Nigel Glockler earnt his first taste of success with singer Toyah Willcox in the early 80’s. However, he was soon to reach new heights standing in for one Pete Gill who had suffered an injury to his hand. This gave Nigel the drum stool in one of the biggest and most pioneering British metal bands to date, Saxon. Having left sometime later, he now resides back where he belongs with the rest of the guys from Saxon touring heavily and playing to packed out audiences around the world.
I caught up with this charismatic and professional performer during one of the bands busiest periods in their recent history as he opened up regarding all areas of his playing and his life as a drummer.
How did you actually get started in drumming?
Usual thing really, I was about 5 or 6, sitting on the floor of my parents conservatory with metal plates and biscuit tins around me, hitting them with forks and that’s how it started really. A friend of the family noticed whenever there was music on I was always tapping so he persuaded my dad to buy me a snare drum and a cymbal when I was eight years old and that’s how it started.
How quickly were you in a band?
Well, it was weird because then I had built the kit up a bit, but there was never really a band situation and then I moved on to playing bass for a while when I was about 11. So I was playing bass and then drums and no bands or anything. Then we decided to get a band together, all friends of mine. We were at school, about 13 or 14, and I was actually playing bass and no one could actually drum, so everyone was using my kit. Well, it was one tom, a snare, I think I had a hi-hat, so whoever wasn’t singing played drums, it was hilarious.
When I was a kid I was really into electric trains and I had to sell my train set, I had an old Hornby set that I’d inherited from my brother, and I sold that to buy the bass, so I had this 30watt WEM amp that was louder than everyone else’s, it was great. The poor guitarist had a 10w thing and I was blasting. Eventually at the school I had a go on what I called a real drum kit and I thought ‘No, this is me’. At the time, I had brought a Tri-ad train set and I thought that the bass had to go so I could buy an Olympic drum kit, so we started just doing cover songs – Jethro Tull, Cream, the usual.
Do you still play other instruments now?
Yeah I’ve got a studio at home and I write music for television, so I’ve got keyboards, I’ve always been a big keyboards man, I love it.
You very often find that a good musician in any context plays other instruments. Do you find that an invaluable tool now as a drummer?
Yes, I like it because it helps me to write, plus I don’t just listen to heavy rock. I like all sorts of music. One minute I’ll be listening to Ramstein and the next minute I’m listening to Vangelis or something. I just go right across the spectrum. My favourite instrument is the Melotron. If I hear a Melotron I’m just water. Any band with a Melotron I have to have it. I’ve got all the samples at home. I love them. I’ve been listening to a lot of 70’s prog again. Peter Gabriel of Genesis, I’m watching that stuff on You Tube all the time, I love it, with all the gear. Melotrons to me are just the most atmospheric instruments I’ve ever heard.
So how did the whole Saxon thing come about?
Well, before that I was in Toyah and I was getting a bit peed off with that really, and previous to Toyah I was doing a lot of session work and I’d been in a band in Brighton. We were professionals but we didn’t have a record deal, and the bass player from that band ended up being one of the managers for Saxon. I’d just come back from Germany with Toyah and he rang me up on the Sunday, I was still living at home at the time. He rang me up and asked what I was doing, I said ‘You know what I’m doing, I’m with Toyah’ and he said ‘Yeah, but what are you doing now?’ and I asked what he meant and he said that Pete Gill had injured his hand and they were starting their first major tour, the Denim and Leather Tour, on the Sunday in Brighton and I’d bought tickets for it.
So you were going to watch?
Yeah. And they said can you come up and help out and I said to just use me as a last resort, I was on a break really. The plan was for me and Toyah to go into the studio and do a vocal drum thing; we were just going to experiment, so I said I’d have to be back by so and so. So I went up there anyway and they said they’d like me to do it, because doing sessions I could learn stuff pretty fast. There was another guy there too and I said I could only do it for so long and they said they’d have this other guy in sitting behind me at night, so it gave him more time to learn the songs, then when I had to go, he could take over.
