Tuesday 28 February 2017

Irish Drummers; Graham, who are you listening to these days, who is coming up on your drumming radar?

These days, I think at the moment one of my favourite drummers is Jay Bellerose. He is somebody over the last couple of years who has really kind of influenced me you know. He has played with Ray LaMontagne for the last couple of years. The first time he came to the public's eye was when Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’s album came out. He is so great. He just plays like lots of vintage drums all the time, like the old slingerland, like bomber kits, like the ones that were built during the war. They are made of wood but instead of the lug boxes being all metal, they are all kind of rosewood. They look just so beautiful. So, he plays like vintage all the time, he believes less is more. I just love that. I have got so much more into players like Jim Keltner. I was reared on like Baby Dodds, who played with Louis Armstrong. I have gone so much more kind of old school and vintage rather than newer players. Like my God, over the last few years it has definitely been Levon Helm because he is someone who changed my drumming in such a huge way, like over the last ten years you know. He has been such a groove player and somebody who plays for the song.

Irish Drummers; Yes, he is such a sad loss to drumming.

Yeah, a sad loss beyond, beyond belief. Really, I will never forget that day. He meant the world to me. He still means the world to me you know, like he did so much for me. I had an amazing hang out with the guy, like really befriended him  and then to lose him was a sad day. Seeing him play, being in his company, watching him play, sitting behind him, watching every detail and then him meaning the world to me. I never thought that would happen. Then to lose him, but he will be with us always. I mean to leave all that behind is beautiful. His drumming really changed me.

Sunday 26 February 2017

Irish Drummers; So you were with My Little Funhouse and then you joined Therapy?. Was it as simple as that? 

I was with My Little Funhouse for three years, around the time the bass player Gary decided to leave the band. It was really cool because my best friend Joe (we went to school together) was here in Clane (Naas,Co.Kildare) and the guys needed a bass player and like who are you going to get in L.A.? So I said "Guys, my mate Joe would be really great for the gig" so they took my word for it and without even hearing him play, flew him out to L.A. So for the last year I was in the band, Joe Doyle from Kildare was in the band. It was really good, I had the guys from Kilkenny, I had my best friend with me in the band, which was brilliant, so everything was cool. Then after about a year or so (I was in the band for just over three years) I felt the band just wasn't driving me and around the start, the very start of 2006, Fyfe Ewing left Therapy?.

Irish Drummers; Then you get the call from Therapy?

And then through people that we knew, like Bob O'Brien, Tom Skerritt (they helped me get in to My Little Funhouse), Darragh Butler and Cormac Battle (from Kilkenny bands Kerbdog and Wilt), I got in contact with Therapy?. So I go along and jam with them and have an audition.

Irish Drummers; That must have been exciting!

It was fantastic. It was in The Factory in Dublin. They called me back that evening or the next morning and said "Hey, do you want to come back in and jam with us?", so I went back in and jammed. They are very nice and the following day they asked me if I would like to join the band. Talk about another mind blowing experience! My Little Funhouse was great and just as far as a band like Therapy? is concerned, like where they were at the time and with Fyfe Ewing being as expressive as he was, drum wise, so to have that kind of outing, I would be able to free myself expressively. So I was just overly excited, it was great, so I went on to be in the band for six years. I don't know where to begin or where to end with stories of what happened with Therapy?.  It was a fantastic time. I met three guys in the band because Martin McCarrick joined the band the same time as me. Martin played Cello. He was in Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil and Siouxsie and The Banshees. During those six years we just went through amazing times, headlining festivals all over Europe and the States.
Irish Drummers; What was your first festival with Therapy?

I remember my first festival with the band, playing in front of a hundred thousand people at Pinkpop and I think I just nearly puked before I went on because we were on just after Rage against the Machine and Alanis Morissette. After like all of these f****n bands and I was just like, "What? How? Where? When?". So then, like every festival that we do, that would be the scenario. After a while you just acclimatise to it in a really nice way, because there was such camaraderie with the family. It was lovely, a beautiful six years you know, it was great.

Irish Drummers; When you were with Therapy? you were playing live and recording with them so I suppose that meant bringing your own style to it all?

