Martin Osborne interviews Alan Parish of the Hamsters, shares a snare and makes a new friend. Learn from Alan Parish as he shares years of experience with you.
OLD: Welcome to Onlinedrummer.com
Alan: Thank you very much
OLD: What made you want to become a drummer? Who inspired you? And what made you pick up a pair of sticks in the first place?
Alan: Right, my Mum used to work in a little corner-shop just down the road from where we lived, and the people who ran the shop had a son called Peter who was 6 or 7 years older than me, and he was learning to play the drums. He went to London to learn from a guy called Max Abrahams who was one of the most highly respected teachers in London. His dad asked me down one day to see a band practice and one of the guys, a guitarist called Mick Wilsher, who ended up in a band called The New Vaudeville Band which had some chart success, and this was back in 62/63. And I watched and was hooked, and I knew that I had to do that. It was that instantaneous.
My Mum and Dad weren’t too keen; they said they’d buy me a guitar but if I wanted a drum kit then I had to save for it myself, which I duly did and I never really looked back. I recently got back in touch with Peter and he lives in America now and plays semi-professionally but from what I can remember, and it’s not a matter of looking through rose-tinted glasses, he was a top notch drummer. He could really play jazz and he used traditional grip rather than matched grip.
OLD: Has your kit setup changed much since from when you first started?
Alan: My first kit was a Broadway which was a snare, a single headed tom-tom which had a real skin on it and a 20” bass drum
OLD: No floor tom?
Alan: No floor tom, just the snare, tom and kick with a hi-hat pedal and one cymbal. I used to play along to pop records that my Mum used to buy; I probably drove Mum and Dad mad. My first proper kit was a Premier, one rack, one floor, kick, snare, hi-hat and two cymbals, and my setup stayed like that until 1972 when I added another tom and then I got a set of four Slingerland chrome, single-headed concert toms that went around it. The sort of setup I have at the moment with two rack, kick, snare, floor and two hi-hats (an x-hat on the right and a normal hat on the left) I’ve been playing since the band (The Hamsters) started in 1987 and I’ve not deviated from that really as I’m comfortable with it.
OLD: I love your splash setup.
Alan: I love ‘em, I have my kit setup so I don’t have to put too much effort in when I’m playing it. I know it may look fantastic if you’ve got cymbals high up and you’re waving your arms about but it’s really tiring playing like that, so I just like to sit there and know where everything is and virtually play with my eyes shut.
I have an 8” Bell cymbal which I use for effects on certain things, and 10” splash on the left. I have a 16” china up on the right which is nice for accents and then 16”, 17”, and 18” thin crashes as well. I don’t like heavy cymbals. I like cymbals that you hit and they stop. I don’t like things that go on and on, and I’ve got a lovely 20” crash/ride that I’ve had since 1995 that Paiste don’t make anymore and that’s gorgeous.
I’ve got an endorsement with Paiste. I don’t get them for nothing but I do get a fairly good reduced rate. I just love Paiste cymbals. I’m not saying they’re better than Zildjian but to me they cut the mustard. I mean, when I bust one, and I ask for another 16” crash, when it turns up, I know it’s going to sound the same as the one that had gone. I just love the sound of them.
OLD: Your cymbals are quite bright in tone, they’re not dark cymbals.
Alan: I like things to cut through, it’s because they’re thin, they’ve got a nice crash but they decay really quickly, and certainly on faster songs, that’s great.
OLD: When it comes to snare drums, what is your preference?
Alan: I suppose really, metal. I’ve had, I don’t know how many, snare drums. I remember I had a nice Ludwig 400 I bought in 1975 and I wish I still had that. I had a nice 6 ½” Slingerland I bought in 1970 and I wish I still had that!! I’ve had a few brass snares, I had an 8” Yamaha Russ Kunkel snare which was quite nice, but for some reason this Hammered steel Ludwig shell I’m using, I bought it in 1982, and the only change I’ve done to it is put a die-cast hoop on the top which thickens up the rim shots a bit, seems to give me the right response.
