Interview with Serbastian 'Bid' Beresford
AW At what age did you first become interested in drumming?
My parents bought me my first kit when I was 4 years old although I was more interested in running around the house with the cymbal on my finger pretending it was a UFO however, I do remember when the skin on the tom ripped I immediately got the cling film out to make sure it was still usable. It worked too…for a while!
I’d watch Top of the Pops and was always more interested in the drummer so when listening to music I was always drawn more to the rhythm and what the drummer was playing.
A friend from school’s parents owned a music shop in Kenilworth and when it was my 9th birthday (and after a lot of pleading) my parents bought me a real drumset from them, a 3-piece Maxwin with a mottled black veneer finish. I had a kick, snare, hat and ride cymbal and I played it in my bedroom every day until I was 12. But then I wanted more drums so I saved my pocket money, washed cars, bob a job (remember that?), birthday and Christmas’s, pretty much anyway of getting money for more gear to build a kit so it would look like those on the TV I’d do.
My brother Matt had an electric guitar and we formed a band Celestial Skys with his best mate Mark Homer on bass and got gigs at the village youth club and the summer fete but inevitably it didn’t go further, but I had the bug. I wanted more gigs and better drums and it wasn’t long before Matt and I had formed a new group called Cu with our friend Jason Edwards from the village playing lead guitar and his mate from school Stu Hipkins on bass. We rehearsed every Sunday in the village Youth Club even making the front page of the local papers one remembrance weekend as we had forgotten to stop playing at 11am with the headline “band rocks village peace”.
We had a punkish sound influenced by Ed’s musical tastes, The Clash, Sex Pistols, early U2. I could sing and I taught myself to play my brothers guitar so I wrote some of the songs and sung them which was great fun.
I was the youngest in the band and the smallest (hence the nickname Bidi) and so got a lot of attention especially when playing in the local pubs supporting the bands booked to play. One of those was Earl Grey and the Tea Leaves and their guitarist Clive Poole had a huge influence on me. I guess you could say he was my mentor and gave me a confidence that I could do this for a living. I didn’t know how but I didn’t care. I just loved playing and making music.
AW Did you have any formal education, who were your teachers, attend any college’s?
I took one lesson when I was 12 with Pete Brigsfish, a drummer from Solihull but I didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t Pete, he was great, I just wasn’t good with instructions back then. I wanted to do things my way and was much happier staying at home with my brothers record collections and jamming along to Led Zeppelin or AC/DC. It’s a little clichéd but I can still distinctly remember playing along to Stairway to Heaven when I was about 11, the lyric sheet from the record on my snare drum so I could sing along and the feeling I got when Bonham played those off beats “And as we wiiiind on down the road…..”. It wasn’t until much later I realised that was feel. The space in time between each snare hit as you hung in the air waiting for the next one. The best tuition ever. However, as I got older I decided it was time to get help and educate myself so aged 24, and despite being on the professional circuit for 7 years, I enrolled at Drumtech in London. It was an odd situation as I began with private lessons and was inducted into their Roll of Honour before going on to do a 2-year Diploma course. It was great but also daunting as I was surrounded by other players. GREAT players who have gone on to have solid careers such as my friend Luke Bullen (Bryan Ferry, Joe Strummer, KT Tunstall). It really pushed me though. I got myself into the London scene and within the first year was working in 7 bands from Goth rock to blues with a little soul and jazz thrown in as well. There was also an electronic band called Arkarna signed to Warner Brothers that I sessioned for. They were about to embark on the promotion of their first album. We started in the UK and after the tour they asked me to become a full-time member. I agreed and had the experience of the major label machine and being in a band but it also meant stepping away from college and other gigs, as soon after signing we were off around the world supporting The Prodigy, The Crystal Method, Fluke and many others, totally submerging myself in the world of electronics. It also gave me the opportunity to get involved in the song writing and production.
AW Can you recall what you studied from which books any teachers who influenced you?
Being self-taught to begin with I only had one book, Buddy Rich’s Snare Drum Rudiments. I was fortunate enough to have had piano lessons at the age of 6 so I knew the basics of reading music therefore I understood the notation in Buddy’s book. I actually found reading drum scores a lot easier as you didn’t have to worry about as many notes and keys and that stood me in good stead for my time at Drumtech.
