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INTERVIEW: Skunk Anansie drummer Mark Richardson on being a part of UK indie history and the importance of being nice

Laura  Barnes
INTERVIEW: Skunk Anansie drummer Mark Richardson on being a part of UK indie history and the importance of being nice

MI Pro editor Laura Barnes caught up with Skunk Anansie’s drummer Mark Richardson after his recent masterclass at ACM’s Guildford campus to chat about his musical career…

There are musicians who join a band, work hard, get signed, make albums, maybe have a hit or two, and tour the world. While those who have managed to make a career out of living the rockstar dream are hard to come by, there’s an even more rare species of musician – the ones that have managed to do it twice.

One of these rare musicians is drummer Mark Richardson. He might not be a household name, but you’ll have no-doubt heard his drumming at some point over the past 20-odd years on huge hits from the likes of Skunk Anansie and Feeder.

So what’s it like being a part of this special club, to be able to say you’ve been involved in not one, but two bands that were mixing up the UK indie scene of the time and getting rock tunes climbing up the charts?
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“It’s been a real trip; a great journey. I’m very, very grateful and fortunate for the opportunities I’ve had,” says Richardson. “It’s brilliant to have been a part of two really important indie bands that will always be remembered for particular songs. It’s brilliant to be part of something like that, part of musical history.”

Richardson was given a tin drum by his grandmother when he was three years old, and soon after a school teacher told his father he was “very good at the tambourine”. After picking up a pair of sticks at a friend’s house aged 6, it seems Richardson’s fate was sealed and his father bought him his own kit.

It’s brilliant to have been a part of two really important indie bands that will always be remembered for particular songs.

“My dad got me my first kit when I was six and I just played along to people’s records and taught myself,” says Richardson. “At school I was in a lot of bands. I went to college and started playing in originals bands and then through that I met Toby Jepson from Little Angels. They went on to be signed to Polydor and that was really the start of my professional career.

“When Little Angels split up I was in a band called b.l.o.w for a year and then I met Skin and Ace (Skunk Anansie’s frontwoman and guitarist) at the Kerrang awards and joined the band. When Skunk split in 2001, I joined Feeder for eight years. I’m now back with Skunk since we reunited in 2009.”

It would appear Richardson is not one for resting on his laurels. As well as his work with Skunk Anansie, he’s the co-founder of drumming accessory brand Tuner Fish Lug Locks, he volunteers at a motorcycle shop, and he is involved in the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM).

Started in 1997, ACM is a music academy based in Guilford providing its own contemporary music-based courses focused on rock, pop and electronic dance music.

Richardson’s fellow band-mate Ace is also the Academy’s Head of Creative Industry Development. Richardson has presented workshops/masterclasses at ACM since it started, where, like today’s session, he talks about not only his drumming style, but also how he carved out his career.

“I’ve done quite a lot of workshops along the same line of: “look, if I can do it – self taught from Whitby – then anyone can do it”. I’ve done a lot of those. They’re not flashy, they’re very meat and potatoes – like my drumming,” explains Richardson.

“Yes, it’s about playing and being a great player, but it’s also about being a great person. Being nice will get you a long way. It has served me well over the years and it still does today."

In today’s workshop Richardson also outlined the importance of ear protection and discussed his recording techniques, revealing that despite being a hard hitter on stage, he actually plays much quieter in the studio to avoid excess noise on the microphones, and sometimes even replaces his cymbals with electronic pads when recording to ensure a controlled sound for the producer.

When asked why academies like ACM are so important, Richardson tells me: “These kids have an amazing opportunity to have some brilliant tuition and get some really good knowledge. I didn’t get that because I was self-taught. If ACM was around when I was a kid, I would have definitely gone to it. And I probably would have been a technically better player as a result.”

Richardson is also a Wellbeing Coach at ACM. “It’s really based on the fact that I’ve been sober from drink and drugs for 15 years. It’s very rewarding, probably just as rewarding as teaching. When you see someone come in and hit the floor, then after a few weeks they’re feeling better and they don’t want to see you anymore, that’s great.”

As well as his work with students at ACM, the drummer has also drawn on his own experiences with the perils of the rock n’ roll lifestyle to set up a charity called Music Support, which has a 24/7 helpline for musicians suffering from mental health and addiction problems.

Being nice will get you a long way. It has served me well over the years and it still does today.

“The charity came out of the fact that there was no help for me when I got sober. It was really difficult to find out what to do. I was stuck in a cycle of drinking and drugging day in day out and going to bed saying: “I’m never going to do that again”… then waking up and starting all over again,” reveals Richardson.

“It was a horrendous place to be and I didn’t know what to do about it. Eventually I got help but it was a long and protracted process. So I wanted to do something to make that process easier.”

Music Support has been registered for a year now, it has four members of staff and as well as its helpline, it also runs ‘safe rooms’ at Festival Republic’s festivals. “We’ve done that this year and it’s been a real success. It provides a place for people in recovery or suffering with any kind of anxiety or mental health problem. They can come and sit and have minutes away from everybody, put some headphones on and relax.”

With the suicides of musicians Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington this year, Music Support has come about at an important time, as the music industry and the media are ramping up their efforts to talk about mental health issues amongst musicians, especially males.

“Unfortunately, it’s very “uncool” for men to talk about their feelings, even now. That’s why we’re still seeing a lot of deaths in the industry, because the truth is, if those people talked about it and they saw the right people, they might have got the right help that they needed.

“It’s moving in the right direction, but it’s going to be difficult for many years to come for men to open up, especially when they haven’t grown up in an environment where its been “OK” to talk like that,” says Richardson.

“It’s on the tips of everybody’s lips at the moment. So Music Support has happened at the right time to help as many people as we can handle.”

As for the future, the drummer revealed that Music Support will be taking up a lot of his time, but he still managed to find some time to get together with Skunk Anansie to record a new album.

“We’re writing at the moment. We actually built a little studio at Cass’s house (Skunk’s bass players) and that’s great because we have no writing overheads other than the engineers so it’s a much cheaper way to do it, and it’s really, really fun.”

While there’s no release date set of the new album, we can expect to hear something in time for next year’s festival season, and we look forward to hearing Richardson’s hard-hitting, no-nonsense meat and potatoes drumming on it.

For more information about Music Support visit http://musicsupport.org/

Find out more about ACM at https://www.acm.ac.uk/open-days/

Keep up-to-date with Skunk Anansie at https://skunkanansie.com/

 

Tags: drums , feeder , mark richardson , skunk anansie , drummer , Interviews , ACM

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