Martin Ranscombe Interview – by Travis Marc – 2011.
Martin Ranscombe is no new comer to the music industry. He has been gigging for years and is a regular face on the clinic scene. Here’s what the humble and inspiring “drum guru” had to say in a recent interview he did with us…
Rightio, hello Martin, thanks for giving up some of your valuable time for us and agreeing to partake in this interview. For our readers who might not have heard of you before let’s talk a bit about who you are and what you actively do in this wonderful industry of ours?
Well, I guess a good place to start is to say that I’m a drum nut who is passionate about drums and in particular, demystifying so much of the ‘gumph’ that seems to accompany many areas. I’ve come to the fore as a tuning dude, but there is way more to me than that alone. In fact, despite appearances, tuning is not my primary focus. I’m all about the joy of playing, performing and the sound of drums! Tuning drums effectively is a key part of the sound, but it’s only one element.
When I do clinics these days, more and more is about helping drummers of any persuasion to get the most out of their playing experience – whether just starting out or a hardened ‘warrior’ at any level. I think it’s fair to say that my philosophy is all about sharing my ideas to break down many of the ‘barriers’ that we drummers experience in developing our art – whether it be tackling playing technique issues, playing ergonomics or indeed, getting the best sound out of our kit. The key is to do it in such a way that anyone attending my clinics or watching my videos will be able to take something away that is of immediate and practical use. That’s vital to me. I’ve been to many clinics where the drummer may be a fantastic player, but I often wonder if we really learn much we can apply in everyday playing.
How did your drumming career actually begin and what was it about the drums that initially attracted you to them?
Aha! My interest in drums started through an ‘unhealthy’ obsession with doing impressions of many things, including drum sounds from records I listened to in my youth! One thing led to another and here I am 35 years later – still playing! Right from the start though, I had an interest in how drums were made and changing the sound of them. So, I guess I was always destined to have that side to my ‘drumming personality’, even if I didn’t appreciate it at the time.
Which drummers would you say influenced your drumming in its earlier stages and who inspires you now?
Crikey, now there’s a thought – many, many. Err…starting from the very beginning, it would be guys like Brian Bennett, Tony Meehan, Clem Cattini and Ringo. These were the guys playing on records my eldest brother played all the time. As I started to find my own taste so to speak, names like Bill Bruford, Phil Collins, Neil Peart and Alan White came to the fore; along with British Ska and ‘New-Wave’ drummers. I could list hundreds more, but key influences would also include: Stewart Copeland, Pick Withers, Ian Mosley, Charlie Morgan, Chester Thompson, Neil Conti, Vinnie Colauita, Harvey Mason, John JR Robinson, Manu Katche, Mark Brzezicki, Simon Phillips and my all-time fave – Mel Gaynor. These days, I must admit to finding it harder to get inspired, but certainly guys like Ian Matthews, Ged Lynch and Aaron Spears are cool: I love what Benny Greb does with a drum kit and Johnny Rabb is just terrific! However, I’m also now looking back and starting to really dig some of the ‘greats’ from the past, like Joe Morello, Art Blakey, Max Roach and Tony Williams. Like I said, the list goes on and on…!
You’re known by many as the Drum Guru. Tell us a bit how this nickname came to be and what it means to you to hold such a prestigious title?
Funnily enough, I didn’t choose it – I was given the tag by another drummer way back and it somehow stuck! Before I knew it, everybody kept referring to me as ‘the drum guru’ and once I’d written some articles for RHYTHM, that was it. To be honest, it’s a cool tag to have but some misinterpret it. ‘Guru’ simply means teacher and not, as some have suggested, a person who is supposed to know everything. I don’t of course – no one ever could – I just do what I do and if it helps other drummers, I’m cool with that. A name is just a name – it’s what one does and how one behaves that should be the measure of the man.
Let’s talk a bit about your educational DVD “Tuning Basics for the Modern Drum Set”. How did the idea for this DVD come about; what was the filming process like and what do you hope people might learn from watching it?
Ah yes, plug time! Lol. After writing the series for RHYTHM, I was acutely aware of the limitations of discussing tuning in the written form. Also, many times after clinics, people would ask me if had a book or CD available. So, thanks to my pal Pete Riley, I hooked up with the guys at Lick Library who kindly offered to produce a DVD for me. I was a little concerned as to how to go about it – after all it wouldn’t be the first video/DVD on the subject. However, I realised that my approach was seemingly way more accessible to most drummers and so decided that a DVD was the only effective way of capturing what I do. Filming was surprisingly easy, despite no previous experience. It was all done in one take over a day and a half (apparently, I’m a ‘natural presenter’!), with the playing elements tacked on the end. Now that was a strange experience! Shooting the tuning stuff was cool but as soon as I realised that my playing was to be scrutinised too – yikes – I fell to pieces!! We drummers are not supposed to be so exposed! Lol. My hope was that drummers of all persuasions would benefit from my ‘no nonsense, demystifying approach to tuning and, from the feedback I’ve had since its release, I’d have to say that I pretty much achieved my aim. Ultimately, it’s for others to judge, but overall, I’m pleased with how it’s been accepted.