So I went down to Brighton on the Monday, which is where I live anyway, because they had two days production rehearsals in the Brighton Centre. I was using Pete Gill’s kit which was an old HiPercussion on wheels, and everything was linked to everything else. I had to go upstairs, learn the song, cart it down on stage, run through it, go back up, and so I did the gig and I just had this weird feeling that people were thinking ‘Who the hell is that behind the drums, where’s Pete Gill?’ but we got through it.
I made a couple of very minor cockups, but I had to learn 19 songs in two days. I wrote it all in my language, guitar left starts, four bars, smash, fill in, all that sort of rubbish. Anyway, after the first gig I noticed this other bloody guy wasn’t sitting behind me anymore, so I think the plan was to try and get me to stay in the first place.
“I’m not knocking young musicians at all but I want to hear the next young John Bonham. I’m always terrified that music standards are slipping.”
You were conned?
I was conned. I always say, being in Saxon, is like a spiders web. Even when I’ve been out of the band, its always drawing me back in, you can never get away.
Are the rest of the band based in Germany?
No, they’re all over the place. Biff lives in Normandy, Doug lives round the corner from me, Nibbs lives in Germany and then Quinny divides his time between France and Yorkshire.
That makes a regular Thursday night practice from 7pm – 9pm a bit tricky doesn’t it?
We actually write and rehearse in Lincolnshire, so that’s pretty cool. Its fine.
It’s good to have a lock out sometimes. A lot of people are not fortunate enough to be in a signed band of your stature but to have that lock out time and just get on with the job is a fantastic luxury isn’t it?
Yes, because we go up there out of the city, plus the fact Boston’s got a couple of bloody good curry houses, so that’s all that matters.
We see on the bill at The Download Festival this year Judas Priest and Motor Head and yourselves in Saxon. Do you think there’s more of a resurgence to traditional heavy metal listening?
Definitely. Its been happening abroad for a while and I think now its happening here. I think it’s great.
I think you’ll find as well its not just you who thinks it’s great, I reckon the response you’re going to get is going to be incredible.
It is great. I’m not knocking young musicians at all but I want to hear the next young John Bonham. I’m always terrified that music standards are slipping. I watched Glastonbury a couple of years ago and I’m not saying who but, they didn’t deserve to play in the pub. I thought they were crap. If we played like that when we started we wouldn’t get a gig in a pub, I just fear it’s the lowest common denominator, its like TV, everything’s dropping down.
I said in another interview, when they asked what advice have I got for a young drummer, I said get in a band. Its all very well sitting in your bedroom and you can play seven stroke roll with your little toe, but that’s not playing in a band. You’ve got to get into a band. That is when you learn.
So its not just getting in a band to learn what to play, it’s about being able to do it.
Yeah because you interact. Getting out there in front of people, anyone can sit in the bedroom looking in front of the mirror, you get out there. I always remember my first ever gig, I think I was about 15, we played some youth club in Hove, we were behind the curtains, and they opened the curtains and there were about 200 people in there and I was so nervous I lost both my sticks.
But that’s what it is, you don’t get that in the bedroom, you’re the biggest thing since sliced bread in the bedroom, but go to a gig, that’s what you’ve got to do, and interact with the rest of the band.
Does performing come naturally to you?
No, I’m always nervous. I think the day you’re not nervous, you’ve lost it. I go on walkabout. I start getting ready about an hour before and then I’m just walking around all the time. I’m shi*ting bricks I am.
Is that a technical term?
I don’t know what the musical connotations of that are but, I’m always nervous. In fact I’m more nervous if we’re playing a small gig. Because people are right there. I haven’t done so for a couple of years, but there’s a band down in Brighton called the Desperate Dan Band, actually that’s where I grabbed Doug from when we needed another guitarist, and if we weren’t touring I’d go and jam with them in a pub somewhere. The first time I ever did that with them, I think it was in Eastbourne, and I was scared shi*less. It was no ‘Hey, look at me!’, it was ‘Oh My God!’.
People are actually watching.
They are, and they’re really close, and if I mess up they’re going to know.
