Colin Woolway Interview – by Travis Marc – 2010.
I recently had a chat with Drumsense founder Colin Woolway. Many of you may have heard of Colin before as he is still a very active drummer on the clinic circuit as well as a monthly contributor towards the education section of the world renowned Rhythm magazine. What you might not know is that he was once a permanent fixture in the Suzi Quatro band and is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. Take a look at what the drumming legend had to say…
Hi Colin, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us. Briefly tell us what you’re currently up to?
Hi, well apart from the daily business of teaching and Drumsense admin, I recently presented a 5 day drum course in Croydon, as well as some clinics in Devon. I was also recently one of the faculty teachers at the Rhythmfest in Cheltenham in August, which was great. I’m currently setting up a few clinics outside of the UK, as there is quite a bit of interest in the US, Sweden, Switzerland, Malta and Holland, so I’m trying to firm that all up. Drumsense is preparing for another trip to PASIC in Indianapolis in November too.
Let’s talk a bit about your teaching practice as well as Drumsense. What makes Drumsense so unique and how do you think using the Drumsense system can help individual tutors better their own teaching practices?
The unique aspect of Drumsense is that we focus on the teachers. We provide them with tangible help, in the form of training, business cards, flyers, discounts on equipment etc. We don’t like to do hard sales. I know Drumsense works. but it won’t work for everyone. Well established teachers with a large database of students tend to have their own programme and don’t need a new one. We get lots of teachers who find that they sort of run out of steam in terms of lesson repertoire, and they really appreciate having Drumsense because it gives them a massive outlook on where the lessons can go. The biggest winners with Drumsense though, are drummers who want to teach but don’t know how to get started, and where to go once they have started. I think that is our biggest source of clients. In addition, what teachers seem to like about using the Drumsense programme is the idea of a bigger picture, as they can clearly see how one lesson leads into another and how to lay down the groundword in order for bigger things to come. Drumsense Volume 1 is the foundation of the whole program, and is a great book for beginners to learn from. Every page in that book is about setting the student up for the rest of the programme. Teachers really dig that
Do you, yourself still find the time to practice your drumming? If so, what does your general practice routine look like?
I love to get a practice pad and just go through some rudiments, but along to music. It is much more fun practicing Flam Taps to some funky tunes than a metronome! I go through finger and wrist techniques, singles and doubles, because they are the basis for all your playing and can never be good enough! If I get behind the kit I like to work on weird groupings, bring in the twin pedal and generally noodle about until something challenging presents itself and I say “ooh, that was tricky, let’s try that again!” I’m also trying to work my way through David Stanoch’s “Mastering the Tables of Time” book which I’m finding fun and challenging!
You also write a monthly column for UK based drum magazine, Rhythm. Tell us a bit about how you initially got involved with the magazine? Also, how does it feel to know that thousands of drummers read and are more than likely inspired by your educational articles every month?
I conceived an idea for a column, which I called “Teasers”. Teasers are fun and challenging drumming snippets designed to provoke a little bit of thought without being preachy. I presented that idea to Rhythm in the early ’90s and landed up writing them for about 13 years. Somewhere in that time Louise King, the then editor of the magazine asked me to write some articles called Getting Started and now, although the Teasers are no longer there, the Getting Started stuff is still going strong. I think it’s getting on for 16 or 17 years now since my first article for Rhythm. It’s lovely to think that drummers read my stuff and say “oh, that’s cool” and I do get some feedback which is much appreciated! Incidentally, my “Teasers” are making a new start in a USA magazine called Drumhead, run by the brilliant Jonathan Mover.
I see that you’re booked to perform at a few more clinics later this year. What is your general approach to drum clinics? Do you pretty much play it by ear, or do you generally have something planned out before hand?
I have a set show that I can do, which I know will work and be entertaining and informative, but I also have a store of stuff I can talk about and demonstrate, so I can play it by ear if that’s the vibe, even to the extent that I could ask the audience “what do you want to talk about?” and just see what comes up. I’m not a showy or “show off” clinician – my purpose is to educate and entertain. I want drummers to leave the show knowing more than when they came in.
In addition to our previous question, could you tell us whether or not you warm up before a show or clinic? Some guys do push ups, some guys play on pads. What do you personally do to warm up?
I find it very important to warm up, and get a bit anxious if I don’t! All I need is a pad and some sticks and I warm up with French Tympani singles to get the fingers working, and then some Moellor stuff to get the wrist and fingers warmed up, and just keep tapping away until show time!
You’ve done it all, performed to sell out crowds with Suzi Quatro, developed your own unique teaching system, set up a successful teaching practice and gained several endorsements while doing so. What’s next for Colin Woolway?
