In Time - Player Profiles

Dave McCluskey – One of the Boys

Dave McCluskey is a great player. His quiet demeanour means you’ve probably missed him along the line. But if you have had the pleasure of watching him play, you’ll know he’s rock solid. A time machine in fact. He drives the band along superbly and doesn’t let up for the whole show – providing energy in spades with an awesome groove. His current gig is with English rockers The Quireboys and he held the chair with former Thunder alumni Luke Morley, in The Union. He has also played alongside Danny Bowes and Ben Matthews – also of Thunder. We caught up with Dave recently after his recording session with The Quireboys.

Hi Dave

Hi man.

So musically at the moment, you’re playing for The Quireboys. How’s the gig going?

It’s going really well. We have been all over the UK at the start of the year and been moving into Europe now and it’s going to continue to the end of the year – we’re doing the Monsters of Rock Cruise in America in October. Since joining the band in 2013 it’s been non stop but I can’t complain about working with great musicians and playing to fantastic crowds and places. As well as all that, we have just finished recording a new studio album which will be called Twisted Love and will be put out September this year.

Sounds great. Will you be touring the album?

Yes we will be touring off the back of this record once it gets put out. This year we are doing 4 small electric shows around the UK and playing paisley Bungalow on the 18th of September. Carrying on with touring around Europe and going to the states to do the Monsters of Rock Cruise. We will be doing a big UK tour next year. The guys are doing an acoustic tour this December and I will be joining them in Edinburgh and Stirling playing the Cajon and Percussion.

What’s the most demanding part of the job for you?

It might sound daft cause it’s every drummers job but its true, sit on that stool and make sure I keep that band together and keep the groove solid. It’s the great thing about the Quireboys, they don’t ask for much and the songs are not fancy wild but I make sure I play the songs and keep it really tight. It’s one thing I notice, a lot of players maybe get bored cause they are just playing 4/4 and don’t get to show what they are really all about. They start adding stuff in, doing fancy stuff. It can be done but often they overplay with all fancy stuff. You can keep a solid 4/4 groove and make it look serious and great and in the end, make sure you keep it solid and hold that band together.

I saw you pay with The Union a few years ago it was preatty full on! How do you keep the energy up for a full show?

That one is good to ask cause a lot of people really do wonder how we do it. Sometimes doing a set, you don’t have a break between songs and count the next one in right away. It’s all down to breathing I guess, if you don’t keep you breathing steady then the body is going to go into panic mode. As I read a while back, a study was put together in a university with a drummer and a pro athlete and the results came out nearly the same. With how we breath etc, drummers are compared to athletes cause we do put our bodies under a lot of stress the way athletes do. Plenty of water, try and sleep when possible on tours, eat right. It sounds boring and not very rock n roll but you will last longer and not be so done in after a gig.

Do you enjoy the touring life?

It’s what I always wanted to do. As much as I miss my own bed haha, I still love going on the road. Although you don’t get to see much cause you are living life on the motorway, it’s the buzz from playing to different crowds and going to different towns which makes it great. I started doing it lightly with my first band The River 68’s then when I joined The Union in 2010 and going into The Quireboys in 2013, its been nearly 6 years solid of it now. I’m in that frame of mind.

Touring has really got 2 sides to it and it’s what a lot players miss when they want to do it. They think its all great gigs and great times but they miss the other side of it. It’s a fantastic experience and I hope to keep doing it for a long time. That feeling you get when playing the gigs is something you can’t explain, you have to experience it yourself. Seeing all the people enjoying themselves, singing back the songs is knowing you are doing the job right. What makes it more great is when the parents bring along their kids and seeing them having a great time cause I had that same feeling when my parents took me to see a band live and I’m not ashamed to say, (The Corrs). Great players and really enjoyed it standing on the seat trying to see the band.

For the other side of touring – there is a lot of long hours travelling, just seeing motorways out a tour bus or van window or sitting around in hotel rooms waiting. If you are ok with this then it’s all good. I hope you have good patience in you to sit and do that. Find things to keep you at ease – read books, go for a walk – instead of sitting around in the hotel room. Or as I like doing now, invest in a good camera and go for walks to capture places I’ve been to. We have a laugh about it when there might be a whole day of waiting about, you start complaining then.

Do you get to practice on the road? And how you do you stay healthy?

I don’t get to practice much on the road as we are travelling a lot and everything is a hundred miles an hour. During travel times, I stretch my fingers a lot to keep the blood flowing and rotate my wrists. When waiting to go on stage, I swap the sticks around so the stick is hitting the underside of my arm to get the fingers moving. Just little things here and there but it all helps.

It’s so easy to fall in the trap of eating badly when travelling – America is bad for that haha. We made a deal over there and subway salads saved us. Always carrying water in my bag and eat plenty of fruit. Even if you have a treat that day. playing that gig that night you’re going to burn it off anyway – playing nearly a 2 hour set is like going for a run. Yeah just staying away from sweets and takeaways like Burger King etc, trying to keep that mind set of stay healthy and don’t fall in the trap.

Do you find it difficult sitting on a chair that was held by the likes of Jason Bonham?