There were a few great teachers there who I still speak with. Paul Elliot is one. A great technician with an incredible understanding of time displacement, now based up in Newcastle. Gary O’Toole whose down South is another great player who I enjoyed spending lesson time with.
I always promised myself that at some point I would go back to study the final year at Drumtech but sadly it is no more. However, while living in LA back in 2016 I decided to pursue that avenue and after speaking with Pete Erskine, who recommended a guy called Jake Reed, I began once again burying my head in books and continuing where I felt I’d left off many years ago.
Jake’s another great jazz player and he got me to get a bunch of books.
The Art of Bop Drumming by Jon Riley, Jazz Breaks in a Nutshell by Joel Rothman (a great book for beginners in jazz), Modern School for Snare Drum by Morris Goldenberg and Jazz Drumset Etudes by Jake Reed.
Sadly on the electronics side there were no books available that explained what you could do with the equipment. There were books that showed you how to play an electronic kit but
they were similar to any other drum publication - sticking patterns, rudiments, beats. Nothing showed you how to control an external sound source. I guess back then a lot of players didn’t think electronics would be around for very long and what new avenues they could lead you down.
It was partly due to this that I decided to write The Art of eDrumming. It’s the book I wish I had when I was learning. It would have saved me years!
AW You mention you went on to perform with many Motown artistes, how did this transpire
and who were they?
I had a lucky break when I was younger. I was invited to audition for the late Motown artist Edwin Starr (War! What is it Good for?) when I was 17. It was at Dale End studios in Birmingham and I set my kit up at the far end of the room before the rest of the band arrived. I was nervous, I didn’t really know of Edwin Starr or his material and I’d never had an audition before. They were all so much older than me. Some were married, American, black. To me, a white kid from a small village, it all felt very strange. Edwin walked in and said hi to everyone as they plugged in. There was a lot of laughter and the mood was fun, a good energy and I felt comfortable. After 20 minutes it was time to play and Edwin counted off the track 25 miles. I’d never heard it before. I’d only played pop rock with a punkish edge, I didn’t know about Motown at all but it was sink or swim time. “126.96.36.199” I just followed the count he gave and started to play a 2 and 4 (nothing like the record) along with what the rest of the band. We kept going for no more than 40 bars, that was when Edwin moved quickly in to the middle of the room waving his arms signalling for us all to stop and I thought oh shit, that’s it. I’ve blown it! However, to my total surprise he said excitedly “shit man…..that’s how it’s meant to be played…you’re hired!”. That moment changed my life. Within 3 days I was on a tour bus and we were off. I went from being a young drummer playing pubs with my friends to touring the world with an international artist and I have to admit at the time I didn’t appreciate it as much as I probably should have. We were out with The Four Tops, The Temptations, Martha Reeves, Mary Wells, Jnr Walker and the All Stars, the list goes on. As a musician it was invaluable. You were taught to perform the Motown way. You didn’t have set lists. You simply walked onto the stage and played your instrument to support whatever song was shouted out or signalled, for however long they want that particular piece to be. Forget the arrangement on the record. This was live. Just like at my audition. Sure, you had those important moments within the tunes which you had to nail but it was more about the vibe, making sure you got that feeling across for everyone else to do their thing. It was an incredible apprenticeship and one I know I’m so fortunate enough to have had.
From 2009- 2017 I was working for Sixto Rodriguez (‘Searching for Sugarman’) who also has this approach. You didn’t know what was coming at you each night but it was great, it keeps you on your toes. One-night Dennis Coffey joined us. Dennis was a member of the Funk brothers back in the day and played on some iconic records such as Ball of Confusion and Edwin’s War. He also discovered Rodriguez. He asked the band to perform with him before the main show. “Just jam along” were his words. It took me right back to those Motown days. No rehearsals, listening to the tunes in the dressing room then walking out to a packed theatre and you’re off. It was 100 miles an hour, but when we walked off the stage at London’s Hammersmith Odeon he came up to me with a huge smile on his face. “You were in the pocket man, great job!”. Those are the words you want to hear.
