Kasabian’s Ian Matthews packed stadiums and building a drum empire
Ian Matthews he’d just had a weekend to remember as Kasabian packed out Leicester’s King Power Stadium for two huge shows. The gigs, put on to celebrate the city’s gobsmacking Premier League triumph, sold out in a matter of minutes. Not bad considering the band had no new material to showcase and had been working away under the radar since last summer. Ian once again proved that he is the consummate professional behind he kit, powering stadium-sized performances with reassuring power and precision, even in the wake of playing such a huge event on just a few weeks notice.
It helped that during the band’s downtime Ian had kept his hand in with some small-scale jazz gigs and so he was able to burst back into full-on Kasabian mode when the call came in that stadium shows – plus a pair of warm-ups – were on.
The gigs saw the band ride the wave of euphoria that swept across the city in the aftermath of its footballing glory, and Kasabian stepped up to the plate, delivering back-to-back performances which confirm their status as genuine stadium fillers. Of course we shouldn’t be surprised at that, given that they headlined Glastonbury and filled Leicester’s Victoria Park with 35,000 fans back in 2014.
If Leicester City FC have just enjoyed a fairytale, Ian is also looking to be part of one of his own, thanks to the launch of the British Drum Company. Founding a brand new drum company with eyes on the big boys is gutsy. In today’s market of drum store closures and falling revenues, it is as eyebrow raising as it is admirable.
But the Bristolian drummer is not doing so out of pure blind faith, he is part of a crack British Drum Company team of drum gurus, including master builder Keith Keough and TV funnyman Al Murray. We quiz Ian on the ins and outs of his new venture during our chat, but there’s only one place to start, those mega Kasabian shows.
When was the idea of playing the stadium shows put to you?
“I was just getting on with my life in Bristol. Obviously I have a close relationship with the boys but when we have some time off I’m in Bristol doing my thing, being a dad, I’ve had the British Drum Company keeping me busy, I’ve been doing some local gigs. I break away from the Kasabian headspace.
“I could see things were coming and we’d had some texts going back and forth but then Serge [Pizzorno, guitar] just rang me about a month before the gig and said he felt there was a big change going on in the city and that Leicester were going to do it. He asked if I wanted to do a few gigs ending up with playing at the stadium. I said, ‘Yeah, why not then!’ It was as if a mate had rang me up asking if I wanted to do a £60 jazz gig in a few weeks time. It came about so quick. I think we have the world record for arranging a stadium show in under a month.”
“We were stood next to the players with the trophy there. Wow.”
“I think the first show sold out in five minutes. The atmosphere in the stadium was amazing. We did the victory parade at Victoria Park which was off the scale. We were stood next to the players with the trophy there, wow. You could feel the excitement. We did three or four tunes then, I think. That was pretty big. The last time we had played before that was we headlined V Festival last summer and we played in Paris and then we did one more European show at the end of August and we hadn’t played together since then.”
Those stadium shows must have had a special atmosphere
“Before we went on they played Nessun Dorma and then a little bit of an interview with [Leicester manager Claudio] Ranieri and then we went on to Underdog. We hadn’t even come on stage and the place had gone berserk. Obviously Andrea Bocelli sang Nessun Dorma [on the pitch at Leicester’s final home game] and the place went crazy, there were blokes with beer bellies yelling it at the top of their voice. It was so powerful. We will always remember those gigs.
“A couple of weeks before the stadium shows I was looking at some YouTube footage of when we played Victoria Park a couple of years ago. Bumblebee was kicking off and I thought we sounded really tight and then the video panned out to the whole park so you could see the entire audience and I about s*** myself thinking, ‘F*** me, it really was that big!’ That was another stand out gig. Playing Red Rocks supporting Oasis all those years ago is another that will always be in my mind. As will the first time we soundchecked at Wembley to play Live Earth. Sound checking in a stadium, that was crazy. Headlining Earls Court to almost 20,000 people as well when we’d only been in the public eye for a few years, those memories will always be with me.
Was it difficult to get straight back into playing a stadium after just a couple of warm-up shows?
“It’s not that I’ve got memory problems, but the drums I use with Kasabian are 24”, 13”, 16”, 18”, so it takes a while to get back used to getting around that kit without feeling clunky, because at home I’ve got a little kit and I play jazz gigs. It takes some time to get back in the swing of it so you’re not thinking about it while you’re playing. You get that after being on the road for a month or so, then it becomes second nature.”
You mentioned jazz gigs then, did they form the bulk of your playing in Kasabian’s downtime?
