Gary O Toole Interview – 2011

TEJ: We spoke with Steve earlier today and he said he is marvelled at how you’re singing and drumming these things at the same time. I think that for the reason that it’s so stunning, that your singing and drumming on such songs as ‘Watcher of The Skies’ or ‘Firth of Fifth’ is amazing but potentially aided by your sight reading which is something to fall back on, but still stunning.

G: Thank you for that. It’s a nice feeling to have the opportunity. Steve said to me a long time ago that this gig is a drummer’s gig really, it is all built around the drummer and I was like…. Phew no pressure then.

– Laughter –

TEJ: Talk about being the ultimate goalkeeper.

G: Yeah, it’s like “Wake up son!” I know we have been on the road for six weeks, but don’t mess up.

– Laughter –

TEJ: This gig of Steve’s for any drummer is a very technical outing, what with a song like Serpentine Song with cymbal flourishes which need to be balanced so that the drummer doesn’t look like a flashy so an so, but then the drummers got to come back in with the beat to push the song along nicely whilst it’s all tasteful the way you deliver it.

G: Thank you again. You know when you get to a point when somebody wants a song done the way they want it done, Steve’s approach has generally been: let’s take it out on the road and kick it about a little bit and see what works.

TEJ: Yeah, Steve has done that on a few tours.

G: Generally, when we did ‘Compass’ [Wild Orchids], which is one of the songs I am most proud of vocally, he had me sat in a chair in Map Studios relaxed, he said, “You’ve got to relax now, I want you to double the voice. Ok we’ll do this harmony line and I want you to double it,” and it went one thing after another; build it, build it done! It was just amazing to me, So much stuff to me we take on the road to play with it and then he might want to refine it, or he might want to leave as it has been and think well that’s working great I really like the sound of that, but with something like ‘Compass’ he already knew exactly where he wanted it to go and what he wanted to do with it and we had recorded that for ‘To Watch The Storms’ or maybe it was shortly afterwards. So that has been sitting in the can for a long time and then it came out and I remember being ever so happy with it. So it’s one of those that I really liked but didn’t get kicked around on tour. I love it that he will try and experiment with stuff and that he’s not afraid to.

TEJ: Yeah I mean he could play a straight version of Los Endos but he doesn’t, he plays a version that ‘s sort of looking back towards his Genesis Revisited album with the Latin – almost Samba feel, something you have managed to make it your own…

G: Well again it was one of those things that he said play with it and see what you want to do. If you want to play it like Chester (Thompson) or play it like Phil (Collins), whatever you feel go where you think it wants to go musically.
That was the thing about ‘Serpentine’ it’s kind of like you become so accustomed to something that you can play around with it and so I might not hit exactly the same order of cymbals every night, yet I know the kind of tone and dynamic that I want to set the atmosphere and once you have actually decided on that then you can just let it go so you can do it different every night you know what the end goal is.

TEJ: You must have a great command of the room/space you have got to do that in, Steve has surrounded himself with musicians of such a professionally high level that they have an instinct to be able to know when to extend things by a few bars or to solo a bit and then they know to watch you to come back in, be it the two or more Bassists or whoever else have been in the band.

TEJ: One song in particular I liked that was a good example of this was ‘Vampire with a Healthy Appetite’. You know when everyone gets to solo, such as Rob with his Sax and then he finishes his solo with a tiny bit of Glen Millar’s In the mood or Roger with a tiny bit of Rhubarb and Custard amongst others.

– Laughter –

G: Well one of the things that I thought was more risky was ‘In That Quiet Earth’ because me and Terry (Gregory) [Former Bassist] would just go off on one and he would just take it and go bugger off over there [Gary emphases’ as though Terry has gone to the opposite side of the stage] and I would be ‘oh ok’, and he really helped me to learn to free up to just go and do that. I said to him you know what your doing and he went, “No, and I don’t want to know” because he feels it and it’s just incredible because he has ideas about the shape of it and it goes in here and it works. Eventually I picked it up from him. Then I worked out exactly what he was doing, it took me a while because he used to do it.

