Friday 16 March 2018

When did you start drumming?

It’s hard to say really, I`ve always been a "tapper". From as far back as I can remember I’d be tapping tables, chairs, doors, cookers, anything that made a sound. I used to love standing with my back to the cooker tapping out different beats, I loved the rattles and bangs. My older brothers had a band so I’d busk along while they were practising in the front room, at the same time my sisters would have whatever they were listening to blaring from upstairs. By the time I was about 7 I had already guested on cooker with everyone from Gene Pitney to Deep Purple, I think my Mother worked from the logic of once she could hear us she knew where we were and what we were up to. I got an old set of sticks from my brother and progressed from the cooker to the "bed kit" when I was about 12 or 13, the old folded pillow trick for hi-hats, mattress for the snare and the gorgeous thud of my heel on the carpeted floorboards made a magic bass drum. It wasn’t very practical for lugging around but I’d drift off into my own little space and in my head I toured the world playing the bed with some fabulous bands.

Care to mention who they were?

Emerson Lake and Palmer were one of my favourites to "gig" with at the time, with absolutely no stick response from the pillow or mattress Id let Carl Palmer do all
the flowery stuff and I’d hold down the beat for him on the bed. My first kit when I was about 15 was a mongrel conbination of a bass drum and tom that my cousin was throwing out,
a snare drum with 3 wires left on it that my brother didn’t use anymore, a cowbell, cymbals with chunks cut out of them and hardware that I only found out later weren’t actually made of gaffa tape, they just looked like they were. Everytime I lifted my left foot the hi hat stand went west, so I played closed hi hats until Eddie (my brother) needed a new one. I don’t exactly remember why he needed a new one but I’d safely say I had something to do with it. I’m rambling as usual but what I’m trying to say is I`ve been a drummer of one kind or another ever since I can remember, and I`ve been very lucky, cos its all I`ve ever wanted to be.

What is your drum gear setup?
I play an old Pearl World Series kit I bought in 1986, 22" 10" 12" 13" 14" toms, my snare is a 13"x 7" Sonor, I sit fairly tight to the kit so the 13" snare gets me in nice and close.
It’s a long, long time since I`ve used the full kit but I do use different set ups depending on who I’m playing with, but it’s always some combination of those drums. At the minute I`m using 22" bass 10" rack and 14" floor. I`ve had all sorts of kits over the years but I always go back to the World Series, having said that, I`m looking at a lovely Sonor kit right now so who knows, I`m always open to change, I just haven’t found another kit worth changing for yet. Cymbal wise I use a mixture of Paiste Signature and Sabian HHX. My usual set up is
14" hats, 10" splash, 14" and 16" crashes and a 16" China. My ride cymbal is an old Sabian 20" that I fell in love with many years ago, I don’t even know what range it is but I love the sound and feel of it. I swapped a 22" Paiste 2002 for it at the time so we both fell on our feet, that was a lovely cymbal as well. I still use the cowbell I found when I was rooting in the shed for the Gaffa tape covered stands for my first kit, so let’s just say its old, but it still sounds great, its kinda like my Blankie. I`m a bit of a lightweight when it comes to sticks, 7A Nylon Tip, I`d be more touchy feely than heavy handed so 7A are just right for me. Over the past few years I`ve been using rods a lot, I found wooden rods take a long time to "play in" so I went on a bit of a mission and I found Rohema make a nice range of Poly Brushes. They are pretty much like rods but they have Nylon fibres as opposed to wooden strands. I also use Rohema JB 3 Brushes. I like the balance of the stick grip and Nylon Brush, I feel more in control. Retractable wire brushes with rubber or plastic handles always felt heavy and floppy to me so the JB 3`s are ideal. They`re basically a drumstick with a nylon brush on the end and that gives me the best of both worlds.

Who are your drumming influences?
I mentioned Carl Palmer earlier as someone I would play along with at home, but my main influence would have been my brother Eddie. Eddie pretty much devoted his life to drumming. He played kit with Geraldine Brannigan and Phil Coulter amongst others during his gigging career. He moved from kit playing later on and formed Irelands first Taiko drum corp. He played the Noel Eccles written Taiko piece at the opening cermony of the Special Olympics Games and he's now a Remo Certified Health Rhythmist and runs his own Wellness and Personal Development Centre in which Drumming still plays an important role.
I'm rambling again but that's just a small but Important insight of what was going on around me growing up. I loved listening to him playing, it was a great advantage for me being so young to watch and learn close up from someone so talented. He introduced me to the likes of Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Ed Shaughnessy, Tony Williams and a few other guys.
I remember he told me once to have a listen to a particular Tony Williams album. He said there was a drum break on one of the tracks that sounded like he just picked up the
kit and threw it down the stairs, so I listened, and his description couldn`t have been better, but it was a real turning point for me, cos although I had been listening to the brilliance of
Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa for years I really couldn`t tell them apart, but this guy Tony Williams was the first drummer I ever heard who didn`t sound like anyone else.
I`m sure what he played was technically brilliant but more importantly for me his style was really individual and at the time I suppose very original, that’s when I really started to listen to other drummers. When i was about 16/17 the flood gates opened. I discovered the likes of Bill Bruford, Billy Cobham and later Steve Gadd and Jeff Pocarro.
A huge plus for me also was, from where I lived in Dublin, since I was say 17, I could walk into the city centre any night Monday to Sunday and watch guys like Noel Bridgeman, Don Harris, Robbie Brennan, Paul McAteer, Fran Breen and others. The gig scene was booming, bands playing every night of the week. It was a great time to grow up and very educational to watch those guys play live rather than just listen to records at home.

