The first album I bought was ‘Dirk wears white sox’ by Adam and the ants.
A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting up with Dave Barbarossa who played on that record and lots of others since. He kindly agreed to answer some questions for fun.
He’s just written his first novel and has some cool drum projects on the horizon. So it’s my pleasure to introduce Dave Barbarossa…
Dave…At what age did you start drumming? What was the first kit/drum you were given?
Can’t be sure, because it was a while ago, ha ha, I started at around 15. I bought my first kit for about £50 00 in Archer Street in Soho, the showroom/factory was next to a brothel. I’m pretty sure it was a very rickety old Hayman, silver, it was.
What were your early drumming days like?
I practised on the sofa to Roxy and Bowie on TOTP’s, one leg tucked under, the arm rest as a snare and the seat back as my hi hat. It was the way their arms crossed over that intrigued me, I think.
What was the first kit you bought with your own money and why did you buy it? Where is it now?
It is probably a chipboard cupboard somewhere in Cumbria, the fixtures are cat food tins and bits of mobile phones. I bought my first kit with the money I earned as a ‘messenger boy’ when I was 15.
Which drummers did you listen to growing up? Who influenced your style the most?
I was influenced by ‘records’ rather than players. I listened to a wide variety – I grew up with Latin at home (my old man’s fav), soul and reggae in Hackney and later, the ‘pop’ music of the 70’s.
And now, who are your top three drummers? Not based on technical merit, but you’re personal 3 favourites? (they may not even be famous)
Wow…a ‘Sophie’s choice’ question. So many, many great drummers, aren’t there? As I sit here and type, I’ll be completely spontaneous and say, Charlie Watts for his amazing solidity and tightness in such a lose great band, Billy Cobham because of his absurd ability but, for me, the most soulful and heroic is John Bonham.
Right, let’s talk drums…
Back to the beginning; what kit did you play in the early Ants days? What was your set up?
Blimey, I’ll have to look at the pics. A ‘Pearl’ it was; one rack (maybe two at some stage?) a floor tom, two crashes and a ride.
You went onto Bow Wow Wow and the ‘tribal’ drum sound epitomised your style. How did that sound come about and how did it develop with your playing? (I know Adam reckons he had this drum sound nicked by McLaren, you don’t have to discuss that if you don’t want to, or you can put the record straight, whatever!)
I’m sure Adam would never say that. Anyway, I was the drummer in his band….So, Malcolm gave me (and the other lads in the band) music from all around the world to listen to; jazz, folk, pop, rock and roll, classical, African, latin – untold obscure stuff. But still, I couldn’t give him the sound he wanted…or was dreaming of. And here is a moment of genius from him, in a rage at my ineptitude, he stormed over, picked up my snare and hi hat and the literally hurled them at the wall. I had to sink or swim, snivel and go home or stand up and be counted. I just fell back into my afro/latin roots and produced that very strange trick I have.
Tell us a bit about this period; managed by Malcolm McLaren, clothes by Vivienne Westwood, doing lots of tv, touring the world….
A complete dream. A brilliant four years doing all the things any young man could ever want. That’s all I’ll say.
You played North/Staccato drums for a while, I notice in the videos. They looked pretty far out, What were they like to play?
Ah yeah, the fat man’s trousers, they went bing bong bing, like the others. I don’t think my tech was delighted – I believe they weighed a fair bit.
Timbales became a prominent part of your set up, something I notice you still use today. Tell us about that
I just love the feel and response they give, they make me feel exotic, (even in the winter). I hit them and they play themselves.
Fast forward to the mid nineties and you were playing dance/pop music in Republica; and following that Chicane. What was your kit set up then (sizes/make/head choice) any electronics/triggers running? Was it limiting playing live to clicks and beats or liberating being able to give the songs more of an edge live?
I had a regular set up in Republica and an electronic kit in Chicane. I really enjoyed the discipline of playing other peoples music to a click track. The fact that your timing had to be faultless was a challenge I relished. It was a really good thing to have done on a ‘professional’ level. Not the most creative though but, you can’t have it all.
Your still gigging now, currently playing in ‘Scant Regard’; has your kit set up changed much since ‘the beginning’ ?
I’ve returned to the BWW set up for ‘CAULDRONATED’ my current solo thing. Two timbales, a rack tom and a floor. (www.barbarossa beat.com)
What about vintage gear? Have you got any nice kits tucked away?
I have some old bits in the loft but I ain’t going up that ladder in this weather. Love the stuff you do, mate. So very classic and evocative.
Thanks Dave. You’ve played with lots of other people over the years, both studio and live. Have you got a collection of snares?
Nope. I always go for a Ludwig Black Beauty. I know them. I don’t want to be messing about with tuning and mechanisms, I just want to play them.
What’s your ‘go to’ snare drum in the studio that always gets the job done?
And your favourite live snare?
I refer the honourable gentleman…
You’ve done what a lot of musicians dream of; played on lots of records, toured the world, played huge venues and festivals etc. What advice would you give to young players looking to have a career in music, either in a band or doing session work?
Love what you do, have a passion and respect but, not too much respect that you can’t ‘rip it up and start again’. Massively important that you keep an open mind – a conservative drummer is an accountant.
Could you share with us one moment from your career so far that is your defining moment, or your favourite memory.
I got a lot of those and a shit memory. But once, in Republica, the adverts were counting down on the Jay Leno show. Knowing that I was going to play live (to click) to squillions of Americans and I couldn’t fuck up, was a real bottle job. Got it done though.
And what track best represents you and your playing? What drum track sums up Dave Barbarossa?
I can say with confidence that there isn’t one. This pleases me. It also is part of the advice I’d give to someone starting. You can always do better, play better, feel more on the next choon.
The present. You’ve just written your autobiography ‘Mud Sharks’. You’ve got some ‘drum projects’ in the pipeline… can you share a bit about these?
I’ve written a novel, not an autobiography. I’m very proud of it, staggered by how well it has done. I have a new drumtastic project called ‘CAULDRONATED’ a blend of tribal trouble with a mysterious Italian drummer/vocalist…
Cool. Right some quick questions for fun….
Snare drum – metal or wood?
metal, I think. I think you need to very good to play a wooden one.
Your house is on fire, you can grab one drum – which one?
The one with a fire blanket in it.
Phone rings, you’ve got ½ hour to throw a kit in the car and do a dep gig.. what’s your ‘go to’ kit?
My Sonor signature.
If you could own any drum kit, what would it be?
I’m ok with the one I’ve got.
First record you bought?
‘Pyjamarama’ Roxy Music
Best story you’ve heard/read about yourself?
I’d be a bit of a big head if I knew that.
Animal or Buddy Rich?
Famous last words?
Thank you and goodnight
For more info on Dave, his discography, his music, his current pojects check out www.barbarossabeat.com
To buy his novel ‘Mud Sharks’ try here