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Al Murray
Al Murray
Al Murray

Al Murray

Drummer, Comedian
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Al Murray

As one of the UK’s most successful and recognisable comics Al Murray is used to selling out tours all round the world. Now he’s aiming for the same success in his career as a drummer with his brilliant band Fat Cops. His enthusiasm for drums carries over into his work as one of the directors of the British Drum Company. Is there anything Al can't do?

Fat Cops
Al Murray uses...
Origin
Starlight
There has always been music

"When I was a kid I grew up in a house with lots of classical music in it. My dad will still put the Messiah on at Christmas and that sort of thing. He’ll put it on that loudly that it will make his and Mum's house shake. I grew up thinking rock music seemed cool, but we never had any in the house. So I got into music at school basically.

Around the age of 9 or 10 I just knew that I wanted to play the drums but at school, they wouldn’t let me. So I had to learn the piano for a couple of years, which I did under great sufferance until eventually, I got into playing the drums. Since I’ve been about 12/13 there has always been a drum kit somewhere, I’ve always been into playing and really into playing in bands.

As I’ve got older, I have got more into recording and writing music as well. It’s just a thing that has always been there and it’s always sort of been my second thing. Since I became a comic, that’s kind of led my career obviously, but there has always been music for shows that I’ve written and all that sort of stuff.

I always think that musically I am a drummer, everything else has come from that. We’ve got this album out now, the band I’m in called the Fat Cops and I did produce a couple of those tunes - or did what I think amounts to producing; 'can we play it a little slower and that keyboard sound needs to sound like this' and that sort of thing, and then I mixed and mastered it.

Everything comes from being a drummer, the same way that everything else in my work life comes from being a comedian. I’m not an actor or a presenter, I’m a comedian who sometimes acts and presents and it’s the same with music, I’m a drummer who occasionally writes and produces stuff. I have a big home studio set up here and I’ve got a drum kit permanently plugged into the computer so If I want to write something I can just sit down and do it. I’ve got a mega multi-track thing with a sound card, I’ve also got a huge drum kit that is both open and closed mic’ed."

That was good, but you’re not Queen.

"I did a talk show ten years ago where we had bands come on the show, and one of the problems with TV is that if you have a band play their single in the last break before the show ends, people turn off. That’s what the data showed us, so we had to come up with a solution to that. So, my alter ego the pub landlord only liked Queen. He doesn’t like any other music so the running joke was that whoever was on they would play their original material, and I would go “That was good, but you’re not Queen. Go away and learn a Queen song.” Obviously it was all planned in advance. It ended up with some interesting things like Madness playing ‘Killer Queen’ in a Ska style and Bryan Adams playing ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’.

It was interesting to see these bands who are normally, to be honest, just miming or playing their hit single as it is, having to adapt to the material. And then Queen, having granted us the publishing rights, then said 'actually we want to be involved in this.' So I ended up singing with them not once but twice and I remember one of the crew saying to me 'this must be your wildest dream doing this'. I never presumed in a million years I would be singing We Will Rock You with Brian May stood next to me, it’s a stupid thing to think might ever happen.

We also had Phil Collins on the show and I was a huge fan of his when I was a kid, his drumming in particular, and we did a drum duet together and that’s one of those things where you think ‘Nahh that didn’t happen, that can’t have happened’. I find that the highlights of my career tend to be things that are intertwined with music and are music related. An awful lot of comedians are people who wish they were musicians or people who were in bands for a bit and then went into stand up."

Innovation and excitement.

"I’ve been in a band for a while now where we kind of convene every five years to gig a bit and record some things. It came about in kind of a weird way - we all met via Twitter. Half of the band are journalists and there's an ‘actual’ musician in the band as well which gives it a proper flavour. Although I have played a lot of music I’ve never been in a thing where we have properly made a record and we’ve got a record out. That came about from everyone making friends on Twitter and it just being right. I feel like I need to pursue this properly to see if it works and see if we can write decent music. It’s an itch I absolutely had to scratch, but not in a hobbyist way, this is all quite serious. There are lots of opinions flying about and what having us all together creating music does mean is that the words on the album are fantastic.

I’m a director of a company called the British Drum company, based in Stockport. We’re not a bespoke company, we make high-quality instruments for the mass market, and they're made in England which is an important thing. There were three of us 23 years ago and there are 23 of us on the floor now. It’s an exciting venture with lots of innovation. We’ve got a brilliant team of engineers and drum builders - lots of innovation and excitement."

Here we are!

"At the core of my set up is my drum kit, and then some bits and pieces from Roland because I really like their drum triggering and electronics. For ‘The Fat Cops’ there are some samples that we play in and there is a tune where we play to a backing track which has got drum machines on it and stuff. So, I’m into that gear, and then I have Cakewalk on the PC for recording which I have always used. In the last couple of years, they have undergone a massive change as it's now a piece of freeware. It used to be that you had to pay a s**t load of money to subscribe to it. I use Zildjian cymbals and that’s it really other than a variety of microphones to record with. You’ve got to get the drums into the computer so you need microphones that sound really good, and I ran into James [Young, Aston CEO] at the King Crimson gig in Pompeii, because they are using Aston Mics, and we had a little chat and I thought wow, that’s interesting  - and here we are!

