West End Drummers - Part 9 - Andy McGlasson - Ghost
Andy McGlasson - Ghost the Musical
Andy McGlasson is the drummer for Ghost The Musical at Londonís Piccadilly Theatre. The London show opened in July 2011 following a 10 week stint in Manchester and is about to open on Broadway, which has given Andy a lot of input to the part as the original drummer. Andy has played for a vast range of artists that include Lady GaGa, Lionel Richie, Will Young, Leona Lewis, Pixie Lott, Shirley Bassey, Westlife, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and even Orville the Duck! He has been the original West End drummer for nine different shows, including Hairspray, Sister Act and Spamalot.
Tell me what led you to start playing drums
It was at the age of 11. I used to listen to my dadís old LPs and I was constantly tapping. My parents thought theyíd get me some drum lessons as something to do, then it progressed very rapidly from there. What started out as an activity to keep me out of trouble after school quickly became regular lessons and lots of running about for my mum and dad.
What was your first musical?
At the age of 14 I started my first semi-professional gig, which was every Saturday at a hotel with a dinner dance band. At that point I was already doing brass band rehearsals, orchestra rehearsals, regional big band rehearsals, pop bands; every night was packed with an activity. Sometimes Iíd do something straight after school then run home, get my dinner and be off to another rehearsal or a gig. In fact, when I was in my 3rd year at High School one of the girls in my year asked me out on a date, which was great but I remember getting my diary out and saying, ĎYeah, brilliant! I can do five weeks on Mondayí. I think she went off with one of the rugby players in the end.
My mum and dad were really supportive. They would say, ĎRight come on, weíre going to this jazz club tonight and tomorrow thereís a great rock band in town, letís goí. My dad would invariably blag his way backstage just so I could meet the drummer and chat to him.
I did that throughout my school years and when it came to leaving at the age of 17, it was a question of ĎDo I go to college or see how it goes?í. I was already doing a lot of professional work so I thought Iíd give it a year and see how it went before deciding whether to apply for a music college or not. It went well and I started to pick up quite a bit of freelance theatre work such as summer seasons, pantomimes, gigs in cabarets venues, working menís clubs, jazz gigs, jamming with my mates, as well as a few sessions. I was lucky and, if Iím honest, growing up in Scotland was really beneficial as although the music scene was much smaller than in London, I probably got asked to do certain gigs that I wasnít really ready for but there were fewer players to choose from. Quite often Iíd be on a session or a gig with a big named visiting jazz artist, hanging on for dear life hoping Iíd get away with it. Mind you, itís still feels the same now!
When I was about 21 a touring production of Les Miserables came to Edinburgh and I was asked to dep as one of the guys in the orchestra recommended me. I took over from Dave Adams and did the last three months on it. That finished and then another theatre tour came to Glasgow the following year with Dave once again playing drums. I also depped on that and eventually took over the rest of the tour. Then, I finally got asked to start on my own show, and thatís how I got into doing the bigger musicals whilst juggling all the other things I had on.
How did you make the transition down to London?
I always knew that I should make an effort to go London but felt I had to come on the back of a gig. There was and still are many fantastic drummers here and I always knew that just moving down South with no work and only knowing a handful of people would be pointless. I got my chance when the same fixer whoíd booked me for the touring shows asked me to do a West End production of ĎSaturday Night Feverí at the London Palladium. Even then I didnít do it straight away. Neal Wilkinson started it and I took over after the first eight weeks. It was great fun to play all those tracks from the movie. That show opened up a lot of doors for me as word got around that I was about and from it I made some new contacts. Some of the more established players suggested me to other musicians and fixers and I started to pick up lots of freelance work, some sessions and some other theatre gigs. The only downside from my first West End experience was the drums, as they had to be electronic. We used a set of original V-Drums, the cymbal pads kept breaking down and the tracking was no where near as good as it is now. It was really frustrating.
What is your set up on the show?
On this show, Iím using a Pearl Reference kit. 22, 8, 10, 12, 16 toms and a Yamaha snare. Iím a Sabian endorsee so I was able to try out a few different cymbals but Iíve settled for a mixture of Artisan Ride, Groove Hats, V Crashes and O-Zone Crash. I donít normally use an 8 inch tom but the way the music transpired for the show I wanted the slightly higher tom and the lower end floor tom so I ditched the 14Ē. It pretty much covers all the styles of the show.
What styles are they?
Itís mostly pop, rock and slightly filmic. There is a Vaudevillian type of number, which is brush swing with a bit of old style music hall, and then Iím also required to play an orchestral bass drum and a tam-tam for some dramatic moments. All of the music was co-written by Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics so thereís a lot of sequences and drum loops going on so Iíll either play a sparse percussive pattern underneath or Iíll fill it out a little and make the groove a bit fatter.
At the first rehearsal, the drum parts were quite straight forward although some were either so overwritten Iíd have to be an octopus to play them or Iíd be given a bit of manuscript with nothing on it and Iíd be asked to fill in the blanks. Quite often when you do a show thatís already been open in Broadway, for example, itís all set in stone and you have to copy what the American drummer does, or you may have an arranger who writes something specific. Thatís fine as well but I was able to suggest a few ideas, which was cool as it gave me a lot of freedom. The other co-writer alongside Dave is Glenn Ballard. Heís quite a big producer who has worked with artists like Aerosmith, Alanis Morissette, Pink; heís a terrific songwriter too. He wrote ĎMan In The Mirrorí for Michael Jackson so when somebody like that asks your opinion on what should be played, itís a quite a buzz, that is until you suggest the wrong thing! The whole rhythm section had some kind of contribution so it makes it a fun show to be involved with. The band is fantastic, the MD is really relaxed and itís 95% click so you just get your head down and play. We are now into year two and on some shows that Iíve done in the past I would start to feel like moving on.