TEJ: How did you come to know Terry?

G: I met Terry when he was teaching at Drumtech, and Terry, as he would come home some nights he would come across town, and he would come to me and teach me Piano, he taught me Piano for about six months and Tel (Terry) is a mate, and he would actually say you know, me and Paul (Elliot) who is another phenomenal drummer, really understood all this stuff and he would just toss it around with Tel and it was just so obvious and on the money I loved it and I thought right, I’ve got to get into this and that had some of the scariest moments of being on stage, there’s been occasions were we lost everybody but me and Terry would be like, we knew exactly where it was and fortunately Roger (King) was able to hold it, as it was in the middle of his solo, so he held it and waited for us and then it all landed back square, wonderful moments.

Gary plays some smooth jazz to us (Copyright TEJ)

TEJ: I am not aware of much of your career before you got the gig with Steve, had you worked with someone as diverse or exploratory as him before you got the gig?

G: Only in snatches. In the ‘80s I worked with ‘China Crisis’ and then I went off and did a funk band called LW5 and we supported Frankie Beverly and Maze and one or two others and that was a real funk outfit and that was great. As the work disappeared I basically lost everything including a flat and that entire thing. I decided I better get my arse into gear and sort things out. So I did set about rebuilding. I got a gig with a covers band called ‘The Dark Blues’ we did all the society functions for everybody from Lord and Lady so and so in a Marquee at the bottom of an Estate to a firm’s do at Christmas in Park Lane and we did loads of them, including Prince Charles’s 40th Birthday at Buckingham Palace.

TEJ: A diverse clientele…

G: Which Phil Collins booked ‘The Dark Blues’ for, and what was quite funny about that was when we turned up, the Equerry met us and brought us in we shown through and told that as nobody had come in we could go up the main staircase. So as you look at Buckingham Palace we walked through on the left of the main entrance and we are brought along a corridor at the side then along the front and then you go up the main staircase and you go up to where the room is, As you go up the Staircase there is a big easel and blackboard and on it, It said
‘The Dark Blues and Phil Collins’…

– Laughter –

G: Later that afternoon I met Phil, whilst they were still varnishing the floor for the evening’s festivities, I said to Phil, “Sorry about the billing. It was the best I could do at the notice.” he laughed which was just as well and I got on great with him and I bumped into him a few years later. He booked the band again through me, we went and did New Years Eve in Geneva for his then wife’s (Orianne Cevey) fathers friend who owned a big hotel in Geneva and that’s where we were New Years Eve 1999/2000, so that was kind of cool.

TEJ: Definitely kind of cool, and then you ended up working with another member of Genesis just a bit later on.

G: Yeah that was funny to see how that worked. I basically got the gig because I worked with Steve Sidelnyk who is a mate of mine and Steve had a band together with Steve White, who I started with back in the day when we were in a rehearsal band back in the late ‘70s early ‘80s and Whitey still is a mate and he is a lovely guy, a damn fine player. It’s got to be said that in those days I wouldn’t listen, I thought I was Buddy Rich. I thought I was god’s gift and he was like [White] nah, I know I’ve just got to keep time and I got to shut up.

– Laughter –

G: I didn’t know that, he’d learnt that. I hadn’t. Sidelnyk said Whitey’s off on tour with (Paul) Weller, can you cover this gig in the Bomb droppers which was a little thing that he had. We did this Drum and Bass gig at the end which is a club in Holborn that night there was another band on that was actually playing with backing tapes called ‘Manuka’ and I heard them and I thought, man these guys are good I like the stuff. So I spoke to the girl singer and the guitarist Matt and we got on well and she said, “We are looking for a drummer, would you fancy doing some stuff for us?” I went, “yeah great.” So we actually did a few rehearsals and then we had to change the guitarist because he went off and joined Jamiroquai and he still plays with them.