I have the heads tuned pretty tight, both top and bottom and that way you get a lot of attack out of them and a good rim-shot out of it every time and some ghost-notes. And that’s really my favourite so I suppose metal shells really. I’ve been through loads of snares and I keep coming back to that one it seems to be just right for me. I get the response I want, and I record live and in the studio with that snare drum. The latest album (a live dual CD of Jimi Hendrix covers on his 40th anniversary) was recorded with that drum. I’m dead happy with it.
OLD: Have you always been a working drummer?
Alan: I turned professional in 1978 when I joined a Mecca band called Whisky Mac. Andy (The Hamsters Bass player) was the guitarist in the band at the time, and they were based in Southend-On-Sea. I had a couple of chances before that but it never seemed right. I always weigh things up with pros and cons but at the end of the day I’ve always gone with my gut feeling.
I was working as a contract Draughtsman at Ford’s at the time, and the day I handed my notice in, they offered me a full time job. I thought if I don’t do it now I’ll just regret it so I’ll see how I get on, so I did. And I’ve had periods where I’ve done other jobs such as I worked at a London percussion hire company for 7 years purely building and tuning orchestral percussion instruments. I tuned all of Evelyn Glennie’s instruments, the London Philharmonic, the L.S.O. etc. I was playing drums as well but it wasn’t enough to live on. I suppose I turned fully professional in 1990 when the band went professional.
OLD: So for someone who is considering taking a professional career now, what advice could you give? I mean what is a typical Hamsters week?
Alan: Both myself and Slim the guitarist look after the band. Slim books the band venues and hotels, does all the publicity etc. and I take care of the finance and merchandise. And I make sure the van is serviced and any problems with that. There is a lot of work other than just playing on stage.
As far as nowadays for advice, I wouldn’t know where to begin. When we started there were a lot more venues happening on the circuit that we do and I think it must be pretty tough for kids nowadays, but I think the standard of playing has risen dramatically since I started playing. I mean some of the young players now are frightening, but a lot of them that play heavy metal and thrash, I can appreciate their playing and their chops, but to me it’s pure athleticism more than it is musical. I don’t find many of those players particularly musical. I have great admiration for them because some of those can play faster with their feet than I can with my hands but at the end of the day you’ve got to say does that matter?
I suppose I’m more old-fashioned. I grew up listening to pop music in the 60’s which arguably had the best song writing ever at that particular time as well as listening to big band jazz which my dad was fond of, and I went to drum lessons with Frank King who was a fabulous drummer who sadly died at an early age, but he was admired by Buddy Rich and Louie Belson. They did a benefit for him when he died and they came over and played at the Royal Festival Hall, that’s how much respect they had for the guy as a player. He showed me and turned me on to the Big Band sound so I have a wide musical taste.
Nowadays I like to listen to classical music and jazz. I think the bottom line is that if you really want to do something then you’ll do it, that’s it in a nutshell. When I was a kid, I would visualise myself playing professionally. And I think that’s true because sub-consciously you work towards it.
There are a lot of well schooled musicians and I think a lot of it in this business is that most bands want somebody who can do the job but will always pick a guy who’s a nice chap to work with rather than someone who is a better technical player. Especially when you’re getting hired and fired by people. The manager of Dr. Feelgood once said that a great musician would be someone who could turn up at 5am on time at Heathrow with his passport. So it’s being reliable and being able to do what you say you can do and getting on with people, that’s the key. If you want it bad enough then you’ll get it.
OLD: Moving on to your drums, you’ve got a Spaun kit now, what made you choose Spaun?
Alan: I had two Premier kits, a Genista first and then a Signia and the kit and stands were getting tired, and it’s also good now and again to change your drums, it can give you a boost and it makes you think because you have to reset and position everything and that’s not a bad thing. The Signia looked tired and I’d played Premier for about 8 years and it was a time when Premier were struggling a bit with finances and, I think, power struggles in the management.