But youíre not feeling like that with this show?
Iím not particularly looking to move on to another show as Iím still really enjoying Ghost... and there is the small matter that I would need to be offered something else first! Up until now, Iíve been fortunate to have been involved with quite a few musicals. I like new challenges and I think itís healthy to do something different. Sometimes of course I have no choice because a show will come to the end of itís run. Even thatís not always a bad thing as with any regular gig there can be testing times.
The repetitiveness can undoubtedly be difficult but I find the biggest challenge is the lack of connection like you would have when playing live in front of people. Iím very remote here in a booth and it can feel a little like youíre doing a session playing exactly the same music at exactly the same time of day. You could play a blinding show and feel no response from the audience and when you do get those days where youíre feeling a bit tired or off pace, youíve got nothing to lift you as you donít even get the same type of interaction with the cast on stage. You have to dig deep and find a way of working through it, especially on this show, because as the drummer, youíre the foundation to almost everything. Dozens of more than capable guys would love to be here but Iím the lucky one whoís got the gig so youíve got to be professional about it and put in a shift.
What are your favourite moments in the show?
There are also a couple of jungle drum moments where Iím playing over loops. Again, I was called in early to rehearsal one day where they played me a track and said, ĎCan you play something here and there? It needs to be aggressive and a bit manic... just feel ití, so I pretended to be Tony Royster Jr, only a Scottish version, Tony McRoyster!
Where you have those moments that you created are you tempted to keep adding onto them?
There is always temptation and sometimes you can get away with it, depending on the show. Itís a real discipline to play the right thing all the time. You have to be respectful to the music; the composer/arranger have created it for a reason. It could be for stage, dance or even a lighting cue. Either way, as soon as you start veering off-piste musically because youíre bored, then chances are it will detract rather than add.
On Ghost I get plenty of moments to do my thing but even that backfired when I was asked to see the choreographer. ĎCould you play the drum fill from number 18 but the one you did last Tuesday?í. I had to tell him that I couldnít even remember what I played the night before never mind a week ago. Luckily, he had a recording of it and he really liked a specific couple of fills so he set some choreography to them. All my deps have to play those bits exactly the same as me when they do the show.
Have you got any pre show warm ups?
If Iím feeling good I donít do any and if Iím feeling a bit cold or rusty then I do. I put in a bit of practice at home when I can and I often do other playing during the day so most of the time Iím OK. If anything Iíll most likely have a bit of a stretch.
What are you up to outside of the show?
Iíve just done a few things with Lionel Richie as he came back over to launch his new album. We had some radio dates to do and we also filmed an ITV-ĒThis is Lionel RichieĒ special, which gets aired early April. Iíve got a jazz thing at the 606 Club coming up and a few sessions at Abbey Road studios for a project Iím involved with and there are some TV sessions later on this year.
There have also been a couple of theatre workshops that Iíve participated in. One had all the music written by David Arnold who does a lot of movie soundtracks, such as all the James Bond films, so it was nice to spend a couple of days with him. The other was a run through for ďThe BodyguardĒ which is based on the movie and I believe is opening in the West End in November. We had to play about 17 Whitney Houston songs and I was using V-Drums again. Mercifully the drums are much better to play these days and it also gave me an excuse to use my 808 samples.
Anything else youíd like to add?
I have a lot of drummers get in touch, keen to come and sit in on the show and chat about how to get into the business such as the West End scene. Sadly, the path that I took just isnít possible as a lot of the gigs that started my career off arenít around any more, so nowadays you have to get creative. The internet can provide not only a great learning zone but also a fantastic facility to let the world know what you are all about. Gone are the days of business cards and paper CVís; now itís more about websites and You Tube clips. As long as you send out the right message, it can be a very useful tool. What I would say though is that there is no point in having a big glossy website claiming to be a top International session drummer with footage showing loads of Gospel Chops if in reality you havenít really played with anybody.
Experience counts for everything and Iím fairly certain that most of the fixers or producers I work for wouldnít book somebody that hadnít been recommended by another trustworthy musician. Besides, you donít need to have technique like Thomas Lang to get work, quite the opposite. Iíve also never really seen myself solely as a ďsessionĒ drummer. Sure, Iíve had some wonderful times playing either in a studio or live with many fabulous artists but at the end of the day Iím just a jobbing musician and quite frankly, without cutting my teeth on all of those smaller gigs when I was starting out, I just wouldnít have got the necessary experience.
For me, itís also what you bring to the party that counts too. I try to be professional with a good attitude but I also endeavour to be light hearted and have a bit of a laugh with my fellow peers. I realised a long time ago that not everybody will like the way I play the drums but as long as Iím gainfully employed Iím going to try and enjoy it while it lasts.
Playing music for a living can be a rocky road and choosing to do it in the West End can be very demanding so it certainly wonít be for everyone. However, if you have such desires then it really has to be a balance of promoting yourself, playing with lots of different musicians, earning your stripes on as many types of gigs as you possibly can and a having a huge amount of luck to get some decent breaks. I firmly believe that if youíre good enough and you have a healthy attitude then you will work. You may not reach the dizzy heights you aspire to but at least you can have fun trying.
To keep up to date with Andy and his drumming you can find him on Twitter @jockdrumming
Interview by Gemma Hill
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