Simon Lea’s 10 tips for ses­sion suc­cess

From brush ses­sions to hard-hit­tin’ rock, Simon Lea has done it all and has plenty of tips to share

Rhythm - - HOW TO - Words: RICH CHAM­BER­LAIN photos: press

Tem­per­ance Move­ment’s Simon Lea is tak­ing a breather from this sum­mer’s Down­load Fes­ti­val, and is sit­ting in the scorch­ing heat for a chat with Rhythm. “My par­ents didn’t buy me a kit, they would get me lit­er­ally one drum per year,” he ex­plains of his first frus­trat­ing steps into the world of per­cus­sion.

“From the age of seven I had a Premier snare drum and then I got an 18" Premier bass drum the next year, and then the next year it was a set of hi-hats,” he con­tin­ues. “It took ages! Then I got some Premier con­cert toms and it worked up like that.”

It was a slow and steady ap­proach that seem­ingly did lit­tle to harm the stel­lar ca­reer as a ses­sion player that was to fol­low for Simon. Hav­ing worked with ev­ery­one from Katie Melua to Ron­nie Wood, and lat­terly The Tem­per­ance Move­ment, Simon has amassed a wealth of tips for ses­sion suc­cess, as you can see right here…

Take some point­ers

“It wasn’t un­til I started tak­ing lessons that I took it se­ri­ously. When I was young it was just pas­sion and see­ing adults play­ing and think­ing how fun it looked. I was self taught un­til I was about 14 and then I had some lessons at school for a bit. Then, I went to this guy at the lo­cal mu­sic school and he set me up.He was re­ally into tran­scrib­ing. He tran­scribed the Steve Gadd videos and that re­ally got me into re­al­is­ing how im­por­tant the de­tails are and to get ev­ery­thing down. That sorted me out, all of that tran­scrib­ing.”

Learn to read

“I’m not an in­cred­i­ble reader like guys like Ralph Salmins, Neal Wilkin­son and Ian Thomas. Those guys can read any­thing, they’re like machines. I never do enough to get to that point. Read­ing is re­ally im­por­tant. That whole thing of get­ting it down is so im­por­tant so you can see what it looks like. If I do a blind ses­sion where I’ve never heard the track, I reckon I could hear a song I’ve never heard be­fore three times and I’ll be able to write a sketch of it with all of the right in­for­ma­tion. I do that rather than re­ly­ing on mem­ory. There’s a load of guys that can just do it, but I know some drum­mers who have re­ally been held back by not read­ing. It’s so help­ful and re­ally isn’t that hard. The first thing you need to do is just learn to count! When it comes to read­ing, peo­ple think, ‘I don’t want to do that, I just want to play, man!’ But fig­ur­ing it out helps you so much. With­out be­ing able to read I wouldn’t be any­where close to where I am.”

Know what a ses­sion drum­mer is

“I think the scene is al­ways chang­ing. It all de­pends on how you de­fine a ses­sion drum­mer. I think if you look in the MU dic­tio­nary, a ses­sion mu­si­cian is some­one who just records – they are record­ing mu­si­cians. Now, peo­ple use the term ses­sion mu­si­cian to re­fer to any­one who is a hired gun. There’s loads of room for hired guns.”

Don’t un­der­sell your­self

“The in­ter­est­ing change in the in­dus­try is that when I was in my twen­ties there didn’t seem to be loads of twenty-some­things do­ing the big pop shows. It al­ways used to be the more ex­pe­ri­enced, sea­soned pros in their thir­ties. That was the gen­er­a­tion above me at the time and they were get­ting all of the big gigs. Now that’s not the case. Now, peo­ple want a young band, they want the look. So of­ten there is space for new faces. The trou­ble is though, that a young band will some­times do the gig for less money which pushes ev­ery­thing down for ev­ery­one. They just want to get their foot in the door.”

Be ver­sa­tile

“You have to make your­self as book­able as pos­si­ble. The rea­son I have been able to work as much as I have is be­cause I am ver­sa­tile. I can play jazz, I can play rock, I can play pop. I was into all of that mu­sic. It is also im­por­tant to fall in with a scene of mu­si­cians. If you are in a crowd of peo­ple and you’re mates and all play­ing to­gether they will pull you onto gigs. That’s kind of how it works. You prob­a­bly have this ses­sion dream in your head. But you’re not a lone wolf knock­ing on doors get­ting gigs. You’re part of a sea of play­ers, but it is in­cred­i­bly ca­sual how it comes to­gether.”

