Stu­art Elliott

Break­ing through with Cock­ney Rebel in the 1970s, Lon­doner Stu­art Elliott quickly moved on to a charmed ses­sion ca­reer which he main­tains to this day

Rhythm - - THE RHYTHM INTERVIEW - Words: Ge­off Nicholls pho­tos: joby ses­sions

Just be­ing the drum­mer on Kate Bush’s ‘Wuther­ing Heights’, ‘Ba­booshka’ and ‘Run­ning Up That Hill’ would be enough to seal Stu­art Elliott’s place among mu­si­cal roy­alty. But record­ing nu­mer­ous al­bums with the UK’s most orig­i­nal fe­male star is the ic­ing on the cake for this Lon­don vet­eran whose CV re­veals a daz­zlingly broad range of rock and pop artists. Grow­ing up in a drum­ming fam­ily, Stu­art’s call­ing was never in doubt and he found suc­cess early on as the flam­boy­ant stylist in Steve Har­ley’s art-rock Cock­ney Rebel. Char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally for the adapt­able Elliott, he is still mates with Har­ley af­ter four decades and in 2017 the band toured ex­ten­sively and topped the bill on Glas­ton­bury’s Avalon Stage.

The orig­i­nal Cock­ney Rebel dis­banded in 1977, by which time Stu­art had al­ready im­pressed suf­fi­ciently to be in­vited to ap­pear on Al Ste­wart’s YearOfTheCat – a Num­ber One al­bum in the USA.

This quickly led to him be­com­ing a ses­sion reg­u­lar, no­tably team­ing up with the still-teenaged Kate Bush on her first

“Out of ev­ery­one I’ve worked with Kate Bush is al­ways the first name I men­tio n, be­cause she al­ways gets a pos­i­tive re­sponse. She has so much re­spect, even John Ly­don can’t say enough good words about her”

al­bum, craft­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary al­ter­na­tive vi­sion, a mil­lion miles re­moved from the punk-dom­i­nated late 1970s.

There fol­lowed 12 al­bums with the feted pro­ducer Alan Par­sons, at­tract­ing sub­stan­tial fol­low­ings in Ger­many and the USA. Con­cur­rently Elliott be­came Bush’s most de­pend­able stu­dio drum­mer, all the while steadily build­ing a stun­ning CV, both live and in the stu­dio. There were, for ex­am­ple, ap­pear­ances with Ringo and Macca, gig­ging and record­ing with rock giants in­clud­ing Roger Dal­trey, Jack Bruce, Eric Clap­ton, El­ton John, Tina Turner, Alice Cooper, Deb­bie Harry and lit­er­ally dozens more. A UK Num­ber One hit with BA Robert­son (‘Bang Bang’, 1979) and a Num­ber One Amer­i­can coun­try hit with Kenny Rogers, ‘Morn­ing De­sire’ (1985), are just two more ex­am­ples un­der­lin­ing the di­ver­sity of Stu­art’s work.

To­day he’s as keen as ever to learn and im­prove. Dur­ing a wide-rang­ing chat at his Lon­don stu­dio, where he works on re­mote drum tracks and self­com­posed li­brary al­bums, Rhythm gets a glimpse into the stel­lar ca­reer of this unas­sum­ing artist.

Stu­art, your dad Alexan­der and brother Lind­say are both drum­mers, and you started very young.

“I was bash­ing pots and pans at three and I was around when dad was prac­tis­ing in the front room. He’s 94 now, he re­tired about 25 years ago. He had three gigs a day with ra­dio broad­casts. Dur­ing my for­ma­tive years hang­ing with dad I heard a lot of Bud­dyRich. The drum­mer who re­ally cap­ti­vated me was Joe Morello. I still as­pire to play­ing lit­tle 5/4 jazzy beats. Dad took me to see him at the New Vic­to­ria The­atre.”

So you al­ways wanted to be a drum­mer?

“Right from pri­mary school, never any doubt. But I left school at 15 and for a while I worked in shops in the King’s Road when it was the hippest place. Dad took me down to Drum City in Char­ing Cross Road and I set­tled on a Lud­wig Stan­dard kit. The finish looked like Ringo’s. It sounded fan­tas­tic and I used it on the first two Cock­ney Rebel al­bums.” Cock­ney Rebel hit the big time quickly, in 1973. “I was in a post-school ama­teur band and I asked one guy if he knew of any other bands look­ing for a drum­mer. He knew a bass player who had a friend who was look­ing. And that friend was Steve Har­ley. So that was pure luck. I’m still with Steve, the only orig­i­nal left. I leave and come back. He al­ways wel­comes me and I al­ways have some­thing new to bring. That ex­cites him, he loves new stuff and im­pro­vi­sa­tion.”

