Mark Mclean and Lea Mullen's George Michael drum and percussion setup in pictures
As drummer and percussionist for George Michael’s orchestral, arena-filling live show, Mark McLean and Lea Mullen need to be on the same page.
When Rhythm sat down with the duo ahead of their recent Birmingham LG Arena show with the Faith singer, they certainly emphasised the importance of being able to get on with your tour mates.
It’s a big tick on that front, as during the hour or so spent in their presence, the bond between the pair is immediately evident. Both are affable and clearly at ease in each other’s company, but of course that is just half the battle - they also have to play a bit. They pass that test with flying colours as well.
Watching from the wings that evening Rhythm got a close-up glimpse of Mark’s jazz influenced, rock-solid chops and Lea’s Latin-tinged percussion trickery. So they’ve got the chops and they’re easy going guys, but what else do you need to make it on such a huge pop gig? Rhythm got them in a room together to find out.
Here we bring you pictures and details of each player’s drum setup, along with choice snippets of that interview, which you can read in full in the December issue of Rhythm (issue 210.)
Yamaha Maple Custom - 20-inch bass drum; 10-inch tom; 16 & 14-inch floor toms; Yamaha Maple 14x5 1⁄2-inch snare and 13x6-inch Steve Jordan snare
Do you need to work on making sure everything sits just right, so you avoid any clashes of drums and percussion?
Lea: “A lot of it is common sense. Me and Mark had a chat in the studio when we first started, saying what we wanted to set out to do and it all worked out fine. Naturally we don’t get in each other’s way.”
Mark: “We’re fortunate in that way. We can feel it. You can’t really explain it. There’s not that much scope to do something unexpected. I’m sure if we did do something unexpected we’d both look at each other. Or worse still George would turn around!”
Lea: “Then we’d both get sacked! This gig is all about the vocal and when we don’t play anything we get to have the best seat in the house listening to George sing.”
Zildjian - 15-inch K hi-hats; 18-inch K crash; 20-inch K ride; 20-inch Constantinople ride; 20-inch Constantinople Flat ride
Is stage position important? Do you need to be able to see each other?
Mark: “We’re separated by a walkway, but we’re on the same platform and we can see each other. I love it, it’s nice to play and go, ‘yeah man, good one!’ Everybody else is in front of us so there’s no other immediate eye contact.”
Lea: “It helps for us to be near each other - because we’ve got in-ear monitors in, sound can get lost.”
Mark: “Yeah, the proximity is important. It’s great to feel that energy.”
Zildjian sticks; JH Audio in-ear monitors
Lea on Mark
“Mark’s a great player. When I first saw him play I realised how musical he was. The first thing I said to him was, ‘Will you show me some of that brush stuff?’ I was getting lessons off him as soon as I met him! Night after night he doesn’t make a single mistake and he’s a great guy to be around. He’s a phenomenal player, he’s up there with the greats.”
Pearl Percussion fibreglass congas and bongos; Pearl Percussion gong drum; Pearl hand percussion; home made shakers, coil chime, spring table; Leiva Percussion
How does working with a big artist differ from a band?
Lea: “George is a great singer but also a great musician. He knows exactly what he wants to hear. We change things and he knows it. He will turn around on ‘Wild Is The Wind’ and that’s cut with the first half being the Johnny Mathis version, which is brushes, and then it goes into the David Bowie version. Of course the Bowie version has no congas. We got into production rehearsals and we changed it up a little bit with me playing shakers and tambourines. George said, ‘I’d like to hear some congas on this, it’ll drive it forward.’
“He was totally right. That wasn’t something I would have done, but it was his idea and it worked. Mark is such a great brush player and sometimes [George] will feel that, he’ll express to mark that he wants to hear the brush. Just when you think he’s not thinking, he is.”
Mark: “He hears everything. Everyone on this show is a star in their own right. It’s pretty special. It’s his show, it’s like with anyone. If I’m working with a vocalist, I get it - my job is to support and add where I can. If there’s a chance to do something that stands out then that’s going to be even more of an event because you’re being musical about it.”
Zildjian cymbals; 12-inch A splash; 12-inch K Hybrid splash; 15-inch K crash, 18-inch A Custom EFX; Matt Nolan gongs
Does George have any say on the gear you use?
Lea: “It’s more to do with what he hears and sounds. Maybe he might say, ‘Play congas on this.’ He may hear a frequency that I’m not playing and ask if I can play that. If Mark is playing the side stick or a brush he might say, ‘Maybe just play the backbeat there.’”
Mark: “Yeah, he’s never said, ‘Get a new snare!’”
Pearl hardware; JD Audio in-ear monitors; Protection Racket cases; Hammerax Boomywang; Pro-Mark sticks and beaters
Mark on Lea
“I’m very fortunate to have Lea in this band. He’s an amazing percussionist and so musical. It’s the perfect balance for this gig. Coming into this band that had done 25 Live I was thinking, ‘How is this going to work?’ It was just seamless. Before we even played together I knew it was going to be great. He’s a fantastic player. I put him up there with Bashiri [Johnson] and Luis [Conte]. He plays drumset too so understands what I’m doing. Some percussionists don’t understand drumset, that’s when things clash.”
Now check out the February issue of Rhythm for an interview with Tool’s powerhouse sticksman Danny Carey. Or subscribe to Rhythm for a monthly dose of new gear reviews, kit buying guides, pro drum lessons and all-star interviews.
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