BE­HIND THE DRUMS DAVE MAT­TACKS

THE FOLK-LEAN­ING UK SES­SION STAR AN­SWERS OUR BURN­ING QUES­TIONS

Rhythm - - INTERVIEW - WORDS: GE­OFF NI­CHOLLS PHOTOS: RICK ASH­LEY/ DAN CARON

B efore leav­ing the UK for New Eng­land back in 2000, Dave Mat­tacks was one of the UK’s top ses­sion drum­mers, known for his mu­si­cally sen­si­tive way with back­ing up a plethora of singer-song­writ­ers from Joan Ar­ma­trad­ing to Richard Thomp­son to Paul McCart­ney.

Dave is back in the UK for his an­nual spring jaunt with Feast Of Fid­dles. Fronted by six top fid­dlers, it’s the col­lec­tive’s 25th an­nual UK tour, as they roam from tra­di­tional folk through con­tem­po­rary folk-rock with the odd curve­ball thrown in. A swing ar­range­ment of a film score per­haps, or a sly segue into Led Zep­pelin’s ‘Kash­mir’. Al­though atyp­i­cal, the lat­ter is the per­fect ve­hi­cle for DM’s eco­nomic, strong and fas­tid­i­ous drum­ming – his un­likely old 1970s mate Bonzo would cer­tainly ap­prove.

Mat­tacks’ folk con­nec­tion traces back to his break­through with UK folk-rock masters Fair­port Con­ven­tion in 1969. From this plat­form he built a wide-rang­ing ses­sion ca­reer, cul­mi­nat­ing in ap­pear­ances on five Paul McCart­ney al­bums. His CV lists hun­dreds of al­bums and artists in­clud­ing Ge­orge Har­ri­son, El­ton John, Nick Drake, XTC , Jimmy Page, Brian Eno, Mary Chapin Car­pen­ter, Rosanne Cash, John Mar­tyn and Jethro Tull.

As the ses­sion world di­min­ished in the UK he found him­self drawn to the north-eastern USA. Thus from 2000 he has carved out a new scene in the Bos­ton area where he’s still very much ac­tive with live and record­ing work. His spe­cial tal­ent for mak­ing singer-song­writ­ers com­fort­able owes to his multi-faceted abil­ity to play

pi­ano and bass, and with a huge thirst for fur­ther­ing his mu­si­cal and drum­ming knowl­edge, he also now pro­duces and ar­ranges.

DM, what was the first kit that you ever owned?

“I started with just a snare drum – a truly aw­ful Gig­ster – and added to it when I could af­ford to. A whole set, pre­dom­i­nately Premier, grad­u­ally emerged. I dis­tinctly re­mem­ber when I graduated to my Lud­wig 400: ‘Ahh! That’s what a snare drum is sup­posed to sound like!’”

Did you take lessons or were you self-taught?

“I had some lessons early on from Johnny Joseph, a Southend-based drum­mer who was play­ing in the Lon­don ball­rooms. He got me started with the ba­sics of read­ing and showed me var­i­ous rhythms, such as the fox­trot, rhumba, etc. It was all very help­ful.

“Around the same time, John­nie Richard­son, who was my boss/man­ager when I ap­pren­ticed at Lon­don’s Drum City, taught me so much about mu­sic and the in­stru­ment. I had a les­son a few years ago with Dave Has­sell – a hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence, I can as­sure you!”

Who did you look up to as a young drum­mer?

“Ini­tially it was the orig­i­nal Shad­ows’ drum­mer Tony Mee­han, then Kenny Clare, who was a big in­flu­ence. Kenny’s ap­proach, and es­pe­cially his sound, re­ally had a big ef­fect on me. Get­ting to meet and sub­se­quently know him later on was a big thing for me. ‘Dis­cov­er­ing’ him was fol­lowed rapidly by learn­ing about and hear­ing Buddy, Ringo and all the other great jazz and rock drum­mers from that era.”

What was the first song that you learned to play?

“Elvis Pres­ley’s ‘Her Lat­est Flame’. I did a great job on a pair of bon­gos with my mum’s knit­ting nee­dles. By the time the al­most-com­plete kit was in place, be­ing able to play Shad­ows tunes was a real badge of ma­tu­rity.”

How did you de­velop your drum sound?

“By both lis­ten­ing and play­ing a lot, try­ing to un­der­stand the in­stru­ment. It’s still very much a work in progress. I used to think of the record­ing stu­dio ver­sus live as the big dif­fer­ences when try­ing to get a sound. I’ve since learned that acous­tics, tun­ing, touch, the type of mu­sic and the mu­si­cal line-up – from a trio to a big band – are the more per­ti­nent fac­tors. Hav­ing a han­dle on dif­fer­ent gen­res has its ad­van­tages too.”