It changed; it changed the band I know without a doubt. Ah, yeah I wasn't going to change who I was as a drummer. Understandably, there was a lot of hardcore fans going, "Hold on, he has changed it!". Fyfe Ewing, a fantastic drummer, had a very signature sound which was incredible.

Irish Drummers; Did you find, Graham, at that stage when you were recording or playing live, that you had 100% control over what you were playing with Therapy? or did the lads say, "Look, we want you to play like this"?

No, not at all, that was the fantastic thing about being in the band. There was fantastic freedom in Therapy?. The lads knew they lost a good mate in the band. They knew things were sonically going to change, but they gave everyone in the band musical freedom. We just did whatever. They knew they got somebody else in, who was going to be a completely different player but there was nothing anybody could do about it you know, like Martin came in the same time as me so it's just everybody's free reign to do their own thing. I swear I wasn't overly concerned with what people thought musically, I was just going to play my heart out and have good fun. I was at such a young age, I was twenty when I joined the band. I wasn't going to get overly paranoid about my playing. I was like f**k it, I am just going to play the shit out of this kit. I really enjoyed Fyfe Ewing's playing, especially with that timbale thing. I did put a twelve inch snare at the side of my kit because there was so many songs which always had that so, of course, I had to play all of those bits like 'teethgrinder' but I was never going to emulate Fyfe's playing. I played those signature bits but I just played my own version of them and that was it. We never used to sit down and do assessments of the gig afterwards and listen to post gig analysis. That was never done. We would just go, get drunk and have a merry time. We never sat down and went, "Shit, why didn't you do this? Why didn't you do that?". That was never what Therapy? was about, which was fantastic.

Monday 20 February 2017

Irish Drummers; Graham your drumming C.V. is incredibly impressive. Can you just tell us some of the artists that you have played with over the last number of years?

Well, at the moment I am touring with Glen Hansard for his solo album that he's just released. If I work backwards. I suppose for the last five years or so we have been pretty busy touring as the Swell Season since Glen and Marketa won the Oscar from the film Once. For a couple of years before that, I was touring with Dolores O'Riordan for her solo album after The Cranberries. then there was some time with Snow Patrol when Johnny broke his arm, then I tried out my own solo album and for a couple of years I enjoyed that. Then I was out touring with David Kitt and Gemma Hayes. I was in Therapy? for about six or seven years, then there was a band called My Little Funhouse. All the time through that and now, I am always kind of playing on folks albums, which I very much love and I will never stop doing that and if I start getting in to those albums I won't know where to stop.

Irish Drummers; You are certainly putting together an impressive body of work

It's just I love playing music with everybody and anybody and if I am stuck in a rut playing with one particular band for the rest of time I literally will be stuck in a musical rut, do you know what I mean? I won't know what to do; I will just be the grumpiest fecker on the planet. I have to broaden my horizons, in a musical sense, as it helps one's musical capability in so many ways,being as eclectic and versatile as possible.

Irish Drummers; Graham you come from a musical family, your dad is a jazz drummer, is that where the interest in drumming began? 

Yeah, it most definitely was. He is actually out gigging tonight, he has just been away in England for the last week and he with my grandfather before him was a jazz drummer, along with my grandmother being a pianist. I was brought up all the time around a musical family, never thought how to play drums, I was just always surrounded by it and I grew up with a passion just wanting to play drums because there always was music being played in the background. In our house, always drums and music lying around everywhere, eh I couldn't help but get into it. I started, I suppose picking up the sticks and playing when I was around six or seven years old, I just took it on and I think things snowballed and I fell into it.

Irish Drummers; Who were your influences when you started, apart from your father, of course? 

