The Hamsters — Visit Alan 's website
The Hamsters; as big as you can get without getting big.
Whilst I didn't actually come up with that one myself, it certainly captures the vibe surrounding blues-rock band The Hamsters.
Now in their 22nd year, the band has built up a loyal following all over the country and Europe, with a mailing list currently standing at the 20,000 mark. Almost permanently on tour, they have managed to play over 3,000 gigs together since they began and the man behind the kit and indeed many other aspects of the band is drummer Alan Parish.
A professional drummer for nearly 32 years, Alan has spent the bulk of his time playing in one band, carving a successful career playing for appreciative fans without any of the trappings and notoriety of ‘stardom'. Here Alan shares some insight into his career and background, which will show that you can indeed ‘make it' as a working drummer without doing endless amounts of sessions or being away from home for months on end.
DB: When, where and how did you first start?
AP: I was actually inspired to start playing by some people that my mother and father knew and they ran a little grocery store. My mum worked in the grocery store and my dad, because he was a shop fitter, he actually built some shop fittings for the store as well and they had a son…erm, Mr. And Mrs. Trout believe it or not and they had a son called Peter Trout. This must have been about 1963, I think, maybe 1962 and Peter started playing the drums. He was about four years older than me and he went to Max Abrams for lessons and he was an amazing player. I mean, I know everything probably always seems better with rose-tinted glasses, but he really was an amazing player: He could read fly shit and he started playing for… he did some gigs I think with Alvin Stardust, that's how long ago it was, when he was called Shane Fenton, and Peter was the one who started me. I just saw the drums and saw him play and that was it, I wanted to play. I'd love to meet him again. He went to America and he was playing jazz and I'm determined to try and get in contact with him because I think from what I remember, he was such a player and going to Max Abrams, he was no slouch because Max was the top teacher at the time. So, he was the guy, he was the one. I also had some lessons with Francis Seriau at Drumtech in London.
DB: What were you doing prior to the Hamsters?
AP: …on the verge of packing it all in. I'd turned professional in 1978 when I was just over 26 years old, so it was quite late for me, but I wanted to turn professional. I'd played in various bands and I played in a Mecca band called Whisky Mack with Andy who is the bass player of The Hamsters now and he was playing guitar at the time. I did that, then Andy and I sort of broke away from that and formed our own original band, which everybody does, but it was really the wrong place at the wrong time because punk was just starting to come through and we couldn't get a handle on that – I still can't; it was totally alien to me. I went through various things; did sessions and played with little bands and eventually I went to work for a company in London where I did all the overhauling and tuning of all the percussion that they hired out – all sorts of percussion, glockenspiels, everything and I'd been playing on and off with various bands, but to be honest I got to the point where I was fed up with it because it's the usual thing with a lot of bands, where people don't turn up for rehearsals, or they don't know what they're doing or it's all a bit … and I'd really got to the point where I thought, ‘now I think it's about time I call it a day', because I've never played anything unless I've enjoyed it. I think that's rule number one without any shadow of a doubt. I'd virtually given up, and it was just a fluke meeting with Barry (guitar) who said let's try and do something because he'd had a band called The Hamsters a few years previously and he'd come back from London, he'd been up there and it was like, ‘Ok, we'll just do something for a laugh', so it started from that.
DB: As far as drummers are concerned, who were you influences when you started and who are they now?
AP: Ha, long list! When I started, people like Sandy Nelson, Gene Krupa, the guy who played in the Glen Miller orchestra and I can't think what his name is, because my dad used to like listening to a lot of Glen Miller stuff; early Buddy Rich, although at the time I didn't know I was listening to early Buddy Rich because my dad had some albums by, I think it was Tommy Dorsey and he'd got a record of Buddy Rich and Frank Sinatra singing - he was the singer in the band. In the end, they didn't get on they ended up having a row and Buddy Rich threw something at him, but that was that. When we got into the pop era which was when I really started wanting to be in a group, that was the main focus, it wasn't…well, I wanted to play the drums, but the important thing was I wanted to be in a group and one that springs to mind is Bobby Elliott from The Hollies who still is a fantastic player and in those days, one of the few who could really play. Obviously Ringo, you know, goes without saying; Bob Henrit, who, I believe if I'm not mistaken, was the original drummer of The Roulettes, Adam Faith's band and then also went on to Unit Four Plus Two and then after that, went on to Argent. He's a lovely guy, great player, and then moving on from there I suppose like everyone else; Gadd, Porcaro, who else? All those sort of guys. I've never been wild about really ‘fidgety' players, I've always liked guys that laid a groove down: Vinnie Colaiuta, for me, is probably the most gifted all-round player I think. I've got to say that. It's difficult to be an all-round player, you know, people who can cover all the bases, but I think Vinnie Colaiuta is. But there are great guys, Jim Keltner, who else? Richie Heywood out of Little Feat, I mean, he's a great player and there's a guy who plays a great shuffle, he's John Mayall's drummer, a guy called Joe Yuele. I've met Joe a couple of times and he plays a shuffle like it should really be played, you can't get a fag paper between the dotted notes. Instead of it going ‘dah-de-dah-de-dah', he plays, 'de-da-de-da-de-da' and he makes it bounce. He's a lovely guy as well, great player and there are lots of guys around nowadays who are great players: Larry Tolfree, Elkie Brooks' drummer, Mike… I think it's Anderson, I'm not sure, but Mike's a great player. But there's loads: I mean, I like a lot of the old big band drummers; they were great. Buddy Rich obviously, and my teacher as well, Frank King, god bless him, who died a long time ago. Frank was a great all-round player. He could play the shit out of anything: he could play swing bands, jazz; he could play funk and he could play it really, really authentically as well. Frank was the one who did all the Burt Hayes things on Crackerjack. Frank did all that. He used to play for Burt Hayes and he played on all that and also things at Buckingham Palace, Windsor and all that, but Frank was a great player. He really was. Phil Collins went to him for a while, so did Bill Bruford. So Frank was a superb player, but yeah, I mean there are probably loads of others that I've seen and forgotten, but all those guys.
