Gary O Toole Interview – 2011

Part 2 – April 2011

We catch up with Gary and we ask him some more questions, we start by asking had he any touring experience before he worked for Steve.

G: Well the best way to explain it is to go back to the beginning which for me is when I was working in Rose Morris which is the Musical Instrument Store in Shaftsbury avenue in the centre of town (London) I was the coffee boy there in 1982, I’d been on telephone sales I was there in total for about two and half to three years and I didn’t really blossom in the Office environment so it was suggested that I might move down to the shop (floor) which I loved and it was absolutely great so I went down and started working in the shop in the drum department.

TEJ: Right…

G: My direct governor (Boss) was a guy called Mickey Goode and Mickey was such a big influence on me because any of the “stars” that would walk in and he would say yeah got this in stock got these brushes and sticks etc Gary would like to ask you a couple of questions and sometimes it would be to named people, named players who I felt intimidated by Martin Drew for instance who was a very much larger than life character and he told me one or two things about playing brushes, I also remember having a conversation with Dave Mattack’s who said on hearing I was leaving the shop, “Gal just because your leaving don’t expect that everybody you have met will actually help you become a success in this business your now in direct competition with us”.

G: So he wasn’t being nasty he was being very matter of fact and as it happens subsequently Dave was very helpful and complimentary to me when he heard me playing on an album that we both shared, which he didn’t need to be it was just a sign of the gentleman.

TEJ: It’s nice when it’s like that.

G: But Mickey Goode sacked me at Christmas ’82 he claimed that I was too good a drummer to be working in a shop

TEJ: So it was like a Parental Push?

G: Kind of yes! But what he didn’t mention was that it was him that got me a Gig which I started the following week, which was at a Spanish night club which is now gone it was called the Costa Brava on Charing Cross road and the irony of that was that Club I knew buy way before it was the Costa Brava in 1982.

G: My Mum and Dad worked for a guy who became a club owner called Freddie Mills …

TEJ: the Boxer?

G: Absolutely.

TEJ: Yes you mentioned Freddie and your parents previously!

G: And that was the same club and the same premises effectively that I was walking into which was the place where it was my parents last ever professional gig in London was my first professional gig, so that was kind of a circle completed.

TEJ: Strange how things work out that way.

G: I then started thinking in terms of what I was going to do, I was doing the Costa Brava but I was looking around for other jobs as well and I managed to get in touch with Graham Ward and I did CATS in the April of ’83 so that was a huge thing for me because it was the biggest thing I had ever done.

TEJ: A major West End production…

G: Yeah …

TEJ: A very successful one as well!

G: It was to be the case that when Graham decided to move on from that show a guy called Barry Desouza; who had worked with and played drums for David Essex and a whole heap of other people he used to be with Tir Na Nog, God bless him and rest in peace Barry; was just sort of a fantastic boogaloo drummer but to play in the West End he had to adapt his playing and what he did. But he made me his first call deputy. So, for the rest of the time from 1983 when I first did it for Graham Ward until it closed I was the first call and that then was a big deal for me.

TEJ:  Did you do anything similar after that?

G: I went and did Butlins in the summer of ’83 and when I had got back from it the guy who had spoken to me about possibly going and doing Butlins Steve Crease was working with a number of different bands he said “Gal, I can’t do this but there is an audition for China Crisis in Liverpool do you want to go and do it.”
That was the first time that I got a gig. We went and did a British tour, which was only about six dates, and then we supported The Police on the Synchronicity Tour for three or four dates. Then we went to do our own tour in the January that was for three weeks and then because we were on the same management as Simple Minds we supported Simple Minds around Europe that included Scandinavia, then America and Canada. So it was a real taster that took me through from ’83 to ’84. I lost a gig because they decided to get there original drummer Kevin Wilkinson “God Bless him” back. After that I went on tour with a band called LW5 who were a London based funk outfit and I did an album with them and I was mainly doing British dates we were on tour with Frankie Beverly and Maize that was amazing they were really great after that the band kind of folded. What then happened it was 1986 and I was living in South London in Blackheath sharing with a friend of mine and I had been on tour with a band in Norway called Monroes, they were kind of a Pop act that were trying to nick the idea’s of Madness and The Police the guy saw himself as a Singer in the mould of Peter Gabriel on occasions.

