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Danny Farrant

Interview by Rich "Doc Spoons" Spooner // April 02 2011
Danny Farrant

If I’m truly honest, I think there’s a lot to be said for just blindly stumbling forward into paths that excite you with an unflappable air of self belief that stops just short of arrogance.

As a young musician I listened to a wide variety of music and had many favorite bands, but few equaled the raw power and passion of Buzzcocks, an iconic British punk band who went on to influence many of the next generation of British musical trendsetters. I was thrilled to catch up with their current drummer, Danny Farrant, and, despite a heavy tour schedule, winter weather, and being stranded in Paris, we still managed to bag a great interview. Enjoy! 

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The Buzzcocks are an iconic British punk band, Danny, and I suspect that some of our readers are familiar with your work—but equally some won’t be. Can you tell us a little about the band? 

Well, along with bands like Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Clash, and Souixie and the Banshees, Buzzcocks were one of the bands to emerge in the first wave of English punk rock back in 1976. Originally from Manchester the band is thought of as the granddaddies of the Manchester music scene, influencing bands like Joy Division, The Smiths, The Stone Roses and Oasis. The first EP Spiral Scratch was the original indie release, being pressed with a 500 quid loan from family members. Buzzcocks then went on to major deals and hit singles, the track “Ever Fallen in Love” being the one that most people know and love. The most successful album, Singles Going Steady, is like a best of containing hit after hit, a testament to the strength of the band’s writing abilities and great original playing. Great production as well, by the way. 

Proper members of British music aristocracy for sure. So how did you get the gig, Danny? 

I joined the band in April 2006 after a friend of mine overheard a conversation in a pub containing the words “Buzzcocks are looking for a drummer.” He called me to tell me but hadn’t got any numbers or anything, so I made a few calls and tracked down Tony Barber, who then was the bass player, and fixed myself up with an audition. I did the audition on Monday, got the call Tuesday, rehearsed Wednesday and Thursday, then straight after the rehearsal on Thursday got on the bus for the start of a seven-month world tour. Here I am nearly five years later still touring hard with the band and about to start on the first new studio album since joining. 

Wow, a proper baptism of fire then! Did you find it easy fitting into such a well-established outfit?

Fitting into the band was easy as soon as I realized that everybody sat in the same seat on the bus and had done for the last 15 years or more. To be honest, Buzzcocks is definitely not for the faint hearted. There’s a heavy touring schedule and a tough work ethic involved, with plenty of travelling at all kinds of day and night. Any band who spends this amount of time in close proximity to each other will have those "tired and emotional" moments, but I don’t find it hard negotiating my way through these kind of things, so it’s not a problem.

Fortunately I like meeting and getting to know new people and I have a very robust personality, so I just pitch in and enjoy the challenge. Although having said that, the time I had beef stroganoff and noodles thrown over me by a pissed up band member on the third day of my first tour was a bit of an eye opener. I guess it helped ease me in to the well-oiled machine that is Buzzcocks on the road. 

Not many things can prepare you for that kind of experience. So did you have a traditional musical education or did you go your own way, so to speak? 

I’d say that I made my own way within what you might call a traditional musical education. For example, my parents spotted my interest in music from a very early age and found me a piano teacher. However I never did any of the practice I was meant to do; I just sat at the piano and experimented. I still do now. I taught myself to play by ear and could play Beatles’ songs by ear by the age of ten, and that was nothing to do with whatever anybody was trying to give me as formal musical education. Basically my attitude now is the same as it was then. I like to try to play and get involved with the music I listen to. I learnt to play punk rock drums when I was ten years old because I heard it from one of the big boys down the road and on the radio (from John Peel under the covers late at night—a cliché, yet true). Something in it resonated with me so I just did it, and it turns out later that I learned a whole language of drumming without really thinking about it. I would say that what has been of the most value was to follow my instincts through listening, listening, listening. My rudiments are terrible and I still can’t read music very well, even though I took grades and studied at the Royal Academy of Music. Mind you, I hung out with cool people and jammed at the drop of a hat whenever I could and picked up skills that I probably take for granted. 

Who or what were, and are, your own personal influences as a drummer? 

I’m what you might call a dipper-in-er. I’m constantly listening to music and absorbing new things. If there’s music on then I can’t concentrate on anything else (much to my girlfriend’s annoyance) whether I’m in the car, watching telly, out at a restaurant or whatever it is I’m doing. I really believe that this is where most of my influences come from. I’ve never had a drum hero and the closest I would say I’ve come to being a fan of any band would be going back to those first days of listening to punk rock and playing my singles collection over and over.

