 tracks and two days recording in The Cauldron studio, we recorded a fine 10 track CD of Eleanor McEvoys music in jazz style.

Tom; Who else have you recorded / played with?
I have played with Georgie Fame, Mary Coughlin, Imelda May, Louis Stewart, Paul Langosh (bassist with Tony Bennett) . I've supported Mose Allison in the iridium jazz club in NYC. Also the Lincoln Centre NYC and Helen's jazz supper club on 9th ave for a week with a tribute to Peggy Lee with Dave Fleming db, Cian uBoylan pno as Trio Con Brio with Susannah de Wrixon vocals.

Tom; Any other part of your music career that we need to mention?
I am also teaching drums at The Ratoath School of Music in Meath and Glasnevin Academy of Music.

Thanks To Tom Dunne for the words

Photo by Des Cannon

Sunday 27 November 2016

Fiachra Kinder - Drummer and Session Musician

Fiachra is a drummer and session musician based in Dublin. Currently one of three drummers in the upbeat, second-line brass band Stomptown Brass. 

In the past he has performed with TandemnFelix, Cloud Castle Lake, Saint Sister, Nova Collective, Myles Manley, Trinity Orchestra and the Collapsing Horse Theatre company.

Most notably he has toured around Europe and the US with Hozier, appearing on the Late Show with David Letterman and the Ellen Degeneres Show. He is also the recorded drummer on the hit song "Take Me To Church".

Thanks to Fiachra for bio and photo.

Saturday 19 November 2016

David (Dave) Keegan - Drummer and Photographer

Tom; Can you tell me when you became interested in drumming?
Born in September 1972, I first became fascinated with the drum kit when I was about 3 or 4 years old as the first drum kit I had was made by Fisher Price!!
My mum, being a fan of The Beatles, showed me some of their film footage and it was then that I was hooked. After various "put together" drum set ups, I final, got a second-hand Maxwin by Pearl drum kit, started to play in many teenage bands, playing along to many records and tapes of all sorts of music in my bedroom, to "up" my drumming as I went along.

Tom; Dave, who are your influences?
In the very early days, my influence's were Stewart Copeland, Gerry Conway (from the early Fairport Convention line-up) and Ringo Starr.  My influences now, are  similar from my early days, (and there's way too many to mention here) but the likes of Steve Gadd, Buddy Rich, Jack Irons, Stephen Perkins, Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Grohl, JR Robinson, Keith Moon, Copeland and Starr will no doubt come through in my playing, as they have all moved me with their unique styles."

Tom; How did you approach drumming?
Playing with many bands during the formative years, gave me a very musical approach to drumming and being able to play guitar as a hobby also helped how I worked with other musicians.

Tom; Have you taken lessons?
I never took lessons and so I suppose I am a self-taught player.

Tom: Dave, how did your career progress after the formative years?
During the late 90's I started working in the drum dept of Rock Steady Music and that opened many doors to work with other types of music and musicians!
I started doing a lot of sessions with as many people as I could, just to get the experience of live performing and studio work. That time taught me a lot about how to work with other people in the business and that having a good positive attitude will go along way, even if there are better players than you.

Tom; What type of drum gear do you use?

Gear wise, I went from a lovely old Rogers Kit, that I eventually sold (but kept the snare drum, a beautiful PowerTone10 steel shell) and purchased one of the first Mapex Saturn Series (10, 12, 14, 20) which I still use today and sounds great live and in the studio. Along with the Rogers snare I also use a DW collectors series Maple shell snare which covers most styles very well.
I play a mixture of A Customs from Zildjian, old New Beat Hats, a K 20" Jazz ride and other crashes from Menil, Paiste and Sabian.