TEJ:  That is a very strange mix.

G: So it was bizarre but it was an awful lot of fun and I was out there for about three months but when I came back everything folded in on itself and I didn’t have any work so I went back to stacking the shelves at Mark’s and Spencer’s in Kensington, I didn’t have enough money to pay the rent so my flat mate at the time Rob also went skint so we lost the flat and I had to move home with Mum and Dad it was a very intense time for me personally because I had lost everything.

TEJ:  It must have been hard because you would have felt as though you had worked hard and climbed the Ladder only to have been knocked to the bottom.

G: Absolutely

TEJ:  Which is natural for most people whilst some Sink on that others Swim and those that Swim survive and climb back up

G: Well the way that I got back on to it was that I found out about three auditions and in the mean time a friend of mine called Tommy Wilkinson who was working “ He now owns the Drum shop above my school called Tom’s Drum’s” But Tommy knew everybody in the industry and he had been in this society function band and he said “This will be good for you, but not forever” So I was given the opportunity to go and do an audition which I did and I was down to the last three, I thought it was a kind of step back at the time but I knew I had to pay the bills

TEJ: So you could describe it as swallowing a bit of pride?

G: Yeah, what had actually happened was I was up for three auditions. It was with Midge Ure, Alison Moyet and I think Go West as well because Tony Beard was talking about leaving Go West and they were looking for a drummer and I said I would love to and I knew Pete who was playing Keyboards in Go West so I thought I had a connection there but they found somebody almost as quick and so did Midge Ure so that left Alison Moyet and I was down to the last two and at that point I had shoulder length hair which was all sort of Bleach Blonde


G: And the guy said to me “You know man what do you think about cutting your hair”? I said you know what I was thinking about doing it any way. So I got my hair cut and I went to the next audition and he went NO!


G: So getting a haircut lost me a Gig!

G: But by that point I had told The Dark Blues which was the covers band that I wasn’t going to do it because I was into the last three for each one of those three gigs so that was kind of October it was a very hard Christmas with some serious head scratching as to what was I going to do and was I on the right path and I just had to realise that yes I was. The Dark Blues rang me up in January they said the drummer they had chosen was a Buddist (devout) who insisted on going to these meetings and there was a specific one in January the guy who ran The Dark Blues said, that’s not going to work so he rang me and said would you deputise the gig and I said Yeah of course , What he couldn’t get used to what the fact that I walked into the gig and apart from doing an Audition I had never played with them and I walked into a Gig and I nailed it from beginning to end and it was a Five hour gig which had started at 11pm and it finished at 4am in the Morning it was a Hunt Ball it was called the Puckeridge and Thurloe and it was kind of

TEJ: a Society

G: Yes a Society do! So I deputised that weekend and then Nigel came to me the week after and said that the other guy wasn’t working out would you consider doing it so I said yeah, So I went and did it and I was not allowed to deputise the gig and on the basis of me getting it because the other drummer had deputised it out I could kind of see where they were coming from. But it’s a long story the short version is I was asked to do a gig with Jackie Graham at Wembley but I had to turn it down on the basis of still keeping this Gig.

TEJ: It cannot of been an easy dilemma either take the Bread and Butter or the more Juicier of gigs and lose the Bread and Butter? It’s a bit of a price but then regular money is better than no money at all.

G: Which is what I’d always thought but I decided once I had got The Dark Blues because it was a reasonably well paid gig they were paying me a monthly salary which was worked on the basis of 120 gigs a year and if you went over that then you got paid extra. So that was kind of cool and I got that gig in 1987 so I went back and did two things, I went back to drum lessons with Bobby Armstrong and I went back to Kick boxing properly this time because I had sort of been in and out of it where I could afford it then I couldn’t so I was really into keeping my fitness up, strangely it was something that I had never considered as a necessity for playing drums but the truth of the matter is it worked out that I was so fit that I just didn’t notice it.

TEJ: I imagine that Kick Boxing and Drumming compliment each other!