The Hamsters were playing in Europe and having a fairly high profile. I was playing Premier and I wanted a chaps deal basically, I didn’t expect to get them for nothing but the price they gave me was a bit too high in my opinion, and a guy I know mentioned that I ought to check out Spaun. I liked what I saw and thought I’d email them; I had nothing to lose. I emailed Brian Spaun and said, this is what we do. I’m after a new kit and is there any chance of a chaps deal on it? He checked out our website and said yes and did me a deal on it via the Wembley Drum Centre. And they are lovely drums. I absolutely love them. They are the best drums I’ve ever had, maple shells with a fantastic finish, which is important. I’ve had some wood finished kits before that look great sat in a room but under stage lights they look very dull and unlively.
The thing I like about the finish on my kit, they call it white serpentine wrap, is that whatever light you throw on it, it reacts and looks nice and I think that’s important if people are paying good money to see you perform. It should look like we take care of our equipment and be professional, not have some beaten up load of crap. And the whole band feels the same way about that. It should look professional.
OLD: So even though you perform every weekend, do you still take time out to practice?
Alan: No, but I do warm up before a gig. Some nights you warm up, you play and it doesn’t happen. And another night, for instance we’ve had it happen at festivals, you get there and its disorganisation and you don’t get a chance to warm-up and you go straight on stage and it turns out to be a dream gig. It’s something to do with the mental application and I wish I knew what the secret was. That must be the really great difference between truly great professionals and guys like me although they probably have bad days.
I get very annoyed with myself if I screw up on stage, and I think we’ve all experienced it when you think you’ve not played particularly well or the band hasn’t played very well and it hasn’t gelled, invariably someone comes up to you after the gig and says, “I’ve been seeing you for years and tonight was the best you’ve ever been”. And bless their hearts, but you feel like decking someone like that because you think what have you been listening to? I think when you’re a player you have a heightened awareness of mistakes that 95% of an audience wouldn’t notice and I don’t think People notice melodic mistakes as much as they do rhythmic mistakes, if there’s a big rhythmic cock-up, I think because people are intrinsically rhythmic they notice it more.
OLD: When you do you’re Jimi Hendrix and ZZ Top Sets, do you address the playing from the Alan Parish method or from the Mitch Mitchell and Frank Beard approach?
Alan: I took my own approach because I can’t play like either of them. I know there are some guys who slavishly transcribe all the parts and its great but I try and play in the spirit of Mitch but no one can play like Mitch Mitchell, it was the same like no one can play like Hendrix. We play the material in the spirit in which he’d like it played and the bottom line is that Hendrix never played the same thing twice anyway. Every night was different, tempos were vastly different because they were all on noxious substances and that was the shame of it.
I think one of the great performances was at the Monterey Festival where for some reason they were really on it and they were fabulous. And they were under the most tremendous pressure to work, the work schedule they had when Hey Joe was in the charts was up and down the country and then go in the studio at 2am, and they were often out of their faces at the time due to the pressure I suppose. I play with a nod to Mitch Mitchell but I play it the way I am and the same with Frank Beard and as a band we play that too. There are certain things we have to play but we don’t slavishly copy it.
OLD: In all your years of playing, which do you find the most challenging? Covers or Originals?
Alan: I tell you it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other as it depends on what the cover is. I’ve been in covers bands back in the mid to late 70’s. Both Andy and I did some work for a company called Redi-Tune and we basically supplied backing music for UK shopping outlets and it was hard work, two track and five of you on the session and you couldn’t make a mistake, make a mistake and you had to scratch what you’d done and start again; we just used to do instrumental versions of songs that were in the charts at the time. So you’d have to learn the songs, you’d have chord sheets and arrangements and some of those things were quite challenging. I used to love trying to work out stuff like 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover and Rosanna. I like working things out and it starts out being a melting-pot, you start playing something and you find out that this goes there and that goes here and that works. It’s a gradual process of elimination.
OLD: For the benefit of anybody who hasn’t heard of the Hamsters, you play a mix of covers and originals and they, to me, are quite equal in the way you guys play them.