I guess there is no immediate “next” because I’m sort of doing it now! This is phase 2 of my career, phase 1 being my 20 years touring and gigging generally, including every kind of gig from Olympic stadiums to muddy back gardens, theatre pit shows from Godspell, The Rocky Horror Show, Jesus Christ Superstar to Hello Dolly, and an awful lot of Jazz dates, so I feel fine about all those years. Now I consider myself a professional teacher. I would, however, like to gradually retire from teaching and do more lectures and clinics over the next ten years. That could be phase 3!
What (if any) do you feel has been the most important lesson you have had to learn through out your career as a successful drummer/musician, and why do you feel this particular advice was so important to you?
On a playing level, no one piece of advice but lots of learning on the gig. If the bass player is frowning at you, you know you’re doing something wrong, and you learn pretty quick! When I was 15 every pub had a piano and every wedding or party needed a band so there was plenty of work for a keen drummer. I learned to listen and guess where choruses and middle 8s would come into tunes that I’d never heard before. So the most important lesson was “listen!” On a teaching level, the best advice given to me was by Bob Armstrong, just two words: “get organized!”
If you could offer our readers some advice on how to maintain a long career within the music industry (as you have), what do you think you would tell them?
Be a nice person, try and get on with everyone and don’t get involved in gossip if you can help it. Touring, for example, is very difficult and I’ve seen musicians chosen for tours because of their personality and their ability to hold it together on a 10 week tour, not just their playing ability. At a pro level you are expected to play well, that goes without saying, but being a pleasant person is equally important. I made a lot of friends in the industry when I was playing, but also in 1981 I wanted a change of direction so I worked in a music shop for a year while I took new kinds of gigs and worked with different bands, and in that time I met a lot of the company guys distributing and manufacturing drums. These people were very helpful much later when I wanted some help setting up Drumsense. I managed to keep all my endorsements when I quit touring, and still have them today. If I had a difficult person to deal within my touring days, it might have been different. The other thing I would say is don’t be afraid of change. You have to ride with the industry and keep an eye on what’s going on. The biggest shock to working drummers came in the early 80s in the form of the Linn Drum machine and the Simmons kit. Some drummers fell by the wayside because they couldn’t see the writing on the wall. It wasn’t just that they had to learn how to play like a machine, or in some cases getting replaced by a machine, it was that whole reason for a using a drummer was going to be re-appraised! You know, start with “why do we need a drummer when the machine will do it better?” and work on from there! The drummers that emerged from this era were very strong savvy players, and now you see so many drummers playing with acts big and small, with some kind of technology as part of their kit.
Let’s talk briefly about your gear, tell us why you use the products you use as well as if there are any new products on the market that you would like to try?
I have always liked Sonor drums! By the time I was offered an endorsement deal, I was very familiar with the brand, and was delighted to accept a deal with them. I’ve been with Sonor for 25 years now and still get excited by their drums, particularly the snare drums! I use Zildjian cymbals, and have long been a fan of the dark K sounds, I love them, the darker the better! I have used Aquarian drumheads for some time also, because way back when they first came over to the UK, they seemed to slot in the gaps between the Remo heads, and I’ve used them ever since – I use the Focus X heads on my teaching kits, and I’m a big fan of the Modern Vintage heads on my playing kit, it’s like “instant” sound, great feel as well! I’ve also been a long time fan of Protection Racket cases because in my opinion the have always made the best soft cases around, and soft cases are a serious issue for thousands of gigging drummers who want to protect the seats in their car as well as their drums! Drums in soft cases can squeeze into cramped spaces, and when you get to the average gig in a pub or a hotel, you can compress the cases and shove them under a bench or a table or something! I’ve had the same set of Pro Racket cases for about 15 years and they’ve been treated pretty roughly but are still in very good shape!
I use a Roland TD9 as part of my teaching set up which is excellent! They record/playback facility is a real boon for teaching. As for new products, I’m very interested in any technology for teaching. For example, the aforementioned Roland kit, plus I use Garageband a lot, I think I’d like to get better at that…
Any last thoughts or words of wisdom?
Aha, yes! Two things: First, don’t play the drums, play the song! Approach the tune with no drums, and try to see what you could add to that tune – you may not end up playing a conventional groove, you might find yourself using pencils instead of sticks, or only playing the bass drum or something bizarre, or maybe even no drums at all! I once left the guitar player and bassist alone on stage to play a slow ballad because it suddenly occurred to me that they were sounding perfectly good without me and there was nothing to be gained by sweeping up with brushes in the background! It became a running joke that best I played that night was when I didn’t play! We sometimes treat a song as a vehicle for our drumming, especially playing Jazz, but we need to remember that the last thing a Jazz singer needs is a drummer fiddling around trying out the Jim Chapin book! Oh, and second: always be early to the gig! It’s one thing for the bass player to turn up 2 minutes before the gig with a little amp in one hand and bass in the other, but the drummer can’t do that!