Mark Brzezicki talks to DJ Number Six
Guest DJ No 6 at uclaradio.com broadcast his seventh internet Procol Harum marathon on Saturday 15 June, 9am to 12 am California time. It featured this new Mark Brzezicki interview: enjoy the text, and do listen to the mp3s.
First .mp3 excerpt : DJ's introduction
We have here today with us on uclaradio.com, the next Procol Harum Marathon, Mark Brzezicki who is of course the drummer for the group. He is essentially the "beat" of Procol Harum. I especially have enjoyed Mark's extended drum solos, such as that on Whiskey Train, and Mark I know you've played on Prodigal Stranger, The Long Goodbye, Within This House, and the Live from Utrecht albums, which are wonderful albums.
Thank you very much.
... and we really enjoy your playing. How did you first get turned on to the drums?
Second mp3 excerpt : starting out in music
Oh it goes back to when I was 16. I suppose that's starting quite late. To be honest, a friend of mine across the road, you know, being kids, he had a very small drum kit, not a complete kit. And I ended up going into his garage and being enthralled by the whole thing. The fact that I'd never seen a drum kit close up is one of those things ... I'd only seen them on the television or in photographs in books. And to see a drum kit close up was something I had never seen. Strange thing. And it was an exciting instrument to look at and the sound it made instantly was gratifying and I was sold on it.
I ended up buying it off him, I think from my paper round money I had at the time. And I just sat and ploughed through it. Just kept playing and playing and playing. You know while people were going to discothèques in the 70s I suppose I was learning my craft. I was listening to everything. I was always into jazz fusion and all the American funk players at that time anyway. I had a few heroes I liked even before I was playing the drums, you know from the Herbie Hancock group, and stuff like that. So it was something that all came very natural to me.
Third .mp3 excerpt : favourite drummers
Who are some of your other drummer idols or drummer heroes back then?
My drummer idols have been American based players like Steve Gadd, Vinnie Colaiuta; musician drummers, really. I like Mike Clark from Herbie Hancock's band, with Thrust. Harvey Mason ... I thought his drumming was incredible. Kind of high hat-led players I liked. People that played with a little bit of detail. Gadd of course with his kind of military style, which I kind of adopted in my own way with my band Big Country, which we'll perhaps get on to at some point, cause I found with that band it was like a Celtic way of playing the drums. It was like Celtic music and that sort of marchingy ... grace note drumming. Kind of Fifty Ways ... You know the Steve Gadd song he plays ... Chuck E's in Love and all that stuff that was very inspirational for me as well as the Jeff Beck band and plus other bands at that time. I like some of the harder-edged stuff like the Who and the Beatles and stuff. The usual stuff.
I like song-orientated drumming which has got kind of more thought in it than just tapping along. I like to create my own identity. Big drum heroes - they are still my heroes. I like Phil Collins's drumming in Genesis. I think he's a wonderful drummer. Simon Phillips. Stuart Copeland. They've all got something to say and I can instantly hear their style. John Bonham, Keith Moon, BJ Wilson as well. You can really hear their style. So you know they are kind of like one-off players. No matter what score you go to ... 'cause I am an unschooled drummer really, in that sense ... I just listened and played ... I think individuality is what needs to come out ... and I think that comes out through trying to be as good as you can. I've got a theory about this, and you try to be as good as you can but you don't make any rules ... and somehow it comes out sounding your own way. You don't sort of adhere to trying to like somebody else. I think everyone has their own personality that comes out.
Fourth .mp3 excerpt : getting involved with Procol Harum, and the BJ Wilson legacy
Mark, how did you first get involved with Procol Harum?
I was actually ... doing a session ... well not a session ... I was in a band with Peter Townsend's brother, Simon Townsend ... And we were in the Isle of Man recording a record; doing an album. And during that recording, the phone rang and it was Gary Brooker on the phone. And, he asked if I was there. He knew of me from my band, Big Country, I think. And I was, and went to the phone and I wasn't really sure if it was the Gary Brooker, just getting a cold call like that. And it was ... you know ... 'We discussed drummers and your name's come up and would like to come and do some recording when you get back,' which would have been on The Prodigal Stranger. And I was delighted, because I'd always liked the Procol's music. Certain key songs I liked, you know from the singles that I knew. I wasn't really familiar with the more in depth work on the early albums and stuff ... but ...
Which were your favorite singles?