But there have definitely been some musicians and drummers that I’ve admired along the way, which I guess I’ve wished to have a bit of what they have in my playing. It probably starts with either punk or jazz (Dad was a sax player and introduced me to that music really early on.) I’d say Paul Cook, Rat Scabies, Budgie, Topper, Jimmy Reilly or Brian Fallon from Stiff Little fingers, The Beat, The Specials, The Selector, early UB40, Miles Davis, Philly Joe Jones, Buddy Rich, Stan Getz, Oscar Peterson, Errol Garner, the music of Steve Reich, Glen Gould, Phil Rudd and AC/DC, Neil Conti and the music of Prefab Sprout. Stewart Copeland, I suppose, although nowadays I would never listen to The Police. Charlie Watts, Gilson Levis and early Squeeze, Elvis Costello (Pete Thomas, what a drummer!) Dmitri Shostakovich, Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” BB King, Bob Dylan, and at the moment, T.Rex. I know this is a long list but I reckon it’s best to absorb a little of what you like from everyone rather than becoming obsessed with one person or thing and becoming a clone. Clones are always boring. It’s far better to strive for originality and to find things that come from inside you to express as musical ideas. Oh, I love Stevie Wonder’s drumming by the way—really instinctive, tasteful, but exciting, almost like he wrote the songs himself or something. (laughs

That’s an extensive list, Danny! After having a look at some of your teaching videos on YouTube, you project a great no-nonsense approach. The video is really nicely edited and the soundtrack and visuals are both superb. Is this something you intend to turn into a series or DVD and book package? 

Well, thanks for your positive comments and encouragement on that one. I must say that means a lot to me ‘cause I put a lot into my teaching and am really into it. It started by accident at school when a couple of mates wanted me to show ‘em some beats (one was a total mod and loved Keith Moon—being a punk, of course I hadn’t even heard of him!) then the school drum teacher asked me if I could teach two kids that he didn’t have time for, so that was me in at the deep end. I started doing the video thing as a kind of reaction I guess to all those useless YouTube videos that go on and on and on without ever showing you anything useful or those overcomplicated supposed instruction videos where some bloke shows off for hours with a load of clever licks and never actually teaches you anything. I’m a great believer in simplicity. Why play two notes if it can be done with one? Maybe I’m just lazy but it goes back to the old saying "less is more." Lots of people say it, but not enough practice it. I constantly find myself saying “too many notes, not enough music,” so it kind of seemed right to get off my ass and see if I could come up with something that did the job and shows beginners what they really need to get started on drums and get to the nitty gritty of what’s important—learning to play with other musicians and to hit the drums confidently, with good time. I’m working on more at the moment and am even thinking about turning it into an app. That’d be really cool. Let’s encourage kids to play real drums instead of those plastic things you get with rock band or guitar hero, eh!  

I think that just by reading this interview people will get a flavour of the enthusiasm you have for music and drumming. What is it that you enjoy most about your job? 

Well, I guess my job is a kind of a three-pronged attack which encompasses performing, teaching, plus composing, and each part has its own enjoyable elements. For example, when I’m performing I get to travel loads and that takes me to different countries where I get to experience things from new cultures. Most recently we had shows in China, so I got to meet people and eat great food and play to a whole different crowd of fans, but the thing I remember most was discovering an ancient garden in the middle of a really tacky shopping area that we were visiting. It was so beautifully put together and thought out with Koi carp, pergolas and even a tea tasting ceremony. So many cities we visit are sadly so globalised that seeing anything traditional and indigenous is a real treat. The garden was a real insight into the history and mindset of a traditional China, which seems to be fading fast in the quest to become westernized big players on the global stage. Also it was a great opportunity to see the care and attention to detail that the ancient Chinese took in creating such a place of aesthetic beauty.

Teaching is great because I’m constantly being challenged in so many ways. Teaching young kids and beginners means I have to adapt the language I use in order to make it understandable to someone who isn’t yet fluent in drummer vocabulary. Also I’ve tried really hard to find ways of expressing things in the positive rather that the negative. For example "stay in time" instead of "don’t speed up" or "strike the drum in the centre" rather than "don’t let your stick hit the edge." It may sound simple but we tend to repeat key phrases over and over when teaching, and I like to keep them positive and as encouraging as possible. It’s also tremendous to be constantly working with students who are as passionate about music and drums as I am. There’s an added bonus too in that because they are younger than me and have more time to listen to what’s new and happening in music, they keep me informed. One of my students recently wanted to learn tracks off the first Bombay Bicycle Club album, so I get to make discoveries that I otherwise wouldn’t have.