It was definitely at that young age, I mean seven, eight, nine, ten, it was definitely my dad and ridiculous things like listening to things that were on the radio. I can honestly say, even at that young age, I do remember things like Live Aid and stuff being fantastically influential to me. I judge everything at this age of my life being pre and post Live Aid you know, I do remember that being a hugely seminal moment in my youth. It was when I was around probably eleven, twelve, thirteen and Modern Drummer and Rhythm Magazine were a big influence on my musical existence and drumming because they brought me to so many bands, like reading about people like Jeff Porcaro and John Bonham and people going on about them so much I went out and bought albums that they might have appeared on and people going on about Steve Gadd so much. I would go out and buy albums by some band called Steely Dan. It brought me in to that whole world, so I have so much to thank those magazines for. I hung all of these posters, of all of these drummers up on my wall, in my bedroom you know but honest to God I never had any desire to be a rock star. I had a desire to be this big session musician that just wanted to play drums for a living. That's what I wanted. That's what I desired to be and that's what I wanted to be even at a young teenage age, which just grew and grew and grew, until I got into my older teenage years.

Irish Drummers; When you were listening to drummers like Jeff Porcaro and Steve Gadd, did you get it straight away? A lot of people might listen to Steve Gadd and perhaps not realise how bloody great he is!

Well I have to be honest, there was always a mix and a match for me, because I was brought up just the same listening to music as I was driven by it, it wasn't always drums. I was as much listening to The Beatles as I was listening to Jazz music, artists like Benny Goodman, Bix Beiderbecke, Glen Miller, Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton, all of these incredible seminal Jazz artists.

Irish Drummers; Who were your favourite band?

The Beatles were always my favourite band, even when I was young. I was listening to The White Album, which to this day is probably my favourite album of all time. 

Irish drummers; Did you take music lessons?

I did take piano lessons from the age of about eight or nine up until the age of when I left school about sixteen or seventeen. I did up until about grade five or grade six in piano as well as guitar lessons all the time and that was through no, honest to God, through no bossiness or bullying from my family. It was just something that I took to and very much enjoyed. My father never gave me drum lessons, something that I always got in to and I remember to this day on the garage wall/door where my kit was set up the only thing that he wrote up and I still see it in my eyes is the paradiddle, right, left, right, right, left, right, left, left and he said 'there you go son','there you go' and he wrote it and I learned it and I did it and the paradiddle sticks with me for that reason. 
Dad introduced me to Johnny Wadham and I went to him for a couple of years. I did learn a lot and then I would go to JJ's to see him play with whoever you know, with Dave Fleming on bass and Jim Doherty on piano so I did get a lot out of The Wad.

Irish Drummers; Were you playing with any band at this time?

I did it for a while, for about a year, with The Lucan Concert band and The Lucan Concert band turned quiet strange because the percussion section was myself and Paul Noonan who is now BellX1’s lead singer/drummer and also Bryan McMahon. Bryan was the drummer in Future Kings of Spain so we were three drummers, who went on to become professional musicians. My mother even has pictures of the three of us at about thirteen years old, wearing tuxedos in the National Concert Hall and the three of us played the National Concert Hall.

Irish Drummers; That's amazing! Also an interesting point you mentioned about being professional, when did you make the decision to do this as a career?

I think I didn't know anything else. like I was doing Honours English you know but at the same time I never had any keen interest in school. My other interests were more on the artistic side. I had a very keen interest in Art as a subject it was another honours subject I was doing, other subjects didn't really bowl me over at all. The thing that was on my mind was making music, it was all that was on my mind, going to gigs with my Dad was fantastic and I got to meet up with people through going to gigs with him. That just means so much to me. That's why I hold my Dad in such high regard yet again saying that he introduced me to so many people, like guys like Tom Skerritt and Bob O'Brien who went on to work for bands and do backline for bands and Tom does backline now for like, Kila. Bob O'Brien works in Grouse Lodge and works for so many bands. The lads were out with My Little Funhouse at the time and they knew this young guy from Kildare who they thought might work out. So, they rang me on a Friday and said, Graham would you be interested in touring with this band, My Little Funhouse so I actually kind of had to ask my parents' permission on a band who were called My Little Funhouse who are signed to Geffen Records. My parents, being on holiday, flew home that weekend and the manager came up from Kilkenny. They came to the house and there were lots of talks going on about being signed to Geffen records and literally on the Monday I flew out to Amsterdam and joined this band, so the Friday I was in school and the following Monday I was in the band. The polar opposite of the life I was living three days ago, so I left the school and I was living the life I wanted to live. I just had to acclimatise to it so I flew out to Europe and joined this band.

Irish Drummers; That was brilliant, it was great to get that break and then you had the confidence to do it, which was incredible.

