Bill Bruford | Nicko McBrain | Bob Henrit | Brian Bennett | Ric Lee | Kevin Godley | Mark Brzezicki | Gilson Lavis | Brian Downey | Bobby Elliot | Tony Meehan | Rob Townsend | Bobby Graham | Ian Paice | Interview with Geoff Dunn | Geoff Dugmore | Nigel Glockler | Dolphin Taylor | Ginger Baker | Paul Robinson | Keith Moon | Pete Best | Simon Kirke | Ginger Baker | Warren Cann | Eric Delaney | Dave Mattacks | Steve Ferrone | Gary Husband | Clive Bunker | Topper Headon | Rat Scabies | Steve White | Don Powell | Woody Woodmansey | Pete York | Henry Spinetti | Jon Hiseman | Nick Mason | Kenney Jones | Clem Cattini | John Coghlan |
British Drum Icon - Mark Brzezicki
MARK Brzezicki’s is one of those drummers whose playing is instantly recognisable. A busy musician reminiscent of Ginger Baker and Keith Moon, Brzezicki’s wealth of dynamic grooves propels songs but never detracts from them. And his aural assault has won him many friends, allies and people eager to have him play with and for them. His session CV is impressive and he has played with the best bass players in the world.
“I still aspire to be a good drummer,” he smiles. “That never leaves you. I didn’t go away to learn in a particular way, I guess I probably came up with my style by default.” Brzezicki is best known as the engine room of Big Country, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2007 and is currently working on a new album, sadly minus the talents of frontman Stuart Adamson, who committed suicide in 2001.
In many ways you sense it is a romance being played out by Brzezicki and his fellow Big Country alumni, bass player Tony Butler and guitarist Bruce Watson. Butler’s busy bass playing perfectly complements the energetic drumming, while Watson changes from sparse chord stabs to melodic harmonies on the guitar. The sum of the parts is greater than the individual constituents. “We all play for the song,” remarks Brzezicki. “That’s what is most important.”
Inspired by Phil Collins’ playing on the Brand X album Unorthodox Behaviour – “It came at me like a missile. It was one of the biggest things that ever happened to me. It’s still my benchmark bible.” – Brzezicki’s started to develop his own unique style. By the time he was playing gigs punk was happening and despite loving the work of the classic drummers like John Bonham, Moon and Simon Phillips, as well as Collins, Brzezicki was also picking up on new contemporaries, like XTC sticksman Terry Chambers (“I loved his tom approach”). “I always feared that I was too busy,” he says. “But people have booked me for sessions and told me to “play like Mark”. That’s been nice. I’m pleased how I’ve been able to maintain my own style.
Brzezicki’s education on the drums is a fascinating one, from his first taps on a neighbour’s Gigster-style kit, to his first odds-and-sods big kit, to buying an ex-London Transport van and driving off to laybys with his kit set-up in the back for somewhere to play. Coming from a musical family helped. His two brothers are both musicians and it was a purchase of a bass guitar and guitar for them as children that stirred something within him. “The chap across the road had a little drum kit in his garage,” he remembers. “It was a Gigster and to be honest I was always over there looking at it. It was aquamarine sparkle and I was mesmerised by it. When I started tapping away on it, he said I was better than he was. I saved up all my money from my newspaper round and bought it.
“My next kit was a whole mixture of drums. There was a Beverley tom, a home-made floor tom and a bass drum that is now my coffee table.”
“There was a 1979 Right To Work march and The Pete Townsend Band was headlining the festival for it. I was playing all these Who numbers and his solo stuff. It was terrific.” Suitably impressed, Who bass player John Entwhistle also summoned the young Brzezicki to jam with him, and Roger Daltrey enlisted him for two albums. Meanwhile, Brzezicki and Butler – Rhythm For Hire – got a call from Ian Grant, a manager who had just put Adamson and Watson together to write songs. “We signed a deal with Phonogram and did some demos in about 1981 and 1982. We recorded the first album, The Crossing, at RAK Studios.” It was a big hit. The album yielded several chart hits, including In A Big Country and Fields Of Fire. Big Country had arrived.
