On recordings by everyone from Lisa Stansfield to Iggy Pop, and of course, through with his widely celebrated work as a member of Porcupine Tree, Gavin Harrison has become one of the most respected and influential drummers in the world today. His highly sophisticated and remarkably intuitive playing is analyzed by fellow players with an almost forensic intensity. And yet, in some ways, Harrison would argue that dwelling on his own contributions to recordings misses the point.
“I was never interested in only the drumming on great albums," he says. "To me, it was about all the music, and if I happened to like the drumming that was a big plus. If the focus is on drumming by itself, then I might as well be listening to a drum solo. Certainly, there are bands that have drummers who are exceptional, but an album should be a whole – and that’s what makes both great albums and great drum albums."
Harrison came by his love of music early and easily through the influence of his father, a professional jazz trumpet player. Naturally gifted on the drums, Harrison practiced obsessively – when not devouring his father's extensive collection of jazz and big band albums. “I had a very untypical childhood," he says. "I could hear Yes, ELP, The Beatles and Deep Purple coming out of my eldest brother’s bedroom, and I didn’t like them at all. I was very much into jazz. Of course, 10, 20 years later, I got around to really listening to Led Zeppelin or appreciating The Beatles, and I thought they were great."
Harrison admits that, in his younger years, he focused on the drums when listening to records. "It could be the sound, the fancy fills or the timing of the drummer that got to me," he says. But at a certain point, a switch flipped and he began to appreciate the whole rather than the sum of the parts. "I became more impressed by how the music and the drummer actually made me feel."
In his own idiosyncratic way, Harrison breaks down essential drum albums as those that have been constructed with a thoughtful blend of taste, balance and art. "I can recognize in design when people are paying attention to these things," he says. "Think about it: A car is just four wheels, an engine, a few seats, and if you drew it on a blackboard you’d have a box with four wheels and a steering wheel.
“Now, compare that to an Aston Martin or a Bentley – there’s beauty there. Those cars do the same thing as the box with wheels, but they have beauty in the design. That’s what I look for in music – beauty in the choices."
On the following pages, with careful consideration given to purpose and effect, Harrison discusses what he considers to be 10 essential drum albums, listed chronologically as they entered his life. No doubt, readers will find much beauty in his choices.