G: Yeah! I continued with the Dark Blues until 2001 or 2002 so it was a good number of years I was with them about 15 or 16 years but the thing about it was I felt really seriously restricted and so I understand when at (Music) school if anybody actually wants to take time off they feel that they want to go and develop themselves I think it’s important but it’s also very scary because you want to maintain a level of professionalism and idealism.

TEJ: Well it seems to be a bit like Driving Lessons if you take a break or you cannot afford them for say a month you find yourself having to take two or three lessons just to get back in the swing of things.

G: Well with regard to the lessons the first time I tried to teach anybody was when I was 22 and it was really really basic and I realised how crap I was I also realised the limitations of my own ability after the China Crisis thing gave me a little bit of a name I did a drum clinic which was possibly the singular worst clinic anybody could have ever attended, it was just awful, I didn’t understand

TEJ: Well it wasn’t all that bad you did learn that you were not ready or prepared yet to do those things and you did learn something because you didn’t want to embarrass yourself again.

G: Oh yes absolutely I couldn’t agree more as far as this is all concerned with the Dark Blues the governor that ran them decided he was going to be off for two weeks around 1994 and I flew out that weekend to Portugal and we had six days and because I had brought one of those big round tom tom cases where you put those big round tom toms stacked on top of the other I filled it with Three snare drums and my double bass drum pedal as well as one or two other bits and pieces cowbells and the like and I flew out to Portugal to work with a band called The Delphins which translates as The Dolphins and they were huge.

G: Whilst I was there we did a Triple Album and because they (airline) lost my snares which had been sent to Pisa airport instead in Italy rather than Lisbon airport in Portugal the airline got them delivered to the studio but we had lost a day so we worked five days and we did 27 tracks, three of which never got used, one of which was me and the bass player, who was the producer, Jonathon Miller, we actually put a little groove together and had a little bit of fun, the rest of the band loved it so much they put it on the album and gave us credits for it which didn’t amount to much you know it’s just a couple of pounds a year but it was just nice.

TEJ: Well yes coupled with the experience of doing it and enjoying the opportunity afforded to you at the time plus you could attach it to your drumming CV.

G: Well that was a triple album and it came out and it did extraordinarily well and when I played in Lisbon last year (2010 on the Steve Hackett tour) and the singer came up to me like GARY! Oh my man

TEJ: About that Cheque…….. Laughter

G: it was really nice to see him and funnily enough the producer Jonathon (Miller) got in touch with me a couple of weeks ago (interview April 2011) through Facebook asking are you still doing albums and would you come and work with me again, I was like of course. So sometime in the Summer (2011) that’s going to happen I think there’s two albums he wants me to do.

G: But your original question centred around the idea that before I joined Steve Hackett that I didn’t do much travelling.

TEJ: Yes sadly it seems through some ignorance I didn’t do enough research

G: Well to be fair, I gained all my experience by going around and doing little things. It would be popping out to go and do a gig then coming back to do the relatively mundane stuff because it was so old hat to me and it was cover versions all over the place [Dark Blues] and we did a couple of things that were notable we did like the HRH Prince Charles 40th Birthday Party at Buckingham Palace.

TEJ: Which as you said, Phil Collins booked you. Moving on a little, how is it coming along with Steve’s new album sessions?

G: Well the parts that I have were four days in the studio which panned out to be three and a half days of just drums and a half day of backing vocals.

TEJ: I recently saw one of Steve’s Official Facebook staff’s photos from the sessions with your touring kit in the studio in a couple of the photos.

G: Yeah that kit was only there for four dates it was there Sunday and Monday this week and last week I know that Jo (Hackett) took a few photos for Steve’s official website whilst I was there.

Courtesy of HackettSongs

Gary’s Kit: Mapex Power Toms 8″ x8″ , 10″ x8″ , 12″ x10″, 13″ x12″ , 14″ x12″, 16″ x14″, an 18″ mounted bass drum single headed. Two 22″x18″ bass drums and a 14″ x6.5″ snare, which is a hand hammered bronze snare drum, six Octobans (Tama). Sabian cymbals: 18″ Evolution crash, 17″ HHXplosion crash, 17″ AAXplosion crash, 14″ Evolution hats, 10″ HHX Evolution splash, 12″ HHX Evolution splash, 22″ Raw bell dry ride, 20″ China, 18″ O Zone crash. Stands and stool are Mapex. Bass drum pedals are 2 x Iron Cobra’s. Sticks are Pro Mark SD9 Driver  (Copyright Hackettsongs)

TEJ: It seems like this year could be a year of exciting things to do.

