Peter Ulrich (Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil) Top 10 PercussionistsNext week Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil percussionist Peter Ulrich will be releasing his new single, one which features harpist / singer Erin Hill. We thought it’d be a great idea to get a list of Peter’s top 10 percussionists from him – check it out below.

The single is titled “Dark Daddy,” and it’s a brilliant follow-up to last year’s acclaimed debut album The Painted Caravan, a record described as “an unexpectedly rich and song-filled showcase” by Rolling Stone and “a wonderful piece of work with the depth of a beautiful painting” by Pennyblack Music.

Peter Ulrich is world-renowned for his drums and percussion work, not only for Louder Than War favourites Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil, but also for his solo endeavors which have been highly acclaimed. Indeed, his first record “Pathways and Dawns” was once described as the album the Beatles might have made had they signed to 4AD instead of Capitol.

So it struck us as a great idea to get the man to do us a list of his top 10 percussionists. He starts off, though, with an intro explaining how he doesn’t consider himself to be a great font / fount of knowledge on the subject then seems to completely disprove such with a cracking top ten. Read on…

“You’ve put me on the spot a bit here because I’m not one of those drummers who’s steeped in his / her craft.

“I’ve never had a drum lesson, don’t read drum music, don’t particularly know my diddle from my paradiddle, and have never really studied the techniques of other drummers / percussionists.

“In short, I’ve never been particularly interested in drumming (or the techniques of playing any instrument) for its own sake – only in creating and performing music that inspires me and how any given instrument fits into that.

“I’ve known drummers who can hear a recording and instantly tell me that’s Steve Gadd playing, or it’s Jack DeJohnette, or whoever, and who can wax lyrical about the respective styles of Louis Bellson, Buddy Rich, Max Loach and so on.

“Don’t get me wrong – I find this interesting, and I would undoubtedly be a better drummer if I were more attentive to such things – but I’m always too impatient to get back to just enjoying and creating the music I love.

“So, my Top 10 is going to be a mixed bag of drummers / percussionists who have some significance to me, rather than a table of merit.”

And what a great list it is! Check it out after the break.

1)  Babatunde Olatunji.

When I first met Brendan [Perry of Dead Can Dance] and we quickly discovered a shared love of African rhythms, he gave me a cassette of the first ‘Drums of Passion’ album by Olatunji which completely blew me away. I immediately recognised the track ‘Jin-go-lo-ba’ from the cover version on Santana’s first album, but to hear this and the other amazing tracks on the album as raw and powerful arrangements for a troupe of Djembe and other west African drums and percussion, plus the chanted vocals, was truly thrilling. Olatunji died in 2003 and, as far as I know, didn’t leave much of a back catalogue of recordings. From what I’ve heard, the first ‘Drums of Passion’ album (there were two or three) stands out head and shoulders above the rest, and it seems that the great man devoted a lot of his energy to teaching, but if you’re not familiar with Olatunji, do check out what there is.

2)  Billy Cobham.

Well OK, here’s a guy who is a real drummer’s drummer and would probably feature in the top 10s of a lot of people who really know what they’re talking about. He’s here in mine because of his involvement during the ’70s in John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and his featuring on the albums ‘Inner Mounting Flame’ and ‘Birds of Fire’ which were revelationary discoveries to the teenage me. Listening to his extraordinary drumming at a time when I was still trying to nail down a solid 4/4 rock standard was, in truth, a little dispiriting, but nevertheless an essential component part of the music I was into at that time.

3)  Phil Collins.

Yes, this is THE Phil Collins – pop star, Swiss tax exile and model railway enthusiast, and you are forgiven for thinking this seems a bit mainstream for me. And, indeed, in his era of superstardom, his drumming – and his music generally – has become rather bland and homogenised to my humble ear. But allow me to guide you back once again to my formative years when Mr C was drummer in the classic Peter Gabriel-fronted Genesis and have a listen to albums such as ‘Foxtrot’ and ‘Selling England by the Pound’ where his drumming was intricate and fluid, making a major contribution to the undulations of the songs without stepping too far into the foreground. What came later was a regression to many of us early Genesis devotees, but a definite progression to the girth of Phil’s wallet … such is life.

4)  Chemirani Family.

I was in Paris in the mid ’80s for a show with Dead Can Dance and after the soundcheck we were taken for a meal in a local Armenian restaurant. Sat in the corner was a hammered dulcimer player whose playing was wonderful, so Lisa [Gerrard] invited him to our show. When he came backstage afterwards, even though we had received a rapturous response from the audience, he was clearly underwhelmed. He was perfectly polite and not in any way derogatory, but set about demonstrating his classical Arabic musicianship. He picked up a hardback book and started showing me a range of Arabic rhythms. I was completely lost when I tried to follow what he was doing, but was utterly fascinated. He recommended a Persian family to me for further listening and wrote down on a scrap of paper the name ‘Chemirani’. I kept that scrap of paper for years afterwards and one day, purely by chance, I saw an advertisement for the Chemirani family performing in a church in the City of London music festival – a free concert on a weekday lunchtime. I went along and there must have been only about 30 people in the audience and it was absolutely beautiful – the father (Djamchid) and two sons (Keyvan and Bijan) playing dumbek (or zaab) drums and the daughter (Maryam – I hope I’ve identified them all correctly!) singing and playing bells and frame drum. I have since managed to collect a few of their recordings, but nothing comes close to that live experience – a veritable highlight of my life in most unlikely circumstances!