It’s a really odd thing that people don’t get unless they’ve done big and small shows
It is odd, you’re right, and obviously playing in a pub I take a smaller kit, not much smaller but I do. Once I got into doing it, it was great. Except one night, we had this sort of residency, we were touring for a while and the band had a residency down at a pub in Worthing and we used to play there every Friday night and we used to pack it. I always remember one night, they were serving Moose Head, some Canadian thing, so this was the sign we gave, because you couldn’t get near the bar, and I didn’t realise that the singer in the band, Bob who looks like Desperate Dan, was actually spiking my drink with double vodkas. Anyway we got up to play the first set and I fell flat on my face. So now even if I’m just doing a pub gig, I never drink before a gig.
Your current album, Inner Sanctum, can you tell us about how you went about recording it?
It was my first studio album back with the band, after I’d come back to them, I came back at the end of 2005 because I had that enforced lay-off due to a ripped muscle between my neck and shoulder and was told I had to stop drumming for four months, so that’s why I went and they got Fritz in. I just left it. I went off another way, I started doing my keyboard stuff, I was still writing with them though and then eventually, like I said, it’s the spiders web thing, it was like ‘We’re talking about doing an 80’s tour, only playing things off the first five albums, do you want to do it?’ and I said I’d have a think about it. Then they invited me over to Vacken to get up and play a couple of songs, that was nerve-racking as well, because I hadn’t played in front of people.
I was there
Were you? What, when I got up? Oh my God! I was scared sh*tless because I hadn’t played in front of people for 5 years and it was straight in. Then they said that was great. They were then playing in London at the Astoria and asked me to come and get up and play a couple of songs there. So I got up there and the reaction was amazing and Biff said we’ve got a special friend joining us now and my girlfriend was up on the balcony and she said the whole place started chanting ‘Nigel! Nigel!’ even before I’d gone on, so how they knew it was me I don’t know. I went on and the roar when I walked on and stood at the drums, I just burst into tears. It was so loud, and Biff turned around to me and said ‘Told you!’. So that made up my mind. He rang me up from Spain, they were touring with Deep Purple and he said ‘Are you coming back for the 80’s thing? I need to know’ and I said ‘Yeah, I’m not only coming back for that, I’m coming back for good’ and he went ‘Yes!’. So I’d been snared, I couldn’t get away.
So getting back to what you were saying, Inner Sanctum, that was like ‘Right I’m back, I’ve got to prove myself’. I was pleased, because having been away from drumming for so long I had rekindled my passion for the drums and I actually think I’m playing 50% better than I’ve ever played. Whereas before with me it was getting a bit like a job. I was enjoying it sort of, now I can’t wait to get behind the drums kit, I love it.
You’re always going to play better because you’re doing it when you want to do it
Yeah, I love it again.
So I think that came out with my playing on the stage. One review, said it was like someone 20 years younger playing. So I was like ‘Yes, thank you very much’. It was good that that came across, we did the usual thing, people got a few ideas together at home, then we met up in Lincolnshire and just hammered it out.
“but generally my thing is, if it feels slow, its right, because that’s compensating for the adrenaline.”
How live do you record? Is it generally just the drum tracks you’re aiming to keep first time round?
Yes, unless there’s a really good groove going. But sometimes I like to go in a replace. Generally I like to play to a click and I find if I don’t like a fill, they can just drop me into it and out again.
You don’t play to a click live?
Do you start off with clicks?
No, sometimes, for instance, when we started the Sanctum tour, I had a metronome with me, so if I was starting a song I could make sure it was the right tempo, because there’s always the thing live, with adrenalin.
I was talking to Jimmy Cooke from Vera Cruz and he was the first one to say that he speeds up live because he gets so pumped, so he plays with a click.
I don’t find I’m speeding up, once I’ve started I’m fine. I find, particularly, if a guitarist is starting, they might start something fast and I’ll try and pull it back a little bit but other times I think ‘Great we’ll play at this tempo’ it doesn’t worry me, but generally my thing is, if it feels slow, its right, because that’s compensating for the adrenaline, and what a rush its been.