Pandora's Box, Conquistador - the ones that we would have heard. Whiter Shade of Pale of course and Grand Hotel. And the odd obscure tracks I'd heard through friends liking Procol as well. There is a keyboard player that I work with a lot that also works with Procol, when Matthew can't do it, called Josh Phillips. He's been a huge Procol fan and he's like best friend musician. And so I've got to know stuff through him as well over the years. So yeah ... I got a cold call from Gary just out of the blue and was absolutely blown away that I'd been asked, particularly under the sad circumstances that BJ had passed away and they were doing a new album. And of all the guys they were thinking of using they were looking towards using me which ... I was very honoured, I must admit. It's a huge honour to play with the band. Not only do they have a terrific history but a musicianship is unbelievable. It's a very, very special band for that. It has a certain feel. It has a certain style that you've got to hook into.
I found it not only challenging but particularly the way BJ played. I found that BJ was one of these players that perhaps played it one way on the record and perhaps played it slightly different each time live. He is like a one-off player. His drumming was also very unorthodox: I found that he would do certain rhythms ... change rhythms during a verse ... double the time and do a drum fill where I wouldn't expect it. But I loved that about his playing. You know he was one of those great innovators. And just to have that to look towards ... not trying to play like BJ but trying to play his spirit.
You know, I was trying to be myself and I try to do it my way. But I also kind of do it my way via his way, if you know what I mean. And it is a delicate balance, I think, because at the end of the day I've got to play the song; and also Gary is very, very fussy regarding how things sound and the feel, particularly the speed of songs. And he's very much the musical director in the band, Gary. And it's good to be under his wings. I've learned a hell of a lot, I must say.
Fifth .mp3 excerpt : playing live with Procol Harum
You've played with so many great musicians. I was recently on the website just looking at some of the groups you'd played with: Lionel Ritchie, Brian May, Pete Townsend, Leo Sayer, Roger Taylor, Big Country of course, Roger Daltrey, Joan Armatrading - I thought that was kind of interesting. Now, when you play with Procol, how does it differ?
It's different because it's keyboard led. Now that's different for me because I have to play with certain volumes in mind. There is a stage volume with Procol that's very different ... so when I play with Big Country where I'm playing quite at full tilt. There's also a certain feel with Gary that comes off his style of playing the piano. It's like, onstage I'll have a lot of Gary in the monitors. It's piano-led and the piano lands in a very unique way with Gary. His timing is unbelievable. He's got a way of playing a shuffle in fours, if you know what I mean. He's got a way of landing slightly lazy as long as I can keep some kind of framework he sort of teases around my drumming. It's different for that for me. It's not just kind of a rock noise if you know what I mean. Although it can get like that. It's got far more subtleties involved.
When you play then with a symphony, which I know you've done, that must be quite different, I imagine. The feel of that.
It is very different. Because you're playing ... you got to put a different head on there. You're playing dynamically very different. I mean when I play quiet I have to play ultra quiet and when I get loud I kind of exaggerate the dynamics. Also I'm observing the conductor as well. At the same time looking at him and he stands in a vantage point for me to the band as well. Sometimes you've got to ignore that as well, because you tend to get this dreadful delay from the orchestra striking up. By the time they've got to full strike, they're milliseconds behind the rhythm, and it's very tempting to kind of slow down with them but you've got to kind of grit your teeth and almost ignore what you've hearing. Perhaps it's like talking on a phone and hearing your voice slightly slapping back. You've got to ignore it and plough through so there is a challenge in that respect at keeping the volume down and also although we're playing similar songs, the arrangements change quite drastically when we play with an orchestra. There's often different parts in the song where we pull out completely to allow the orchestra to open up and then ... you got a cue from a vocal and you're back in.
So that's also a different challenge but I must admit - it's unbelievable to have a huge symphony orchestra behind you in the most amazing stereo your ears will ever hear. It's quite an extraordinary thing to do and to hear. It's all very well hearing an orchestra on the stereo; but to hear one behind you, with the detailed instrumentation is unbelievable. It's very "goose-bumping" on stage, I can assure you, it's amazing.
I've always thought that Procol Harum sounded so powerful with the orchestra work. Some of that is my favorite stuff.
Gary's stuff lends itself to the orchestra. Gary scores it as well. He does all the scoring and he's a very talented man. He'll work with the conductor and a lot of it is his arrangements; looking towards mixing the rock band with the orchestra and he's very unique at that. I think his music lends itself to the orchestra.
It's pure musical genius.
He's unbelievable. He really is. I'm very honored to play with him.
Sixth .mp3 excerpt : The future with Procol Harum
What do you see as the future of Procol Harum?
Well I see Procol Harum as a little bit of a family because they're good friends of ours and we're all good friends. And it's ... the future is the fact that we enjoy it. And when you enjoy something you want to continue doing it and with Procol, Gary doesn't do things out of 'feeling he should because he's being told he has to'. Gary does things out of loving playing music and including Matthew and the rest of the band and also wanting to do it. So, Gary's always writing new songs and I think as Gary's said in interviews, it's just a question of someone saying, "Hey, we still like Procol. Here's some money. Go and make a record. We're still happy to do that."
