This week we interviewed one of our drum teachers, rock drumming veteran, Rick McMurray. The Irish rock chart-toppers Ash have amassed 1 Silver, 2 Gold and 2 Platinum selling records in Britain, and they have had a massive 18 songs in the top 40 UK Singles Chart. NME Magazine named their album ‘1977’ as one of the 500 greatest albums ever released. To date, Ash have sold over 8 million albums Worldwide.
Rick is currently over in the band’s studio in New York working on new material with his fellow band mates, singer Tim Wheeler and bassist Mark Hamilton. Between touring, Rick teaches drums at Morningside School of Music. Rick is based in Edinburgh where he lives with his wife & two young girls.
What is your very first memory of seeing or playing a musical instrument?
When I was three, I was asked to play Little Drummer Boy at the church Xmas service. And I screwed it up. I guess I just like a challenge.
Did you take drum lessons?
Not really. I wish I’d gone for drum lessons when I was younger as I know I’ve picked up so many bad habits, which I’m trying to iron out.
Did any of your schoolmates play any instruments?
Not really. Only a few in my year were into music, but luckily I found a couple of guys to start a band with who were the year below me at school.
How old were you when you got your very first kit and what kind was it?
I was 13, and it was a Thunder budget kit. I remember the review in Rhythm mag said the snare was brilliant.
Did you ever play a second instrument?
What bands/drummers did you practice along to when you were a kid/teen?
Most Aerosmith and The Black Crows before I joined a band.
How did the process of starting band happen for you?
I played a drunk detective in the school production of a Russian play called The Suicide. Tim was one of the gipsy musicians, and I asked him for a go on his guitar. He was forming a cover band, so I asked if he had a drummer. It only lasted two rehearsals, but then he asked me to play with himself and Mark doing original stuff.
Did you meet at school and practice at lunch-time?
We practised every Saturday at Tim’s house as there was an old outbuilding we could use. School wasn’t made for rock’n’roll. It was mostly percussion and recorders.
Do you remember your first gig ever as ‘Ash’? Where was it?
It was in a back room of a bar in Belfast called The Penny Farthing with Tart Confusion and Lazergun Nun. We were told to turn down by the some of the regulars in the front bar, who showed us a handful of bullets to persuade us. It worked. A bit.
How did you go about getting gigs before you had a manager/record company?
We sent off loads of demo tapes to people, but it was our mate who managed us at the time who made the best contact with a guy called Paddy Davis at Bad Moon PR.
How did you get signed? Did you go to them or did they come to you?
Paddy’s wife was from Downpatrick, where we grew up, so he came to see us while he was on holiday and then passed our tape to the guy who worked next door to him, Tav Stevens, who was starting his label. He put out our first single, then became our manager and brought us to London to do a bunch of showcase gigs. We got signed by Korda Marshall to Infectious Records after that.
What do you prefer, live or studio?
Used to be I preferred to live, but these days I love the studio. It’s more creative, and you get to push yourself to grow as a musician. Having said that I’m looking forward to touring.
What type of kits and cymbals do you prefer to use when you are playing?
I love playing vintage gear at the moment. Gretsch and Ludwig mainly but I’ve got loads of different snare drums. Performing live at fly-in festivals you get to try out loads of different kits. I don’t mind what I play, to be honest; I feel it’s good to mix things up. I’ve also joined an Edinburgh band called Thirteen Seven, and I’m getting a kick out of playing old, beat-up house kits at the gigs we’ve done. It keeps you on your toes when you don’t know if the kit is going to make it to the end of the set. I’ll probably take out my Gretsch kit or my Ludwig Vistalite on the upcoming dates.
What is the biggest gig you have ever played?
We supported Robbie Williams at Phoenix Park in Dublin which was 150,000. It’s a bit of a trip playing to that number. It just doesn’t compute.
Who is the most famous person you have ever met, did it go down well?
We’ve met Bono a few times. He’s the singer in U2. He didn’t get to where he is without being very charming.
What is your favourite Ash song?
Hard to pick one but today it’s probably Shining Light.
Which Ash video was the most fun to make?
We got to go to Cuba to do the Sometimes video which was a real trip. I was driving around in this old, 50s American car with boxes taped to the pedals so I could reach them. The weirdest thing was not seeing any advertising other than the Bacardi bat on top of the building where they used to make it and a sign saying ¡Viva la Revolucion! Sounds good to me.
What is the coolest moment of you’ve had with Ash?
We’ve always had a special affinity with Reading festival so we are doing it for the 9th time this year. Last time they said if we make it to 10 appearances, they will erect a statue. It was quite late when they said it but we’ll hold them to it anyway.
If you could have one person in your band, who would it be?
If I could get a liver transplant I’d love to do a tour with Nathan Connolly from Snow Patrol.
What is the one piece of advice you would give drummers for their practice/technique?
Get yourself a good practice routine and do it every day because it’s a physically demanding instrument.
What is the one piece of advice you would offer musicians who want to go professional?
It’s probably 25% about being a great musician and 75% about being able to get on with people.