I suppose I just learned so much over the years, through having that rearing you know, it was fantastic, it was brilliant and then I was still green in so many ways of the world of being in the world of rock & roll. It took me a while to come round to that. It was great and even musically in a lot of ways I was ready for action.

Irish Drummers; Excellent, so you joined My Little Funhouse on a Monday and obviously you had to learn the set. I think it was the album 'Stand Under' that they were touring?

That's right yeah. I had to stand in then. The drummer was still leaving and there was a bit of political stuff going on and I had to learn to play the set and everything worked out. I joined the band and everything worked out cool. I joined and then I was gigging with the band. We were doing festivals and playing Feile and all this mad stuff that I literally had dreamed about, a couple of months beforehand - very surreal, totally surreal but I was lapping it up you know.

Irish Drummers; So Graham, I suppose you really felt part of the music scene then?

Yeah I completely was you know and absolutely loving it and then we moved to LA. Then about three or maybe four months later because the band wanted to get over there and it was just beyond surreal. Then, because I went over there and I was in the way of drums which was the front and foremost of my mind really not being a rock star although rewind back a while the thing that took me over aged sixteen musically was we all got swamped in by the whole grunge scene like me and all my friends with bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains you know. All those bands came in so a lot of that was at the forefront of our minds musically because we were all into that scene but still drumming was always a big thing on my mind, understandably so. When we moved to LA a few months later with My Little Funhouse, I got an endorsement with Zildjian and an endorsement with Pearl and an endorsement with Zildjian sticks. So more than anything, to do with me joining the band this was the biggest thing that I'd dealt with you know that literally kind of, I can't remember if I did cry, or if I wanted but this was the biggest thing that gave me f****n chills everywhere and that I had done it.

Irish Drummers; That you had arrived!

That I had arrived you know and then around the end of that year, I had an ad for Pearl drums in Modern Drummer and that was something I framed in my house at home and it was like what the f**k, I have got an ad in Modern Drummer for Pearl Drums and that was it, I had arrived. I could have happily retired then you know. There was nothing else.

Irish Drummers; But thankfully Graham you didn't!

Yeah, I kept going! 

Saturday 18 February 2017

Irish Drummers; Kevin, when did you start playing?
I started playing drums quite late actually, I began playing when I was about 16 and previous to that I had played piano and trumpet. I started playing piano when I was 6 years of age and then I took up trumpet when I was about 8. I played them up until my late teens doing the usual grades thing. I took up the drums, purely by coincidence. It was an instrument I always wanted to try and I kind of stumbled upon it. Thankfully!

Irish Drummers; Who were your influences at that stage?
At that point, I was a huge Stewart Copeland fan and another drummer I really liked listening too was Manu Katche. My father gave me a record, at Christmas time, when I was younger it was Wynton Marsalis called Standard volume 1, I got to hear Jeff Tain Watts and I think that would’ve been the turning point for me with regards to jazz drumming.

Irish Drummers;  What was it about Jeff’s playing that made it such a turning point?
I think it was mainly because I was intrigued by the way that he was so free in his approach to playing and that he could play behind so many different styles. I was practicing reading basic beats, I wanted to be able to hold down a groove in time while reading. When I heard Tain playing I heard lots of different influences that were intriguing to me. He merged so many styles together seemlessly and that’s why it had such a big influence on me.

Irish Drummers; Did you get any drum lessons?
Not at first. For the first year and a half I didn’t get any lessons. There were certain things I couldn’t improve, like endurance, so once I hit the wall so to speak of developing, I went to Conor Guilfoyle at the Newpark Music Centre and I studied with him for many years. We have been good friends ever since. Another good thing of following one’s pursuit is that you meet so many great people along the way. I did a lot of drum-kit exams which I felt helped with my reading. I was about 20 when I started performing professionally on the drumkit, playing blues & rock gigs at first. When I was 21 or 22, Conor recommended me to go to Drummers Collective in New York City. I went there and lived in New York for a while and studied with Gene Jackson, Kim Plainfield & Bobby Sanabrias. I think Kim is still teaching at the Collective. Kim taught me many different techniques, co-ordination, fundamentals and reading skills and funk and swing and jazz related stuff. Bobby Sanabrias was for the Afro-Cuban part of performing on the drumkit. It was a huge learning curve for me, I saw so many people my age at the time that were way, way better than me, that was a real eye opener.

