Al Murray talks Genesis, Led Zep and more
Regular MusicRadar users may already be fully aware of Al Murray’s musical credentials.
Not only is the much-loved stand-up comedian a stellar drummer, he’s also co-owner of his own drum firm, the British Drum Company.
“British Drum Company is all going very nicely,” he tells us during a rare breather from his current UK stand-up tour. “We’ve got our own propriety lugs, the Palladium lugs that we have just announced and they will be on our kits in the next few months. It’s all moving forward nicely.
“We’ve got two artists at the moment with top ten albums, Isaac from Slaves and Joe from Blossoms. We’ve got the iTAP as well our mini cajon thing and people are barking mad for that. We’ll be at the London Drum Show, we’ll be at NAMM in January and it is all about people hearing the drums.”
This isn’t just some vanity project, either. Al has teamed up with famed Brit drum maker Keith Keough (formerly of KD Custom and Premier).
“People know that Keith makes fantastic drum and that hasn’t changed, but our ambition isn’t to be a custom drum house,” Al adds. “Our ambition is to be a mainstream manufacturer and that is what is coming, hopefully.”
A love of drums isn’t all Al has in his locker, he’s also a handy player himself as member of proggers Suns of the Tundra.
“We’re trying to make as much as we can,” Al says of his commitments with the band. “I’ve got a gig this week where I’m doing some double drumming but that’s it for this year except for maybe something at Christmas. I need to find a gap in the schedule.”
So it’s fair to say that music is upfront and centre in Al’s life. But what were the records that sparked his love of all things music and drumming? And which albums have inspired him latterly? You can find out right now with the ten records that changed his life.
1. The Beatles - Abbey Road (1969)
My family weren’t into pop music at all so we didn’t have pop music on in the house at all.
I remember being off school with flu the day that John Lennon was murdered. My dad came home from work and got out a copy of Abbey Road that I didn’t even know he had and he put it on. I was fascinated by it.
It’s a record that I come back to every couple of years and listen to it an awful lot. It’s so good. It’s genius.
The first thing you get is Ringo’s beat on Come Together. That’s one of those weird fractured drum beats that he did. No one else played like that at the time, no one had since and no one ever will again. If they do play like that then they’re copying Ringo. The drumming that he didn’t create is a reaction to the drumming that Ringo created.
All that bollocks about him not being the best drummer in the Beatles, which is in fact just a Jasper Carrott joke, is incredibly annoying. All drummers know what a nonsense that is. If you listen to the tracks McCartney played on he was a different creature, those tracks are much stiffer and they don’t have anything like Ringo’s musical subtlety.
2. Genesis - Seconds Out (1977)
This is a live double album. It’s the period of the band transitioning with Phil Collins taking over as singer but he was still playing a lot of drums, and quite gnarly drums. It’s got great playing, big tunes, it’s wildly unfashionable. It’s a perfect album for me.
I don’t hold much of a candle for Phil’s pop music but I do for his drumming. Even in his simplest pop stuff the drumming has that beautiful swing. Whatever kind of music Phil played he played a perfect drum part for it with musicality and power that not a lot of other people get close to.
Some of the playing on this album with Phil and Chester is brilliant. Some of it is a little showy but it’s still musical.
3. David Bowie - Hunky Dory (1971)
I’ve been listening to a lot of Bowie this year like everyone has. This was the first album I discovered him through.
That was while I was doing A Levels at school and a mate I was hanging out with would play Hunky Dory over and over again. It’s a brilliant record, especially the first side.
All the stories about it was that it was made really fast which is a testament to how good a drummer Woody Woodmansey is. The drum parts are absolutely bang on. The sounds are old fashioned but the parts aren’t. It’s an awesome album.
4. The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced (1967)
I got into Hendrix when I got to Uni. I had a friend that was mad about him.
The thing about that album is that it was made very quickly. I think The Wind Cries Mary on the album is the first take. They played it once and that was it. That band was so shit hot.