Tom; Dave, tell me some of the great artists you have performed with.
I've been lucky enough to perform all around the world and have had the pleasure to tour with many groups and singers including Bellx1, Maire Brennan (Clannad) Gemma Hayes, Mundy, Sinead O'Connor, Sharon Shannon, The Henry girls, Camille O'Sullivan, David Geraghty, I Draw Slow, Gavin Glass, The Classic Beatles (playing Ringo of course) and producers, Brian Masterson, Pat Dunne and Conor Brady.
This year (2016) I toured with Tupelo and Camile O'Sullivan in Europe, and recorded on the upcoming release from I Draw Slow's next album as well as being on the current promotional tour with IMLE, who have just released their debut album. I was also involved with the upcoming release of the charity single "You are not alone" to promote Mental Health awareness and Suicide prevention. The single will be released in December 2016.

Tom; Dave, that sounds hectic. Do you find time for anything else musically?
 I also teach drums to a few students in Blackrock College and perform locally with various Dublin based bands and other musical projects from stage shows, TV work and recordings. 

Tom; Work wise, any other passion apart from music?
Photography has been another passion of mine and it has played a big part in my musical career too, photographing my fellow musicians throughout the years.

Photo by Kai Hansen

Rod Quinn touring / recording drummer and percussionist

Professional drummer who plays in a variety of styles. According to his site Rod spent 10 years in London, during which time as well as working as a full-time musician he studied with drum teaching legend Lloyd Ryan. He also successfully secured a recording contract with EMI records. Rod returned to Ireland in 1997 and has recorded and / or performed live with incredible artists such as Van Morrison, Mary Black, Ronan Keating, Brian Kennedy, Sharon Shannon,Frances Black, Rebecca Storm and lots of others. Since 2009, Rod has toured with internationally acclaimed Gilbert O'Sullivan and has played over 100 concerts with him all over the world.

Sunday 13 November 2016

Ben Wanders - Drummer and Session Musician

Ben Wanders is a drummer and session musician who has played on over 30 albums from Irish and International artists in the last 5 years. Some of these include an album for Noel Hogan (The Cranberries), Shardborne, Hedfuzy, Slave Zero and many more. Currently a member of Xerath (Prog UK) Shardborne (Prog IRE) Tonemasons (Funk Fusion IRE) and Little Waits (Fusion IRE) Ben also has a solo project titled ‘NEB’ which saw its debut release in October 2016

Irish Drummers thanks Ben for words and photo

Sunday 6 November 2016

Matthew Jacobson - Irish Drummer / Improviser / Composer

I had the privilege of meeting drummer Matthew Jacobson of the trio F-JOB, who were performing as part of the 2016 Galway Jazz Festival. It was a fantastic gig, performed by a trio of very talented and creative musicians. 

Tom: How are you enjoying the Galway Jazz Festival?
It’s brilliant. I’ve been down a bunch of times, I’m not sure how many. I think they said this is the 12th year, but I don’t know. Probably the last 10 years I’ve been down through friends. I’m quite close to Matthew Berrill and also Aengus Hackett who have been involved for the last few years, so I always come down for different projects and to me it’s always been a fantastic festival. It’s really about the community and you get that feel. Even Galway as a town has been like that, so it’s a good place to run a festival where there are a lot of Irish jazz musicians.