Irish Drummers; You came back to Ireland after a year, so what happened after that?
After that, I went to a jazz summer camp in Jordanstown at the University of Ulster and I studied with the fantastic teacher Keith Copeland & Hugh Frazer. I had studied with Keith previously when he came over to Ireland to perform with The Tommy Halferty Trio. I was lucky to have classes with Keith and at the end of that particular summer I enrolled at the Newpark Music Centre and achieved a professional musicians cert. For me, this was an introduction, formally to jazz studies. I finished the studies & went on to achieve an LGSM Diploma from the Guildhall School of Music in Jazz Studies.

Irish Drummers;  So that was your background regarding music education?
Yeah, that was kind of the start of it and when I finished, there was another life cycle for me. I had always wanted to travel around the world, so I bought a Round the World ticket and went to Australia, I also travelled around Asia and the U.S.

Irish Drummers; Were you drumming over there?
Yes I was, I had close friends from New Zealand that were really experienced Blues music performers, some of them singer/songwriters. We played regularly. I also had the chance to work for a recording & distribution label for close to a year which was a real eye opener for me at the time. I felt it gave me a fundamental background into marketing and the business end of things regarding music. This was a period of time that was extremely beneficial and to this day I still go back to the advice that I got while I was working there.

Irish Drummers; You played with both Justin Carroll and John Moriarty.
I was playing with the hammond organ trio called Organics featuring Justin Carroll on Hammond Organ and John Moriarty on Guitar, both of which have gone on to compose and record some amazing music individually.
At that time they had to get a replacement drummer in, while I was away, but fortunately, about maybe 8 months or so after returning home, I began playing with the group again and things kinda took off from there. I was 28 at that stage. I haven’t really looked back since, concerning gigging,recording & playing music.

Irish Drummers;  When did you decide that music was going to be your fulltime career?
I can tell you exactly. It was just after my Leaving Cert and I had decided when I was about 17 that that was what I wanted to do. I had been involved in music all my life. I remember even saying to the careers guidance teacher in secondary school that this was what I was going to do, but obviously they tried to put me off that direction, but I stuck to my decision. Glad I did and glad that I had the support from my folks as well, couldn’t of done it without them.

Irish Drummers; When you started performing live did you get stage fright or get nervous?
I think I was fortunate, I naturally took to it. When I was studying & playing the piano I was also playing the trumpet. I played in a concert band and we had the opportunity to perform throughout Europe. I was quite young and I loved every part of the travel process and getting organised for the performance. Playing drums was different for me, I didn’t play melody anymore, it was a different type of role, but I think, and feel, that my role is as important to make whatever musical situation exists become the best that it can be. The only time I think I got stage fright, was when I did my first gig as a band leader with my piano trio, I was no longer a sideman. I organised everything and tried to develop something new, for me to be able to develop… there’s always something new to learn.

Irish Drummers; What is your drum gear preference?
I love using Evans DrumHeads & I find them really easy to tune. I have a couple of different kits, I have a Limited edition Tama Classic I bought about 2 years ago and they’re beautiful drums, loud!!!
Two kits that I really love playing, were made in New York at a shop called Modern Drum Shop, which unfortunately know longer exists. Joe Cusatis was the owner and he was actually a great drummer & Adam Nussbaum’s first drum teacher. Joe was well known in New York City, when I was there about 13 years ago, I stumbled upon the shop (as you do in NY). I was looking for an 18 inch bass drum and when I walked into the shop I saw that Joe made a variety of great kits. Since then we met many times when I was in Manhattan and over the years I bought bits and pieces from him and I own two of his kits. His store closed down about eight years ago, unfortunately.
So I am lucky to have these sets, their real. There’s a nice sound projection from them, I use a variety of different snare drums, when I go abroad to play. I usually bring my aluminium Manu Katche signature series. It’s like a Ludwig Black Beauty Snare and I have a Brady Snare Drum that I got made for me by Chris. The cymbals I have are primarily Bosphorus.

