West End Drummer for 'The Lion King'
As the drummer for the hit West End show 'The Lion King', Dave has been a part of London’s West End being a rehearsal/audition pianist, musical director, piano/keyboards and drummer/percussionist in various shows for over 30 plus years.
Why did you take up drum kit and how old were you?
My Father was a semi professional singer/drummer for a few bands in the 1960s around the Bedfordshire area and always had a drum kit of set up at home and apparently from the age of about 2 years old he couldn’t keep me away from them, so he decided to let me have a sit on the stool and mess around. He found that I took to it like the proverbial duck to water, so he had the kit cut down to my size and it became mine and I started having a solo spot with his and other bands at weekends around the clubs in the area. Later I was taken under the wing of Johnny Dankworth, who lived locally to us in Wavendon, and he told my parents to get me into reading music as well as playing by ear, which led to me having piano lessons, also from an early age.
Who was your first teacher and where did you start?
I never, as such, had a teacher for the drums but I suppose you could say it was my father who advised me and taught me rudiments, dance band grooves and tempos etc, because in those days you had to play for the dancers at the clubs, so you had to have your tempos down for quicksteps, foxtrots, samba, tango etc etc as well as do my little solo spot which always included “Sing, Sing, Sing”, the Gene Krupa hit, (who was also my drum hero at the time and I suppose the reason I really got into drumming after my Dad taught me the arrangement) and stuff like that, so it was a great grounding for me.
What instruments/resources did you have?
As I mentioned earlier, we always had a drum kit set up in the house so I wasn’t obsessive or pushed by my father in any way but my parents just let it all evolve naturally, if it would at all, but by the age of 4 years old I was loving the drums and from that early age I was lucky in the fact that I new what I wanted to do from then on in life even though school teachers were trying to make me think sensibly and of the future whenever they asked me what I wanted to do in career meetings that we used to have at school back in the day! “Music is all well and good but where are you going to earn your money to live from?” (Lol).
Do you have any advice for young drummers during this stage of education?
I have never done grades on drums, as such, as opposed to all my other instruments upon which I have had formal training on all of them….Piano, which I still love, I was classically trained, Trombone likewise and I did all my ABRSM grades on both instruments but with drums and percussion I was like a big sponge. I would talk to drummers, listen to every kind of music I could listen to (and I mean every style!). I just couldn’t get enough! I would go see live music whenever I could, just listening to not just the drummers but the whole band, every individual member of every band I saw. Listening to all the parts and the way they gelled…or didn’t in some cases but it all helped and when I could get the chance I would go talk to the guys in bands and pick their brains until they were bored of me…but most were so lovely, even the famous guys I could go backstage to meet. I am also very lucky (I think) to have the curse of perfect pitch, which I have found a great resource when listening and learning. Especially when it comes to learning parts quickly as I just will jot down chords and lead lines on my charts to refer to just to help in the odd ‘roast’ situation, so that I’m not just counting bars all the way through the chart and can really play the music so to speak. So for up and coming drummers really concentrate on aural tests if you can do them and listening and I mean really listening! Listen to everything within a piece of music. The Bass, guitar, brass, piano whatever.
With your knowledge and experience now, what performance opportunities would you suggest young drummers engage with?
Do what I did, play, meet with as many like minded people as you can! Even if it’s a school production of whatever. Do it! It’s all part of the learning process, experience and you never know who might be listening to you in the audience or band, which could lead to meetings with other musicians, bands etc. So always make it count! As they say “You’re only as good as your last gig!” Also if you can get the best teachers you can, (funny as that is for me to say) but having been through the process on both sides, so to speak, of learning my instruments, (both self taught and through formal tuition) I can honestly say I could have got to certain points in my drumming sooner if I’d had a good and informed teacher but no regrets as its not a race and I feel fully rounded as a player as such but there is still loads more to learn and there always will….thank god…as that’s what keeps the motivation and love, of what we do, keep driving on!
After school, where did you continue your studies and who did you learn with?
Whilst I was at school in the Bedford area I won a place in a prestigious school in Manchester called Chetham's School of Music, studying first study Trombone and Piano, (weirdly!!) and second study Percussion. Where I studied percussion with Max Molin (Principal percussion with the Halle Orchestra at the time and then, the legendary Gilbert Webster at the school and then also at the Royal Northern College of Music where I moved to after Chetham's. I did get into the Guildhall, the Royal College and the Scottish Academy but the Royal Northern was the only establishment that would let me study all three disciplines on an equal basis, as I felt this was important to me and I didn’t want one over the other….I had to, though, in the first year, prove that I was up to the challenge with the college principal! I guess I succeeded though, as I lasted the full 4 year course on all three disciplines!