You seem to be developing a reputation as an all-round drumming educator these days, tell us more about that?
Well, as I suggested earlier, I’m a drummer first – tuner second. I have developed many innovative (some might say ‘unorthodox’!) ways of dealing with what I call ‘real world’ playing issues that effect many drummers out there. The internet is full of tips and techniques that cover just about everything, but many of them just don’t relate to what most gigging drummers need to know to get through weekend covers gigs, etc. Rather like my approach to tuning, it’s about cutting through the maze of ideas and technical wizardry and providing simple, accessible but effective techniques that will often get practical results very quickly. We all know that practicing something for 2 hours a day for 10 years will almost certainly achieve great things, but the simple fact is, most drummers simply do not have time nor the desire, frankly, to spend that long on one or two ideas. So, for me, it’s about helping players – at whatever level – to get the most from themselves within the reality of their playing life and needs.
In addition to performing and your constant clinic tours you also do quite a bit of teaching. What is the one piece of playing advice that you try and pass on to your students. Also, did you personally have any formal training while on your way to becoming a pro drummer?
One piece??? Are you kidding?? lol seriously though, I say: “Have fun, love the instrument and remember – just like most things in life – you get out what you put in.” In terms of my playing education, I never had formal lessons as such. In more recent years I have worked on the true Moeller technique with my Moeller guru – Andy Leask – after a chance lesson with the great Jim Chapin, many years back. I say ‘true’ because to my mind, the method that Jim learned from Sanford and took to the world is ‘the Moeller method.’ Andy Leask studied with Jim for over 40 years right up to Jim’s passing away and I have continued on this lineage. Many people talk about this technique but what most people see is an ‘interpreted’ (often misinterpreted) version of it. That’s not to say that these techniques are no good, but must be accepted as being a derivation or simply different. And don’t forget, Sanford didn’t invent the technique in any case! However, I do see many people claiming to teach the system, who clearly have no understanding of how it really works, which is a shame. But hey life’s like that! Anyhoo, I’ll get awff me soapbox now!
What do you feel the most important piece of drumming/music advice is that you have ever received and why?
Now that’s a cracking question and a hard one to answer! I would say it is that one should always be oneself. That applies to life in general, of course, but it’s particularly true for me. As someone who suffers from acute stage nerves, it’s important to understand that I can only do my best and ‘stick to my guns’ and realise that we don’t need to copy or think that we’re somehow inferior to others who may seem better in our eyes. It’s an old cliché, but we can only do what we do, to our best ability and hope to affect others in a positive way.
Worldwide – there is often a very competitive attitude between musicians. The drumming community however, seems to be a lot closer than most instrumentalists, why do you think this is?
Ah yes, interesting isn’t? My theory is that we drummers have often been regarded as the ‘poor relation’ amongst many musicians and so, I believe, a kind of mutual self-defence attitude has developed over the years which has flourished into a fraternity vibe that keeps us self-supporting, if that makes sense? Plus, let’s be honest, we are more talented and have the best gear, right? lol
Tell us briefly about your gear and why you choose to use the products you do?
A timely question indeed! I’ve just recently moved to Meinl as an international artist for them – which is great! Their cymbals (I mainly use models from the Byzance ranges) are just awesome and they are such a cool bunch of guys! Hot off the press, I’ve just moved from Mapex and signed with Premier. Some may see that as a slightly odd move, but in the end ‘home is where the heart is’, so it is said. I’m going to be promoting the new generation of Genista drums and my first kit sounds very good, I must say! Otherwise, I continue to proudly endorse Guru snare drums, Aquarian drumheads, Vater sticks, Protection Racket cases and Baskey drum accessories. I feel really privileged to have access to such terrific products and to work with some great people!
Any last thoughts or words of wisdom?
Wisdom – from me? Last thoughts…well now, let me see…yes…how long before Becki Newton (from Ugly Betty) asks me out on a date…oh, not what you wanted? Right, wisdom…hmm. Yes, much as I suggested in an answer to a previous question really – work at being the best drummer you can be and be a good, honest and positive person to be around. Whether you aspire to be professional or play down the ‘Duck n Flagon’ on a Saturday night – these attributes should still be in place.
Now, I must shoot – Becki’s just called! 😉
For more info on Martin please visit his website – www.martinranscombe.com – we will also be reviewing Martins DVD soon, so watch this space.