One of Gavin Harrisons formative memories was being taken by his trumpeter father along to a big band session at the BBC and being encouraged, by drummer Paul Brody (who knew the young Harrison was learning to play), to sit by the drum kit throughout, so it’s little wonder that his young head was hot-wired into walloping stuff with sticks from pretty much that point on, and also perhaps no real surprise that he has now attempted to recreate the excitement of that big band sound himself. But when you hear the words ‘big band’ what does it bring to mind, John Barry or Duke Ellington? Certainly you can hear that big brash horn sound on his new album Cheating The Polygraph but also more subtle jazzy sounds like those of Chico Hamilton or Bob Brookmeyer plus the more convoluted bumper-car u-turns of The Mothers of Invention and even young turks like Jaga Jazzist, we hesitate to use a phrase like ‘big band prog’ but what the hell, we’ve done it now.
Before we got to that however Andy Basire was keen to find out what the hell made him want to lug cases full of percussive paraphernalia in and out of rehearsal rooms and venues (whilst the singer chats up all the girls) in the first place…
Gavin Harrison: “Yes it would have made my life a lot easier if I'd chosen the flute - but the drums really attracted me because I loved the way they sounded and I was very coordinated as a kid. I was in dance school at age 6 and I could play football pretty well. I wouldn't say it was easy for me - but it felt more natural than playing the trumpet.”
Total Music: Drummers kits range from minimal (Charlie Watts), to maximum (Neil Peart) how did you arrive at your set-up and does it change much?
Gavin Harrison: “I've basically played the same configuration now for about 30 years. It's just how I like it. Everything is in exactly the place I expect it to be so I don't have to think - it's just second nature to me now. I reach out and the sound I want is right there."
Total Music: You’ve played with a ridiculous amount of people (including artists as diverse as Renaissance, Incognito, Lisa Stansfield, Paul Young, Iggy Pop, Level 42, Tom Robinson, Go West, Gail Ann Dorsey, Dave Stewart, Barbara Gaskin, Kevin Ayers and various ex-members of Japan.), how do you decide what to work on?
Gavin Harrison: “Mostly I didn't. They decided for me. Work came to me completely randomly - and I needed to be ready for as much as I could. I learnt to read notation and had a reasonable understanding of a lot of different styles. Some jobs I had time to prepare for and so I would listen and learn a lot of songs of that particular artist or band. Other times you're just dropped straight into the deep end - but eventually a pattern emerges about what different folks want from you. They really just want you to play their music accurately (in time, with a good feel) and know the songs without making mistakes. They also appreciated if you could add some small musical embellishments that made THEM sound good. It was the best formula that I could find.”
Total Music: Claudio Baglioni, Franco Battiato, Eros Ramazzotti (amongst others), why are there so many Italian performers in your CV?
Gavin Harrison: “It started with a record I made in 1988 called Dizrhythmia. An Italian producer heard it and invited the band 'Dizrhythmia' to go and work with his artist. One thing led to another and just kind of snowballed. In the late 80's and early 90's I just got a few calls to go over there and work.”
Total Music: You’re awards shelf at home must be pretty full by now, do awards mean that much to you?
Gavin Harrison: "It's very nice to feel appreciated but most 'awards' are just popularity contests. I don't ask people to vote for me. If I did (and rallied and campaigned around the Porcupine Tree/King Crimson fan base) maybe I might win something - but what would be the point? It would just be an ego thing. You have to get hold of your ego and not let it get the better of you - it can be very destructive and distracting. It can damage relationships and ruin your life. I've seen it happen. There's no shortage of bitter, twisted, competitive, resentful and jealous folks in the music industry. Some musicians are part of a famous band who have lots of followers on social media. If they ask their fans to go and vote via an online poll - it just becomes pointless. It might be better if it was judged by a panel of your peers - but it would still be silly. Who is to say who is best? Music is an art form - it's not a competition.
Who is the best artist between Picasso, Van Gogh and Rembrandt? You might be able to tell me your preference - but there is no 'definitive best'.
Total Music: So who do you think is the best drummer of all time?
Gavin Harrison: "Ah that's an easy one - Me. :-)”
Total Music: What did you think when you were offered the opportunity to play alongside two other drummers in the latest King Crimson line-up (it must be hellish difficult not getting in each others way) and what do you think the three drum line-up brings to the latest incarnation of the band?
Gavin Harrison: "It has been an interesting and enjoyable challenge to figure out how to play as part of a three drummer line up (a percussion section). We spent a long time carefully arranging and considering the ways that we could approach each song as if it was a completely new song. The three of us are set up at the front of the stage - which of course is VERY unusual - but rather brilliantly it changes the dynamic of the live 'rock and roll' band. In most bands the singer stands at the front in the middle of the stage and is usually the only person who talks to the audience. They establish themselves as the centre point of reference and interaction with the crowd. In KC the singer (Jakko Jakszyk) is on the riser behind the drummers along with the other members. He doesn't make any announcements - we don't talk to the audience. It's a very classical orchestra kind of vibe. There's no flashing lights, explosions or projections.
The music is engaging enough - production like that would only distract from the music. It's all about the music.”
Total Music: Have any of the other Porcupine Tree guys heard the new versions on Cheating The Polygraph, and if so what do they think?
Gavin Harrison: "As my new record took over 5 years to finish - I played some of the songs to my PT band mates over the years and they really liked them. They are obviously so different from the original versions it would take them some time to figure out which song it was. These are not note for note cover versions - they are very impressionistic. Imagine giving Picasso a photograph of something and then he paints his own version. I think that's about the closest I could describe it.”
Total Music: How did Laurence Cottle get involved?
Gavin Harrison: "I've known Laurence for a very long time and he's a good friend of mine. I've very much admired his work as a bass player as well as an arranger so I invited him to make the arrangements. I knew he could do it the right way. We had lots of discussions about the approach to the project and also the approach to each individual piece.”
Total Music: Frank Zappa is mentioned in the press release for you new album (and there’s certainly more than the odd hint of the slightly skewed Mothers Of Invention style orchestration), but there also seems to be a nod to more current big bands like Jaga Jazzist?
Gavin Harrison: "Myself and Laurence like the more 'modern' cutting edge style of arranging which I think is apparent on this record.”
Total Music: Any chance we’re going to hear Cheating The Polygraph played live?
Gavin Harrison: "I can't see it happening at the moment - but who knows what the future holds. ”
Cheating The Polygraph will be available from April 13th on Kscope and Live At The Orpheum (DGM/Panegyric) by King Crimson is out now. You can find loads more about Gavin at .