Ian Thomas: Be a Successful Session Drummer

Be a successful session drummer
By Geoff Nicholls (Rhythm)
Ian Thomas tells us how he got to be one of the UK’s most in-demand sessioneers

Ian Thomas

Ian Thomas

Arriving in London from his native Cardiff in 1984, Ian was known as a superb jazz and big band player. But he could also rock and his big breakthrough was on George Michael’s 25-million selling Faith (1987).

1. Take a bad kit to the studio and it will sound bad whatever anyone does to it. So make sure your instrument is up to scratch.

2. Be on time and find out what you need. What is the music? Find out what instruments you need.

3. Be versatile, and learn together. Why cut off a whole load of work because you can’t be bothered to learn to read?

4. Play for the music.

5. Approaching the live gig. What I’m into now is trying to remember songs and sets. I used to write everything down and it would take ages to get rid of the cheat sheets.

6. Learn to read, but have patience. Everyone says to me your reading is amazing and actually it has taken a long time to get it together.

7. On film work. I did a session for the Twilight series of films. There were five of us in the percussion section and it was the hardest thing I have ever seen written in my life! Improvising to actual picture is really rare.

8. Breaking through. Coming to London from Cardiff was a big step, I didn’t know anybody. I signed on the dole and said I would give it five years or do something else.

9. Bringing It Home. I’ve been working on [my home studio] for the last four years. I was doing quite a few sessions where [clients] had only booked the studio for the live drums. Nowadays many want live drums again, and they can’t get it from a machine. So they hire a studio and a bunch of mics, but they have no idea how to mic a drum kit! I can do a better job, why not come to my place?

10. It’s okay to be nervous. “The first time I worked with BB King was on his 80th birthday album in 2005. He gathered us all around and said, ‘I have played on thousands of albums in my lifetime and I have never played perfectly on any of them. I doubt if I will play perfectly on this one either. I am gonna play from here [the heart] and that is all I want you to do. Forget any fears, I just want to hear what you have to say.’

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