I’d heard about Aston mics and I’d seen them, and I’d sort of heard the story of how the company had come about. In lots of ways, the story is similar to ours with the British Drum Company. Keith Keo our lead drum maker and the company director was at another big company, they parted company and my view was that someone that talented needed backing and needed to be making drums, but also needed to not be answerable to someone else. He needed to be able to make his own decisions, and that’s how our company came about. And it’s not a dissimilar story to what happened to James. And then you start reading about the innovations, like the Starlight and the laser... it's just cool."

Everyone is obsessed with vintage drums from the 60’s

A good friend of mine has been a monitor engineer for people like Supergrass and those sort of people, so he’s always got his ear to the ground with this sort of stuff and he always asks me 'have you heard of any good mics lately?' and Aston was on his radar. So you hear about this stuff and then you try it and it really is as good as people say. In lots of ways, the microphone industry is like the drum industry in that people think that there is no room for innovation. I don’t think you can think about it like that. Very often big innovations can at first look like small alterations but in actual fact they turn out to be the point in which everything changes. Especially in technology, you know there is this feeling in music technology that there are a whole load of inventions basically from the 1940s and ’50s that are as far as the thing will ever go, and you know that’s just not true.

The other thing we talk about at British Drum Co. is that we’ve got a Snare drum called the Duke that’s made out of bog oak - that’s 3,000-year-old oak. We always say that if you want a vintage drum - because everyone is obsessed with vintage drums from the ’60s - well here is a vintage drum, this one is 3,000 years old! You’ve got to challenge the notion because vintage gear was brand new when you bought it. In 1955 a Neumann microphone was brand new and was cutting edge technology… why stop? Like Aston, we like to look at things from the bottom up and pose the question, why does it have to be like this? Sometimes there isn’t another way of doing it, but I think it is always good to ask the question."

Spanner in the works

"At the minute I am using a pair of Origins as overheads and Starlights, one on the hi-hats and one on the ride cymbal. And it’s like a no brainer, the Starlight with the laser, it is so accurate, and you can point it the bell of the high hat and that’s exactly what you get back. Mine is a permanent set up at the moment, but I can imagine if you are breaking down the drum kit and setting up again every day, they are even more useful because you can pinpoint that exact sound consistently. That’s really cool, because otherwise its all approximate.

What I’ve not done is close mic’ed hi-hats and ride cymbals before. I’ve always chosen to go with a room ambience sound or a high up overhead sound. And since I’ve changed the way I’m doing it, it’s made an enormous difference, and you think basically all the other drum kits sound s**t compared to this. I’ve got a mountain of work on my hard drive, and I feel like I’m going to have to go back and re-do everything just because it sounds better! It seems like a simple change that, but it can make a difference.

When you record a snare drum you put a SM57 on it, because they have since the dawn of time, but you think a dynamic mic from Aston? You just have to try it because the condensers are really s**t hot and if the thinking that has gone into the condensers has gone in to Stealth you just HAVE to try it. I’m worried that I’ve got enough trouble with thinking all my previously recorded stuff sounds s**t. I don’t want to add Stealth in there and throw another spanner into the works! In fact, if you bring out a microphone called 'spanner', I will definitely buy it!"

Albums, Festivals and Stand-up

"I’ve just finished filming a quiz show and musically we’ve got 'Fat Cops the album' which is out now. We have a few gigs and we are looking to play some festival dates in the summer.

In the meantime we’re all writing and demoing songs. Everyone apart from me lives in Scotland so we put an album together by everyone sending each other demos and adding, tweaking and refining. That’s how we composed our record. Having a home studio where I can do that is essential. otherwise I’d have to use a drum machine and we can’t have that!

Going forward there is a second album to be written. I’m taking a show on the road in late April to July doing stand-up. It’s got a load of music in it that I’ve recorded at home and put together myself."

Hands Up Get Down! By Fat Cops



Out-takes

Q. Who are your favourite artists?
A. King Crimson is my favourite live band to go see because of their three-drum thing and they are reinventing heavy music. But my favourite artists of all time would probably be the Beatles, but it comes and goes. My daughters are really into Elvis at the moment as teenagers and when you listen to that mix of country and rock, its fantastic. So yeah, I’d say King Crimson, The Beatles and Elvis

Q. If you weren’t working in music and comedy what would you be doing?
A. If I wasn’t working in comedy, I would be trying to be a musician. But I’d always imagined that I would be a History teacher.

Q. What would your fantasy mic be?
A. Ooh, well there have been binaural mics where they supposedly pick up what you hear, but they just end up sounding awful and weird. If there was actually a way of replicating the way it sounds and feels to sit behind a drum kit and play it that would be cool. Maybe a microphone that did that.

Q. What are the four words you would choose to describe Aston and your experience with the brand?
A. Innovation, Quality, No Bullshit.

Credits

Fat Cops

©2018 Aston Microphones Ltd, All rights reserved.
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