There’s an old joke amongst musicians – ‘What do you call someone who hangs around on stage with musicians?’ The punchline? ‘A drummer.’ Well, I like drummers – most of them, anyway. I think that the first drummer that I became really aware of as a personality within a band was Charlie Watts of ‘The Rolling Stones’ . To start with he always appeared older than everyone else there, and looked more like an accountant who’d accidentally found himself sitting behind the drum kit. But by gum, he could drum! And as the rest of the band age, Charlie barely seems to alter. When his colleagues find themselves in the glare of publicity, Charlie stays behind the scenes. Solid. Reliable. Literally a safe pair of hands. And that’s how I regard drummers. There are exceptions to this rule – Keith Moon being the obvious one – but let me run with this!
When I went to University, I remember the death of John Bonham being announced on the radio. It was quite a surprise to me and I think it was possibly one of the few ‘Kennedy’ moments I’d had in my life up to that point – you know, those times when you can remember where you were and what you were doing when a particular news item breaks. The opening drumming of ‘Rock and Roll’ is quite something.
I suppose the thing that bought this train of thought to mind this morning was reading a review of a gig I attended a week or so ago – The Arctic Monkeys here in Sheffield. Specific mention was made of Matt Helders, the drummer, even to the degree of comparing him to Bonham. For me Matt pins together the whole Monkeys sound. Forget the pretty boy front-man Mr Turner – he may be talented but Matt is the Man. Solid, tight, disciplined and delivering the beat that everything else hangs from. Exactly what you want from a drummer. Whatever else happens with the Arctics, Matt will be kepeing it ‘High Green Real’.
My other favourite contemporary(ish) drummer is Sean Moore from the Manic Street Preachers. Sean was always the ‘forgotten Manic’ but he was absolutely critical to the sound. The drumming on ‘Love’s Sweet Exile’ is up there with the best – brilliant.
I’d also say that one of the best tests of a sound system and the acoustics in a gig venue is what it does with a good, crisp, drum set. Is there a ringing noise just audible around the drums? Does it sound ‘mushy’? Does it break up or even start forcing feedback? If so, the chances are that the drum kit isn’t miked correctly or the sound system isn’t set up correctly; if the latter then the chances are strong that the rest of the band isn’t sounding it’s best either.
Of course, I couldn’t write about drummers without mentioning Phil Collins. And having mentioned him, I will move swiftly on…. Oh, and while I remember…no 12 minute drum solos!