You played some ad­ven­tur­ous parts on the sin­gles ‘Judy Teen’ (1974) and ‘Here Comes the Sun’ (1976).

“We just kicked ideas around as a band. That’s the great thing about that era, you could do what­ever you liked, within rea­son. We al­ways worked hard. But I don’t play [‘Here Comes The Sun’] ex­actly like that any more – those wild triplets round the toms came from lis­ten­ing to Billy Cob­ham.”

It takes guts to do some­thing like that, es­pe­cially in the stu­dio.

“Well Steve was the pro­ducer and he just loves mad­ness. Now when we do it, I play the same pat­tern on the bell, but in the triplets sec­tion I copy Ringo – straight on the snare. I thought, why did I not do that the first time? It’s per­fect. Abbey Road blows me away, par­tic­u­larly Ringo. What a fan­tas­tic drum­mer. A high­light of my life was play­ing with Ringo, at the Michael Jack­son and Friends Live Con­cert in Mu­nich (1999). Play­ing that fill in A‘ Lit­tle Help From My

“Ringo swanned in, sang two songs and jet­ted off. I had two top-toms and he joked to me, dur­ing run-through: ‘That’s too many toms!’ I was just gob­s­macked to be in the same room”

Friends’ [search ‘Michael Jack­son and friends live in Mu­nich, Ringo Starr’ on YouTube]. It’s one of the best fills ever and I had shiv­ers up my spine just play­ing and lis­ten­ing to the mu­si­cal­ity of it. Fills like that are worth their weight in gold. Ringo swanned in, sang two songs and jet­ted off. I had two top-toms and he joked to me, dur­ing run-through: ‘That’s too many toms [laughs]!’ I was just gob­s­macked to be in the same room as him.”

Back to Cock­ney Rebel. ‘Sin­gu­lar Band’ on The Psy­chomodo (1974) has some re­ally funky, fun stuff go­ing on.

“That was an ex­am­ple of me look­ing for an orig­i­nal beat to play, chop­ping it up and putting the off-beat in dif­fer­ent places and com­ing back in on the hi-hat. I was be­sot­ted with Frank Zappa. [Zappa’s drum­mer] Ralph Humphrey blew me away on ‘Dinah-Moe Humm’ [ Over-NiteSen­sa­tion, 1973]. He in­spired me to use the bass drum as part of a fill, whichI still do. I’ll do a roll on the toms and whenI get to the floor tomI will share it with the bass drum.Or I’ll start with the bass drum, rather than all toms. “The big­gest Cock­ney Rebel al­bum was BestYears

OfOurLives (1975) – it’s slightly more pol­ished than the rest. ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)’ [a Num­ber One UK hit] is on that. It’s an up­beat song, but the lyrics are bit­ter, about the split up of the first band.”

That al­bum is where famed pro­ducer Alan Par­sons comes in?

“Yes, that’s where I met him, a vi­tally im­por­tant meet­ing.”

And he pro­moted your ses­sion ca­reer, start­ing with Al Ste­wart?

“YearOfTheCat [Al Ste­wart, 1976] was my first big ses­sion. Me and Ge­orge Ford [bass] who was in Cock­ney Rebel too. Alan was the pro­ducer. The chem­istry was def­i­nitely there, it’s one of the most mem­o­rable al­bums I ever played on. Beau­ti­ful acous­tic gui­tar play­ing by Peter White and Al, with Peter Wood on a big steam pi­ano!We just locked in, no click tracks, just a dream to play on.”

Af­ter the wild­ness of Steve Har­ley, your play­ing on Year Of The Cat and the fol­low-up Time Pas­sages (1978) shows real ma­tu­rity. What drum­ming in­flu­ences do you re­mem­ber?

“One thing was on ‘Year Of The Cat’ there’s a lit­tle fill I keep re­peat­ing, in­spired by Ricky Fataar on the Beach Boys’ Hol­land (1973). An­other thing he did was to start [a fill] on the hi-hat. I did that for years.”

This all this led to Kate Bush.