G: I would like to do a few things. We have got quite an exciting year ahead of us. It’s possible that Steve’s new album will be mixed and ready as well as printed by September (2011) that’s if it’s finished by the end of this month (April 2011)

TEJ: Speaking on a musician based level, is there anything you have listened to recently that has changed the way in which you approach drumming, such as any new music or old music that you have discovered or rediscovered?

G: The way I tend to approach drums is that I have to think it terms of what’s musical for that song. I remember about two years ago a friend of mine giving me an album by a band called Dapp Theory, they are an American band and it is just a complete mix of different bits and pieces which are great songs played very well but it’s not all in 4/4 – it’s in odd times and bits and pieces that’s interesting because it sounds great musically. As a teacher I will actually go for things that are hard to do for me. Things that I can’t do, that will then have a knock on effect for me musically. I’ll see if I can get into the feel of a series of phrases like Gavin Harrison. He wrote two books, one called ‘Rhythmic Illusions’ and another one called ‘Rhythmic Perspectives’ and Gavin is the drummer with Porcupine Tree. He is also a mate of mine and I have known him since the mid ‘80’s and sometimes Gavin drops in. I think the last time he dropped in was just before Christmas they might have been doing The Royal Albert Hall he dropped in just to say hello as he had half an hour to spend and we had a chat. Steven Wilson obviously sat in with us on the last tour. I sort of look at people like Gavin and think what he has done musically and I think, ok, well it’s not about trying to play fast it’s actually about trying to play more musically now everything has pretty much been done, unless you start stepping out into that kind of realm you know if you take quarter notes, eighth notes, eighth note triplets, sixteenth notes sixteenth note triplets, or even thirty second notes – that has kind of been done. Thirty second notes is kind of how fast rolls tend to be played, but fives groups of five and groups of seven haven’t really been done.

G: So what we are finding now is that people are realising there are things, as far as time signatures are concerned, that can actually be used as little phrases a time signature of five actually has the same feel as a five note grouping or as a quintuplet. It depends on your perspective and musically your perspective is defined by where that pulse is if it’s like (Describes out loud how to count a five note grouping) that’s four pulses five notes apart but counting in sixteenth notes so in 5/4 so if I go in 4/4 (describes aloud how to count a four note grouping) if I then try and find a phrase, that has got a different feel so if I continue (he demonstrates some more) that’s Five in the hand and two in the foot that’s Poly rhythm’s going on.
So thinking in terms of how can that polyrhythm work in a scenario is really when I would start to push myself, as I start to write my own album that’s the kind of thing that actually makes me critical. It makes me think am I developing as a player if I actually go down that route. It’s a very interesting question.

TEJ: Yeah, and it helps you get that personal sound.

G: You know as well being a musician you don’t go with a predetermined thought that says I’m just going to play this if you want to find out something if you go and play with the band and you play an eighth note groove it will work but if you want to go and make it a little but more interesting you might put a fill in there somewhere if you want to make it challenging you might put in some kind of poly rhythm (Gary demonstrates verbally how you would start out with an eighth note beat and then how you could make it interesting). It changes the fundamental feel of the whole thing so you have to think laterally that’s kind of what I do I try and think about OK that is where it would develop people like Billy Cobham or Buddy Rich have actually stoked my imagination in the beginning but people like Gavin who doesn’t think in terms of playing just faster although he has got some speed there boy! He is for me like a Market leader and he is somebody that we look up to as Drummers and musicians because he is not just a drummer he’s actually got a good head on him that tries to analyse were everything is. He is a Musician!

Talking further with Gary about his take on drumming

G: Once you get to around 1980 your looking at people like Gary Chaffee wrote four books The Patterns Series which was adopted by The Berkeley School of Music then all of a sudden it started to really expand people’s knowledge because it was really all in development and so even though I was going to some good teachers before I went to Bobby Armstrong they didn’t really show me anything about technique they would say this is all the information we have got and this is what you need to do. But then they wouldn’t say well you can take a Paradiddle and you can put it around the drum set so once I get students coming in and I start to impart that knowledge and there like Oh! But these days because of Youtube is so accessible they can usually find different people on there trying to sell themselves or it as their own school or as their own set of ideas it just means it’s easier to access all of that info.