Alan: Yes it’s what we try to do. We’ve been fortunate in that quite a few of the songs we do are written by a guy called Mickey Jupp from Southend, an extraordinary song writer and I’m sure people think they are originally ours but obviously we’ve arranged them to our own taste but he’s a great lyricist. Basically its down to Slim(the singer) at the end of the day as he’s got to sing it and if he’s not comfortable, it won’t work. And we’ve rehearsed loads of songs that we’ve never done live, but as soon as you know you’ve got one that works its job done, wonderful. So I suppose we’ve got our own stamp on things really, after 25 years there’s empathy between us, certainly between Andy and me. And all three of us were playing in a band in 1974 albeit briefly, we’ve been doing it for ages.
OLD: When The Hamsters complete their final gig, what is your intention after that?
Alan: I don’t know, I know I’ve got to work, I’ve earnt a good living doing this but I’ve spent far too much. I’m not sure if I’m going to carry on playing, the jury’s out on that one at the moment. Do I want to go back to hauling a drum kit around in an estate car playing pubs? I’m not sure that I do, and I’m not being elitist, I’m not trying to sound like I’m up there and it would be a drop to pub level, its nothing to do with that, it’s just that I’m now 60 and to start again with something else music wise would be difficult. I think I’m going to keep the kit for at least a year and see how I feel about it after a year. If I could play anything, I’d like to play Jazz or even folk, something with a load of finesse in the playing and lower volume level, something challenging. I’ve been told by a lot of people that I should consider teaching; I could do but I’m not sure if I could do that. With teaching you get 8 students who aren’t really into it and two that would be a joy to teach. I’ve got quite a fair knowledge of the rudiments; Frank King was a stickler for that. The thing is with rudiments is you don’t learn them to play all the time, it’s like learning to pronounce big words in the English language, it’s great if you can pronounce them and you won’t use them every day, but by being able to pronounce them it’s easier to carry on a conversation. And that’s how I look at rudiments; they are a tool to help your co-ordination. They’re not there for the sake of it.
OLD: Thanks Alan, now I have ten short questions for you.
Alan: Fire away
OLD: What type of car do you drive?
Alan: I’ve got a Vauxhall Astra convertible mainly because my wife wanted a convertible and it’s a fabulous car.
OLD: What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
A – Take my medication, have a cup of tea and then visit the loo.
OLD: When you’re not drumming or doing any band work, what else do you get up to?
Alan: I love watching motor racing, saloons and formula 1; I’ve not been down to Brands Hatch for a long time. My wife and I used to go down there when we were younger. I’d get home at 4am from a gig, shower, a cup of tea and then off out to Brands for the day at 6am. I would love to do that again but it does take its toll when you get older. In the summer it’s nice to sit out in the garden having a BBQ, my wife, bless her, works hard to keep the garden looking nice. And I enjoy cooking and having friends round for dinner.
OLD: Who would you invite to dinner? Alive of dead
Alan: Good question, hmm, the actor David Niven, but to be honest, anyone from that era because there were more genuine characters those days, not the media created personalities of today.
OLD: What’s the most played album on your iPod or CD player?
A – There’s a few. I love the Four Seasons by Vivaldi, I’ve got a nice CD by the Manhattan Jazz quartet with Steve Gadd on drums. I love Steely Dan’s older stuff, the new albums are good but they’ve not got the writing ability of old which is why I prefer the older stuff. Donald Fagen’s albums, big band stuff. And Elgar, always makes me cry, Nimrod, its British!
OLD: What is your proudest achievement in Music?
Alan: Making people happy. Since we announced our retirement next year we’ve been doing meet ‘n’ greet signings and posing for photos after the concert, and it’s been amazing to hear the nice comments and the pleasure we’ve given to peoples lives over the last few years and what we’ve meant to them. And we’ve always tried to play for the audience and not for ourselves, its not about how good we are, its always to give them a good night and send them home happy. It’s not about impressing other musicians, and to be honest most of them are flaky anyway, and I know that sounds cynical but most of them are. At the end of the day its always about the audience because, god bless them, they’ve paid our wages for the last 25 years and you can’t ask more than that, and a lot of them have to do rotten jobs that they hate and when they come to se us and we take that ‘rottenness’ away then brilliant.