“We recorded TheKick­In­side in 1977. That was ‘in-fam­ily’ as well. Her pro­ducer, An­drew Pow­ell, did the or­ches­tral ar­range­ments on Cock­ney Rebel’s ‘Se­bas­tian’ and ‘Death Trip’ (1973). He wanted to use me and Dun­can Mackay from Cock­ney Rebel and Ian Bairn­son [gui­tarist] and David Pa­ton [singer] from Pi­lot. So ba­si­cally the first Kate Bush al­bum band was half Cock­ney Rebel and half Pi­lot.”

Do you re­mem­ber the first time you met Kate?

“Vividly, yes! It was in Air Lon­don, the main stu­dio. She was 19 and I was 24, quite a leap at that age. She was this tiny lit­tle hippy chick. Ex­cept when she sat be­hind the pi­ano and played these songs, we went, ‘What?! F**king hell!’ Dave Gil­mour of Pink Floyd dis­cov­ered her and EMI kept her in Artist De­vel­op­ment un­til she was older. But she had writ­ten those songs when she was 16!

“She was in­cred­i­ble. She sat at the pi­ano and sang and played at the same time on the back­ing tracks. It was all live. We did three tracks a day, rat­tled through them. It was easy as any­thing, be­cause it was so in­spir­ing. The songs were so quirky and in­ter­est­ing, it was an open palette to in­vent and com­ple­ment great songs.”

An­drew Pow­ell hit on the right mix of mu­si­cians.

“He did. He had guts, ev­ery­one did in those days. They would book an ex­pen­sive stu­dio and book a lot of mu­si­cians and if it all goes tits-up that’s a lot of money down the drain. But he is very much old-school, he wants ev­ery­thing live, even the vo­cals. Though I think Kate might have re-ap­proached her vo­cals and done a lot of back­ing vo­cals. But the ba­sic track went down live, so it’s vir­tu­ally a fin­ished prod­uct as soon as the back­ing track has gone down.”

The struc­ture of ‘Wuther­ing Heights’ is not straight­for­ward. The cho­rus is stretched, but rather than fill, you leave space so it’s hardly no­tice­able.

“Thanks, but I’m not sure it would work any other way. It’s only odd be­cause of the lyrics. Kate

wouldn’t write in time sig­na­tures de­lib­er­ately, she would just write, and what­ever it is, it is.And that just hap­pened to be an ex­tra beat.

“Out of ev­ery­one I’ve worked with she is al­ways the first name I men­tion, be­cause she al­ways gets a pos­i­tive re­sponse. She has so much re­spect, even John Ly­don can’t say enough good words about her!”

How did her way of work­ing change as tech­nol­ogy ad­vanced and she be­came a huge star?

“‘Hounds of Love’ (1985) is four al­bums down the line and it’s a dif­fer­ent form of pro­duc­tion, a one-man-at-atime job. So you had to come in and play to Fairlight-se­quenced parts. It was more bitty, not live at all. It’s a cracking al­bum though. There are no hi-hats or cym­bals. That was a chal­lenge, I would look for things to play in the higher reg­is­ter that would give it mo­tion – lit­tle hand drums, not shak­ers or any­thing too ob­vi­ous. It’s all acous­tic drums.

“Char­lie [Mor­gan] and I did about half each.I think it started with him and thenI came in. Right from the be­gin­ning Kate was friends-ori­en­tated. She and Char­lie were friends and would hang to­gether. But oc­ca­sion­ally the [record­ing] would run aground and then they would say, let’s get Stu­art and the boys back again. Pretty much ev­ery al­bum I’ve done with Kate, apart from TheRedShoes (1993), I have come in sec­ond [laughs], but ended up do­ing loads of songs.

“On Sen­su­alWorld (1989) I was us­ing the Akai S3000 and Sim­mons pads, trig­ger­ing sounds. She wanted dif­fer­ent bass and snare sounds on ev­ery track. But I used real hi-hats and cym­bals. It screwed my tech­nique up though, play­ing pads for three years. The first gig back with Alan [Par­sons] I couldn’t play rim shots any more. So [I thought] sod that, and got back to my acous­tic drums!”

The Alan Par­sons Project be­came a ma­jor part of your life?

“Kate and Alan were re­cur­ring clients. The first al­bum I did with the Project was Pyra­mid (1978). There’s bril­liant stuff on there. An­drew Pow­ell did the or­ches­tral parts. We were all the same fam­ily of guys who knew one an­other. Eric Woolf­son was the prin­ci­ple com­poser. His pre­vi­ous claim to fame was man­ag­ing Carl ‘Kung Fu Fight­ing’ Dou­glas. But he was also a bril­liant com­poser, and be­cause of Dark Side Of The Moon that Alan Par­sons en­gi­neered, he wanted some­one to make it sound good like that.”

