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INTERVIEW: British Drum Company

Daniel Gumble
INTERVIEW: British Drum Company

Keith Keough, Al Murray and Ian Matthews sit down with MI Pro editor, Daniel Gumble, as they outline their vision for the British Drum Company…

The British Drum Company caused quite a stir when it launched at the back end of 2015. Based in Stockport, Greater Manchester and spearheaded by master craftsman and former Premier man, Keith Keough, the firm announced itself to the industry with a proverbial bang, promising high-quality handmade drum kits designed and built on UK soil.  

And if the arrival of a new British drum manufacturing operation wasn’t enough to turn heads and set chins wagging, then the star-studded make-up of the company certainly was.

Having spent over 20 years plying his trade as a builder of high-end drums, Keough was able to call upon a number of industry chums to assemble a team bristling with market knowledge, playing prowess and technical expertise: Kasabian drummer Ian Matthews; military marching drummer and co-founder of the Highwaymen Drum Corps (as seen on Britain’s Got Talent 2011) Stu Warmington; product designer Alan Kitching; award winning comedian and drum enthusiast Al Murray; and, of course, Keough himself.
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With an esteemed team and a inaugural product range in place – the Legend and Lounge Series – the company wasted no time in connecting with the UK dealer network to spread word of its intentions: to take on the market at a mainstream level and to develop a brand that will still be going strong 25 years from now. No messing about.

So, to find out more about the British Drum Company’s unlikely formation, its lofty ambitions and what’s in store for 2016, I headed to Foote’s Music in London where I caught up with Messrs Keough, Murray and Matthews...

Daniel Gumble: Please can you shed a little light on how the three of you came to be acquainted and form the British Drum Company?

Keith Keough: “Well, going back about two years, Al came to Premier to have a custom kit made. We sat down and designed him a kit and that’s where we got to know one another.”

Al Murray: “I play for a hobby and decided I was going to get one last drum kit…which is how most of these stories start! Keith was making these essentially bespoke kits at Premier, and I had some clear ideas about what I wanted to do, and when you sit down with someone like Keith, who really is an expert, it’s a bit of a head spin. And we just hit it off.

“So, when the ground shifted at Premier, which is the best way of putting it, I said to Keith “if you’re thinking of doing something by yourself, count me in”. If I’m honest, I’ve made a few quid along the way [in my career] and was looking for something drummy to get involved in, and it basically seemed like a no-brainer."


DG: So how did you get involved in the company, Ian?

Ian Matthews: “I got to know both these guys individually. I first met Al years ago in Bristol and, a few years later, Kasabian were at the Q Awards and Al was doing the MCing and we kept on winning awards! So we ended up chatting and swapping numbers.”

AM: “At those events I always send up talking to the drummer, no matter how glamourous they are. With U2 I ended up talking to Larry Mullen Jr. – I wasn’t interested in Bono!”

IM: “And I’ve still got all of Al’s Rhythm and Modern Drummer magazines.”

AM: “I used to write for them a long time ago. A mate of mine was features editor there, so when they were short I used to interview people, which was great.”


DG: And how did you get to know Keith, Ian?

IM: “A couple of years ago I did a performance at the Scottish Drum Fair, run by David Dowell up in Falkirk, and I met Keith there.”

KK: “We [Premier] had a stand there and it just so happens we were staying at the same hotel and we got on like a house on fire just talking about drums.”

IM: “In August we headlined V Festival and Keith came down to that and that’s when he told me he had this idea.”

KK: “Me and Al were talking about this already, and we knew that if we were going to do it it had to be done properly, so I wanted a big artist involved and Kasabian are the biggest band and have been for a number of years now. And Ian’s an awesome drummer; he’s the perfect choice.

AM: “A lot of it has been timing and people being in the right place and the right time, but we have a really good all-round team. Everyone brings their own skills and abilities, which is really exciting. We feel like we’ve hit the ground not necessarily running, but at a brisk pace.”


DG: Very few start-ups have the luxury of launching with such an accomplished team. What kind of advantage does that give you in the market?

KK: “It’s a huge advantage. If I’d just started up again by myself, it wouldn’t have had the same impact as if Ian or Al wasn’t involved. Also, if we’d started this ten years ago, we’d have to meet up every month to look at ideas, which would cost us a fortune. But we now have the advantage of Facebook, so we have a messenger group where we are constantly sharing ideas and passing them around, regardless of where we are and who’s on tour.”

AM: “And with CAD (computer-aided design) rendering and 3D printing you can prototype things that you’d have to set up a machine for. So, things like lug design, you have a 3D rendering and we can all have a look at it, which wouldn’t have been possible even five years ago. That’s another timing thing; you can run ideas and pool ideas now in ways you couldn’t before.”

IM: “At the end of the day we’re all passionate about what we do – we’re all drummers. Keith has been making shells for 20 years. It’s not like a start-up company where we are just trying our hand at something new; we’ve got a great business plan and a great idea. As Al was saying, we’ve hit the ground with decades of experience between us.”

AM: “By the same token, everyone involved knows that things like this don’t happen overnight. I’ve been a comic for 25 years now and I know you have to give things time to develop and to generate a reputation. We have got off to a good start but we also know it's a 25-year, generational project.“

IM: “When we were all together at the London drum show, it felt to me like I’m in another band. It’s that kind of brotherhood and we’re all getting such a great vibe from it.”


