The British Beat: the British Drum Company8:00, 1st February 2018
The last few years might not have seemed the ideal time to launch an instrument manufacturing business. But with a high-profile team including standup comedian Al Murray, the British Drum Company is looking forward with confidence, and a commitment to music education. Alex Stevens finds out more
When it comes to establishing a new brand, it helps to have a celebrity endorsement or two to gain publicity, raise your profile, and generally shout about how great you are. Luckily for the British Drum Company (BDC), they have one particular such endorsement, in the form of a politically incorrect publican who thinks he’s funny. Luckily it’s more than an endorsement – Al Murray is an invested director of the company – and, also luckily, he does not conduct business in character.
Murray made a late return to the drums around 15 years ago after being involved in presenting public drum clinics, after which, it seems, he never looked back – as he told musicradar.com last year, he is ‘fascinated by drumming and love it, but I know my limitations!’. Murray has provided investment and expertise in the setting up of the company, as well as a welcome boost to its public profile.
‘Most people know Al through his act as The Pub Landlord,’ says Mel Stewart, BDC’s head of sales and artist relations. ‘This means that whenever Al appears with BDC in a public setting, people have a reaction and it is always a positive one. He is the ultimate salesman! On three occasions last year, I watched in awe as drummers and potential BDC customers crowded around him to receive an enthusiastically presented product run-down.
But is he also useful behind the scenes? And if so, how? ‘Despite being constantly busy with his other career, Al communicates with HQ on a regular basis, and is involved in many aspects of the brand. He is also an ideas man, which means he makes an extremely valuable contribution to both the development of new products and to the outlook of the company.
‘He is the very opposite of a silent partner and that is exactly the way we like it!’
Murray is not the only celebrity involved in BDC (Ian Matthews, Kasabian’s drummer, is also closely involved in the company). But perhaps most importantly, BDC founder and chief executive Keith Keough is also – as much as it’s possible to be – something of a celebrity drum maker. Previously head of manufacture and research and development at Premier Drums, Keough’s reputation means the company has been seen as a major player since its inception.
‘Poetically speaking, it was like a phoenix rising from the proverbial flames,’ says Stewart. ‘When Premier Percussion closed its UK facility back in August 2015 it meant that three key employees lost their positions and that led to Keith Keough, the BDC’s chief executive, seeking new opportunities in the industry. With his reputation as one of the world’s best drum builders, it wasn’t long – one month to be precise – before he had the attention of Al, who is a self-confessed drum enthusiast, and Ian, who tours the world as a professional drummer. This led to BDC as we now know it.’
But if the expertise was there, how did the founders know that there was a gap in the market for the venture to be a success? ‘For many years, the UK has been missing a global mainstream drum brand,’ says Stewart. ‘There are many excellent boutique brands available but nothing designed to specifically to stand in line with the other great established drum brands that we all know and love. The key to what we do is our passion and expertise. We have a vision for the future of drum building which is to exceed every standard already established and set a new benchmark in British made drums.’
For the education market it is the instruments’ quality that will most appeal, believes Stewart. ‘We want our drums to allow you to be as creative as you can be … Our drums are made using the finest materials and with complete attention to detail. Our “ingredients” are carefully selected for their musical quality and we believe this is what educators and students appreciate.’
Since it was launched in 2015, the company has worked with drum teachers including Pete Cater, Simon Mellish and Colin Woolway, and another of the company’s directors is Stu Warmington, president of the Traditional Youth Marching Bands Association. Warmington is also percussion advisor for the Liberty High School Grenadier Band in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and has decades of experience in the world of marching bands, not least as a corporal bugler in the Royal Marines Band Service.
‘When it comes to marching percussion, Stu Warmington’s involvement in the company brings us a unique set of opportunities and expertise which have helped us to infiltrate the industry with military precision,’ says Stewart. ‘His reputation and experience have allowed us to get a foothold into a huge and competitive market where there is a gap for quality marching percussion that is handmade in the UK.’
Last year the company secured its distribution networks throughout the UK, US and Europe, and focused on developing its brand; 2018 is now set to be a year of development. ‘We will be branching out into new territories and utilising the services of overseas educators to bring our drums to many people who have not yet come across us.’
As well as this, the company is sponsoring Young Drummer of The Year, the final of which takes place in Leamington Spa early this month, and has booked appearances at the NAMM trade show in California (which took place last month), the UK Drum Show (in Manchester on 29 and 30 September), and the London Drum Show (10 and 11 November).
‘The key to what we do is our passion and expertise,’ says Stewart. ‘We have a vision for the future of drum building which is to exceed every standard already established and set a new benchmark in British-made drums.’ The Pub Landlord would approve.