Not really, I don’t find that part difficult. I think the bit I find difficult sometimes, especially at the beginning, is to play the songs right and keep it together. It was even more nerve wracking cause I had to learn the set in less than 24 hours with a flight out to Barcelona to play the first gig with The Quireboys. Only knowing one song, I was surviving off coffee sitting at the laptop with my headphones in going over the tracks over and over again. I never had the chance to sit down at the kit before going out to Barcelona, it was “…there’s the songs, be at Glasgow airport with your sticks at 6am and meet the boys in Spain for a tour”. It was a case of ok, I’m free, lets do it. I encourage that as well, if your willing to do that then go for it and never back down.

Do you enjoy that way of learning material or do you prefer to be fully prepped going in?

I guess I like both ways if I’m honest, being prepared and going to do it is great but when you have a short time to do it I like being under pressure learning. I like to be pushed beyond my limit and I think it’s a great thing all new players should look at. Try and push yourself beyond your limits and put yourself under that pressure. While I was learning the Union’s set I never stopped going into a rehearsal room and thrashing through the songs. When it came to rehearsal, one song through and the guys were shaking my hand afterwared which made me feel like I could relax a little but I knew it wasn’t over cause that was one song. Unfortunately I didn’t have that time to learn the Quireboys set but I liked the pressure (although the woman in front of me on the plane hated it cause my feet where tapping that entire flight haha).

How do you find having to nail the parts that fans know so well?

That I find really fun, cause you see drummers in the crowd maybe drunk or whatever air drumming but playing the parts I’m playing up at the kit. I get a kick out of it and find it really fun. I kinda think, well if they are doing the same to what I’m doing then I hope they are keeping their playing up, playing around their town and touring as well. As to the point I made earlier, playing the songs they way it was recorded so fans are getting what they know and want, so im doing the job right.

You played with Danny and Ben from Thunder – was there anything from the Thunder catalogue that you had to learn?

Yeah that was great playing with Danny and Ben. I joined them a couple of times in Glasgow on their little acoustic tours that they did. I had to learn a handful of Thunder songs and a handful of covers. I’m a Thunder fan, so getting to play the songs with them was brilliant. Danny singing, Ben on piano and guitar and me playing Cajon and percussion. No rehearsal for it, just turn up at sound check, play the tunes and make sure it all sounded fine. Was nice and laid back and great guys towork with.

That sounds great! Did you manage to keep that kind of fun vibe for doing the full band shows?

Oh no I never played with the whole band Thunder live but have joined them on stage in Japan, me with a guitar on running around like a clown pretending I’m playing the guitar. They’re fantastic guys and just had a laugh about it. It’s the same with The Quireboys and The Union, we always have great vibes on stage and such and great laugh. If you show to the crowd what a good time it is then they feed off that and have a great time as well.

What’s your favourite venue to play?

For me so far it has to be the Whisky A Go Go in L.A. Cause of its history and knowing you have played on the same stage with a lot of great acts going way back to before I was born. For a home town gig I would have to say The Garage. I’ve always has a great gig in there and such a great atmosphere. I’ve got to say a thank you to Alistair and the Mad Crew for their great help every time. Top guys and the hardest working.

What gear are you using?

I’m using a Gretsch Renown Maple on the road in Dark Walnut and it is thanks to Drummers Only for helping me pick out a fantastic sounding and strong kit for my heavy hands. Sizes are 24″, 13″, 16″, 18″. All Remo coated heads.

The small pub gigs, Gretsch Catalina. I have used this kit recording and sounds amazing cause it’s a real warm sound and great punch off the bass drum, 22″, 12″, 16″. All Remo coated heads again.

I use all Zildjian Cymbals, 14in Avedis New Beat Hi Hats, 20in Avedis Medium Thin Crash,19in Avedis Thin Crash, a 23″ Avedis Sweet Ride and finally a 20in A Custom Crash. The Crashes really hold up great, with great attack. All Tama road pro stands and a DW 5000 single pedal, a Tama Iron Cobra for back up.

I carry 2 snares with me, Gretsch 14×8 Maple and a Gretsch 14×6.5 Taylor Hawkins signature. That’s my main one I use live and even though it’s not your top end snare,doesn’t matter to me. Sounds seriously good!

I endorse a Porter & Davies throne with BC2. Great product and helped a lot now with feeling the bass drum through the seat. I highly recommend checking one out. I’m also endorsed by Regal Tip Drum Sticks. I was using 5B stretch for a while but now moved onto a 7B. Thank you to John Hornby Skewes and Gavin Coulson for bringing me on board.

Just started using in ears now which I’m finding a lot better. Using Shure in ears which are all hard wired with the jack socket on the back of the throne and going to my small mixer at the side of me. I find it a lot better to hear everything cause at moments the crowd can go louder than the band, you never know what can happen and the it all goes to pot but with the in ears I have better control on hearing the band.

Do you have to change yourset up for any of the gigs you do?

