Speech Debelle drummer talks to Rhythm about the Mercury Prize and the future

It´s been a rollercoaster couple of months for Toby Couling. Three months ago the 24-year old drummer from Romsey was recruited to play live with little-known British hip-hop act Speech Debelle, who´d sold just a couple of thousand copies of her debut album Speech Therapy. Fast-forward to September, and the record had scooped the prestigious Mercury Music Prize, catapulting the London rapper onto the front page of every national paper and sending album sales through the roof.

“It´s been crazy,” says Toby, as we meet him before the band play a coveted slot at legendary jazz club Ronnie Scott´s. “My brother and I run a studio in Forest Hill, which is where we met Speech. The next thing, I´m on the TV going nuts about winning the prize, doing a headline tour and supporting Basement Jaxx. And my other band, 8 Fold, might support Speech too, so I´m pretty busy!”

Toby´s controlled, funky playing compliments Speech´s impressive vocal delivery perfectly on the live stage. “She´s a great front lady, always coming up with new things, and the band get on very well,” says Toby. “I´ve been studying the album hard and adding my own bits. I like to cut beats up - I´m quite influenced by dance music - but always leave space for the vocals.”

Toby, who plays Drum Workshop, Zildjian and Vic Firth, is meanwhile working on expanding his musical horizons. “I´ve been playing since I was eight, and I try as many different styles as possible - from drum‘n´bass to jazz. It´s not just good for my game, it´s my passion. I´m from a very musical family. My mum is a great pianist, and we all let out our emotion through music. I´m playing piano and learning the trumpet, too. It´s what I love.”

Speech Therapy is out now on Big Dada Records

Chris Barnes

I'm MusicRadar's eCommerce Editor. In addition to testing the latest music gear, with a particular focus on electronic drums, it's my job to manage the 300+ buyer's guides on MusicRadar and help musicians find the right gear for them at the best prices. I dabble with guitar, but my main instrument is the drums, which I have been playing for 24 years. I've been a part of the music gear industry for 20 years, including 7 years as Editor of the UK's best-selling drum magazine Rhythm, and 5 years as a freelance music writer, during which time I worked with the world's biggest instrument brands including Roland, Boss, Laney and Natal.