It was all this Motown ethos that was the catalyst for me wanting to use electronics differently. Instead of playing along to a sequence which a lot of players do, I wanted to control the sequence, or even play them. Imagine if you could just go off like the Motown artists but with all the modern sounds, sequences, loops, videos, lights. You’re in control. You can change the arrangement. If you want to jam a section for longer you can but it’s still got all those other elements going on. All those sounds that are used today. That’s what I wanted, so I taught myself how. It became my focus and drive and that’s what The Art of eDrumming can teach anyone, if they’re interested in knowing of course.
AW When did you first take an interest in electronic drums, machines and pads?
A school friend had just got a new portable Casio keyboard and showed me, by pressing a button, it could play drum beats. I thought I needed to understand this technology and so it began.
Bands on the TV were beginning to move away from the big drum sets and replace them with hexagonal pads. Some even getting rid of a drummer altogether which wasn’t going down well within the drum fraternity for obvious reasons. (I think we may even be one of the first professions to be replaced by technology?). A lot of the bands using them seemed to lean more towards their feminine side too with make-up, eye liner, big frilly shirts with shoulder pads and so electronic drums were looked upon as instruments used for this type of erogenous music. And you have to remember back in the 80’s, sexuality was not seen in the same way as it is today. All this gave eDrums a difficult start in the drum world in my opinion.
But I was a new drummer. I wanted to learn everything about the art so when I started earning with Edwin I got myself some hexagonal pads, a Simmons kit.
It was true what people said. They were uncomfortable to play and it wasn’t the same as playing an acoustic kit. I don’t think that conversation will ever stop though even with todays kits. You heard stories of players developing tennis elbow, carpel tunnel etc but I was lucky, I didn’t get any of that although I only used it in my studio but it wasn’t as fun to play. There had to be something better. It had to be out there.
It was the summer and Edwin invited the band to his house in Polesworth for a BBQ saying his friend was in town and was coming over. At around 6pm two blacked stretched limos pulled up on his drive and out steps Stevie Wonder, his brother at his side and his band. Dennis Davies was his drummer (Roy Ayers, David Bowie) and James Allen his percussion player. I was 19 with loads of energy and wanted to absorb everything. It was a great evening. Lots of stories and lots of laughter. They both needed some bits for their set ups so the following day I arranged to pick James up and take him to the local music store, Musical Exchanges (I think we may have been served by a very young Karl Brazil). Once done I drove him to the NEC, parked up, went inside and watched the sound check. The show was in the round so set right in the middle of the arena. Dennis saw me and invited me up on to the stage to check out his set up. And there it was. My answer. The DDrum 3. He had them set above his toms. He was playing a grey Yamaha 9000 recording custom. “Sit down, have a play!” he insisted. And as I did the band joined in. Stevie walked up the stairs (assisted by his brother), sat down at the keyboards and jammed along too. The kit sounded amazing and the DDrum so comfortable to play. That was what I had to get. I had to find a way as they were expensive, but the best.
So, when I became a member of Arkarna that was the moment I’d waited for to get the DDrum 3. I still have it. I guess now it’s vintage but it’s a solid piece of equipment. It never once let me down and they travelled the world with me for 15 years. You could sample into it, have velocities change the parameters. It was, and still is awesome.
From drum kits to sound modules, computers to drum machines. I found it all fascinating and being involved in the writing and production I was learning how you could use technology when creating music. It’s never been making acoustic sounding electronics, I’ve always felt that was a little pointless although I obviously understand the convenience of it. For me it was and still is doing all those things you just can’t do on an acoustic kit.
Without indulging as far into the eDrums as I have, I know I wouldn’t have the opportunities that come along touring with electronic acts. And the way music is created today and the sounds used you have to know what you’re doing with it. You need to know how a producer thinks too. They spend hours making their records, sometimes days on just a kick drum sound. I know it sounds crazy but some really do! And if you’re asked to get involved for live shows do you really think they’re going to accept you replacing their 2-day kick drum with one that comes standard with a Roland kit? No way. You can’t use stock sounds that come with a module. They’ll want you to use their sounds so you have to know how to trigger them, the best equipment to use and you need to know it inside out. I started at a very young age to understand as much of that as I could and it hasn’t stopped since then.
AW Regarding your book it seems you have a wealth of knowledge on the subject how and where did you acquire it, again did you study?
I didn’t study AT ALL for the electronics side purely because there was nowhere to study. It was all trial and error. I spent hours, months and years locked away inside rehearsal studios or recording studios figuring out how, and the first hurdle was understanding MIDI.