5)  Youssef Hbeisch.

Youssef Hbeisch is one of two inclusions in my list who I know nothing about other than that he is credited as the percussionist on a recording that I love. In this case the recording is the album ‘AsFar’ by Le Trio Joubran. The Trio comprises three Palestinian brothers who all play oud (Arabic lute) and Youssef Hbeisch is the guest percussionist and is also credited as co-arranger in a cover booklet that reveals little else. It is simply a brilliant album whose moods swing from serene to dramatic, and the percussion is exquisite throughout.

6)  Dildar Hussain.

My second nomination who I know only through percussive contributions to a specific stand-out album is Dilder Hussain. My introduction to the Sufi devotional music form ‘Qawwali’ was via the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who I first heard in the early ’80s. However, it was his album ‘Shahen-Shah’, released on Peter Gabriel’s Real World label in 1989, which really hooked me in and this remains a great favourite of mine. It is a wonderful, impassioned recording and the tabla playing – which is credited in the cover booklet to Dildar Hussain – underpins it beautifully.

7)  David Kuckhermann.

The current Dead Can Dance touring group includes the extraordinary David Kuckhermann. At some of the shows David also provides the support act and, if you get the opportunity to catch this, please forsake your position in the bar queue and run into the auditorium.  He is such a brilliant Arabic percussionist that he has taught master classes in Palestine and Tunisia – an honour almost unknown to be bestowed on a European. When he performs a solo on the riqq (Arabic tambourine) you could close your eyes and imagine there is an entire orchestra playing – incredible!

8)  Kodo.

I’m taking a liberty at number 8 by including an ensemble rather than an individual (well, OK, the Chemiranis were a similar liberty, but not on quite such an extensive scale).  The Japanese percussion troupe Kodo appears to tour the globe almost continuously these days, so there’s a decent chance it’ll be popping up at a concert hall near you in the not too distant future.  If so, bag a ticket.  This is drumming as a martial art.  OK, it’s become a bit showy and a bit glitzed-up to pull the mass-punters in, but it remains a fine demonstration of power, precision and technique in a sonic and visual onslaught that should have you suitably absorbed for the duration.

9)  Richard Thomas.

When I joined the 4AD family in the ’80s with Dead Can Dance, one of our fellow bands on the label was Dif Juz.  Their drummer, Richard Thomas, was an exceptional musician who can also be heard playing piano (I think?) and saxophone (for sure) on their magical album ‘Extractions’.  When Dif Juz played live the performance tended to be quite static from the guitarists – albeit they were creating marvellous, rich soundscapes – while Richard was a blur of motion behind the drums creating constantly shifting and cascading rhythms.  And, as I recall, he was also a lovely bloke, so highly deserving of his place in my list!

10)  The Alberto’s drummer. (Can anyone clarify?)

I generally dislike drum solos during gigs – come to that, solos on any instrument.  (I’m not impressed by virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake – only when it makes a valid contribution to a composition.)  The exception to my rule presented itself during my student days at Hatfield Polytechnic in the mid ’70s when comedy punk outfit Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias came to play one of our New Year parties.  Their drummer did a hilarious solo (or so I recollect – I was very drunk and it was a long time ago) which mocked various drummers and, particularly, drum manufacturers of the day, and during which he systematically dismantled and disposed of his kit whilst playing continuously.  It appears from a quick sortie on Google that this would most likely have been been Bruce Mitchell, though could possibly have been Ray ‘Mighty Mongo’ Hughes – perhaps someone can enlighten me?

There doesn’t appear to be any footage on YouTube featuring said solo, but you can find a few old clips of the Albertos being daft if you’re so inclined. To be honest, I think you had to Peter Ulrich (Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil) Top 10 Percussionistsbe there, and probably had to be quite drunk, but I’ll leave it to you…

You can find out more about the upcoming single, Dark Daddy (cover art to the right) via City Canyons website: Peter can also be found on Facebook.

The Peter Ulrich Collaboration will be releasing its second album Tempus Fugitives in early 2015.

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Guy is a former full time member of the Louder Than War editorial team, who's since moved on to pastures new. Music's been a large part of his life since he first stumbled across Peel on his tranny as a fifteen year old. His whole approach to music was learnt from Peel in fact, which includes having as inclusive a taste in music as possible. Guy devotes most of his time looking for new music & although he's been known to say "the only good music is new music" he pretty much accepts this is bollocks. Favourite band The Minutemen.


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