Tom: Matthew you have a very impressive Curriculum Vitae , when did the drumming bug start?
It really came from my older brother Daniel, who was a guitarist, he’s 7 years older than me and when I was 12 I started playing piano. My older sister played piano and my brother played a bit, we were all getting lessons so I did that for a while. I was quite into music anyway, like my brother was quite a hero, like whatever he was into, I was into, so when I was about 12 he started playing jazz, so he basically kind of used me as his little guinea pig and would play me everything he was listening to. I was just absorbing it all and he’d take giant steps and I’d be like cool, I like this. I don’t know how much I was taking it in or I don’t know how aware of everything I was, but to me I was like, okay cool and so I kept listening to stuff. He always got me to clap funny rhythms and they were my first musical experiences really, so I think that it really stood to me. I didn’t actually start playing the drums until I was about 14 or 15 when I was doing Junior Certificate music and I had to pick an instrument. The teacher was trying to get me to play piano because I was playing badly tuned standards at that point. I just remember always playing Mr. PC (John Coltrane tune) in C minor because that was the only key I could play in. My music teacher thought it was amazing, that I was improvising when everyone else was playing Bach, so she was trying to get me to play piano but I asked my brother what should I do and he said you should play the drums, so I asked my mum and dad and they said well you can get lessons for a while in Newpark Music Centre. I was actually in Newpark School so you could run across, so we did that. My first teachers were teaching privately there, so I went to them for lessons for about 6 months or maybe even a year before I had a drum-kit. I  proved to everyone that I was serious, because the teachers said I was developing, so my parents said “okay we’ll get you a drum-kit” and I think the whole thing was probably a ploy from my brother to have a drum-kit in the house, so he could rehearse with his band because he was playing a guitar, so it worked out and then we got the drum-kit and then it was really helpful having my brother around and we would rehearse and he was in a band with Sean Carpio, which was a really big influence for me. I then took out transition year of secondary school and went to Newpark Music Centre because then you could do these 2 years there. You could do a 1 year music course for the PMTC which stands for Professional Music Training Course and then you could do a diploma. So I took transition year out for this 1 year course, then went back and did my Leaving Certificate. They had it for two years and made it into a 4 year degree so essentially I had done the first year of my degree in TY which was pretty handy. Then I went straight into 2nd year and in 5th and 6th year I continued playing with lots of people and Newpark was really great and had me beginning to help out with ensembles. I was still serious, even though I was doing my Leaving Certificate so I spent a lot of that time, still playing and then starting to play gigs with people like Matt Berrill, Derek Whyte and Greg Philbin. I was playing with them quite a lot, with Nick Roth and my brother, just because I think of the connection through my brother which had brought a lot of opportunities when I was quite young. I think maybe even before I was technically at the level to play at those gigs, so there was a funny situation where I was always experiencing hearing all this music and maybe I wasn’t quite there yet, but I think that it actually really stood to me. I was getting that experience because there’s nothing really to substitute for that and it’s not something you can really practice on your own just being in all those playing situations, it was great and so then I went back to Newpark and finished my degree.

Tom: What did you do after your degree?
 I went to Switzerland for 2 years. I just felt by the end of Newpark it was maybe time to just knuckle down. Thanks to Newpark I got these new opportunities where I was playing a lot and it kind of meant that I was playing more than practicing, but then at that point, I knew what I had to do. It was really important that I wasn’t just practicing everyday without really knowing why, like having those experiences and then realising what I needed to practice and what the goal was and not just practicing the different rudiments so I can play at this tempo because I know that this will help my playing in these kind of situations and to me that was really helpful. So then I spent 2 years in a really great school in Lucerne in Switzerland, with some amazing teachers and there was a guy called Norbert Pfammatter and he’s an amazing drummer and an amazing teacher, like every single lesson I just came out really wanting to play the drums and that was unusual for me to get that much out of a lesson. It was great and he was just like a really warm guy, really supportive and encouraging and they noticed when I arrived for the audition, it sounds like you have lots going on and you have lots of ideas and there may just be something missing. I remember 2 years later, the teacher at Newpark, when he saw me he said I had put on some weight drum wise, which was what it was all about. In general there wasn’t much happening so it was perfect just getting my head down and focusing on getting my music perfect, also meeting different musicians and I played in a few different bands. I played with a band called AERIE, we met in Switzerland, that’s another thing about going away, it’s also about the people you meet, like you can be a great musician but if you stay in Ireland as a jazz musician your just not going to get those opportunities as the pool of musicians here is just too small.