What is the key to your play­ing style?

“It’s dif­fi­cult not to be sub­jec­tive, but I’d say econ­omy and, hope­fully, do­ing some­thing mu­si­cally ap­pro­pri­ate. How­ever, ev­ery mu­si­cian feels that way about their play­ing, cer­tainly re­gard­ing the lat­ter.”

What has been your big­gest ca­reer high­light?

“In terms of peo­ple I’ve been for­tu­nate to work with, that’s rea­son­ably well doc­u­mented, but get­ting to play Ron­nie Scott’s Club for the first time – in the mid-1990s I be­lieve – with Liane Car­roll was def­i­nitely a high point.

“Al­though I’ve been lucky to work along­side some won­der­ful peo­ple over the years, my live work with Richard Thomp­son – with var­i­ous line-ups – has al­ways held a par­tic­u­larly spe­cial place in my heart.”

What do you think is the key to longevity as a mu­si­cian?

“A love of mu­sic and a de­sire to make it self­lessly with like-minded peo­ple. It’s a real cliché, but I’m sim­ply try­ing to make the singer, the band and the mu­sic sound good.”

What is the best ad­vice that you have ever been given?

“Stop try­ing to ‘play’ ev­ery­body else’s in­stru­ment. That came from John­nie Richard­son. In other words, just be­cause you can ‘hear’ what they’re play­ing, you don’t have to al­ways pass it back to them. There’s a fine line be­tween too lit­tle and too much in­ter­ac­tion in all mu­si­cal gen­res.”

What is your big­gest strength as a drum­mer?

“Again, it’s hard to be ob­jec­tive, but I do have a fairly good har­monic knowl­edge. The pi­ano came be­fore the drums, by the way. You know, as much as I love them, when I start play­ing, the ac­tual drums are the last thing on my mind. I’m much more tuned-in to the shape and har­monic con­struc­tion of the piece I’m play­ing – the lyrics, the feel, what the play­ers are ‘say­ing’, etc. I’m cer­tainly not think­ing licks! Again, noth­ing par­tic­u­larly new here, I know I’m not alone in this at­ti­tude.”

And your big­gest weak­ness?

“By con­tem­po­rary stan­dards, I’ve no tech­nique to speak of. I’m also work­ing on im­prov­ing my time and get­ting more ‘grease’ into my play­ing.”

Who would you most like to take a drum les­son from?

“When he was with us, I would have loved to have spent some time with Paul Mo­tian. I have to add that hear­ing a favourite mu­si­cian ‘in-the-flesh’ and in situ with a band is al­ways truly il­lu­mi­nat­ing.”

Dampen the kit or let it ring?

“Big cymbals or small ones? Matched or tra­di­tional grip? What­ever works… For quite some time, the ‘this is my sound, so deal with it’ ap­proach feels like self­ish­ness to me. If I have to damp-down, or liven-up my drums or cymbals so they fit the mu­sic beter, so be it.”

What is the one piece of gear you couldn’t live with­out?

“A drum stool. I should add that I’m also very happy with the way the multi-rods and brushes thing has grown over the last 20-plus years. There are now so many more sonic op­tions at our dis­posal.”

Who do you see as an un­der­rated drum­mer?

“That could eas­ily be a very long list, but depend­ing upon who you talk to, Jack Bruno, Joey Baron and Jim Oblon spring to mind.”

So, what are you up to these days?

“I’m play­ing a lot of live dates in New Eng­land and beyond – jazz, blues, singer-song­writ­ers, etc. I also give drum clin­ics and sem­i­nars now and again. They are al­ways en­joy­able. Plus I have a hand­ful of pri­vate stu­dents.

“Also, I do pro­duc­tion work, in­clud­ing ar­rang­ing and play­ing key­boards. And I’m still record­ing, pre­dom­i­nantly with singer-song­writ­ers.

“Feast Of Fid­dles are back in the UK do­ing their 25th An­niver­sary tour [9-24 April] and I co-pro­duced the most re­cent Feast Of Fid­dles CD, Sleight Of El­bow (2017). While I’m here in the UK I’ve hosted a mas­ter­class at Gra­ham Rus­sell Drums in Fare­ham, Hants in April.”

DM: “I’m much more tuned-in to the shape and har­monic con­struc­tion of the piece I’m play­ing – what the play­ers are ‘say­ing’”

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