I have a couple of old K’s that I bought in Steve Maxwell’s Vintage and Custom Drums. The store is in Manhattan and anytime I go over there I’ll always head in and check to see what he’s got in stock just to be tempted. When I’m recording I’ll use 15 inch trans-stamp High-Hats from the 1940s, real old sound. I love that tone. At the moment I’m using Vic Firths 7a drum sticks and I use Regal Tip Classic Telescopic Brushes, they’re just really manageable & light, anything heavier than the latter I would find it too heavy. Most of the mallets,etc. I would use would be made by Vic Firth.

Irish Drummers; How do you decide what to play when your recording?
Well when I recorded my last record, I was singing a lot of melodies and I would record the melodies no matter when the idea came to me I would just record it there on the spot so I could remind myself what it was, meaning, I would use my smartphone,etc. It seems kind of in depth to do stuff that way but it just means that I had a lot of different files and ideas. Sometimes I would think of a topic and would write about that as well. That would influence the melody development or chords structures. I love to write tunes that people can hopefully remember. I find with some jazz melodies the music can be quite angular, I don’t want to write music that way. When I write, I prefer having the old jazz standard and the structure of a song intact, I  learnt melody after all when I was a kid, that’s what attracted me to music. So I always try, to write music in that way, I want the listener to be able to remember the tune. When I give the guys in my trio the tunes, one of the main reasons I play with them, apart from their great musicianship, is because their knowledge of harmony is so strong and they’re going to re-harmonise the chords anyway and develop the music. I'm lucky to play with them.

Photo credit; John Cronin at Dublin Jazz Photography

Sunday 12 February 2017

Since taking up the drums in 2002, Benjamin Garrett’s career has progressed year on year. He is one of the founding members of one of Ireland's most exciting bands Overhead, The Albatross.

Ben had a very successful 2016 with the release of Overheads debut album ‘Learning To Growl’ which has been nominated for the RTE Choice Prize Album of the Year. Having had a very busy summer playing all the major Irish festivals, 2016 finished on a career high, culminating in Overheads biggest headline show in Vicar St in December.

Ben also plays drums for Irish artist Lethal Dialect, which he joined in 2014. They have been busy working on their next album, which should surface sometime in 2017.

He is currently in his final year in BIMM whilst also performing with the drumming troupe The Hit Machine and the covers band Upbeat Generation.

Irish Drummers; When did you start drumming?
I started getting into drums when I visited my cousins house and discovered they’d bought a drum kit which I was fascinated by. I used to go to a lot of Ireland rugby matches as a kid and loved watching the Army/Garda bands play (which I would then try and imitate on biscuit tins in my Gran's house after the match). I got my first drum kit in 2002 (Pearl Target) and started playing to my favourite bands. I got lessons from two brilliant drummers Dave Hardy and Des Lacey who are both personal heroes of mine.

Irish Drummers; What is your drum gear?
My gear is made up of;

Pearl Masters Premium Maple
24” kick
16” floor
18” floor

Sonor Protean snare 14”

I also proudly endorse Sabian Cymbals and Vater drumsticks.
15” HHX Groove hats
21” HHX legacy crash/ride
22” HHX legacy heavy ride
22” Artisan Medium ride
19” AAX Extreme China

Vater 55BB sticks.

Irish Drummers; Who are your drum influences?
My influences are, Chad Smith, Travis Barker, Tomas Haake, Danny Carey and Jason McGerr


Photo credit; Sean Smyth

Sunday 5 February 2017

Common Grounds Collective is proud and delighted to announce its debut drum clinic tour with Graham Hopkins, renowned as one of the greatest and most influential Irish drummers of his generation.

Following a hectic touring schedule with Oscar-winner Glen Hansard, Graham is combining his two great passions - drums and coffee with this upcoming nationwide tour. Graham will visit 6 of Ireland's best independent coffee shops between 21st February and 9th March, for an intimate hang out, to play and talk drums, music, and drink coffee.

Tickets for these tour dates are bound to sell out, so early action is highly recommended. Please contact Common Grounds Collective for further details.

For tickets contact: www.commongroundscollective.ie