Composing is another part of what I do and throws up different delights. In a way I guess it’s the most rewarding, although that could be because it’s what I do least of. I recently composed a library piece, which ended up sounding like a fairground organ after taking a s*** load of acid. I composed it with my mate Paul who I used to play in Boy Cried Wolf with. We ended up overdubbing 10 giant kazoos and filling thirty glass bottles with water to get different pitches, and even though it was tedious and took ages, I think we came up with something really creative, fun and organic sounding. I hate sample CDs and try to keep everything sounding as human and loose as possible. 

You travel and play all over the world with the band. How do you keep in shape and on top of your game? 

The truth is, I don’t. I probably should, but I just don’t. I’m a music and rock ‘n’ roll fanatic not a fitness freak. Each hotel we’re in always has great gyms and swimming pools, but if I do all that stuff on the day of a show then I’m just too relaxed to go out and thrash the drums with the right attitude. To be honest I’m actually a believer in conserving energy in order to unleash it at the right moment. Interestingly enough I found myself having a milkshake with Matt Cameron whilst we were both in Washington recently (as you do!) and the subject of drummer aches and pains came up. He told me he used to go to the gym everyday on the road in order to strengthen his back (he was having some back troubles) but realized he was overdoing it, so stopped. Truth is that when you’re on the road playing a heavy punk rock show night after night then you’re already doing one workout a day, why do more? I do try to do warm-ups, though. That really helps. Nothing major, just some stretches that I came across by accident that Robin Guy had posted on YouTube. I tell you, that’s the kind of stuff kids should be learning—proper info from a guy that’s out there doing it on the road for real, day in day out. There really is no substitute for experience, so I can’t say what is right for anyone else. I just know what works for me because I’ve been lucky to have played with some guys that seem to like getting out on the road and playing their balls off. 

So what are some other top tips for touring? 

I reckon every musician has to find his or her way of getting through the trials of being on the road and touring. My routines and habits have really changed a lot over the years and I guess with time and experience you figure out what works and what doesn’t. I used to drink a lot and get up to all kinds of mischief, possibly to the detriment of the performance at times. I’ve toned down my behavior as the years have gone by because at the end of the day, I’m out there to do a job and I take a lot of pride in being as good as I possibly can for the show each night. I never drink before a show, only after when the job is done, and even then in moderation, otherwise my muscles turn to s*** on a long tour and I don’t have the power I need to get through punk rock at 170 bpm plus for an hour and a half. I’m afraid to say that my wild man of rock ‘n’ roll days are behind me, although I’m happier doing what I do now than before in a much more settled way and that reflects in my playing and performance. 

I read a quote saying that when you joined the band you learned most of the current repertoire in two days. Is this true and how did you commit that volume of information to memory? 

At the risk of sounding like a Craig David song, this is what happened. I did the audition on Monday, got the call to say I got the job on Tuesday, rehearsed Wednesday and Thursday, left for Germany on Thursday night and did the first show of what pretty much turned out to be a seven-month world tour on Friday. I learnt 35 songs in 5 days. Two of those days were rehearsals (albeit very short and with one band member missing). I have to say that the first gig in Bochum was fantastic, but at the next night in front of a packed house in Hamburg I totally sucked. In order to learn all that material in such a short space of time I use a method that I’ve been using for the best part of twenty years. I chart everything as quickly as I can in rough form making sure I get any key musical ideas down, Identify the hard bits then listen, listen, listen. My method has refined itself over the years but to be honest has developed in the way it has because I never seem to get enough time to sit back, relax and take time over learning stuff. I’ve been showing it to my students lately, as I’ve been whoring myself playing with a singer called Marty Shtrubel. Obviously being so busy I needed to learn his stuff at short notice so did it with my students to show ‘em how we do it in the real world. They love it. I’m hoping to post a YouTube video showing how to do it soon so by the time this interview goes to press it should be up. If any readers want to see it they can go to my website and find details. It works, believe me! 

What would you say are the highlights of your career to date? 

I have to say that I’m exceptionally proud of having been involved in recording Morning Star with Spear of Destiny. It really was a great lineup and everything we did was great fun. I love listening to that album and it’s full of dark, broody and tribal moments. It was also such a laugh to record. Also I’m really proud of what I did on Grand National’s album A Drink and a Quick Decision. Totally different to be setting up shed loads of drums including roto toms and octobahns, 5 pairs of hats and 14 snares, just doing pass after pass of freeform stuff then letting Rupert, the producer, sift through all the takes and turn it into something really cool and groovy. I knew all that gear would come in handy some day. I have to say though I did have a moment near the end of the first major tour with Buzzcocks. We were playing Sydney, and as I came around a corner and caught sight of the opera house I just thought, Wow I’m on the other side of the world and I’m here because of my drumming. That is completely what I dreamed of all the way along and I made it happen. That felt like a moment where I kind of realized I must know what I’m doing at least to some extent otherwise I wouldn’t have been there. After I dried my eyes and finished my little internal acceptance speech, however, the moment passed and I thought to myself, Get over yourself, Farrant, it’s not like you composed something they’re performing in the Opera house or anything, and my feet came straight back down to Earth with a large bang, which is no bad thing. 

