The path to success may not be as hard as you think…
It's not very often you get to see what can be argued as one of the defining drummers of a generation live in person. Tuesday 30th May saw that very thing happen in the home of where the defining pop groove of British music history evolved, as Ash Soan made his way across from his Norfolk home to grace the world famous Cavern Club to share his insights into being a first-call session drummer at the top of his game.
After a brief introduction play-along to a track by Soul artist Lewis Taylor, and another track featuring legends Pino Palladino (Bass) and Hamish Stuart (Average White Band), the audience was left in no doubt they were amongst esteemed company.
The Q&A session kicked off with questions about his first kit (a gold Premier Olympic job, which later included Octobans!) revealing his Mum and Dad's early faith in his drumming ability. From the off, it was apparent that Ash is a man who has tireless enthusiasm for his craft, sharing his early influences which included Stewart Copeland, movement into Prog Rock (Yes, in particular), as well as acknowledging his musical adolescence in the 80s as being “a weird time for music, and drummers in particular." For those who weren't there, the era saw the onslaught of programmed drums and the potential extinction of the human drummer. Thankfully, this didn't happen, leaving Ash to carry on following his dream to where he is today.
Moving on, he demonstrated examples of his work with LA Jazz/fusion composer, Jeff Lorber, revealing that despite their huge popularity across social media, they were not examples of the sort of playing he does in his 'day job’ environment, but more of an opportunity for experimentation and pushing his own playing envelope. Remaining firmly grounded, he shared that "playing any of that stuff like I've played for a drum clinic on a track is a pretty surefire way to lose a gig!" However, he did acknowledge there are some musical environments for adding extra colour to the mix and explained an example of one such intricate sticking pattern in a way everybody could understand, whilst reminding us it was something he used very economically!
With proceedings picking up momentum and Ash relaxing into his audience, questions came from the young and ambitious players wanting to know how to get into session drumming. In response, it became clear that Ash relied on a multitude of different talents to sustain a career in the modern music industry - not just drumming.
The manner and approach he has offering advice to young players aspiring to follow in his footsteps was both humble and inspiring. Although the industry has drastically changed in terms of opportunities, the methods of opening doors certainly hadn't and Ash made it clear that a combination of making contacts, playing for the song and being good at what you do were as relevant now as they have ever been. His suggestion to one young questioner that he was already a part of a session world by doing what he is already doing, lit up many a young eye in the room. The impression left was that Ash had started out exactly the same as any of the young people in the audience, and with hard work, staying true to finding your own musical voice, the path to being successful may not be as complicated as it appears.
Seasoning the evening with humorous anecdotes about his own career, he shared how he moved from playing with Del Amitri, to Natasha Beddingfield, onto Will Young (with whom he still works and holds in very high regard) and highlighted the importance of having a good relationship with the MD on each gig. As if to prove his point, who should be standing in the audience but Steve Parry, MD on primetime Saturday evening TV show ‘The Voice’, and another important musical link in the chain of session work.
As the evening drew to a close, Ash shared more insights into the value of social media for drummers "It's good to show others what you do and your musical voice", and how it had helped land him recording jobs with notable artists such as Sam Smith. The real treat of the evening was to hear his approach to recording drums for a song and his assertion that his drumming is "all about the song". In particular, leaving room for vocalists, leaving space for the song to breathe as well as at times, playing to the edge of your abilities to give a song the energy and excitement required were all cited as essential qualities. Advice on the place of the click and approaches to musicality led to the final treat of explaining his approach to the half-time shuffle, followed by a blast through Grace Jones' ‘Slave to the Rhythm’, reminding us that he is also a first-call drummer for legendary producers Trevor Horn and Stephen Lipson.
Approachable, warm, and one heck of a player, we can't think of many more compliments to sum up Ash Soan, but on this night they weren't necessary as the warmth of his reception by the crowd on a post-Bank Holiday Tuesday evening spoke the loudest. Many thanks to Ash for an inspiring, educational and memorable evening.
Ash brought his Gretsch BroadKaster drums for the evening, including his own signature 12” x 7” Snare Drum (not yet available from Gretsch but you can ask them to make it). He played some very interesting and expensive Zildjian cymbals, plus Vic Firth sticks, DW hardware & DW pedals and lugged his bits in Protection Racket bags!