– Laughter –

G: We did some rehearsals and I got a telephone call one day from Sidelnyk who says, “Gal we’ve got a gig at the end in a couple of weeks can you do it? It’s on the 9th I think?” and I went, yeah alright no problem at all then about ten minutes later I get a telephone call from Manuka saying “Gal, we’ve got a gig on the 9th…” I went “Sorry I’ve just been booked to do something.” They went “You don’t understand, it’s Sidelnyk isn’t it, it’s the same night it’s the same gig. Can you do both gigs?” And I went yeah, so Sidelnyk gets me to do his thing, which is kind of wild and he brings down a mate of his who is Hamish Stuart from the Average White Band…

TEJ: Bloody Hell!

G: …and Hamish saw what I did and I don’t think he liked it because with Steve’s thing he wanted me to go all over the click and out of time and Hamish’s thing is keeping solid time and you go and see Ian Thomas playing with him and he is just outrageous. Ian’s time is beautiful and I can do that but I wasn’t being asked to do that. So in the second band, Jan had actually got friends down and there was Steve (Hackett) and so Steve saw me play with Jan and that was a much more straight forward rocky down the line thing with a couple of tasty fills that were thrown in because by then I had started to co-write with them and Mr Hackett absolutely loved it and he asked permission from Jan if he could speak to her drummer and low and behold I got the gig. So from what I understand of it Steve (Hackett) was sort of semi retired at that point.

TEJ: Yeah he hadn’t done any live shows for a long time.

G: He was talking about swallowing it, and this was like his little sojourn he was going to going to go and do it. So Roger had never played live with anybody.

TEJ: Hadn’t he done a Music Engineering degree or similar?

G: He had been in the studio with a lot of different people he had worked for a lot of different people as an engineer. Then it was him and then Phil Mulford on bass and Mr Castle on Sax’s who’s sense of comic timing is obviously inherited from his Dad. We had a great time we really did and Steve loved it so we got asked back unfortunately Ben (Castle) and Mr Mulford had been booked to do other things and so they couldn’t do it. At that point I got Terry Gregory (Bassist) involved and then Terry was busy and so Beggsy (Nick Beggs) got involved and he’s a sweet heart and when Beggsy couldn’t do it when we went to Japan last year (he had been booked for another gig), he said look I got this guy called Lee Pomeroy and we went “Yeah alright. What are we to expect with this?” I had never worked with anybody that actually walked in and went “…yeah alright…” and meant it. We played the set from top to bottom and he made one mistake. ONE! And that was, that on the album there was a synth bass that he wasn’t given and so he went “I didn’t think I needed to play that. Oh you want me to play that so lets go eight bars before…” and then played it because he knew it, it was the most stunning audition stroke rehearsal. Normally you’d be thinking how much time we got, how long is this guy going to take, and it was none. He just did it top to bottom.

TEJ: Unfortunately not everybody is like that, but when they are it doesn’t half make a difference.

G: Well Lee is a pro, as is Beggsy and Beggsy’s a mate and I would like to say that Lee is as well. We had an interesting few days together and a right laugh and it’s always a good testament when you come together and you find that the musicians can interact and play and play nice.

TEJ: Yeah, it’s all well and good that things go well on stage, but if you all get on and enjoy each others company backstage as well it must…

G: It makes it easy.

TEJ: It must be almost the dream gig, knowing full well that you get on with these people, and that your being paid as well as doing the gig for a couple hours a day.

G: Well, it is also very nice that I have an understanding wife and kids who allow me to the time because Sarah is a singer song writer and because we have had the babies she hasn’t had the time to get at the piano and get at the computer to do what she wants to do and she has been good enough to allow me the time up to now, where I have gone alright now here it is we can do it we can afford the time now lets see if we can push on and make something of it.

TEJ: I think it must be easier having someone as understanding as Sarah because she has been involved with music, she probably has a better idea of the life of a musician in terms of travelling etc

G: Indeed.

TEJ: It is also a quite stunning that Steve has been able to get his electric band together and do an immense amount of touring, compared to the previous number of years in light of the fact of his rather taxing personal issues of recent.

