Gavin Harrison is a rare breed. A drummer with incredible chops, amazing feel and great compositional skills. He has performed with a who’s who of international artists and has won Modern Drummer’s ‘Best Prog Drummer’ Award multiple times.
Even with all the success Gavin remains incredibly humble and here he offers us some steller career advice:
You started playing at the age of 6 and turned professional at 16. What kind of practice schedule did you follow in those early days?
I started just having fun and playing along to my Dad’s record collection. A bit later on I would play with my Dad’s band and sit in with him in Jazz club situations. When I got to about 10 years old I started having serious lessons with Joe Hodson. I practised as much as I could.
Going pro at such a young age, what moves did you make to get known and establish your career?
In the beginning I would accept any job offered. I found out about a few things from my local music shop and I would go to auditions via adverts in a music magazine called “Melody Maker”. There were many months where I didn’t work at all.
You’ve built an incredible CV having been called to work with the likes of Iggy Pop, Incognito, Level 42, Lisa Stansfield and Eros Ramazzotti. What are your most memorable sessions/performances to date?
I remember really enjoying Sam Brown’s recording sessions for her 1987 album “Stop”. I was playing with a few friends of mine and we had a lot of fun. It was really the first record that I played on that got anywhere in the UK charts. I had some really memorable gigs with Claudio Baglioni – in venues like the amphitheater in Pompeii and Taromina. Plus the Olympic Stadium in Rome.
What skills do drummers need to develop in order to get to that level and become a successful session player?
Actually there’s many skills. First you need to be able to play a lot of different styles. You need REALLY good timing and be able to play accurately with a click track. It’s going to really help you if you can read well and you need to have great sounding drums that are well tuned. Having good people skills are important – and sometimes playing some real shit music with a big smile on your face.
How do you prepare (mentally and physically) for recordings and gigs?
You need to be relaxed and focused. If it’s a strenuous gig then you need to warm up for 20-30 minutes before the show so your muscles don’t cramp up.
You’ve been with Porcupine Tree for 8 years now. What has the experience been like and how has the music influenced you?
I don’t think the music itself has influenced me – probably more what music experience all the band members have brought to the band.
Your drum parts are beautifully intricate yet still powerful and grooving. How do you come up with these great parts that serve the music so well?
Thanks – I try my best to find parts that I think are unique for the song, if it’s a rhythm that I think has never been used before then I’m very happy. Sometimes the song begins with a drum idea like “Bonnie The Cat” for instance. Other times I just search for a part that I like and I think suits the the atmosphere of the song.
Many drummers would love to be in your position can you take us through a day in the life of Gavin Harrison?
I don’t know what that is because most days are different. When I’m at home I try to get on my drums for at least two hours and I practise whatever I can think of. I record ideas that I stumble across – maybe I can use them in the future for something.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps, turn pro and be the best they can be?
It would be hard to follow my career path because when I started – the music industry was completely different and there were different opportunities to play and make recording sessions. All I can say is that being versatile is really the key. Learn to read music and work on your sense of time – and make sure you can play to a click and be very conscientious.
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