Favourite songs or albums?

Not sure if I have a favourite album as such but I still give Al De Meola`s Elegant Gypsy a blast every now an then, Lenny White and Steve Gadd`s playing on it is superb. Lee Ritenour`s Feel the Night album would be another but there are so many its really hard to single out one as my favourite. It`s not all drums for me. I'd have bands like Zero 7, Massive Attack, Sneaker Pimps and a few others on around the house, and then again when the mood takes me I love to listen to Paco Di Lucia playing flamenco guitar. Friday Night in San Francisco is a great live album with Paco, Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin.
Muse, Spin Doctors and Crash Test Dummies are always in the car for long journeys and a Stevie Wonder album would never be too far away. My favourite songs range from Waylon Jenning`s "Dreaming my Dreams" to Muse's "Hysteria", but once again there are so many songs I like it’s very hard to narrow it down. I know that’s a very varied selection of albums and songs but I really do listen to everything.

You got the call from Don Baker, that must have felt good?
Yea it was nice for sure, its almost 20 years since I`ve worked with Don and even then he always liked the idea of intimate theatre type venues. At that time the gigs were mainly rock bars and festivals so it was fairly full on and heavy going for everyone. Don`s recognition as one of the worlds greatest Blues Harmonica players opened doors but it also created expectations of a stomping rhythm & blues set for 2 hours or so every night, the result being a lot of Don`s softer heartfelt songs that really required listening to were put to one side. This current theatre tour is the perfect chance to play some of those songs, and there ain’t nobody I can think of that can sing a slow blues or a soul song quite like Rob Strong. Rob is playing bass and doing a lot of the vocals. I think most people would agree that Rob is without question one of the finest soul singers we`ve ever had in the country, but he`s also a super bass player to play with. His sense of groove, rhythm and dynamic are all gorgeous and his natural feel for bass and drums makes it so easy to lock in with him, he really is solid but he`s a very musical player as well. Salvatore Urbano is on piano and keyboards. I could listen to Sal all day even when he`s not playing the piano, he speaks with the same passion he plays music with. He`s a fabulous pianist with a beautiful blues/jazz/funk kinda thing going on that really is lovely to listen to. That sounds very serious but it`s not at all. There's not a hope in hell of Don or Rob doing a gig without an odd shuffle or two, but there`s a lot for listeners to enjoy as well so I`m really looking forward to it.

In your opinion what makes Irish Drummers different to other Drummers?
God that’s a tough one cos there really are so many drummers here, and different types of drummers at that. Every second person I meet knows a drummer, and the funny thing is they all seem to gig on a Thursday. Nine times out of ten when I tell people what I do they say something like "that's great, I know a guy who plays the drums in a band, can`t think of the name of the band now but they used to do every Thursday in whatchamacallits pub". The only thing they`re 100% sure of is that the gig was on a Thursday, and now that I think of it I can’t remember the last time i read an ad that said "Drummer available for Thursday", so maybe there's something in that. I`m obviously busking here while I try to think of an answer. Actually in saying that, busking is something I`ve always thought Irish Drummers are really good at. I mean busk in a "stand in or dep" situation, most drummers i know are very comfortable with it and enjoy the challenge, but it`s an art in itself so I`m not sure it qualifies to make us different. I think the general view of drummers is that we`re all a bit Nuts.
I`m not necessarily supporting that view but in my own particular case it certainly hits the post so that rules out not being the stereotype for me at least, so I`m gonna have to
stick with the Thursday thing for now, or dancing, god yea dancing, we`re certainly different at that.
What other upcoming projects are you involved in?
I`m essentially freelance so I always have to be up to something. This tour with Don and Rob is priority right now but on days we`re not gigging I'm doing some dep work and an odd bit in the studio. There has already been extra dates added so its very likely we`ll do it all again later on in the year. The nice thing about being freelance is that I never really know what the next phone call will bring. I like the mystery of that and it certainly keeps me busy learning new stuff all the time.

See you all real soon I hope,
Thanks again,