“I play with mates of mine in Bristol who I have played with for years. I don’t get into any real other projects because Kasabian is ongoing. I don’t get involved with function gigs and wedding gigs so the easiest thing is to do jazz and funk gigs. That keeps me playing.”
“There is. We did three days rehearsals at Marshall in Milton Keynes. They have kind of a gig venue in their factory and we set up in there. When we rehearse as a band we don’t just slap £50 down and rent a room, it’s a bit of a monster that needs to be awoken. We go in with all of our monitors, techs and stage show.
“Then we played the victory parade and then we went to Bedford for more rehearsals with the whole stage set up and then the lighting people got involved. As it got closer to the gigs more and more people got involved.
“We then played a warm-up in Bridlington Spa and then one in Swindon. At the Swindon show the monitoring desk blew up. It started to mix itself. I was getting seasick because I had my in-ears and everything was coming in and out and then the desk just died. It’s typical when you’re in a band the last rehearsal before that important gig is always s***, ever since I was young that s*** rehearsal has always been the precursor to a great show.”
Kasabian had been off the radar since last summer and had no new material out, so did selling out two nights at the King Power Stadium bring a sense of validation to you?
“I actually found out we had sold the gig out while I was on Keith from British Drum Company’s stag do in Portugal. I knew the shows were coming but they hadn’t been announced yet. I was away and one of the lads was on his phone and said, ‘S***, you’ve sold it out in five minutes.’ I thought, ‘Oh, we are doing those gigs then!’ To sell those tickets on our own and not because we’re at a festival or we’re supporting somebody is incredible. I will never take that for granted.”
Building a drum empire
You mentioned the British Drum Company, how did your role at the firm come about?
“Keith came to V Festival last year and watched the show. He came back to the VIP area afterwards and he whipped out this BDC badge and said, ‘I’m doing this, do you want to do it as well?’ I’ve known Keith for years and we’re really good friends. I met him first at the Scottish Drum Fair years ago and we were in the same hotel. Back then I did my set and when I went back to the hotel I met Keith there and we went for a curry. We were chatting and we didn’t get to bed until six in the morning, we just had so much common ground from a player to a drum maker. I had also met Al Murray through the business back in 2004 or 2005. Al and Keith had the idea of getting me involved and that as how it started.”
Was it a difficult decision to become more than an artist for the company, to actually be a major part of the British Drum Company?
“I’m a partner in the business so I’m not just an endorsee. I can do as much as I want but the more I do the more interest it is for the company. I’m delighted to be given the opportunity to be the ultimate drum geek. We’re designing stuff, it’s not just ringing the company up asking for drums, it’s hands on.”
You must have great faith in the company, as this is a difficult industry and a tricky time in which to launch a new business.
“We’re all so positive about making it work. Keith has been in the business for 20 years, I’ve been in Kasabian for 12 years and I went pro as a drummer 26 years ago. Al Murray is a celebrity in his own right and has been since the ‘90s, our marching band expert Stu Warmington has had a career at the top of the military’s marching scene and our product designer Al Kitching has been a designer for years. Everyone is bringing something to the table. No one is just turning their hand to something, we’ve all already been doing it but now we’re doing it together.”
You’ve played everything from small jazz gigs to stadium rock shows. Does that stand you in good stead for your role at the British Drum Company as you know what works across a spectrum of genres and venues?
“I’ve played different kits, I’ve had vintage kits, I’ve had brand new kits, I’m aware of what drummers need, want and require. We’re all individual but there is a ballpark and I’m coming from that direction and making sure that the drums feel, look, sound and tune right and that they’re road worthy. Keith knows how they should feel but then I’m the bugger that has to use them so I come at it from that practical perspective. I’ve played all kinds of gigs and sessions down the years. Doing that you get to know where you can take drums. I hope people out there trust us that we know what we’re doing, because we do.”
What kit are you using on the road with Kasabian?
“It’s a continuation of what I’ve always used for Kasabian. I used to use a 22”, 12”, 14”, 16” set-up but then I went up to 24” to get a bit more thunder. Playing with Kasabian I thought that looked a little more inkeeping and to scale. These gigs were a continuation of the last tour so it was still the matte black finish as that is what Kasabian have been rolling with for the last few years. The kit is actually the first BDC kit I saw. It’s a bit of a legend really. It’s birch with mahogany, 45 degree bearing edges. We had that kit there but it hadn’t been drilled, there was no hardware. I had to ring Keith and say, ‘S***, we’ve got a gig in a month!’ Keith sorted that out. I used my Black Beauty snare that I have used for years and years as we haven’t come up with a brass snare that encapsulates that sound just yet. I had my Zildjian cymbals as well, I love those.”