This episode of In the Head of the Artists is with Tommy Clark of The Kinks Experience! Nhc's resident guitar geek Martin McCann breaks his drum interview cherry and finds out what he has been using both in the studio and live recently. We also chat to Tommy about the ups and downs of tribute bands and the life of a radio presenter.
WARNING - this article may be steeped in drum geekiness, proceed with caution!
Tommy is well known for his excellent Third Class Ticket radio show, showcasing some of the best unsigned bands around. He’s currently drumming with The Bandits and The Kinks Experience but will look at his general set up for his Kinks sets.
Tommy - tell us a bit about role in the band and how you came to be part of it. Also can you give us a glimpse of your musical journey so far.
Thanks Martin. I think I should really start at the beginning. I was 11 and for Christmas I received my first ever drum kit. It was a black Maxwin (by Pearl) 5 piece kit that my parents had bought for me from the local music shop in Kilwinning. (Seriously buying music gear from a shop in your own high street was common back then). With a set of high hats and a single crash (positioned between the right hand rack tom and the floor tom) this was the best drum kit in the world. You can imagine the horror when my first drum teacher (who had just left Altered Images seconds before they hit the charts) started to remove the resonant (bottom) skins from the toms and gaffa taped parts of a woolly blanket to the top skins. This was my first introduction to ‘tuning a kit’. Anyway as time passed I changed the skins, stepped up to a set of Sabian B8 Pro Cymbals (13” hi-hats, 16” stage crash and a 20” Dry ride - I kid you not) and the most exotic of percussion items roto-toms. I thought I was the bees knees gigging at the local youth club with my first ever band The Pits.
As time passed I was about to change to a very different drum. The Snare drum of the Royal Marines band Service. I trained in the Royal Marine School of Music in Deal Kent as a percussionist. This opened my eyes to the complexities of a whole range of instruments but unfortunately home sickness and a huge lack of confidence in my own abilities made this far too short lived.
After I returned home I played in a multitude of pub bands including The Dynamite Messiahs, Occams Razor, The Messiahs, Velasquez, The Seventh Sons & The Standards. The latter two for around 10 years each and a multitude of gigs were played.
More recently I have also done a bit of depping with the likes of Soldier on and Seaside Sons.
Now onto the initial question how did I become part of The Kinks Experience?
Alan who plays bass with the band was looking for a deputy drummer and my name had been mentioned to him. I met him whilst I was Djing the VIP room at a From the Jam gig at Troon town hall. We chatting all very briefly and I was asked to pop in to a rehearsal and meet the rest of the band and basically see how things went. I remember arriving at the rehearsal and Peter (the Dave Davies of the band) asking what I had learned from the set. I possibly very naively had learned the whole set. Isn’t that what ‘deps’ do I thought. Anyway the rehearsal went well and I have played more than a few gigs with them. Its kinda like what happened with Keith Moon and The Who. I auditioned then never left the band.
As time has passed I now take more to do (along with Alan) with the liaison with venues and do a small part of the PR of the band online. I also add pretty poor backing vocals but the more the sing the better they get. I hope.
Tools of the trade - what kind of kit do you have just now, I’m sure the drum geeks would want all the details. Cymbals, pedal and hardware preferences?
At the moment I am using my engagement ring on stage….. When my wife and I got engaged she got a diamond ring where as I got a Mapex Fusion kit. She really is the love of my life…. The kit not Louise…. Only kidding sweetheart. Anyway back to the Kit. It’s a 6 piece Blonde maple kit comprising of 8”, 10” and 12” rack toms and a 14 x14” hanging tom rather than a floor tom. I recently re-skinned the toms to all have pre-dampened skins which really look and sound great. They have that 70’s look to them that really stands out with a huge black dot in the middle of them.
All stands are standard double braced with my ride cymbal positioned on a Pearl 2 way stand allowing it to be used either as a boom or straight stand which is handy to take with my for gigs I am using the house kit (more on this later).
Cymbal set ups can change slightly from venue to venue but my preferred set up is Sabian AAX 14” studio hi-hats, (left hand) Sabian AAX 16” Stage Crash with an extension holding a 10” AAX splash, (right hand) 19” Sabian AAX X-Plosion crash and (Above the floating tom) a 20” Stage ride. In the middle I also have a vintage Paiste 15” cymbal which I got along with a rehearsal kit I bought a few years ago. Its really has that 60’s sound to it and love playing this cymbal.
Snare drum fluctuates between a Mapex MPX 14” x 6 ½” that I picked up from a music shop in Newcastle, The standard 14” x 6” that came with the kit and a vintage un-named Stainless steel 14” x 6” that I bought off a friend for the price of a lunch. The latter really has such a cracking tone from it.
Being a creature of habit and after years of going through the fads of the time I have finally settled on Vic Firth all wood 5A sticks although I have been known to use Hot-Rods for those quieter tracks.
My bass drum has a cracking thud to it through an old Yamaha Chain driven pedal with a felt circular beater that I picked up with an Alesis electronic kit (I have sold that on though)…. Although I recently bought a new Mapex pedal but it just can’t live with the Yamaha.
What’s your general impression of venues supplied drum equipment - personally I’ve seen some shocking equipment recently.
I have been pretty lucky recently as most of the ‘house kits’ I have been asked to use have been of a decent quality due to the level of the gigs I have been playing. Saying that some venues in the past have pointed you to a collection of dust covered drums of many different colours mongrelised and pretending to be a drum kit.
Now I am a firm believer of make the best of what you have been given so with a bit of tuning and repositioning you can usually get enough of a sound that the engineer can work with.
