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The Drum Tech

Yard Gavrilovic-Drum Tech
Born: Dubrovnik, Croatia 24/12/1953

So tell us Yard, just what IS a drum tech?
A drum tech is a  talentless tone deaf drummer….so I’m constantly reminded by guitar techs…..all non-players by the way!  The drum tech’s role is to set up the kit exactly the same each day and replace or repair any broken parts to minimise any disasters during a show.  We are responsible for the tuning of the kit and ordering of the sticks, heads, cymbals and general day to day malarkey with endorser companies.

How did you start?
I played drums in bands from the age of 16 and played ‘til I was about 24 and stopped playing due to a severe lack of talent and money.  As I’d  trained as a carpenter & joiner, I carried on with my building business as I’d got 3  sons by then.  My wife’s brother Andy Barnett joined Urchin as replacement for Dave Murray as he’d left to join Iron Maiden in ’78 followed by Adrian Smith’s departure in 1980 to rejoin Dave.

I kept in touch with the music scene through Andy and by the late ‘80’s he’d played with Corey Hart, Visage & joined FM in ’89.  He’d played in bands with Zak Starkey and Dave Colwell (Bad Co) for years and I started to do pub gigs with them for a laugh but by then I’d got the bug again.  It was whilst I was fitting out Trident Studios in Victoria that they were recording Adrian Smith’s solo album “ASAP” and it started from there.  The more I did, the more I liked.  So I started fitting in music when I could and it went from there.  I joined FM as keyboard tech in ’90 and ended up as Stage Tour & Production Manager.  Adrian got me into Sanctuary Music and it carried on from there.

What do you think makes a good tech?
Just paying attention to detail really.  You have to try and eliminate any problems before they arise - especially in front of 30,000 fans where you don’t want to look stupid.  The crux of the job is to prepare everything so that the drummer can just concentrate on playing and you do the rest.  You have to be calm, love travel, be serious about your gig without being anal and have a sense of humour as you’ll need it.  Be courteous & respectful to your colleagues and with local crew … might think that you’re great ….they’ll think otherwise … in many languages alien to you!!  Also a good rapport with all endorser companies as you’ll need their back-up service in times of trouble.

Who have you worked for?
I tend to stay with people rather than do lots of different artists.  My main bands have been Eric Clapton, The Who ,The Lightning Seeds, FM, Skin and Annie Lennox

I’ve known and worked with Zak Starkey for a number of years now and there’s not many drummers who can touch The Who gig but he fits it perfectly for me and is a fine man from a fine family who has helped my career no end. (a very big thankyou)

Steve Gadd for 8 years….funny as hell just like Steve Barney & Math Priest, Jim Keltner, Steve Ferrone, Henry Spinetti, Jodie Linscott, Paulinho Da Costa, Kenney Jones, Dicki Fliszar (SKIN) Uli Kush (Helloween), Math Priest, Mike Sturgis,(Psycho Motel) Pete Jupp(FM), Ricky Lawson and others.  All have been an honour to tech for…… I think!

I hear that it’s a family business (hello boys)!
Yes it is. I have 5 sons from 34 to 18 and they’ve grown up with drums and guitars in the house. Martin is with Zak on The Who gig as I’m with The Gaddster on EC and Nick is currently teching with The Sugarbabes.  Nick is a good guitar player and he filled in for The Libertines last year when matey boy went inside for a brief visit!!

I got my kids in as we all work the same way and communication is easier as we all work sloppy.  Nick came in to do backline on Ringo & the Ravens and Johnny Marr.  He’s got a good personality(some say) and he has handled guitars and drums from an early age and he’s confident although he’s only 21.

Martin(29) plays drums and started with Natalie Imbruglia teching for Chuck Sabo…….and yes I would have swapped!!  Martin & Nick did all the backline on Johnny Marr’s Healers World Tour last year with Zak on drums whilst I was on Annie Lennox with Steve Barney.

My other sons Tom(25) & Patrick (18) both play drums in bands and work with me in construction as carpenters and Gary the eldest is I’m afraid, not aware of one end of a stick or hammer from another…so he works in finance…Sad but TRUE!!

What have been some of your highlights and do you have any funny stories that you’d like to share with us?

There’s been a lot of highlights and its hard to choose really as there’s been so many.  But the one that springs to mind because of the emotion and sheer pleasure was  “The Concert for George “in Nov 02 at The Royal Albert Hall.  Fantastic line up and everyone wanted it to work.  It showed just how much George was loved throughout the business.  It was Eric’s baby and I think that he was very proud of how it turned out as we all were - a very emotional occasion as was.   The Who Teenage Cancer Trust 200, Roger Daltrey raising money to provide children with cancer decent facilities and care in hospitals, I spent 9 yrs in and out of Gt Ormond St Hospital due to polio at 18months of age and since then life’s been superb…..give a bit back…however small!