Don’t be a pain

“There are so many drum­mers out there so there is no room for er­ror when it comes to per­son­al­ity. If you are amaz­ing but you are a pain to be with, for­get it! There might be some­one who is not quite as amaz­ing as you but they’re easy to get on with and peo­ple like hav­ing them around and they will get the gig.”

Never stop learn­ing

“The main rea­son that I get booked is that I still work on my time. That’s what peo­ple want. Your read­ers might find that bor­ing to hear, but if you’re on some­thing and you can’t groove or play dy­nam­i­cally, that’s far more im­por­tant than hav­ing the hippest gospel beats. That stuff is great, but do that for your own pro­ject. You have to fol­low the mu­sic and do what is best for the mu­sic. You need the ba­sic foun­da­tion to your play­ing and that never stops. You can al­ways get bet­ter. I record most gigs and lis­ten back go­ing, ‘Aggghh!’ I am self crit­i­cal. Some­times you can be self de­struc­tive though and think you’re aw­ful. Some­times you think you play the worst gig and when you lis­ten back it was okay, and vice versa. Some­times what you think was a great gig wasn’t so great. The thing is, you’re never done. You can’t think that you’ve done this or that so that you don’t need to work at things. No, you al­ways have so much work to do. Also, some­times you might not get the right feel of a gig when lis­ten­ing back be­cause you lose the en­ergy that was in the room, so you need to be mind­ful of that.”

Get the right gear for the job

“I would not go on a ses­sion with­out bring­ing at least two snare drums with me. I have a ’70s Lud­wig 402 which is a bronze snare, and I also have a Lud­wig 400. On a ses­sion, you will be com­pletely cov­ered if you take two metal snares and two wood snares. Take a 5.5" metal and wood, and I take my 6.5" 402 and then ei­ther a 6.5" wood snare or some­times a 13"x8" snare that I have. Those Lud­wigs are the most recorded snare drums of all time and there’s a good rea­son for that.”

Work on your dy­nam­ics

“The last pop gig I did be­fore Tem­per­ance Move­ment was Katie Melua. That is the com­plete op­po­site to this. Ev­ery­thing was on brushes and it was so con­trolled. It was on in-ears and some­times she would look around and say, ‘That’s a bit loud,’ and I’d think, ‘I haven’t even played any­thing yet!’ But even though it was a quiet gig, I still had to make sure it was solid. Also, when you get qui­eter, don’t slow down. Be­ing dy­namic and still hav­ing strong time, that’s some­thing that you can work on. It never stops! Then you come to a rock gig like this and you have to make sure you don’t clut­ter things. You still need to be dy­namic, but you need to be hard and heavy. This is a hard-hit­ting gig. With this gig, I can never be loud enough, whereas on a lot of pop ses­sions you’re al­ways too loud.”

Be cre­ative

“I loved work­ing with Ron­nie Wood, that was re­ally fun. He bought this book out, it was a di­ary of his that his mum had found from the ’60s, and he re­leased it and wanted to do a sin­gle that came with it. He played every in­stru­ment on it apart from drums. I kind of got what he wanted and he played through it once, recorded it and that was it. He said, ‘I want some cym­bals, I want it to sound like some kind of voodoo s**t is go­ing on!’ He let me get on with it. When you start work­ing with good peo­ple and they want you to do it, they have got you be­cause they know you will come up with some­thing. If some­one at that level has to give you too much di­rec­tion, then you’re the wrong guy.”


“Be­ing in the Tem­per­ance Move­ment is mu­si­cally the best thing I have done. It is a proper band and I’m play­ing my own parts. There’s noth­ing like that hav­ing done many ses­sion gigs. The ses­sions are great, but you do feel like you’re play­ing some­one else’s thing. That never both­ered me un­til I started do­ing this gig.

“I was a jazz drum­mer for years and then I slipped into rock mu­sic and now I play mostly rock mu­sic. I was drum­mer at Ron­nie Scott’s for a bit in the house band. That was amaz­ing, do­ing that six nights per week. Play­ing along­side all of these peo­ple was so im­por­tant. It is im­por­tant to get­ting into all kinds of mu­sic as well, that will only help you.”

“You have to make your­self as book­able as pos­si­ble. The rea­son I have been able to work as much as I have is be­cause I am ver­sa­tile”

Simon, cen­tre, takes his place in The Tem­per­ance Move­ment line-up

Simon’s ver­sa­til­ity has been a key part of his suc­cess to date

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