Reality comes to Liverpool
Four years have past since Liverpool saw its last drum event in the city, so there was no surprise seeing so many bodies packed up to the reclaimed bricks of Liverpool’s most famous musical dungeon. Attendees had been suitably warned in advance that this was not going to be a technique-fest, but rather a chance to see up-close, two of the few remaining busy drummers that work a decimated London ‘session’ scene. Between them, Ralph Salmins and Karl Brazil have notched up a pretty impressive pair of CV’s, graced by names such as Alanis Morisette, Sheryl Crow, Madonna, Elton John, Georgie Fame, Robbie Williams, Van Morrison, George Martin, Tori Amos, Take That, The Waterboys, Westlife, Bjork, Feeder, Leona Lewis, not forgetting Karl’s friend, James Blunt. A mixed set of bed-fellows indeed, testament to the variety of what can still be pulled from a diminishing pool of opportunities for the A-List pro drummer.
First to share their musical life experience was Ralph Salmins, known more for his Jazz work than mainstream cuts and the (not too) elder statesman of the show. After his opening shot of playing along to a live rendition of Georgie Fame’s ‘Yeah Yeah’, Ralph got straight to the business of showing everyone what “makes the money” in his game. Needless to say, it had nothing to do with flurries of recycled rudiments and everything to do with Time, Feel and Sound. This was aptly demonstrated with the aid of a metronome and a simple, hypnotic brush groove, showing the mixed results of pushing and pulling the groove around machine dictated Time. Clearly Master of his own inner-clock, Ralph was adamant that if practised, this simple exercise was key to providing what producers and MD’s look for in a drummer – creating Time other musicians want to live inside. “That’s what makes the dollars!”
Salmins also performed what could turn out to be, the first and last piece of Acid Jazz/Rare Groove style music, everto have permeated into the subterranean earth of Matthew Street, since Alan Styner surrendered his dreams of a Paris inspired Jazz club in 1959. A refreshing change to the Groundhog day “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” that has seemingly set into the concrete of this hallowed ground. Closing his set with a Latin track and introducing a fresh musical genre into the atmosphere, Salmins had set the room up perfectly for his clinic colleague and Master of Pop sessions, Karl Brazil.
Getting a self-penned Fusion track out of the way and certifying that he did have a few extra ions in his Pop drumming fire, Karl Brazil proceeded to play through a selection of tracks he’d drummed on for artists such as Take That, Feeder, Jason Mraz and long-time friend/housewives favourite, James Blunt. Reiterating and reinforcing all the good points that his predecessor had touched on, Brazil went on to emphasise how different Snare drums played a big part in how the sound of the backbeat could affect the song vibe, changing them between tracks. Watching this left hander play a right handed kit (a la Ringo), it’s becomes obvious why he’s on many an MD’s speed-dial, displaying a natural versatility and feel for the work-space he occupies.
Possibly, the most important and sobering part of the night was during the Q&A session when drummers on the other side of the fence got to ask some very pertinent questions about what it’s like to be a pro player in today’s challenging climate. The answers did not paint a good picture, with studio sessions progressively on the decline and no sign of the ‘old days’ returning until the physical product (CD’s) starts making money again. That is of course, a huge ‘if’ but there was some saving grace with live work being on the increase, becoming the mainstay income on what’s left of the session circuit. With repeated references to the music industry “being on its knees” this part of the night didn’t make for easy listening. However, the flip-side was the encouragement both Ralph and Karl gave by saying that success can still be achieved by hard work and determination.
Overall, Ralph Salmins and Karl Brazil served a taste of reality; these are the faces at the coalface of an industry whose glory days are long over, but still manage to stay afloat in a market where extra-safe, mediocrity rules and internet downloads have diluted the profitability of record companies. Looking at the low-level produce churned out by today’s ‘sell ‘em cheap pile ‘em high’ Pop industry moguls, it’s no secret that these players are grossly over qualified for a portion of the roles being asked of them. Despite this, they still exude an enthusiasm and genuine love of playing music, embracing the opportunities given under such austere artistic and economic conditions. But if you want to make a living at ‘the top’ these days, you have to take what’s on the Paymaster General’s table, no matter how uninspiring some of the product may seem.
For an evening’s lesson in realism about playing drums for a living in the second decade of the 21st century, there was plenty of potential for leaving an audience wondering, “Why bother?” But with teachers like Ralph Salmins and Karl Brazil as your guides, you begin to realise that hope remains an infinite lifeline for those who still dare to dream.