DB: You're known for doing the Hendrix and ZZ Top covers, how do you approach learning the songs? Do you go all out to learn the drum part completely, or do you just learn the song and play your interpretation of it?
AP: I think in nearly every case, we've learnt the song and I think it goes the same for the other guys as well, although obviously with the melody instruments with the bass and the guitar there's certain links to be played, as there are with the drums with certain things as well, but what I think we've tried to do is play it in the spirit of Hendrix but we haven't dogmatically copied it. I can't play like Mitch Mitchell, I'm not out of my face all the time either and they were you know, it's a common known fact. I think the frightening thing about them was, when they put in a good performance, it was stunning, but a lot of the time, the performances probably weren't as good. And it wasn't only that, they were working so hard… I've got a book at home, I think it was written by Mitch Mitchell that lists the gig schedule for the Jimi Hendrix Experience when he had his first single and it's frightening, it's absolutely frightening. They'd go into a studio and have an hour's recording, then they'd be in the van and they'd be off gigging somewhere.
It's the same with ZZ Top, we try and get the feel of it and obviously you play the songs as much as you can, but I certainly couldn't slavishly copy Mitch Mitchell anyway because Mitch had a style all of his own and in a way, I wouldn't want to do that. It's not a cop-out as such, but I just wouldn't want to do that. The band has sort of formed it's own identity with those songs and it's much the same with the ZZ thing and with that, it's the same sort of thing; we try and play it in the spirit of ZZ Top and basically if people waggle their arse to it and tap they're foot, then that's job done. So there you go.
DB: What goes through your mind when you're on stage?
AP: [after some laughter] The last thing that goes through my mind is what I'm playing… I don't know really. Sometimes you're thinking about things you've got to do tomorrow, band business occasionally, what the audience is like… the worst thing I think, and I've spoken to other musicians and they find the same thing and Andy does as well, occasionally you'll catch the eye of someone in the audience who is looking completely and utterly bored and if the wind is in the right direction, suddenly you are fixated with these people and then, you start thinking about what you are doing and the minute you start thinking about what you're doing, game over. It's like if you're driving a car, you drive a car automatically, but if you start thinking about driving a car you'll probably hit something and it's much the same. So when I'm playing, not a lot really, no.
Perhaps thinking about the next number that's coming up although I don't really know it because Slim (Barry) writes the set out and he'll just shout them out. There may be one or two where he'll say we'll probably do this tonight, but that's only so I can change mini disks to get the right track if we've got some keyboards or things on a disk, but no, not a lot really. In fact, it's the only time I can have a rest mentally; it's quite nice.
DB: What would a typical week entail for you?
AP: Say we've got a three-day gig week, generally I suppose that would be Thursday, Friday, Saturday, so we'll start at Sunday.
Sunday, day off: I try not to do a lot on Sundays, but generally I just pull the money together from the previous night, get the banking sorted out, stuff like that. Monday, do the banking; if it's the end of the month, try and pull the VAT together, taking off any mail order, ordering any mail order stuff that we might need – t-shirts, cds and things and then hopefully Tuesday would be a free day so I get to spend a bit of time with my wife. Wednesday, if we're working Thursday, Wednesday is a fairly free day but then I'm probably just checking the van and seeing what's going on there and then it's Thursday morning, into the van and off we go. That's generally about the gist of it really.
This time of year (December) it gets more manic because luckily we've got a lot of mail order coming in, so that's good, but it means you've got to process that, people want the stuff for Christmas and generally we're working harder as well. That's about it really.
DB: Obviously, Barry and Andy get most of the attention because they're up front, but you do come out and play bass for the last song. I was curious as to how that started.
AP: If I'm right I think it was Dougie, our roadie and driver who suggested it. The guys got transmitters on their guitars and that was the start of it. They would go walking in the audience at the last number and then Dougie said why don't you all change over and you know… So we thought about it, and Barry used to play the drums anyway: it's not rocket science by any stretch, it's three notes for me on the bass, but it seems to entertain people and we can't not do it now.
One night I think we didn't do it and a bloke came up to me afterwards and said ‘I brought my mate 200 miles for you to do that and you didn't do it'. It's entertainment that's what it's about and it just gives me a chance to get out and try and intimidate the audience a bit - play a silly pratt. I think people enjoy it. That's how it came about, it was just a chance remark by Douglas and there we were, we had a crack at it and thought ‘Yeah, this'll work', so there you go.
DB: You don't play bass other than that?
AP: No, absolutely not [laughs] and so all the bass players of this world can rest easy.