Mitch Mitchell’s drumming has this fascinating quality where even if you’ve heard, say, Fire a hundred times, the way he plays it each time there’s something new or surprising in it. He’s coming at it as a post-jazz player inventing heavy rock idioms.
5. Led Zeppelin - IV (1971)
People always mention Bonham but I remember a period when he was massively unfashionable and Led Zeppelin were hugely unfashionable.
Then they started to creep back into fashion and now you can’t imagine that his playing was ever regarded as anything other than supremely tasteful. He had monster swing.
If you listen to Bonham play, those parts are impeccable. The records had swing and you could tell they were recorded live. He had this reputation as an Animal prototype and as a drinker and a wildman but I think that is really unfortunate as his playing was much more than that.
When he comes in on Stairway To Heaven it starts to motor and it gets faster and faster in a subtle way. That’s all Bonham and his swinging boogie. You can hear the cross triplet pulse even though that’s not what he’s playing. It’s very clever.
6. Miles Davis - Kind of Blue (1959)
The amazing thing about this record is that it sounds totally fresh now. It was recorded in two afternoons or whatever it was.
He was trying to shake of complexity at that point. I think that’s really interesting that artists like Miles Davis get to a point where they want to shake off being complicated and make it simple again.
He did that on this album by rehearsing a load of other tunes with the band and then putting this on and saying this was what they were recording. They had to start fresh and didn’t have time to fancy them up.
It’s so tasteful and less is more which is something people don’t really associate with jazz. It’s not fair to compare but you think a U2 album takes two years to album and then Miles Davis made A Kind of Blue in a couple of days on probably not even a four track with just a few mics and people at opposite ends of the room. It’s nuts.
St Vincent - St Vincent (2014)
I think she’s really interesting. She did an album with David Byrne that was all brass band stuff with beats. That was so interesting. I’m a big Talking Heads and David Byrne fan.
I love her voice and then I found out she’s a shredding guitar player. She has this band that she does really interesting things with electronic drums and hybrid drumming.
That kind of drumming has been going on for a long time but it is now an acknowledged thing with gear designed for it.
I’ve always been interested in electronic drums, as a drummer it automatically makes you sound more interesting without you having to play any better. That’s always a big advantage. That album though is brilliant and very usual. The arrangements are fascinating and the tunes are great.
Hand. Cannot. Erase. - Steven Wilson (2015)
I liked Porcupine Tree but they weren’t a number one band of mine. Gavin Harrison’s playing is something you should know about. But this record is just brilliant.
It has mad playing, it has big tunes, it’s an 80-minute concept album with these huge guitar solos. He has just hit his stride on this album. It’s a brilliant record.
It’s got Marco Minnemann on it who is one of those drummers that you should run away from screaming. But for all that it has this moving subject matter and it works excellently.
I saw the touring version a couple of times with Craig Blundell drumming and it was a perfectly realised live show of the record. You have to admire people who can play an 80-minute concept show that makes sense and has tunes you can whistle. Well, you don’t have to admire them, but I do. That album got me buzzing about music again in a way I hadn’t in a long time.
Everything Everything - Get To Heaven (2015)
It’s so interesting what they are doing. You’d call it art rock now, I suppose.
They mash up all different sounds. They look like a guitar band one minute and then the next it’s all bleeps and buzzes. It’s hybrid drumming again.
I saw them at Somerset House this summer and they were fascinating and so exciting. They are progressive in their music. That’s the problem with the prog label. A band like Genesis did progress, they just progressed into music that wasn’t like the music that they used to make and their older fans didn’t like it.
If you’re into progressive music you ruin the risk of the band progressing!
Elvis Presley - Sunrise (Recorded in 1953-55, released in 1999)
This was the first stuff he did where it was Elvis and Scotty Moore in Sam Phillips’s garage basically.
I’ve always been into that album but my kids got into it two or three years ago. We ended up going to Graceland as a family trip.
What is brilliant about that record is that it is basically the start of everything. He’s making something new.
He might not be the first person to sing rock ‘n’ roll, he might not be the first person to sing white soul but it is him sticking all of the ingredients together to start something.
That was what everyone who has moved music along has done since.