“Kate Bush was in­cred­i­ble. She sat at the pi­ano and sang and played at the same time on the back­ing tracks. It was all live”

Which Pyra­mid does, it has that lush Dark Side Of The Moon sound­scape.

“Yes, it’s very Floyd. The weird­est thing, it was Eric’s baby, but he said why don’t we call it The Alan Par­sons Project be­cause Alan al­ready had a name. So ev­ery­one thought it was all Alan, but he was just a back­room boy. Eric would have liked more lime­light, un­der­stand­ably. But hav­ing said that, Alan made it hap­pen. With­out Alan it would have been any old al­bum – he had that magic touch.”

There are so many other artists you’ve worked with. Amer­i­can coun­try leg­end Kenny Rogers (Heart Of The Mat­ter, 1985) sticks out. How did that come about?

“Ge­orge Martin again. I did Give My Re­gards To Broad

Street [Paul McCart­ney, 1984] and af­ter that Ge­orge called me for a few things. We went to Paris with Mo Fos­ter on bass and Ann Dudley on synths. John Robin­son did the LA ses­sions – a hard sound, ev­ery­thing in your face and re­ally ‘on’ it. My stuff was less hard. The ti­tle song, ‘Heart of the Mat­ter’, is brushes. When you get Kenny’s voice it doesn’t mat­ter what it is, it’s so colour­ful, the sound and de­liv­ery are fan­tas­tic.”

Sift­ing through your biog I also see The Who’s Roger Dal­trey and Cream’s Jack Bruce – a cou­ple more real leg­ends.

“I got the Jack Bruce gig from [gui­tarist] Clem Clemp­son who was in the Roger Dal­trey band when we did some gigs in Amer­ica, Madi­son Square Gar­den, im­me­di­ately be­fore.

“Play­ing ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and ‘Sub­sti­tute’ with Roger Dal­trey – wow, that was wicked. It’s what I grew up with. I didn’t used to do a lot of that [Keith Moon flam­boy­ance], but when there is an op­por­tu­nity and that is what’s re­quired… ‘Sub­sti­tute’, I played that very dif­fer­ently [from Keith].

“Jack went through drum­mers like there’s no to­mor­row and I was just an­other in a long line. We did a few gigs and he got me out to Ger­many to record. ‘Ships In The Night’ (1993), is a duet with­Mag­gie Ri­ley, the most beau­ti­ful song, soar­ing voices and lovely har­monies. I’m proud to have played on that. The drums are just a slow back­beat, but to no click, which is what kind of makes it. It has its own feel, which is my feel. I like where I put the snare, which is where I want it rather than be­ing forced to put it some­where where the click wants it.”

We’ve only scratched the sur­face, but is there any ad­vice you could give to some­one start­ing now?

“The only thing that ever worked for me, and still does when I do it, is to get out there and play live. If you are with dif­fer­ent peo­ple on the gig, they will clock you and ask you to do some­thing else. You have to be out there, it doesn’t mat­ter what, say yes to what­ever it is. Don’t sit in the stu­dio all day think­ing you’re gonna get loads of gigs one day, be­cause you won’t.

“Lis­ten­ing is the golden rule. And if you can’t lis­ten, if all you can hear is your­self, then you need to work on that. And the way to work on that is to play with other peo­ple. So the bot­tom line is do­ing gigs and some­where along the way you will meet some­one who will leapfrog you on to some­thing big­ger and bet­ter.”

“Lis­ten­ing is the golden rule,” ad­vises Stu­art, “and the way to work on that is to play with other peo­ple”

Stu­art (front left) with Kate Bush dur­ing the film­ing of the video for ‘Rub­ber­band Girl’ (1993)

Stu­art Elliott in his home stu­dio in North Lon­don “We wanted to shock peo­ple,” says Yoshiki of X Ja­pan’s early years in so­cially con­ser­va­tive Ja­pan

Stu­art’s in­cred­i­ble CV in­cludes play­ing with Kate Bush, Steve Har­ley, Alan Par­sons and Paul McCart­ney

Stu­art: “The drum­mer who re­ally cap­ti­vated me was Joe Morello. I still as­pire to play­ing lit­tle 5/4 jazzy beats”

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