Summer break is coming to a close and Mama has two upcoming shows, preceded by a lengthy interview with James, on the drums!
We’ve had a long Summer break – the longest break we’ve ever had in fact (I think). Okay, it’s killing us! We just can’t wait to get back on the road and play some more Genesis for you. But first, we will be holding a few rehearsals to polish the set list. In the meantime, we finally got chance to sit down with our drummer extraordinaire and quiz him about this whole Genesis / Mama thing he has going on. We swears he knows every note from every song on every tour that Genesis ever did, along with every Phil Collins interview, word for word!
Before we get to the interview, here’s the next two show dates for your diary:
- 25th June 2016 – Playhouse 2, Shaw (near Oldham)
- 8th July 2016 – The Brindley Arts Centre, Runcorn (not near Oldham)
And now, the interview….
Webmaster: Phil Collins and Chester Thompson are obviously huge influences for you, but why did you choose to play Sonor drums and Zildjian cymbals instead of using the type of kit they used over the years?
James: Good question! Yes Phil and Chester are really why I started playing as a kid. I’d heard bits of Genesis and Collins solo stuff on the radio and on record at home too. In fact, the first piece of Genesis music I heard was the album A Trick Of The Tail. My mum used to play that album at home when I was a nipper. Anyway, I was a little older (high school years) and Genesis released the Invisible Touch show at Wembley, on video. The thing that hooked me was the drum duet. This to me was the best thing I’d ever seen and it was that duet that made me want to play drums in a band. I was always messing about the house with my odd pair of sticks that a drummer pal had given me and often enough he would let me have a go of his kit, but from that moment I had to get my own kit and practice.
James: As for the kit I use now and what Collins and Thompson used, it’s open to debate. I use a Sonor birch kit because I love the tones that it gives playing live and to be honest it’s all down to how it’s tuned too. But if listen to the Genesis drum sounds over the years, the tuning was always really high whatever make of kit Collins or Thompson played. When Thompson joined Genesis in 1977 from Zappa, he was playing Lugwid, then played Pearl until the end of the Invisible touch tour. Then he moved again to Sonor and has moved again since to DW Drums. His choice of cymbals has changed too over the years and is now with Sabian which is what I use. Prior to that, he was using Zildjian. Collins also used Sabian. He was with Zildjan for many years and used a variety of drum companies from Ludwig, Premier and Pearl. Then, as we all know, he settled with Gretsch Drums. So I suppose in answer to your question, it’s all about getting as close to that sound that you need.
Other musical influences
Webmaster: What other musical influences do you have? Who would you be listening to when you’re not listening to Genesis and why?
James: Another great question. How long have you got? [laughs] There are so many other drummers and bands I love but I have to say not many of today’s artists. I have what you might call an old head on young shoulders when it comes to my taste in music. Genesis I love and will always, but this love for music goes back to what was being played at home when I was a boy. ELO, Santana, Wings, The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Roxy Music, Cream and Eric Clapton. Then there is jazz and big band tunes, Buddy Rich, Max Roach, Art Blakey. I could go on and on but for me the main reason why I love these bands and artists is the groove that was laid down on most of the records they made. You just don’t hear that anymore from the bands of today, that are played on radio.
James: If I was to mention any later influences on my playing, I’d have to say drummers like Simon Philips, Steve White, Steve Gadd, Dominic Howard, Gavin Harrison, Dave Weckl and even Dave Grohl. But even most of these chaps have been around for years too. They all bring their own style and feel to the kit and that’s what I love about being a drummer. Just to be able to play a groove on a kit is an amazing feeling. It can be the most simple thing you ever play but when you play with a band and that groove ties everything together, its simply magic.
Webmaster: What has been your most enjoyable show with Mama and why?
James: To be honest, I enjoy every venue we play whether it be a three hundred seater theatre or a smaller music venue that holds a hundred and fifty. Each has its own feel and vibe which I really like. As for my most enjoyable show, well I have a few that spring to mind. But for me it would be The Cavern in Liverpool. Being a Liverpool lad and being able to play The Cavern is just amazing. When we played there back in January this year we sold it out and that night was incredible. Everyone that came to see us sang word for word and at one point I could see the odd person air drumming along with what I was playing! So The Cavern for me holds a special place in my heart.
Webmaster: What ambitions remain for you with Mama?
James: To take Mama as far as we can. We are in our fifth year now and what we have achieved in that short space of time is great, but I want us to continue for many years to come. There is always room for improvement! [laughs]
Webmaster: Your drum solo… Is it structured or do you improvise?
James: As JW calls it, two minutes of sheer thunder! Due to me playing in a Genesis tribute band, the solo is based around what Collins and Thompson did on the duets they did together. But as the band only have me on the drums I pick out the parts that I can play and put them in a solo that everyone will pick up on. Some parts in there are me. I use my parts to link the Collins / Thompson parts together. So you could say my solo is improvised, with an outlined structure.
Webmaster: Quick-fire round! First prog record?
James: Selling England By The Pound, Genesis. Still my favourite Genesis album!
Webmaster: Guilty pleasure in your album collection?
James: [laugh] Erm, Kick by INXS (on vinyl). Great album!
Webmaster: First gig attended?
James: I was about fourteen years old. The venue was called Kirklands in Liverpool back then and it was a jazz trio. That was my first taste of live jazz. For the life of me I can’t remember the name of the trio. Silly me!
Webmaster: Mastermind specialist subject?
James: Erm, probably Star Wars. Love it!
Webmaster: Most expensive piece of kit?
James: Erm, all of it! [laughs]
Webmaster: Favourite venue to see a show?
James: I love to go to the Liverpool Philharmonic. Great venue! In the last few years I have seen Level 42 and Steve Hackett twice there.
Webmaster: Prog hero?
James: I was never really into prog as such but with the link to Genesis it has to be Phil Collins for some of the best drumming, live and on record.
Webmaster: Last album you bought?
James: The last album I bought was The Beatles, Love Album. The production and the way the tracks have been mixed is simply outstanding.
Webmaster: Last gig you attended?
James: Simon Phillips with his band Protocol at Ronnie Scotts in London only a few weeks ago. Even now thinking about that gig, it blows my mind and even made me look at how I play and how I can improve.
Webmaster: Your idea of a good night out?
James: [laughs] Tricky one! I love nights out with my other half Rachel, as we have great nights out. But I also love to play. So a mix of the two would be great! [laughs] She’ll kill me for this!
Webmaster: Favourite prog song?
James: Dancing With The Moonlit Knight. Just love it! It’s like a fairy tale on record, with some amazing playing.
Webmaster: Artist you would most like to work with?
James: Too many to mention. Would like to work with the amazing drummer that is Gary O’Toole. Or Gavin Harrison. His drumming with Porcupine Tree is a wonder to behold!
Webmaster: Favourite book or film?
James: At the minute, it’s the new Star Wars film, because I’m a lifelong fan. But I also like Life of Brian, anything with Robert De Niro in it too. Heat, Ronin, Goodfellas.
Webmaster: Ambitions left to fullfill?
James: I would love to play the Liverpool Empire to a sell out crowd.
Webmaster: Thanks very much James!
James: A pleasure! When’s the next gig?