DG: What are your ambitions for the brand? Is this a boutique business or a mainstream operation?

AM: “We’re not trying to be a boutique drum manufacturer. We want to take this to the world stage with standard finishes. We do offer a tailored service, but this is very much about competing globally on a mainstream level. It’s a mainstream thing we’re going for, the way Kasabian are mainstream; we’re not interested in being a scratchy indie band. If that’s the analogy, we’re interested in playing Wembley.”


DG: So why launch now?

AM: “Keith said to me “I want to work for myself. In 15 years time I want to have a drum company that’s mine; that’s me; that’s also on this mainstream stage”. That’s the conversation we had. It was about moving on [from Premier], but moving on in a positive, different way. Keith made amazing drums at Premier, now we’re making amazing drums here.”


DG: Tell us about the manufacturing process. Is everything made here in the UK, or is anything outsourced?

KK: “We don’t buy shells in. We actually make our own plywood. Everything is made in Britain from raw materials.

IM: “Keith’s even made his own tooling as well.”

KK: “It is very organic in the workshop. We’ve made all the moulds ourselves; I’ve made jigs for marking out all the shells; jigs for cutting snare beds. Everything we’ve got, apart from machinery, is handmade.  It’s all made in Stockport; we’ve got a 3,500 sq ft workshop, which does the job.”


DG: What does the British Drum Company have to offer the UK drum market that isn’t already out there?

KK: “There’re a lot of gimmicks on the market now. What I want to do is create something is that is no frills; no fuss; just a really well made product that does what it’s intended to do.”

IM: “I can’t speak for other drum businesses, but one thing about this company is that it is a company of drummers. We’re all still gigging and playing and we’ve all been brought up with drums. And this is an opportunity for us to make drums just how we want them to be, reflecting what drummers want. I’m not an endorsee getting asked by a businessman what I want who then tries to feed that jargon back to someone else – we are the company. We have a mainline into the taste and feel and look of what our products are going to be."

KK: “One of the great things about having Ian involved is that he can not just road test them, but he can also see how roadworthy the gear is.”

IM: “I’ve already been using the snare drums on recording sessions and they’ve been working out tremendously. I’m not on tour with Kasabian right now, that’s a while off, so I’m not going to be taking the kit out on the road for a bit, so we’re still in the development stage, but I do gigs at home when I’m off tour, playing with friends and stuff like that. So I get to try out our gear not only on the main stages of festivals, where I’ve got a roadie setting it all up for me, but I also get to know what it’s like to take the kit out of the back of a car and up three flights of stairs and play to 50 people in a room.”

AM: “Which is the normal drumming experience, in general.”


DG: Presumably the made in Britain tag serves as a great USP, too.

KK: “That is the selling point, basically. That’s the main USP.”

AM: “And it’s in a proud and long tradition. While we’re looking forward, we’re drawing on a tradition of great drum making in this country.”


DG: Where does the product sit in the market? Will you be making products for the full spectrum of players?

IM: “These are handmade products, made in Britain at a professional level. We have two lines – the Lounge and Legend Series – but the Lounge Series is by no means a lesser line, it’s just a different shell design to cater for a different taste, whereas the Legend Series is catering for a bigger sound. That’s the main difference, really.”

KK: “It’s a more punchy, powerful, stadium-worthy kit, while the Lounge Series is more of a club, lounge kit. It’s not a compromise on price or anything. Most people who play a Lounge kit will play a three-piece set-up, while with the Legend kit you can go from anywhere to six to 18 pieces.”

IM: “That’s the premise of what we’re doing. Everything we are making is hand-built, top quality and made specifically for a certain sound.”

KK: “We can’t compete on price with drums made in Taiwan, so we’re not even going to try – it’s a completely different market and a completely different product.”


DG: How have retailers responded to the company?

KK: “They’ve responded very well. I think they’ve been wanting this [a British drum company] for a while. There are a lot of British bespoke companies but they’re quite niche. Retailers have been wanting something more mainstream, where it’s easier to sell; it’s standard finishes and configurations. The customer knows that the kit they’ve seen reviewed is exactly what they are going to get.”

AM: “It’s all been incredibly positive. Keith’s reputation speaks for itself, but people are very excited that it’s happening and about the make-up of the company and the product.”


DG: Earlier this year you launched the Merlin snare drum. How has this been received?

KK: “Again, it’s been really good. There’s basically two woods in the drum world - birch and maple – and what I’ve done is blended everything together, so you have a maple and birch mix.”


DG: What’s next for the company?

KK: “Well ,we don’t just do standard drum kits. We do cajons, practice pads and accessories. We are eventually going to go into hardware and we’ve got a few metal shells we’re looking at."

IM: “We’ve got a few things up our sleeve, but those will come further down the line.”

AM: “We will be extending the design philosophy in our range. You’ll see things progress and evolve across the next year in terms of the aesthetic of the kits. One of the things about having to start up quickly is that you can’t quite line those things up the way you want. We wanted the drums to be out there, so we got on with making them. By next November things will have moved on in a design sense.”


DG: Finally, will you be at Musikmesse in April? And how important are international trade shows in this day and age?

KK: “Yes, we’re are doing Musikmesse. It’s a changing world, especially with the Internet, but I think you still need to attend these shows

Tags: Retail , drums , interview , Interviews , british drum company

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