Tom:  For other Irish Drummers you feel it might be something they have to consider as regards working abroad?
 I definitely encourage all students to think about it at least. They’re broadening the pool that way. I think you do need to broaden your horizons. I think it’s really sad how little contact we have with the UK and London, especially London, being such a huge jazz scene and so many amazing musicians, none of which anybody in Ireland knows about. I’m always absolutely shocked how few people have really checked out other musicians, I guess there is history and politics, anyway most of my generation don’t seem very bothered by it. It takes about as long to get to London as it does to get to Cork on a plane and it costs the same price as the train fare. I’ve been trying over the last couple of years to spend more time there and to really treat Dublin as a base for a jazz musician or an Irish drummer and you can be based here and you can have all the comfort of being at home, surrounded by all your friends and family and people you have known and grown up with but at the same time it’s really easy to travel from Dublin. You’re always well received by people all around the world and to do that at the same time and go forth and it’s been going okay so far. It involves quite a lot of time management  and obviously you have to make a living. I teach at the Newpark Music Centre as well, so I have to make sure I’m there as much as I can be for the students. I also know it’s important to be leaving, when you’re a musician to be meeting and playing with other musicians, playing in other situations and I definitely think more people should be doing that.

Tom:  Who are the drummers that influence you the most?
From the beginning it was Tony Williams. I guess because they were the records my brother played me. Jim Black also Paul Motian would have been a big influence. I guess for me they were the ones I would look up to the most. Jim Black and Tom Rainey, I would go and see and I’ve gotten lessons off them. I found it hard to get lessons from them, partly because I wasn’t a good student and also because they were my inspiration growing up. If you get a lesson off somebody who has never met you before, you have to be prepared and ask them very specific things and definitely the 1st lesson I had with either of them I kind of just turned up and it was like, how do I play well. I probably didn’t say that exactly but that was kind of the vibe of being in the surreal moment, of being in Jim Black’s loft, arriving for a lesson and then just end up sitting behind the drums. So I was sitting behind his drums, he picked up a guitar and started playing the kinds of tunes that are on his albums. I basically ended up doing a really bad Jim Black impression. It came to a point where I knew what I had to do myself, I was developing my own voice and didn’t want to just sound like them even though I loved how they played. I just had to work on my own thing, which would involve a lot of time and practice. I haven’t gotten any drum lessons in the last 5 or 6 years but the lessons were beneficial. I realised I would get more from listening to people and even hanging out with them. In New York there is a real sense of community and people have this idea that New York is very cold and it’s hard to break into the scene but I didn’t find that at all. I spent months there and it just felt really warm and people accepted you. I really felt part of a community which was amazing and especially that kind of music, like the downtown New York Brooklyn scene of people being improvisers. You’re talking about gigs, where there is only like 15 or 20 people, amazing musicians, who come to Europe and then do quite big tours and big venues and they’re playing in bars of like 10 people for 5 dollars so when you go to gigs there people recognise you and there like oh there is an Irish drummer in town. It’s more like a session but not like a jam session. It’s like you go to someone’s house and play for 2 hours either free or bringing your own tunes or playing standards. That doesn’t really happen here in Ireland which I think is a pity because I think that is the point for a musician or an artist, to enjoy bringing your own tunes or playing standards and that doesn’t really happen here in Ireland, which I think is a pity. I think that is the point for a musician or an artist and I feel that things here are more project based, rather than saying is there a gig and being like no, we’re just playing because that’s what we do, hang out and play. So it was really helpful for me being in that situation in New York. I basically just spent 9 months organising sessions with different people, every day and I definitely learned a lot from being there. The things about the guys I mentioned, specifically for me was how they were playing quite complex music which I always had an interest in. They always made it sound like a musical, not like they were just-rhyming off stuff. I’ve never wanted to play music that was complicated, just for the sake of it. Its music that’s personal to you and you can present it in a way that’s unique and special to you. Sometimes music can get to mathematical and scientific and it doesn’t sound from the heart, or with any emotion.

Tom: Matthew in your opinion, what are the albums and music people should listen to?
I think Jim Black’s albums and Alasnoaxis. I was also listening to Tom Rainey and a sax player called Tim Berne, he has a bunch of albums. I guess one particular album that stood out for me was called Science Fiction, again it was quite complex musically and it had a lot of free improvisation on it. The kind of idea where they would have quite long complicated melodies and things going on and then there would be a free section in the middle, that to me I always had an emotional connection with. I always really liked playing and I liked listening to and it wasn’t really happening here. There aren’t that many people in Ireland that play in that style, which was always one of the things that I was interested in and liked.