OLD: Two drum kits, yours sat opposite whose, for an intimate drum-off?
Alan: An intimate Drum-off? It would have to be Buddy Rich, I mean the guy was a fabulous drummer but the only thing I couldn’t agree with him about is he always thought he could play anything but he couldn’t play funk to save his life. He was a big Band and jazz drummer and with that there was nobody who could touch him, phenomenal, he really was and I was fortunate enough to see him live four times. Frank King was a good friend of Buddy’s as I said before, and Frank was instrumental in getting me to see Buddy the very first time, he was mates with Terry Henerbry who produced a lot of the Jazz programs on BBC television. Buddy was doing this show at the Talk Of The Town in London and Frank told me to write to Terry at the BBC and tell him you know me and could you have a couple of tickets and, bless his heart, I got the tickets back. And that was the first time I saw Buddy Rich with his orchestra and it was just astounding. There was a great story about Buddy, Frank told me this, Buddy could be very dismissive with people and he was touring in America and this guy who was a dental technician went to see him backstage in his dressing room, and he had this prototype bass drum pedal that he’d designed and said to Buddy that he’d like Buddy to see this drum pedal and Buddy looked at him and said “Yes, and?” and the guy said “I’ve been very careful over the engineering of this pedal, I think you’ll love it”, “Yeah, and?”, “It will make you play faster”, and Buddy just said “Faster than who?” End of conversation! Frank said that that Buddy was a tough bloke, and it always used to tickle me that he used to have all the charts on a stand and he’d just pick them out and start playing and shout out “33!!” to the band and they’d scrabble maniacally to find the sheets.
OLD: Chinese or Indian?
OLD: Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter?
Alan: Autumn, I like Spring but Autumn is lovely.
OLD: What would you best like to be remembered for?
Alan: (Big pause) that’s a tough one, I don’t know………… I think I’d like to be remembered as a nice bloke who followed his dream.
OLD: What pearls of wisdom can you give to the internet community?
Alan: All I would say is that whatever you want to do make sure you’re happy doing it. Earning loads of money is not the goal. And if you want something badly enough, follow the dream, visualise it because that’s all I ever did when I was a kid. Once I discovered drums everything else went out the window, even women! I wanted to be in a pop group at the time in 1966, I wanted to play the drums in a pop group and earn from it and play professionally and experience 25,000 people at a Festival, and Clubs and Arts Centres etc. I’ve seen a lot of Europe which has been fantastic, but just visualise it, if you want it badly enough you’ll get it, simple as that, but be happy doing it.
OLD: Thank you Alan
Alan: My pleasure.
But that’s not the end …
During the interview with Alan, it dawned on me that he’s a wonderful guy, passionate about drumming and also very knowledgeable too. With him mentioning his birthday and it being one of the milestone birthdays, 60th no less, that an idea was forming in my head even before the interview was finished. I would honour him by building him a snare drum.
Now it’s a well known fact that I like snare drums and that I have dabbled in building the odd snare drum, so why not kill two birds with one stone and make a snare worthy of a chap like Alan Parrish? So I listened back to the interview, listened to what he said about snare drums, that he liked his Ludwig metal snare and that sound and investigated how I could get a similar sound with wood. I sourced a Keller 10-ply shell as the thicker the shell the more it will rival any metal shell. Alan is endorsed by Aquarian, so I sourced the heads. I bought chrome tube lugs, hoops and tension rods and a traditional throw. I had a white oyster wrap off cut that Carl and I sell, and thought that would go well. All I had to do now was drill and assemble.
