At least a dozen all-time chart hits, from Celtic stadium rock to goth-club staple, simply wouldn’t sound the way they do if it hadn’t been for Mark Brzezicki (pronounced ‘Bruh-zeeki’).
Born in 1957 in Berkshire, Mark Brzezicki was among the UK’s best-known session drummers of the 1980s and ’90s, as well as holding down the music of Big Country, still one of Scotland’s biggest-ever rock bands. Famous for their anthemic themes and an unashamedly stadium-sized sound, Big Country held their own in the ’80s alongside Simple Minds and U2, both arena-filling acts with big, Celt-flavoured ideas.
When Big Country’s career faltered in the mid-1990s, Brzezicki kept himself with a stack of session dates and membership of classic bands such as Procol Harum, developing a reputation for versatility and solidity. He’d already made his mark on the rock scene with The Cult, playing on their landmark 1985 album Love, but longer-lasting alliances with artists such as Pete Townshend, Fish and Thunderclap Newman have seen him take up a place as one of this country’s most respected drummers of any genre.
The Crossing (1983)
With their ‘guitars that sounded like bagpipes’ and Mark Brzezicki’s huge drums right up in the mix, Big Country’s debut album awakened the Celt in all of us and provided a massive chart hit for the band.
Check out the massive 12-bar drum intro that opens 'In A Big Country' for proof of Brzezicki's awesome chops. The band’s debut single, ‘Harvest Home’, features one of Mark’s best ever drum parts, setting out his stall for his career to come. ‘Fields Of Fire (400 Miles)’ was another track that became a signature of Big Country’s sound, in particular Mark’s sound from behind the kit.
Key track: 'In A Big Country'
By 1984, the Big Country sound had been firmly established and the band became bona fide pop stars. Single ‘Wonderland’ was a UK Top Ten hit. Singer Stuart Adamson was subjected to the pressures of being a rock star – pressure that he found hard to handle – while our man Brzezicki was dubbed ‘Mark Unpronounceablename’ by wags at Smash Hits.
The title track, about the decline of the UK steel industry in the late ’70s and early ’80s (which a lot of Scots migrants had moved to England for at the time of the Great Depression), crowbarred social politics and a little history into chart-friendly rock; ‘Wonderland’ very much carried on the big highland sounds of their previous work, and helped the band to its only Number One album. Mark’s sound is typically huge and he thunders round the kit with hard-hitting confidence.
Key track: ‘Wonderland’
Probably the best-known of The Cult's albums featuring Brzezicki, Love was the album that established the goth-rockers as a bankably huge rawk act.
Mark took over on drums from Nigel Preston, who drummed on their biggest hit 'She Sells Sanctuary', but his sublime playing on 'Brother Wolf Sister Moon’, and rock-solid pounding on 'Hollow Man’ helped make //Love// perhaps the definitive Cult album. 'Rain', with its insistent kick and hats intro and huge-sounding backbeat, and 'Revolution' showcases both his huge sound and considerable skill in playing for the song.
Key track: 'Rain'
Answers To Nothing (1988)
Ultravox ’tache-wearer Ure was a big cheese back in the ’80s, scoring single hits left, right and centre. Answers To Nothing, his second solo album, showcased a razor-sharp drum performance from Mark.
On display in particular is Mark’s pocket as he locks in with some serious bass guitar talent, not just his own brother Steve on the album’s biggest hit, the polished, funky pop of ‘Dear God’. He spars with Level 42’s bass slapper Mark King on the album’s title track and with fretless wonder Mick Karn on ‘Remembrance Day’.
Key track: ‘Dear God’
The Prodigal Stranger (1991)
Keeping the beat on the first album in years by this mercurial bunch of musicians can’t have been easy, but Brzezicki managed to pull it off. Prodigal Stranger sounds as if he’s keen to show the world that he doesn’t just do full-fat stadium drumming: there’s groove and sensitivity here too.
“It was different in the sense that I was replacing a fabulous drummer, BJ Wilson, who played with a unique style,” Mark told Rhythm. “I got a call from Gary Brooker when I was in the Isle Of Man. He said, ‘Do you want to come and play some songs with Procol Harum?’ and I said ‘When and where?’ [It was] the first album the original line-up had recorded in 15 years, and I stayed with them until 2007. Then Thunderclap Newman reformed, who I now sing for and play drums with when I’m not playing with Big Country.”