When I was 18, after being on the road with Edwin for 12 months I got myself a studio space in Birmingham with a friend from school where we could write and produce. We taught each other how to compose tracks using computers and traditional instruments. We had the room on the top floor with a staircase up into the attic which was a real mess. You never went up there because it was so rundown. One weekend we needed to learn how to get the Roland D20 to play the Roland S50 sampler using an Atari 1040ST running creator. It was so confusing. Do you go In to Out? Out to In? What’s the Thru for? The leads are all plugged in but why isn’t it working? Midi channels? WTF are they!!! Midi notes? OMG!!! Local on/off? Huh?? It went on ..and on..and on…all weekend! We slept there trying to figure out how, but then, BOOM! It worked! We’d done it!! We were still a bit confused as to how but it didn’t matter, it worked…. And we went crazy running up the stairs to the attic, picking up whatever we could find and smashing anything we could (except each other). A total release by two teenage kids who were determined to work it out! I’ll never forget it!
Once you understand MIDI you soon realise the creative opportunities it gives you. And it’s never changed since its inception by Dave Smith back in the early 80’s. That in itself is pretty remarkable I think. They try to bring in new technology to replace it but why? It’s great. Why try and fix something that isn’t broke? It just works. It’s that simple.
In the book there is a whole section on MIDI which I hope helps players understand it because once they do they’ll soon begin to unlock their creativity and that’s something which they may not even be aware they have.
AW In today’s ever changing world of technology what do you predict will reference the drummer will it be more on the sampling side, mix of traditional and electronics or electronics?
Electronics are everywhere, not just in the drum domain but in all walks of life. Kids aren’t fearful of using tech, unlike the generations before. They embrace it and I think that’s fantastic because it’s certainly not going away. Most artists you see now have a drummer who has electronics incorporated with-in their set up and if you’re an aspiring young player you really need to have that side down otherwise you’re going to get called out. As I said, you need to be able to recreate the sounds of a record if asked and if you can’t do that or know how to even trigger them you’re going to be overshadowed by someone who can.
Traditional drums will never disappear and nor should they but I think it’s naïve to think they will be the dominant instrument in the drum family forever. Their electronic sibling has been becoming increasingly popular since it first appeared on the scene. I’m told that electronic drums currently out sell acoustics 3 to 1 and it’s understandable. Not everyone has a sound proof room or studio but they do have a power point and some headphones. So, with that in mind, I think it’s only a matter of time before more people begin to explore the other side of their electronics and the avenues they open especially in this current global crisis. With people being locked down, the opportunity to play with your band mates is limited, if at all however, it’s a perfect time to get your head around something new and bring it to your bands rehearsals when they resume. You may even find you can put together your own one man show as well. I did …. although not in lockdown.
I used to have a residency at the Kasbah club in Coventry. They would turn the main room over to me for 30 mins. The video wall and the sound system were mine and I had the room jumping every other Saturday night (as long as I wasn’t on the road). It was awesome. Just me and my eDrums eDrumming. You can see some of the tracks I performed on my YouTube channel Bid111.
You can also go on Youtube and see more players who are using electronics, eDrumming. Players such as Zach Danziger, Adam Betts, Michael Schack, Krompa. We’re a growing breed.
AW Do you have any words of wisdom for the next generation of drummer’s?
Be true to yourself, stay fit and healthy, take every opportunity presented and always show your best. Don’t be afraid and most importantly have fun and believe you can. As my mum always told me, there’s no such word as can’t. Learn to play other instruments. It will give you a deeper understanding of music and it will also give you an opportunity to be more creative. Not only have I been an international touring musician for 30+ years but I’m also a writer and producer with tracks used in TV, film and advertising campaigns around the world. That certainly has helped when touring has been thin and it also allows me an outlet for my own creativity. It’s a wonderful industry and way of life too but it can also be a tough one so make sure you’re prepared as best you can. Never stop learning, every day’s a school day and if you want to get on board with electronics get The Art of eDrumming, the first book EVER written that combines the two worlds of drumming & technology for every drummer in today’s musical landscape.
And don’t forget, if you are interested in eDrumming my YouTube channel Bid111 will give you an introduction and insight into it.
Cheers for the questions and I hope someone somewhere gets something out of the answers!
All the best,