How does your current set up differ from the previous bands you were in? Do you find your gear choices evolving from band to band or are you happy to stick to what you know best?
As I talked about previously I have built up my kit to the perfect set up for me. I have hand-picked the add-ons I feel I needed over the years. Saying that my man cave I packed full of cow-bells, tambourines and bongo drums I hardly ever hit in anger.
Bits and pieces - when on tour or playing local is there anything specific you can't do without? Any pro tricks you've pick up along the way you'd like to share with us?
For every gig (as well as the usual breakables) I usually have a bag in the boot of the car filled with a couple of drum keys, Spare hi-hat clutches (with different size holes), spare bass drum pedal, A cymbal stand, couple of pairs of sticks (in addition to my stick bag), roll of gaffa tape and a box of gels.
Stage gear I have to carry snare drum, bass drums pedal, cymbal bag, stick bag (with hi-hat clutch and drum key in the pocket) and the most important friend of the drummer 2 towels (one for your face and the other….. well use your imagination)
You took a break from your radio show recently but your back on the air. How are you enjoying being back in front of the mic and has anything changed since you took a step back?
It’s very early days for the show coming back but one thing I have noticed is the quality of the tracks being sent has taken another step up. Not the actual writing or the musicianship but the production level. E.g. When I first recorded an E.P. back in the eighties it was done on a 4 track with 2 mics and you could hear folks chatting in the background etc. Nowadays you can produce a top quality production level recorded on your phone then run through Audacity or for those with better money ProTools.
I recently recorded an album with Jim Dead & The Doubters in a Glasgow studio and we managed to record, mix. master and release the album for not much more than a couple of thousand pounds.
Another thing coming back is that I am back to the bottom of the queue for new releases from bands but I’m sure I won’t be long in getting back in their thoughts.
Tribute bands - cover bands and original music. There is a place for all of them but what’s your feeling on it all. Do you find that cover/tribute bands get looked down on by bands writing and recording their own music? Personally I think a good cover/tribute band can be a great venue filler as well as good entertainment. The level of skill has to be high because the audience expects the music to be more perfect.
Having the benefit of having played in all three I would always say there is place for all of us out there. There is a market for all three.
Original music will always have a special place in my heart but let’s be honest without your favourite local band there will never be the superstars. Oasis, Blur and Coldplay have all played king tuts.
Now cover bands are the stalwarts of Saturday night pub entertainment and can inspire people to first have an interest in an instrument. Also you can’t beat a drunken sing-a-long with you mates.
And finally what is now my bread and butter these days. Playing drums in a tribute band is a joy especially for bands that are not around anymore it may be the closest you will ever get. And therein as you say lies the skill. The trick to be a very good tribute band is not in the band, the songs, the look, the sound or the promotion. It’s in all of that packaged together to give the gig goer the most authentic experience. They need to believe there are actually watching the real band. I think we do quite well in this to be honest but there is always room for improvement.
Unsigned bands - there are a lot out there!! Which bands have caught your attention recently - and where can you see some of them going wrong in their approach to getting seen and heard?
A lot is an understatement. The unsigned music scene is massive nowadays and increasing by the day. Social media has really helped this growth I feel as I can now listen, stream, watch or even talk to a band anywhere in the world. With that in mind though there are a lot of good bands, some really great bands and some that are not so great.
Recently I have had the pleasure of seeing a lot of unsigned bands live and there are a few who really stand out. Dogtooth & Lisa Kowolski are top young musicians who never fail to perform. The Novatones & The Spitfires play with a passion that is seldom seen these days. Another band that are just starting out and well worth seeing is Sperry.
There are some bands that have been around for a while now but are still producing top tunes like Losing Ground, Huxtable, Soldier on, Seaside Sons, Carnation, Megan Dotchin, Vida, The Shambolics & huge favourites of mine The Valkarys.
I must give a special mention your band Joe Bone and the dark vibes who really do things the right way not only in playing but the whole ethos of gigging as well. I could go on all day with the wealth of talent going un-noticed out there right now.
There are a lot of bands doing the right things. Gigging, promoting, recording are all important but for me there is something that a load or bands including my own are really bad at. Supporting other artists! I don’t mean sharing Facebook pages, promoting each other’s releases etc. What really, for me, is the cardinal sin of the musician is not taking the time to watch another bands set. If you are first on the bill at an unsigned night please hang around and give the later bands your support. If you are on last turn up early. You might learn something.
Lastly the unsigned band should use everything available to them to succeed. Local radio, local newspapers, posters in the local shop, dare I say it Online radio. Big deal that 14 fans from Canada say they are coming to your gig if you ex school mates don’t know about it.
Get savvy, get seen, get signed.
And finally, which drummer has caught your ear recently. What inspires you to keep playing and who was your drumming inspiration?
Growing up I was a huge fan of Stewart Copeland (the Police) but as time goes on I have embraced a greater respect for Steve White (The Style Council, Paul Weller band & The family Silver) Craig Blundell (an ex-Marine bugler mate and top session Player) Dave McCluskey (The Quireboys, The Union) and the attack drumming of the sadly departed John Bradbury (The Specials)
On the unsigned scene there are a few drummers I could sit and watch playing all day. The younger generation who are taking drumming forward for us all. So I would give a big shout out to Kirstin Lynn (WHITE), Robert Lang (Dogtooth) & Jenny Tingle (Dark Vibes).
So why do I keep bashing toms and crashing cymbals….. That’s easy, I’m addicted to the encore roar!!
Cheers again Tommy!