G: He’s got energy, he’s got belief, he’s got desire… mostly desire and that means that he is hungry and he is hungry right now because of his experiences of late have made him want that and so it’s actually fuelled his desire and it has fuelled his knowledge and I would say his supply of ideas, not least going around in America we were in a very nice van, but a van non the less going from A to B you know it kind of doing it for real and it’s not living the whole rock stars lifestyle of you know of excess

TEJ: Yeah like the Concorde story of there’s a seat for me, and a seat for my Guitar.

G: yeah it doesn’t work like that it really doesn’t and once you get your head around that it’s fine.

TEJ: Yeah it’s still amazing that in the last year he was on stage more than he was at home, and not just in this country but in Europe and America.

G: Yeah it was good it was a nice tour it was a nice time with Renaissance they were great, really great Frank Pagarno on drums is lovely a lovely guy but all the guys were great. It was remarked upon by everybody that how there were no ego’s that actually got in the way of the thing. It’s so flippin’ easy for that to happen and all of a sudden it spills over and before you know it there’s a problem. But it was cool with Renaissance.

TEJ: Coming back from that where did you come from?

G: Where I come from and what I do I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of different people from China Crisis, to Steve (Hackett), to doing stuff for S CLUB 7 as well as doing stuff for Moulin Rouge the film, working for a number of different artists and with Steve (Hackett) being able to say that we did stuff with Steven Wilson is great knowing that John Wetton came on and did the gig (All Along The Watchtower) and John had said “It’s impossible you can’t sing and play ‘Watcher Of The Skies’. Nobody can!” and I wanted to find out what he had to say at the end of the gig (Shepherds Bush London 2010) but he’d gone.

– Laughter –

G: Which would have been funny to see, we got on like a house on fire he is a really, really nice fella.

TEJ: I believe the gig was filmed for a release it would be brilliant to see Steve’s current band with the guests Steven Wilson and John Wetton

G: I’d love to see it. I haven’t seen it yet. [Feb 5th 2011] I don’t know if they have finished or whether it’s worked or anything.

TEJ: When we saw Steve (Hackett) today we didn’t get a chance to see it.

G: I’ll find out soon as I know we are going out in May to Italy so that will be five days. I know that there is talk of another album that we might get to record on later this year and that will be nice, as I haven’t recorded for Steve for quite some time now. Some other geezer called Simon Phillips…

– Laughter –

(Copyright Evil Jam)

G: He’s fantastic I just heard Simon playing on Nik Kershaw’s new album ‘You Got To Laugh’ which I love. I met (Nik) Kershaw after the gig at Shepherds Bush because he is a mate of Beggsy’s and we had a conversation that was just amazing. So, now we tend to keep in contact via email, which is really nice. I just quietly go on to his website and bought two of the albums and they’re great I just love it. Simon (Phillips) plays on that and he has such great time and such good ideas and it’s why I like the voicing’s that I use because I found the ones that he uses sound fabulous and although Billy Cobham used it initially he didn’t use it in the same sort of fashion that Simon did that’s actually instilled the kind of enthusiasm for it for me.

TEJ: That’s the thing with drums and drumming. Take for example the drumming on Paul Simon’s ‘Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover’ which I think has Steve Gadd on it…

G: It is Steve (Gadd)…

TEJ: I once heard Dave Cobby in a sound-check do a great version on your drums and he walked past and I did mention it.

G: Yeah! He’s got great time. It’s lovely to be able to hear someone else play my kit and to stand out front as there are limitations, as it’s completely different to his own kit, so he does well to play it at all. I tend to sit quite high up.

TEJ: Are you a toe down heel up bass drummer or a foot and heel down bass drummer?

G: I tend to play it [demonstrates on his kit at home in demonstrating all possible foot movements in a rocking motion] but then if I’m playing quite fast it looks like the heel is up all the time but it never is. It is all about technique and bouncing so that you are kind of doing the rocking technique so that if I have to do it slowly certainly when I am practicing that’s what I’ll do. I’ll practice Singles and Doubles [which he demonstrates].
If you’re actually playing double stroke rolls it doesn’t much look like your dropping your heel at all, but the arc is already there so understanding that arc and playing across it is what would make it easy.