But we love touring; we love playing live. Gary's got a great catalogue, anyway, to choose from. And it's always a last minute thing with Gary, choosing obscure stuff to please different fans and stuff. So there is a massive set list to pick from over so many albums and very obscure songs. So we've got to be genned-up with such a big repertoire before we go on stage because it can change five minutes before we go on. Gary'll pull out songs that I may have heard two or three times. But the future of Procol is that we carry on playing. I've talked about this with Gary and it's like ... he'll say. Well he's ... he's a singer, he's a piano player, he's a writer. Why stop? So he does it because he likes; it like myself.
You've got some touring coming up? Touring in England?
Yes, we've got some select dates coming around Britain. I'm just trying to see what they are.
I think towards the end of May ... Croydon.
Yeah we've got the end of May ... we've got Newcastle Opera House, Fairfield Halls Croydon, and a few other shows ... Denmark in June; Holland; Poland. There was talk about going to Indonesia as well.
Well, I've just ordered your DVD of the Copenhagen and I'm looking forward to getting that and I just saw on amazon.com from Eagle Records "../phalbum12.htmto be announced Procol Harum CD"! Can you tell us anything about that?
I don't know really. There's different things that Gary's putting out. The DVD we've done ... there was some documentary stuff of rehearsing. I think one of the concerts was filmed.
Copenhagen, I think.
Yeah Copenhagen. Some interviews as well. So it should be very good. I haven't seen the finished thing but I enjoyed doing it and I know there were cameras around us in rehearsal. So it should be interesting.
Seventh .mp3 excerpt : Looking forward with other projects
Now, I've also really enjoyed your work with the group Big Country. Any plans on resurrecting that group? What is the status of that group?
Well, it's very sad end to the group, because our singer unfortunately died in January this year.
I'm sorry to hear that.
And we're doing a memorial concert coming on the 31st of this month. In Barrowlands in Scotland with I think members of Simple Minds, U-2, Hugh Cornwell from Stranglers, and a few others. I'm also with a band - Damon Hill - is a racing driver. He was world champion I think in '97. We got a fun band together and sometimes Gary comes and joins us. It's a bit of a social. We're going to be the house band for that, on the show - so that's coming up. But to be honest Big Country is really finished because of that. There will be different products out, based on the fact that Stuart Adamson, the main songwriter and vocalist isn't with us anymore. So it's come to a sad ending on that to be honest.
Are there any other groups that you are working with right now?
I'm working with Midge Ure from Ultravox. In fact I'm in between Midge Ure and Procol Harum, during the Procol tour. So I will be doing Midge Ure as well. Stuff with the Alarm as well. An 80s group called The Alarm, as well as Damon Hill. I'm also working with a Ukranian girl, called Annie Lorek which I'm going over to Kiev to do so some shows. She's like a Madonna of the Eastern block. Very huge star. She's got a record deal over here which I'm co-writing an album with one of the writers. So I keep myself busy.
Now are there any plans you know of for Procol to come to the United States?
Never know that. You know that would suddenly be announced. Gary would call me and say, "Do you fancy a bit of a play in America?" It would be one of those calls. And I never know really till close to the event, is the truth.
Well I hope you all come here to the United States. I got a chance to see Procol ... I think the last time was 1995 at the House of Blues here in Los Angeles. Anything out there you'd like to tell Procol Harum fans?
I've got a project with Simon Townsend and Bruce Foxton from the Jam. It's a three piece band. We're cutting tracks at the moment. Simon's on tour with the Who in America, soon. He's actually playing guitar along with his brother. And there are going to be a few shows ... we don't know what our availability is ... that we possibly may do, because we're pretty rehearsed up with that band as well. We may do one or two shows while he's on tour in America, just to capitalize on him being out there and The Who being on the road. So, we might do something in Los Angeles. It's called Animal Soup
Oh great. We'll look forward to that. Well you've been extremely busy, and very, very productive. You've really lent some great drumming to Procol Harum and the fans out there thank you and I thank you. And is there anything you'd like to tell the Procol Harum fans out there who might be listening?
Just keep supporting the band ... because they're great fans and it's great to have the support of the fans and still be there for us - because we'll be there for you.
Well, we certainly appreciate all the work that you do and thank you very much for coming on the show today.
Thank you very much. And It's No 6 isn't it? All the best to you!
Following the above formal interview Mark Brzezicki mentioned his love of American cars, and explained that he is a car collector. DJ No 6 also discovered that Mark Brzezicki and he shared a common experience - the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Number Six's home was nearly trashed by this 6.8-on-the-Richter-scale event. Mark Brzezicki was staying in Studio City, California - not far away - during this earth-moving event.