West End Drummers - Part 6 - Dave Adams
West End Drummers Part 6
Dave Adams interview Ė The Lion King
Dave Adams is a multi instrumentalist who originally opened Londonís Lion King at The Lyceum playing the Keyboard 1 chair, which he did for five years. Dave now holds the showís drum chair and has many years experience of West End shows as a drummer, MD, pianist and dep as well as touring with such diverse artists as Andy Sheppard, George Russell, Mike Lindup (Level 42), Michael Ball and Tony Christie, to name a few.
What was your background as a young musician?
I started on drums; thatís how I got into music. My dad was a semi professional drummer so Iíve been playing drums since I was two because I ventured onto his drum kit at home. Eventually, he had it all cut down to my size when he realised I could do it. Johnny Dankworth took me under his wing early on as Iím from Bedford originally and thatís where he lived. I ended up playing with loads of big bands, was on the Cliff Michelmore programme when I was four, Blue Peter when I was five, had features in a lot of national newspapers etc; none of which I can remember now, itís like I''m reading about another kid!
I was lucky because I knew what I wanted to do from a very young age; I couldnít do anything else to be honest, but a lot of my school friends didnít know what they wanted to do. After doing drums for a few years I started piano lessons at the age of eight and became quite a good classical pianist - I still do piano gigs now. At 14 I took up trombone and ended up getting a place at Chethamís School of Music and then went on to the Royal Northern College of Music up in Manchester studying trombone, percussion and piano. It was great because I ended up playing in orchestras, funk bands, big bands, shows, everything. I was able to experience the full musical palette and was very lucky to do all those things at a high standard at such a young age.
How did you come down to London?
Iíve always been in and out of London. I was born in Bedford, so I am essentially a southerner! Even when I was in Manchester I was coming down to London to dep for guys like Gary Kettel, the late John Chambers and others. I was doing a lot of depping and in the end I thought, ĎThis is silly, why donít I just move back down south, to London?í. Iíve been here ever since but Iíve done lots of touring stuff as well. I was Andy Sheppardís drummer for five years and with George Russell and people like that. Itís been great!
So youíre now working on The Lion King at the Lyceum. Can you describe what that theatre and pit are like for a drummer?
Itís great because Iím stuck right in the middle of the whole orchestra. Weíve got a fantastic rhythm section in Lion King. There are two sides to the pit Ė the strings, brass etc. Then Iím right in front of the conductor and just behind me is bass guitar, 1st keyboards and guitar, plus Chris the percussionist who plays marimba. Weíve got the whole rhythm section on our side; thatís all I need to lock into groove wise. Weíre allowed to change it all the time, obviously with discretion and taste, because they trust us enough now.
I actually did a masterclass at the Royal College of Music a few months back all about the drum part on The Lion King. It was a whole class about how you interpret those written parts and it depends on what everyone is playing around you, which affects what and how you play.
Whatís your set up?
Itís a Yamaha Maple Custom, 10,12,14,16,22 inch bass drum and a Ludwig Black Beauty snare drum. Iíve got Sabian cymbals, Vic Firth sticks and I use a Roland electronic kit behind me. Itís just for one number, itís an old Roland and Iíve got loads of orchestral percussion; a big concert bass drum, triangles and some woodblocks etc. Itís quite a tight affair.
What do you have on the electronic kit specifically?
Itís orchestral stuff; piatti cymbals and bass drum. Thereís just one number thatís quite funky and they wanted a more modern electronic sounding kit, although itís so old it doesnít really sound modern anymore! Itís just a change of sound and texture really.
Tell me about the other percussionists on the show and how you work with them
Just behind me, on my side of the pit, we have Chris Baron, whoís playing marimba, African percussion, djembes and other African instruments that I canít even remember the names of; itís mainly a marimba chair with hand percussion. There are two other percussionists, Mike (Hamnett) and Damien (Manning) (see next monthís West End Drummers to hear more from them), who are very much in view of the audience because they are in the boxes either side of the stage.
There are a couple of numbers where Chris is featured on marimba called ĎHe lives in youí and ĎThey live in youí, two songs, one in each half. For those I play very much off what Chris is doing; Iíve got him well up in my mix for those numbers. The whole percussion section is featured in the second half in a section called ĎNaala chases Pumbaí. Itís just me and the three other percussionists so itís mainly Chris who Iím anchoring in on because the other guys in the boxes are going for it.