Tom: Matthew you also studied in South India
Yeah, even at a young age, my brother and I would also listen to Indian music and also there is also a strong element of Indian music in Newpark Music Centre. Conor Guilfoyle had studied it and it was always part of the curriculum there. I always was interested in it so I spent a summer there, at a school in Chennai and it was pretty intense. Nothing can really prepare you for going over there because it’s not really like anywhere else, we basically spent every day singing and clapping rhythms. A friend of mine, Simon Roth is also here and he was playing with Lauren Kinsella last night and he’s from London. He had a similar interest in the Indian theme and we were together there for 6 weeks. We would have an intense 2 hour lesson and we decided not to learn any instrumental stuff because in India people generally spend years studying instruments before really getting anywhere. You would actually just follow your master around and make them cups of tea and stuff like that before you would even get to touch the instrument and we were only going for 6 weeks so we basically wanted to learn the language, the vocabulary and to integrate that into our music.

Tom: That must have been fantastic
It was incredible and I learned a lot. I spent the 6 weeks learning and finding out new stuff but it would take much longer than 6 weeks to be able to integrate what I learned into my own music, to really be fluent in that language. To improvise it into my own music, it would take a lot longer and that was about 5 years ago, but it’s always been music which has been important to me and I use more as a compositional player than the actual music.

Tom: What’s your kit set up like?
Well I’ll start with the cymbals. When I was in New York for the year I lived with a drummer called Jesse Simpson, a fantastic drummer and also a brilliant piano player. He decided during college that he was bored of the drums so he practiced piano. He got really, really good and he could play piano gigs.  When I arrived in New York, he had a bunch of gigs and he said to me oh you can play drums, so instantly I got some gigs out of it which was amazing. He was getting into being a cymbal- smith and very few people in the world are doing that to a high level. He had a workshop and he would keep building up all the equipment that you would need. He was also in touch with some of the other cymbal-smiths and I asked him to do some modification of the cymbals I had at the time.

Tom: What kind of cymbal sound do you like?
My preference was always dry and light cymbals. After I got home from New York I applied to Music Network for a capital scheme grant. They give you 50% of the cost, so I put in the application and I got it.  Jesse custom built two cymbals for me. He made a 22 inch ride. I wanted it to be quite dry and light. I couldn’t use it for Jazz music because there just wasn’t enough body and tone so I was looking for something in between and he did a fairly good job. We would go back and forth, he’d send me different audio clips and I’d say a bit drier or a bit darker. With the 18 inch ride I wanted to have the shortest decay possible, that you could really dig into and then it would disappear. I have them for almost 2 years now and I’m really happy with them.

Tom:  What drum kit do you currently use?
The drum-kit from New York, came from a shop called the Modern Drum shop. The guy who owned it was a great drummer even though I never heard him play. He played with Sheff Baker and at some point he got into custom building kits. He was famous for this stack kit which has got hinges on the bass drum and floor- tom. It sounded really well. It’s an 18 by 16 inch bass drum, 14 inch floor and a 10 inch tom. At that moment I was thinking, I wasn’t really happy with the tom. I prefer a 12 inch, just for the kind of gigs I’m playing. They weren’t really cutting it, so I’m going to try and find a 12 inch somewhere, but otherwise I’m really happy with the kit. I find that the kit sounds really nice with aquarian modern vintage skins but I have a really hard time finding them, like the shops don’t sell them and some of the biggest online music shops don’t have them. I contacted aquarian directly and I’m still trying to get them but that’s my preference which really works with the kit. Also the kit is in a slightly older style, it’s about 12 or 13 years old, but that’s what gives it it’s jazzy bobby sound. I’m using the really cheap Yamaha fold up pedal because it’s really light weight and it doesn’t have a base and I find it great and easy to use. I can’t really use the big ones. Jesse (Simpson) also collects a lot of vintage gear. He has this fascination for buying hardware and I got him to give me a lot of hardware and I keep all my kit in a bag because it’s so flexible and that bag has Rogers cymbals. I can fit all the kit and the hardware in the boot. My stick preference is ProMark.