Over the next 10 days I purchased, waited and then built the drum. To me it was something I was impressed with, so I was happy with the “present” for Alan. Alan had gotten two backstage complimentary passes for Cherrie and me at a Hamsters gig on his 60th at a venue in Basingstoke in Hampshire. We parked up, and I phoned Alan to say we were here, and he came out to meet us, and I handed over a box to him and said “Happy birthday”. Now before I tell you Alan’s reaction, its worthy to note that I don’t just make drums for new acquaintances every time I meet them. With Alan it was more than just making an acquaintance, I could see that it was the start of a blossoming friendship.
Now Alan’s reaction was what I expected, he was knocked for six and humbled that I’d taken the trouble to make him a snare. He looked at me and said, “This is unbelievable, but I will only accept this if you accept a cymbal from me”. I nodded in agreement. In the interview you will have read that Alan is a Paiste endorsee. He said to me to go to their website, find a cymbal and he’d get it for me. We talked ride cymbals but they, to me, were way more expensive than what I’d paid out for the snare and to be honest, I built it out of the love of creating a musical instrument and to make Alan’s day but Alan made me promise.
The gig, as usual, was top notch and Cherrie really enjoyed it and even though Alan was playing his old faithful metal Ludwig, it was a good show. And afterwards, Alan was still buzzed over his new snare and reminded me to let him know what cymbal.
So the next day I sat with my laptop and went through various cymbals, I fell in love with the Bluebell ride (Stewart Copeland’s signature ride) but the cost of it was very high and I couldn’t possible ask Alan to purchase that, so I looked at the crashes and decided upon a 17” twenty series medium crash and send Alan a text message with my choice. He came back with a question over why I’d changed my mind on the ride, I explained the cost and he said that if I wanted, I could put some money towards it if it made me happier, and also not to forget he gets artist rates when ordering through Paiste.
Alan got the cymbal and it was waiting for me at their next local gig to me in Portsmouth a few weeks later. And he arranged for me to arrive early to help him setup and just chat too. Since meeting up for the initial interview, Alan and I were constantly swapping emails, chatting on the phone and sending out text messages about the interview, life and also drummer jokes, and we still do and that doesn’t change when we meet up.
That night, when I arrived, Alan was half way through setting up. We were nattering like old friends as I handed him his cymbals and he told me that until that night, my snare had been sitting in its box and he was a tad embarrassed that he’d not played it, so that night was the snare’s first outing. As I handed him the last cymbal, he gestured to his cymbal case to say that the remaining cymbal in a plastic bag was my Bluebell. I won’t go into the cost of the cymbal but let’s just say that I was more than happy with the cymbal, Alan was relieved that he’d helped me out and we were both satisfied with our snare and cymbal swap (for want of another word to describe it).
Alan sat behind his drums and finally put a stick to his new snare. He’d tweaked the drum slightly, put on a Puresound snare and tuned it high. His face was a picture when he started to play it in soundcheck, he looked at me with an immense sense of satisfaction on his face and he told me that he was definitely going to use it that night.
During the gig, I stood out in the crowd and the feeling of hearing a musical instrument that I created being played to an audience who were tapping their feet or nodding there head’s to the beat, was a wonderful feeling, a really awesome experience, and I can understand why the custom drum builders of the world do what they do and so well.
After the gig, Alan looked at me and said that he loved the snare, and he wasn’t saying that to make me feel good. I could see that he was more than happy. And during pack-down he did something he said he never ever felt he would ever do, he relegated his metal Ludwig to the back-up snare case and that his new snare would be the gigging snare.
Alan and I are now good friends, and almost all credit can go to the agreement of both of us to arrange the interview you’ve just read.
The Hamsters finish their last ever gig on the 1st April in Putney in London. Please check out their website for gig dates between now and then. If you can get to one of their gigs, please do so, you will not be disappointed. Also, they will be doing meet n greet’s after every gig and if you go, and you meet Alan, you will never meet a more courteous and friendly professional drummer.
Visit the website for gig listings and also buy a t-shirt or CD, or DVD or all three!!
Alan Parish is also known as The Reverend Otis and he highly reccomends……..