What different styles of playing do you have within the musical?
In The Lion King, I can honestly say, everything. The first number, ĎCircle of lifeí is a funk kind of groove; the whole show is based on this ĎChameleoní groove, as in the Herbie Hancock tune. Thereís Charleston, jazz, waltzes, tango... you name it, itís in there. You have to give everything an African flavour as well, itís got to have that African vibe going on in the back of your mind. The show is full on playing wise; I come out of there sweating and you canít say that about a lot of shows.
How long have you been doing the show?
I did the first five years on keyboard 1, then I left to go and help set up ĎWe will rock youí with Brian May, Roger Taylor and Mike Dixon. I came back to Lion King, then went away again to do the ĎRod Stewart musicalí, then I came back again. Off I went again to do Billy Elliot on drums, which was the turning point. I used to dep on the Rod Stewart thing on drums but Billy Elliott was one of my first drum chairs for a few years after my piano/MD episode, although I was the original drummer on ĎMamma Miaí as well and that really was my very first trip back to the skins. After a while away from Lion King they asked me to come back and I said, ĎWhat on?í They replied, ĎDrumsí and that was it, mind made up, especially with such a great drum chair. I havenít looked back, Iíve been on it ever since!
What are the pros and cons of theatre work?
The cons are the repetition, which is whatís so beautiful about our show because itís not repetitive. The songs are the same but we play it differently every show. Itís a different discipline the eight show week, being able to stay fresh. I set myself up every night with ĎCircle of lifeí. Sometimes I turn up in that pit tiredÖ Iíve been in the studio all day or Iíve come off a tour. Iíve just done a long tour with Michael Ball and I came back too early. But I go for it in that first number and then I feel great and ready. Iíve vibed up the orchestra, which is my job. I think Count Basie once said, ĎIf the drummer ainít happeniní the band ainít happeniní and I believe that to be true. My role is to keep time as best I can and get everyone egged up and firing on all four cylinders and hopefully I do that.
What were you playing for Michael Ball?
Drums. We just did a UK tour and a DVD, live from the Royal Albert Hall, the Past and Present Tour. He did a lot of rocking songs by The Killers, Duffy etc, so it was a good play and fun. We even did a number by Dolly Parton which ended up being my favourite of the whole tour! In the end it was a smash. We did his normal ĎLes Misí type stuff as well and it was great.
So obviously for that you called on deps for The Lion King?
Iíve got five deps, a couple of which do their own shows. Iíve got three deps who do a few other shows and Iím thinking of getting a couple more in because Iím starting a writing company so I want to give more time to that. In reality Iíve got eight deps but theyíre all away touring. There are three permanent ones and five I can call on.
What are the pros?
The money. It''s regular and in the music business you donít always have that. The money in The Lion King is good and always has been. The main thing for me is youíre playing. I donít care if itís the same thing every night; if Iím playing every day then I wonít knock that. With a show like this itís great because to get better on your instrument youíve got to play every day.
What do you do with the rest of your time?
I have lots of things going on. Iíve got a family, I have a writing thing with Phil my writing partner (hardyadams.com). I do lots of sessions, I tour sometimes, rehearsal piano. I go and dep on other shows on drums and keyboards to help out the other guys when theyíre stuck. Mainly these days, apart from cycling 120 miles a week, I write music continuously. Thereís plenty going around and we keep ourselves occupied. I like to accompany people a lot on the piano as well.
As you play two main instruments do you find that when youíre playing one a lot you miss out on the other?
I used to get booked a lot on piano. I was the MD on ĎSmokey Joeís Cafťí and ĎRentí because Iím rhythmic and I comp very heavily; Iím not into semiquavers. I can do that as I was classically trained but Iím a gospel orientated piano player and I tend to break pianos. In ĎSmokey Joeís Cafeí I used to break the piano every week! It cost them a lot of money but I play the piano like I play the drums except with harmonies and people tend to like that. They still ring me up to do that because a lot of guys donít play that groovy; theyíve got all the clever licks and notes but I tend to just sit in the pocket and Iím happy comping all day. In answer to your question, no I donít really miss the other instrument because I play them both in a similar fashion, although not the trombone of course!