Tom : Matthew, you were the Dun Laoghaire- Rathdown County Council inaugural Musician in Residence. How did that come about?
I was from around that area originally, so I’m on the arts mailing list and a few people had also forwarded it to me. My parents were supportive, my dad especially, he looks out for opportunities and he sends me emails. It’s always nice to have the support. It was just an open call out. It was unusually open for an obligation like that, especially with Irish Councils’ they would usually be looking for more specific in terms of what they want you to do. This was basically an open call where you could work on whatever you wanted to do, for 3-4 months, so I suggested this idea of 4 duos with artists. I had already been working with some artists and others I wanted to work with. I said I’d put on concerts at the end with each duo and they went for it. It was one of the most productive periods in the last 10 years and to have the space like there, it was a beautiful theatre. I left a drum-kit and some gear there, it was free. I could go in and use it and put together 4 sets of musicians, 3 of whom were from Cork, such as Linda Buckley, who is a composer and has a Sean nos singing background, she’s someone I always wanted to work with. It was a really great period for me and to just have that opportunity. I always appreciated that time and space I was given. When you don’t get those kinds of opportunities it’s easy to float. I was talking to the bass player about this yesterday like when you get busy it’s easy to go from one project to the next and at no point do you really stop and evaluate what your doing or have the time and space to be creative and work on your own thing. You start giving a lot of yourself to everybody else and I think it’s really important to make sure you keep some for yourself for your own creative energy. It’s easy to get in a stroll and move from 1 project to the next and all of a sudden you’re in the last year and you’re like I don’t know what I’ve been doing and when someone asks you what you did last week and you don’t really know because it’s like a blur in your head. It’s kind of a pity because I think then you become less valuable to other people as well. Things can start happening a bit on auto pilot for me, I never wanted to be like that, I wanted to be present in everything I do.

Tom: What’s next on the horizon?
Well I just started a PHD, in the University of Ulster. The general area is downtown New York music, which is actually their research topic and it’s kind of what I’ve built most of my musical career on, so that would be great for me. The subtitle is kind of exploring improvising musical stages, on small scale compositions, so again kind of what I was talking about earlier with Jim. The idea of writing music and compositions, for the idea of improvising, but not in a way to say jazz standards where it’s like the form is all quite prescribed and where it’s when we play a melody and then we improvise over them and also not in an improve way where it’s completely free but somewhere in between which I find is not really discussed about a lot and hasn’t really been written about. I felt like it would be a good strong topic for a PHD. So the PHD is performance based, so I have to create a major portfolio of work in compositions of work and recordings. It doesn’t have to be a professional quality, like a video clip of a gig or live or private recordings and then I have to write a 40,000 piece word so we’ll see how that goes. I only officially started a couple of weeks ago and I haven’t had a huge amount of time yet but I’ll try and just go up to the campus. I’ll try and get up there every couple of weeks and have a day or 2 to just be in the library and be in that situation. When I’m at home in Dublin I find it quite hard to just sit down and work in it.  So that’s going to take up a lot of time in the next few years and most of music will be aimed for the PHD which is kind of lucky for me because the PHD is kind of what I work towards and do anyway. I just have to be focused on it and again make sure I don’t just float. The PHD is a way for me to be more focused, just even being slightly more qualitative about things. Sometimes people have a tendency to do things and forget about them and then go onto the next. So that’s the plan for the next few years really and I’m still involved with lots of different projects and they will all feed into it as well.

Tom: What other projects are you involved in?
 I actually came out of the Dun Laoghaire residence with Insufficient Funs (a drum and bass saxophone duo) and I’m going to try and book some tours with that. Hopefully, Laura Hyland and I are going to be releasing an album in the next few months. Also Umbra, which is Chris Guilfoyle, it’s kind of more of a rocky vibe.  I’m going to Australia at the end of the month with Ronan and Chris Guilfoyle, for a jazz festival and some other concerts. It’s going to be busy.