The follow-up album, Steeltown, saw Brzezicki become more confident, and experimental. On one song, Tall Ships Go, his snare broke and he spotted a metal ashtray “about snare height” and started playing that. The homage to heavy industry also saw him play a fire extinguisher and use anything on hand to get the right sound. “On Tall Ships Go I had these octobans, Copeland-like, above the hi-hat and instead of playing 16ths on the hi-hat I would keep hitting the octobans. It was a different sound and feel. It worked for the song. “I would always take too much into the studio. And I don’t care about snare buzz. I like everything to rattle and squeak to the movement. I love the 1970s and the 1970s drum kits, the big kits with lots of toms. I love going around the toms. You play differently.”
Steeltown was another hit album with several hit singles. Big Country’s star was rising, and with it Brzezicki’s. There were other calls on his time. He joined The Cult as they hit the big time with songs like She Sells Sanctuary, and he also got the call from Midge Ure to take up drumming duties with Ultravox, following the departure of Warren Cann. Again, this was the start of a musical relationship with Ure, with Brzezicki getting asked back to play on the Scotsman’s solo output, too. But it was another learning process for Brzezicki, paired with legendary German producer Conny Plank for the first time. “I did the U-Vox album with Ultravox. I turned up with five rack toms, a gong bass, a multitude of snares, lots of cymbals, I had all kinds of stuff with me. Conny had never recorded drums in his life before. I went to see his control room which tiny and had four faders which moved the other way.
Getting the call for Midge’s solo career saw Brzezicki paired with Level 42 bassist Mark King and his bass playing brother Steve. “Midge is a fantastic musician. I was really freed up by him to just play.” Through Ure, Brzezicki got the call to play for the Prince’s Trust concerts and was suddenly playing drums with Phil Collins. “That was amazing. We used to warm up together at rehearsals and I’d say “do you remember this from Brand X?” and we’d both go for it. I’ve been very lucky. “I was part of the Prince’s Trust house band for seven years, did the Mandela Tribute Concert and Party In The Park for four years.”
Lucky? Maybe not. Collins was suitably impressed to recommend Brzezicki to former Abba vocalist Frida for her second album (Collins had played and produced her first). But Brzezicki remains the reluctant hero. “I still have that innocence in me, I guess,” he says. “I’ve still got that feeling that I haven’t arrived, that I still have to prove myself.” Other’s faith in Brzezicki to nail the part was further confirmed when he got the call to join Procul Harum back in 1991. He was initially summoned for an album session and then recruited into the band going back on the road. “What was really weird is that BJ Wilson was a great drummer and has a lot of fans. I had to doff my hat to him with my playing, but Gary Brooker, Procul Harum vocalist, was keen for me to be myself. It was half making sure it was like me and at the same time I did a bit more research into Wilson’s playing style and how he would play songs.
When Adamson died it appeared the wheels had fallen off Big Country. “It knocked everyone for six. I was very lucky because I’d been keeping the Procul Harum gig running in tandem with Big Country. I kept myself busy. That helped.” The band played at the tribute concert to Adamson, but Butler had quit the music business to become a lecturer in the West Country. Coaxing him out of retirement was a difficult job, says Brzezicki, but ironically, it was Butler himself who laid the foundations for the band’s return. In between time, Brzezicki had revived history to link up with Townsend Junior again for the Casbah Club, also featuring Bruce Foxton, of The Jam and Stiff Little Fingers, on bass. “Tony rang to say it was his wife’s 50th birthday and he was putting together a band and would I like to go down and play drums. I went down to Launceston, Cornwall, and played and it was just great to be playing together again. He said why don’t we do something, and here we are.
Interview: Mark Forster
Please log in below if you wish to add your comments on this item. If you are commenting for the first time, you will need to register for security reasons.
|SHARE||PRINT THIS PAGE|