Have you got a favourite moment in the show?
The big numbers in the show are still great to play; theyíre epic. I still love ĎCircle of lifeí. We give it one in the pit at the Lyceum Ė I do come away some nights thinking, ĎWow, Iíve had a workout and been paid for ití. We donít tickle it in there, itís a full on play every show. Sat in the pit itís pretty loud and raunchy and I love that!
How do you prepare for the show?
I do a warm up for half an hour. I always have been anal about that on all my instruments; drums, trombone and piano. I mean, come on! At my age I can hurt myself!
What do you do for your warm up?
The Tommy Igoe ĎGreat hands for a lifetimeí, Iíve started doing that. Itís nice because itís gentle. I warm up with traditional grip to keep it up to scratch but I play the show with matched as itís such a heavy play. If Iím doing jazz gigs though I tend towards traditional grip.
How does it work for rehearsing to come into a show?
I was one of the original rehearsal pianists for the Lion King so I know it very well; I just had to learn the drum part. I got a copy from one of the dep drummers and listened to it while I was doing ĎWe will rock youí. I tend to learn things that way. I donít study the parts, although sight reading is not a problem. I just love to let things filter in so that when it comes to play the gig, you play the gig.
Have you got any advice for people who want to get into theatre?
Donít! Joking aside, the advice I have is do shows by all means but donít dedicate yourself to the black attire. Do loads of what youíve learnt and love first, because thatís the reason you got into music initially, wasnít it? The more experience you can get in every style, setting etc, the more it will help you in the long run. Shows are great for a lot of people when they are winding down careers. The regular money and playing is great. In Lion King we have an orchestra, which is fantastic to play with, and a great rhythm section.
I didnít do shows until much later on in my development. Iím 53 now and I think my first show was around the 38 years old mark, too soon! I would dep on shows but a lot of my time was spent touring. Shows are things I dipped in and out of and itís good to do a show to add to your palette of skills. Young drummers Ė go and see shows, learn them, dep on them if you can but donít take one on too early because you can get lost in them and that is by no means meant to be a negative statement!
One thing I would say to young drummers generally, is to learn another instrument. Chick Corea, Jaco Pastorious, Michael Brecker etc were all very good drummers. Lots of the other greats play another instrument as well; it makes your listening better. There are a lot of drummers who I meet these days who donít listen. Itís an aural art form we are tied up in. Iím lucky Iíve got very good pitch, which helps a lot. You have to develop your ears and the more you do, the more youíll get booked because of how sensitive you are to other peopleís playing. Youíve got to listen to everything, which is why it changes so much on the Lion King. Steve, our bass player, might just do something different one show and then weíre all off down that road, en masse without fail. There are a lot of shows where youíre not allowed to do that but no one minds in Lion King because they know itís going to be done with taste. Learn all your chops but leave them at home and just groove and listen. I canít stress that enough.
Whoís the Lion Kingís Musical Director at the moment?
Fraser Skeoch. Fraser is one of the better conductors and has great time. A lot of them havenít!
How do you cope with that as a drummer?
With difficulty sometimes! You have to weigh up a lot of factors. Iíve done lots of MDíing myself so I know where theyíre coming from and where they are at and it can be a lonely place up there on the podium. I try and support them as best I can and you have to listen to the cast and whatís happening around you. Ears again! I pin a lot of my tempos on my inner tempo for the song, then add to that what the cast are singing onstage and then determine a happy medium. I lock in with them, regardless of whatís going on in the pit, unless the MD definitely wants it to go faster.
As a drummer and with the MD there youíve got so much information coming at you. You have to develop a filter where sometimes you do have to ignore them, and I donít mean that nastily. The conductor might be conducting in such a way where heís on the upbeat. I know Fraser is bang at the bottom of the beat but some of them arenít and you have different interpretations for the whole band. Itís up to the drummer to establish where itís played and when thatís worked out everyone will feel comfortable and lock into what youíre doing. Itís getting the conductorís confidence in you as well, which is easyÖjust smile and compliment them!
For more information on Daveís writing and playing visit www.hardyadams.com
Interview by Gemma Hill
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