Tom: How do you approach a piece of music for the first time, particularly around the creative process?
 I don’t think there’s any fixed rule or specific approach or techniques. I mean trying to interact with the music is my approach. On a musical level I try not to approach things by just the drums. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I don’t actually even think that it’s a good thing always. Listening back to my own playing sometimes I might think I could’ve been more drummy there. I have a tendency to play through more and provide more colours and textures. I’m interested in all the parts and think what’s the bass doing, what’s the piano doing and what’s the sax doing and then also as a drummer who composes music I find often when I’m playing my own music it’s really clear and I play everything over in my head. I haven’t really written drum parts for my music only really everyone else’s parts and then I play off them which I think can be really good at times. I play on a bunch of projects and the reason they ask me to be there is because I can provide this more textural approach. It’s more about colours and dynamics. Dynamics are something particularly important and for any drummer I feel like it’s completely overlooked. Like you don’t really practice the dynamics and to me it’s often the difference between playing the drums and playing the music and the drummer can fall into the habit of playing just 1 volume or playing to loud or to quiet but the bigger range you have the better it will sound. Tempos are also really important and creatively it’s really important to feed the dynamics and tempo into your music.

Tom: In a band situation do you feel other musicians try and dictate how you play?
The funniest thing happened yesterday actually. We were rehearsing and the leader had brought some new material. He usually doesn’t say anything to me specifically because for the part when I play the drums I’m given a bass part. Anyway I was playing along and he told me he wanted it rocky and there was another section where he was looking for older jazz style. His communication wasn’t very clear and I wasn’t really doing what he wanted because he told me he wanted me to play in a jungle style and I think by that he meant old jazz style. There was just no solution and I was saying for now, let me do what was natural to me, or send me a recording or write down how you want me to play. One of the advantages of being a musician who can read music is when you’re in these kind of situations, if they want you to do something specific and they can’t articulate, then they can write it down. It’s easier to say okay look here is what has been written, I’ll interpret that and it will be closer to the style you want so yeah at that point reading is really helpful. Often it’s quite difficult for musicians to articulate what they want the drummer to do but because a lot of people are playing with the drums all the time it’s easier for them to get across exactly what they want done. Even just, I want this to be more dry or have more cymbals, like it’s amazing how many professional musicians wouldn’t be able to give you that. I think I’m always open and diplomatic to someone, to give them what they want, especially if it’s their music.

Tom: Today, during your performance as part of the Galway Jazz Festival, the trio looked like you were all really relaxed and enjoying the occasion. As a drummer do you ever experience stage fright?
I wouldn’t have gotten or get stage fright but I would be a bit more aware and a bit more conscious if there are particular musicians that I want to impress, but it’s not a good feeling because I don’t want to be worrying about what other people are thinking. I just want to be present in the moment, so I try and avoid that. Playing with Cormac (O’Brien) and Greg (Felton), there great musicians and I’ve played with them for so long and we’re friends so we all trust each other and it’d just be comfortable and easy. I’m really enjoying playing in this project and I don’t really play in projects I don’t like. I get a lot of people coming up to me and saying “ wow you look like you really enjoyed yourself” and it’s terrible that people think that I wouldn’t be enjoying myself or they’re surprised that I actually enjoyed myself. Why aren’t more musicians just enjoying themselves?

Tom: Matthew, in your opinion, what makes Irish drummers unique as opposed to drummers from other countries?

I’m not sure. When I think about all the Irish drummers I know, I think we are all quite different. I grew up listening to Sean Carpio, Conor Guilfoyle and Shane O’Donovan and I think we all sound very different, especially with jazz drummers as we never really had a big scene. So it wasn’t like Irish drummers had a lot of people to look up to, or to listen to, so I think we all ended up sounding different because we were like influenced by different things. Shane O’Donovan is very interested in electronic music so I think we were all influenced by different things. In other countries, there is maybe more connecting drummers, so they probably all sound somewhat similar. I think we are missing the connection but I do think that the drumming scene is changing and there’s a gap in jazz music because I don’t think it’s very common here in Ireland.