Stories? - well it depends on what you call funny.
One that springs to mind is the time that we finished with EC in Moscow after doing a gig at the Kremlin at the tail end of a European Tour and Gadd had a session in New York in the break before we resumed in the US .  Wherever he goes Steve takes his favourite cymbal set including his 35 year old top hi-hat cymbal which he adores and his stickbag !!
It went like this………
“Hey Yard can you ship those cymbals home to NY to save me carrying them thru the airports”?
“Sure Steve …no problem……leave it to me…no problem” …or so I thought??
Anyway after getting back to the UK we all meet at Rock-It Cargo to sort out the equipment and as Paulinho the percussionist wasn’t doing the US leg of the tour I was separating his huge percussion rig from the rest of the pack before shipping Gadd’s cymbal set.  Whilst sorting out the percussion in the warehouse and wrapping it all with cloth and bubble wrap to protect it little did I know that all Gadd’s gear including his beloved cymbal set was being loaded onto another 40ft truck on its way to shipping by sea!  I went outside to retrieve the cymbal bag to see the rear end of the truck leaving the depot!  “Cor Blimey” I said to myself (cor blimey)? 

I called my old mucker Jim McGathey at Zildjian in Boston who managed to pick out some lovely cymbals similar to The Gaddsters  own and ship them to the studio in NY ready for his arrival.  Steve & I met up at rehearsals in Dallas TX and the door opened slightly and Steve bellowed “Yard……..does the word cymbals mean anything to you”?
We laughed about it but he has now has developed his own range of cymbals with Zildjian which he loves.  So my fears of cracking his fave hats at sound check are over thankfully!!
The other one that made me laugh was years ago with an American band and I misheard a tech telling someone that his brother was a lifter, until I found out that he had said that he was a luthier!!(guitar builder)
There’s loads more but ………these people are still alive…. if you get my drift!!

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How has teching changed over the years?
Well I’m older and not so nimble…..but we have laptops now so we keep files on all the equipment so the office side is a much more efficient way of doing things especially keeping tempo files etc due to the onset of old age and memory loss!

What’s involved in a typical day?
Normally the backline dept starts around midday when all those lazy  bone idle lighting & sound crews have finally got the rigs in the air!!
As soon as we have the stage we lay the marley floor and set out the risers for the keyboards and drums.  The next move is to have a coffee to get over the trauma of having to work at such an unearthly hour! We then start setting up and  changing any heads  that are a bit dodgy.  From then its  repetition…….tune up…………… tune up …….coffee …….tune up and so on until the band turn up and get you to start the tune up from scratch again!

With The Who & EC the crew band do the sound checks so I’ll play the kit until we get it right for the Arena.  Normally with The Who we will play “Who Are  You” to check out the click & track.  Once we get the thumbs up we head for catering to help prepare the evening meal and also the wardrobe lady with the ironing (some chance……..we’re not known as the Country Club for nothing….it’s years of skiving ‘til you get it just right!!

I wear In- Ears during the show with Zak’s spare belt pack so that I hear what he’s hearing and you can hear if the  snare pops or anything is too quiet in his mix…..bass solo in 5.15 etc……..that’s why it takes years to learn all the hand signal communication between drummer & tech during a show, so its quickly relayed to the monitor engineer.  With Steve Gadd I sit on the wing and its all hand signals and not always nice ones.  As he uses wedges, we have a few minor adjustments but very rarely.

How could somebody who is interested in getting into your line of work?
Obviously if you play drums it’s a great help in learning to tech, .but 60% of the job is getting along with the drummer and 40% on technical ability.  You could be the greatest tuner in the world but if you don’t gel with each other you’ll end up jobless.  You end up spending a lot of time together and trust is a major factor, they trust you with their kit and they confide in you so be honourable.

Listen to other techs and pick up any tips on set ups, tuning etc. Try it and if it doesn’t work for you….that’s life…….I’m still on the look out for better ways on doing things.  You never stop learning.

Getting started in the first place?  Well I get asked this a lot by people hoping to get a job and really there’s no format.  It’s based on sheer good fortune……unless you are one of my kids!!  The best way is to get in with a band at any level and develop contacts by being seen around working, personality is most important as I’ve said.   If they like you they’ll employ you.  I’ve met some great techs on the club circuit and all that they lack are the lucky breaks that I have had, so keep plugging away.  Once you get to Arena/Stadium level the job is ten times easier. Same job …but lots more crew and spondoolicks!!

Any advice would for someone trying to make it as a tech?
Do it!!  I’ve achieved all of my goals(apart from working with Simon Kirke but there’s still time to nobble his tech).  I’ve played drums with all the bands that I’ve teched for during sound checks…superb!  Meeting all my childhood heroes including Ginger Baker and becoming friends with the worlds best players…….and yes… they are on top.!!!

There’s the world wide travel including gigs in the River Plate Stadium in Argentina (QPR for Div.1)Baseball in the US…Niagara Falls…LA, New York’s endless…….top hotels and 1st class treatment.  My advice is to be good at your gig and it will be good to you.  You should get to 60 years of age and look back thinking …...fantastic…….no regrets….done it!  In a few years I’ll be selling tomatoes, plants and bird tables from my driveway……..but that’s life…’s just a shame that I can’t carry on forever…so taking 30% of my kids wages should cover me in retirement!

Enjoy it……if you don’t ……..clear off and don’t depress everyone  else on the tour!!

Good luck…..See ya!!


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