What kind of qualities do you think a young musician needs to bring to the table to work successfully at a career in music, aside from the obvious drumming ability? 

I think there is a delicate balance to be struck between a kind of tough resilience and an artist’s sensitivity. You have to be strong both mentally and physically. You have to be able to ride the knocks and become a musician with a good enough reputation to forge a career in today’s music scene. You have to be really proactive and make sure that you’re making things happen for yourself by getting out there as much as possible and being passionate and absorbed in whatever you’re doing. But most of all you have to be genuine. Genuine passion and talent show through. There’s no room for fake sincerity or bullshit. If I’m truly honest, I think there’s a lot to be said for just blindly stumbling forward into paths that excite you with an unflappable air of self belief that stops just short of arrogance. But then you must truly have the rock ‘n’ roll spirit burning deep inside you or you may as well stop now, get yourself a pipe and slippers and get yourself a job as an accountant in Cheltenham.

It should be noted however that almost all the musicians you’ll ever meet seem to get along with other people pretty easily and are usually in possession of a twisted and sick sense of humor. Oh, and you must hate Chris De Burgh and have a repertoire of Stevie Wonder jokes, even if you think he’s a genius. That makes me think, how does he know when he’s asleep? 

I’m in agreement of the Chris de Burgh comment, and we must find time to share our Stevie jokes sometime. So, what was your first pro gig? 

My first pro gig that I can remember was playing in a local hotel on the seafront in Weston super mare two nights a week with a mate of mine. We were both about 13 or 14. He sang and played the organ and I sang and played drums. It must’ve been awful. Thank god there was no YouTube then, otherwise I’d die of embarrassment. We used to get five quid each a night and I remember I lost mine on the first night. I was gutted. It was all very Peter Kay, but it made us get out in front of an audience and learn from an early age to play for the people dancing. My dad was a saxophonist and he taught me that from an early age. 

Excellent, that’s a proper apprenticeship, eh! What are your favorite styles of music to listen to when, dare I say it, you are chilling out? 

Chilling out? What’s that? I’m just so busy these days I can barely remember chilling out. I do listen to music on the tour bus though. The last album was T.Rex's Dream Warrior. Before that was Joe Henderson Mode for Joe. Ooh, tell a lie. I recently found my old copy of UB40’s Present Arms and made myself lie on the sofa and listen to the whole thing. Brilliant! It brought back a load of memories. UB40 were brilliant when they first hit the scene! I think this year for me has been the year of going back—probably to do with having my first kid. I’ve been listening to loads of Stones, loads of old jazz, and I totally got back into Souxsie and the Banshees again. Hmmmm… time to get into some new stuff this year. Any suggestions, readers? Please twitter me. 

So what do you do to switch off from drums after a tour or just to take a break? 

I’m afraid that just doesn’t happen. I’m literally involved in music and drums pretty much 24/7 in one way or another. But on the rare occasion that I get a little spare time I love hanging out with my family and mates and for a real treat I’d get to see some comedy or go fly my kite. Is it weird that I actually don’t ever feel like I need a break from drums and in fact feel like I don’t get enough time to develop all the ideas I have as a drummer/musician? 

So, Danny, before we finish I would just like to thank you for a really enjoyable and informative interview and wish you and Buzzcocks a successful year on the road. Just for our readers where can people visit you online? 

Folks can visit me online at www.dannyfarrant.com but please be patient as my website has only just been launched. The band is at www.buzzcocks.com. Come and say hi! I just wanna give a shout out to Protection Racket Cases and Aquarian Drumheads for their support. Thanks, Rich!

Visit Danny online: www.dannyfarrant.com




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About the Author
Rich "Doc Spoons" Spooner

Richard “Doc Spoons” Spooner is a British professional drummer and educator, based out of Switzerland. Doc is touring & recording with multi-platinum selling artist Philipp Fankhauser. Doc proudly endorses C&C drums, Paiste cymbals, Agner drumsticks, Baskey Drumruggs & Luggs, Hardcase Cases,Protection Racket Bags & Tour Luggage,Porter & Davies Monitoring, Big Fat Snare Drum, Kelly SHU, Tuner-Fish. Visit Doc online at www.docspoons.com  or follow him on Twitter@DocSpoons



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