TEJ: Can you now tell us about forming your drum school?

G: I started teaching from my flat, Tony Beard was a great drummer who went to the States and he rang me up one day he said “Gal I’m going to the (United) states would you look after my flat” and sort of seventeen years later he was still out there in New York working with everybody. But I would teach from the flat in Essex Road Islington I was doing a bit of that and then I joined Drum Tech I was always thinking about what was new what I was I missing and so I was trying to gather all this info I would have people telling me “Gal your good enough you don’t need to worry about practicing all that stuff” I would be like “Yeah yeah” and I would still go home and do my practice and I made sure I would do a couple of hours a day and I still do!

G: But sometimes occasionally I miss it these days for a variety of reasons probably more to do with administration at school or necessity and needs of the family. Generally speaking I started to develop and I then had to move from my flat because it was being refurbished which is a whole other and lengthy story so effectively I was made homeless for about Six months a mate of mine took pity on me and he took me in and he said I got a spare room and you can stay there then some other friends who owned a pub, because I was teaching this girl, they said we’ve got a room upstairs that you can teach from there it was just incredible so I moved my kit and all of my stuff like that up there and I started teaching from this pub until I got back into the flat and then I thought I really need to have a premises and it was around about 2003 that I went into the West End I had spotted that a new rehearsal studio called Enterprise studios had opened up in Denmark Place so I went and approached the guy and I said I’ll teach from here and I’ll bring students in and that will help everybody and if anybody needs drum lessons from the rehearsal studios I’m the boy! And he went yeah fine!

G: So I would do Monday through to Saturday and I would turn up and the studios would open at a quarter to ten I had a pack and roll that I would take from the storage point and bring into the studio that I was using and I would set up and then teach all day I’d finish at five to seven so that I could actually pack and roll everything down and take it out. I did that for about eighteen months and then they offered me a room which all my stuff could stay in and then another little room beside it from which we started teaching guitar and eventually I was told that the whole block was going to be knocked down by the council so I had about eighteen months to find somewhere else to teach from. At that point I was told that the owner of a guitar store which was on St Giles high street was going to be taking over a premises which was Argent’s store on Denmark Street

TEJ: The famous Denmark Street

G: I was asked would I want to take the basement although it needed a little work, did it hell it cost me thousands to refurbish it so I went in and did it I was there from seven o’clock in the morning to let the builders in because they couldn’t walk through the shop all day I got all of the crap from there and tore down the ceilings and pulled down walls in the sense of partioning walls to clean everything up and then I had to put in Drywall and carpets on the wall to try and sound proof it and all kinds of rockwool in the ceiling between the joists to try and cut down the bleed of sound but it’s not enough and it never will be and so since 2003 I have been in the West End and the school has been in the shop since 2007 it’s been ok and it was doing great and it was starting to really get to the next level then they decided to knock down the Astoria and that took around Eight thousand people that were in local business’s away from the area so that stopped a lot of footfall from walking down Denmark Street.

TEJ: Gary how did become an endorsee with Mapex?

G: At one point I asked Pearl to help and they said they were not interested, I asked Premier, and when I told the guy exactly what I wanted he laughed. I thought he was disrespectful and looked elsewhere.
I was told about Mapex drums, I had taught a lady that had her own set, which was a nice kit. So I got the details and called [Mapex] and asked if I might get a trade deal. Very direct, they were growing the company so they said yes.
Guess I was lucky to make the right call at the right time. On the advice of Royston who worked at Professional Percussion in Kentish Town!

Gary also confirmed that he uses Pro Mark sticks and Sabian Cymbals.

Sadly with that interesting gem, time had ran out!

Here are some interesting links!

Gary’s own school of music

Gary on the Offical Mapex page

Gary plays drums and percussion for Steve Hackett

The Facebook page for The Carpathian Inflammable Shadow Puppet Orchestra of which Gary is a member and Drummer.

We also want to thank Lee Millward for the Featured Image

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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