Why did you decide this pathway?
I didn't have any other ideas! Sadly or stupidly, (whatever your take?) I was a one trick pony from the get go. I had one path to take!
What was your first ever professional engagement, what was it like and how did you get it?
When I was 4 years old around the clubs, as, believe it or not, I was paid! I did some TV performances back in the day when it was all black and white and got paid for those but it was all in pounds, shillings & pence! Really giving my age away now!
You have been the drummer for the West End show 'The Lion King' for over 20 years, what has this been like?
In all honesty I wasn’t the original drummer for the West End version of Lion King as I was doing Mamma Mia at the time (of which I was the original drummer!). I actually started the Lion King on the 1st Keyboard Chair. I did that for about 3 years and then was asked to be the drummer, on a newly opening show at the time called ‘Billy Elliot'. So I took a year's sabbatical from Lion King to go play drums again, on Billy Elliot and during that year our musical supervisor of Lion King came to see the show and mentioned to me that the drummer for Lion King (Guy Richmond) was leaving and did I fancy going back to the show on drums? Well, that answers itself I feel? Doing the Lion King, for 15 plus years now or there about, has been a real joy and I’m not just saying that! The guys in the band are great! The cast are just the best and Disney as a company are great to us all! The show is fab to play as we are given a certain amount of freedom, without being silly of course! It has such a vast array of styles to play and the opener ‘Circle of Life’ is one of the best songs to play as an opener ever!!! Yes, I count myself as very lucky holding down the drum chair in probably The West End's number one show and long may it last…..for another 20 years please!!!
Have there been any challenges?
The main challenge is conductors! Mind reading sometimes but on the whole we have really good guys and gals conducting our show, but, I cannot stress how important it is to work with as many conductors as you can, if you want to pursue this line of work and to play as many styles, convincingly, as you can! Learn them all!!!
Some of the drum charts can be a bit alien to newcomers at first, as the music guys from the USA tended to write without cymbals on some of the main numbers so there is that ‘African’ vibe to it, so, strange as it sounds leaving cymbals out sometimes can be harder than it sounds, even as far as using the hi-hat at with your foot to keep time, which most of us will do instinctively, has to be left out and if you slip into auto mode sometimes your using the hi-hat with your foot without thinking and you get the note at the end “No hi-hat please Dave”. LOL
What other theatre work have you done? Which was your favourite show?
I have done many shows over the years, too many to mention them all here. A few are Guys and Dolls (MD), Cats, Billy Elliot, Mamma Mia, Les Miserables, Time, Some Like it Hot, Grand Hotel, Annie Get Your Gun, Showboat, The King & I, Fiddler on the Roof, Evita, Hot Shoe Shuffle (MD), Smokey Joes Café (MD), RENT (MD in the USA and UK), Tonight's the Night (piano and drums), etc etc. I’ve enjoyed them all for their own little idiosyncratic styles and challenges! I can’t pick one out really, but, Lion King has been so enjoyable and I guess it really is up there as one of my favourites, it really has, and I would encourage people to come and sit in the pit with me (when we get back up and running that is!) to see how it all works as it is a beast in itself!
What would your advice be to a young drummer wanting to get into theatre?
I think I’ve answered that all above!
Do you have any other strings to your bow?
I may have answered that as well, but I do write music as well as play numerous other instruments and have been Musical Director of numerous shows West End and touring productions. I would like to add though that playing other instruments makes you a better player on the whole as your ears will open up to not just the ‘drummy’ thing and you will understand what the mechanics of other instruments are, so you will be more sympathetic to others as well as listening to them better! My show, changes playing wise, depending on who's on which chair and what they are playing, this goes for the cast as well! If we have a different Simba on say, or a different dep bass player, I will adapt my part, subtly, to hopefully make it feel good for them as well as me and everyone in the orchestra.
What is your career highlight so far?
Doing what I love and earning a living from it and trying to learn something new musically everyday! Apart from that I can’t say one particular thing…..may have been playing a few of the ABBA songs with Benny & Bjorn or doing ‘We Will Rock You’ (the song) with Brian and Roger at rehearsals!!! LOL I really don’t know???
What is the best thing about being a musician?
It’s a very satisfying and I would go as far as to say, a spiritual and fulfilling occupation but you have to be very dedicated and put the hours, weeks, days, years in! I still practise everyday. You have to, anyway, when you get to my age!!! LOL
What would your 'Top Three Tips' be for a young drummer thinking about a career in music?
3. Have Fun
(4. Learn as much music as you can)