Putting names to top UK percussionists is not an easy task. There’s Sola Akingbola from Jamiroquai, of course, and Shovell from M People; Pete Lockett and er…
Even the most ardent muso fan is likely to be stumped after naming a couple, such is the criminal underrating of percussionists in this country. A bit of prompting, however, and suddenly the likes of Miles Bould, Fergus Gerrand, Snowboy etc. all spring to mind. Among this group figures Karlos Edwards, one of the select band of homegrown percussionists to have risen to the top of their chosen career ladder.
Reaching such heights frequently means a varied working diary, and Karlos’ is just that. Since the beginning of his career he has found himself on stage or in the studio with everyone from Aztec Camera and Danny Wilson to Chicane and Will Young. But it is with Take That that Karlos is playing out 2007. A string of sell-out arena shows across the UK is keeping him busy when we track him down at Birmingham’s NEC to talk about incorporating the hi-tech with the traditional…
It’s quite a rig you have for the Take That tour. And we notice a Roland Handsonic and SPD-S taking pride of place to your left hand side…
“Absolutely. A lot of the boys’ older songs used 808 sounds and that’s where the Handsonic has come in so useful, because it has all that classic stuff right in there. I don’t really trigger loops – the drummer will usually do that, so it’s generally atmospheric stuff or single-shot sounds that I’ll use both the Handsonic and SPD-S for. These days, the acoustic and electronic go hand in hand. I love the mix of acoustic instruments and the Roland gear; it’s really a case of the best of both worlds.”
How long have you used electronics in your rig?
“About eight or nine years ago. I was working with Chicane on tour and I needed to add some extra handclaps, so I got an Octapad and an Akai sampler. I realised then it was something I should concentrate on adding into my rig and I began to plan what I wanted to use, and how. When Roland brought out the Handsonic it changed my life. The fact that it’s designed to be played with hands makes it so perfect for percussionists. It’s fun to play with sticks, but playing it with hands is a whole different experience, especially when you’re using tabla sounds and stuff like that. I love the fact that things like the Handsonic and SPD-S are so self-contained, with effects and everything built-in nowadays. Ican have a tambourine with reverb sent straight from the Handsonic to the sound desk. You don’t have to relyon the sound guy to remember to add reverb for one song, so it makes everyone’s lives easier. And artists love that consistency. So these things have become a massively important part of my set-up now.”
Do you use electronic percussion in the studio as well as on stage?
“Of course! The Handsonic is permanently set up in the studio. I use it for tablas, because I’m not a great tabla player; for African drums, finger bells. The sounds are so good, and it’s so easy to get a great sound recorded, that it really makes me question getting in the ‘real thing’ for a lot of sessions now.”
Do you record your parts as MIDI, as most of us fumbling non-percussionists have to? Or are you a stranger to the quantise function?
“I’ll generally play the Handsonic down live. That way I can get those electronic sounds but with a very live feel. I get quite a lot of calls for that. Producers don’t have to quantise me, and they get a feel that moves ever so slightly with the track. Because there are perhaps not many of us who can do that, it’s a great source of work sometimes –.I think I paid around 700 pounds for the Handsonic when it came out and within two weeks it had paid for itself!”
What’s the most unusual situation you use the Handsonic in?
“I do some functions and events with a string quartet. And for that I’ll generally take a snare, use a shaker as a ‘hi-hat’ and use the Handsonic for kick drum. That’s pretty fun.”
You play ‘proper’ drum kit as well, of course – with Nitin Sawhney among others. Did you play drums first, and then get the percussion bug, or the other way around?
“I actually started playing drums and percussion both at the same time. I grew up listening more to drummers than percussionists. It was guyslike Harvey Mason, Steve Ferrone who got me excited. But my older brother got me into Earth, Wind And Fire and theirrecords are drenched in percussion. I never really understood what it was, but there was always a section in a song where everything would lift and I loved it. And when I was about 13 or 14, I started hearing that it was a conga part coming in, or a tambourine that was causing that lift, and that’s when I really got the bug.”
How do you see your relationships with your drum kit and percussion rig today?
“With kit, it’s a totally different discipline. I love the fact that when I’m playing percussion, I cannot play for 16 bars, then come in with a shaker and lift a track. You can’t do that with drums. I do love playing drums with Nitin, but I’m pretty choosy with what I do in terms of drum kit sessions. I have to really be into the music, and people have to know what it is that I do, I’m a song player, a groove player. That’s always what it’s about for me – drums or percussion; it’s always about making the song feel better.”