TEJ: That would take strength?

G: Nah, it doesn’t take strength far from it, it actually takes balance that word again, balance!

TEJ: When I’m on my kit if I play heel down I get a pain in the front of my shin.

G: Everybody does! It is like you’re trying to play too fast and too loud. So if you get used to rolling it so that you’re not just staying in that position because then you’re actually pressurising your leg and you’re just asking the shin to do all of the work [he demonstrates a foot position] and not your calf otherwise you’d be asking the calf to do all the work, but if you arc across your mixing it between the two.

TEJ: Balancing out the workload to quote your turn of phrase.

G: That’s really where the pivot point is really. The most important because your going across and it’s the same with the pivot point in the grip you shouldn’t be fighting your way around a drum set but just letting it move. You know, Tommy Igoe’s DVD is great called ‘Great Hands For A Lifetime’ he doesn’t talk about technique in terms of the Moeller technique and that whole motion he actually talks about in terms of letting the thing bounce and getting comfortable. Just letting the stick bounce and it looks like the guys are doing just about nothing but you know they’re getting to play things very very fast and it really is easy all of it is meant to be easy it’s not meant to be that hard at all. If it’s actually causing you pain something is wrong. Louis Bellson taught me that I remember meeting Louis at a show through a friend of a friend and then I saw him doing an in store meet and greet at a place that was being opened and he said to me “Get out the way.”

– Laughter –

G: No He said to me: If you actually start practicing and you get to this point where your feeling pain of any description, STOP! Take five go and have a coffee or a cup of tea whatever it takes and then come back But be relaxed because if your not relaxed it will not work, And he’s right as soon as you exert any physical effort over playing drums and for that matter guitar if you start playing from the wrist you can only go so fast but if you start to allow your elbow to move then you start to find that there is so much more that the pick (Guitar) can do especially as your restricting the amount of movement it’s got. So it’s all about motion and movement.

TEJ: Yeah that almost another side of teaching someone how to play an instrument is not to beat themselves up.

G: Yes.

TEJ: Sort of like Football where there is the understanding of physio and the way in which the muscles work. I don’t think it would hurt or harm too much to teach the same knowledge in Music School’s.

G: Honestly Mark, I think you have hit the nail on the head for me as somebody who comes from 40 years of studying Martial Arts.

TEJ: I did read somewhere you were a Kick Boxer?

G: Yeah, I was an instructor. I stopped about five years ago because I didn’t have time to instruct and I was starting my own school in the West End for music and apart from anything else I got fed up getting hit in the head.

– Laughter –

G: I was thinking in terms of one day owning my own music school where by we would start the day with Martial Arts with something like Tai Chi and having energised ourselves for the day to then go off and study maybe go off and do something a bit harder because you have the Soft and the Hard like Karate or Kick Boxing later in the day when your body had woken up but it didn’t end up that way.

TEJ: Wouldn’t that be like the Japanese Kodo Drummers?

G: Well I was actually up for it, but never got around to it, about five/six years ago of going to take a holiday with them for six weeks and live with them and train with them because they get up at 6am in the morning, go for a five mile run, come back then have breakfast, then practice, then workout, then have a break at lunch, and then more working out in the afternoon – just devoting themselves to that on an Island called I think Kodo.

TEJ: it’s a way of life.

G: Indeed.

The interview ends with us talking about the YouTube video of Steve Moore in Rick K and the All-nighters which has been titled “Drummer at the Wrong Gig”

1 Comment on "Gary O Toole Interview – 2011"

  1. rick tuffnell | November 3, 2012 at 6:25 pm |

    i/m glad gary has got where he has by sheer hard work,i had lesson/s from gary 25 years ago and bought his ludwig kit from him ,a great teacher

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