Not really, everything runs pretty smoothly. For shows that you fly to, you are obviously restricted to what you can bring. An advancement sheet gets sent out to the promoter to have all the gear we need for us arriving. Yeah sometimes the drums are different sizes but I’m still going to set it up to the same height as I would with my kit at home. Its been really good and all the gear that gets brought in for the shows we need it on has been great.

Do you have to tech for yourself? And how do you solve any problem that might arise – wingnuts or clutches going missing,etc?

Yeah I do it all myself – set up and take down all my own gear. I really don’t mind doing it myself but yeah, sometimes a tech would be nice. I’ve had all sorts happen to me on gigs. Clutches coming undone, snare drum skin bursting during a song, so play the rest of the song on the rack tom. Cymbals falling off risers, rack toms collapse…….as folk may know I’m a bit of a hard hitter, so things tend to happen. The band may notice something has happened but just giving them the signal it will be ok and make it through the song and fix it at the end of the song. The worse thing that happens a lot is when the beater comes off the bass drum pedal. When you haven’t got a bass drum pedal, everything sounds horrible but there is nothing you can do and even a tech would find it hard getting there to put the beater back on.

Do you have a lot of creative input into the drum parts?

Mainly with The Union and The Quireboys, the tracks have already been written with either a simple groove or something that they want. When it came to recording stage, yes there was room for putting my own spin on it or fills, whatever it was. There was a groove I always played on sound check with The Union and Luke and Pete took the groove and made it into a song which was called Obsession. I only did it cause when the sound guy asks for the whole kit on sound check, it involved a lot tom work to make it easier for him to sound check. With The Quireboys record I just recorded, there was a lot of trust there to let me loose in the live room but just as long as I kept it to the vibe they wanted.

How different is doing a gig like that compared with doing a covers gig? Is there any room for interpretation?

For me, way different. Because I’m playing with a band on the road that needs solid rock n roll and when coming home I’m playing with an AOR covers band, the two styles are different. There is defo a lot more room in the covers band to let loose and we add our own spin on things sometimes to make it a bit more lively. With the covers band, we are playing tracks from the 80s from bands across America, Europe and the UK. There are big hits so folk know the stuff and there is much more going on in the tracks. I think it’s what keeps things at an even balance for me, I get to play 2 different styles and enjoy it. I’m always up for different styles of playing but folk know me as the hard hitting rock drummer which doesn’t bother me.

Sounds like you have a great balance going on. Are you involved with any other projects at the minute?

At the moment I’m just working with the Quireboys and when I’m free I work with the covers band. I will never knock work back and always open to do more things as Iëve done in the past. Better to be busy.

Do you teach and if so, how do you find it?

At the moment I don’t teach but its something I would love to do. Handing down the enjoyment I got when learning the drums at the age of 9. I have to be honest – I’m not a technical player at all but I spent a lot of time training my ear and learning without a metronome. Just playing along to my favourite music back then and that involved a lot of The Who, thanks to my dad. I would still love to teach youngsters and any age group cause I think its a great thing.

What kind of things are you working on practice wise (outside of the show)?

Actually picking up rudiments I didn’t look at when I was first learning and finger control. I really am enjoying moving whatever I’m doing with the right hand and swapping it over to the left to help build up the strength on the left, as I’m right handed. Setting up 2 bass drum pedals and trying to get the 4 limbs doing different things. I’m in no rush to get it all nailed, I’ve still got many years ahead of me to learn it. One thing young players miss, you are never finished learning.

What are your top 5 records and why?

ëWho’s Next’ – The Who. Childhood memories of learning a lot of tracks off that and Keith Moon is my favourite player.

ëIV’ – Led Zeppelin. Got all my favourite Zeppelin songs on it and one of the top solid players of all time – John Bonham

Ogdens Nut Gone Flake – Small Faces. For the most craziest recording ever. If you sit and listen to that album with a set of headphones you will see what I mean but the songs are fantastic.

Stanley Road – Paul Weller. Thanks to my sister as hearing it blasting from her room. Steve White becoming a great inspiration with his great grooves on the album, learning the track Changing Man and plucking up the courage at a young age to go along to one of his clinics by myself.

Earth Rocker – Clutch. To pick a more modern album I have loved it has to be that. The drummer – Jean-Paul Gaster – is a fantastic player and has a great feel. Learning his parts has been great fun. One drummer I think a lot of people should listen to.

Please give me one piece of advice for the younger generation coming up?

Very good question. I mind saying this a while back. If you find yourself in a position you get that phone call or email to come for audition, don’t go into panic mode or think you can walk into it doing ur own thing. Spend time listening, knowing what’s going on with the tracks and learn the songs the way they are recorded. Don’t walk into the audition playing the tracks but adding all this fancy stuff cause it could be guy that played before you that gets the job cause he played what was needed. If the band want more, they will ask for it. If you watch Michael Jackson’s ëThis Is It’ DVD, he stands there and tells his keyboard player to play the track the way it was recorded. Stick to that and do it to the best of your ability and never give up.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I really hope to be doing what I’m doing still. I will keep working hard at it and do hope at some point in my life I’m teaching.

How valuable to guys like yourself are local drum shops?

Very valuable, you and the team have helped me out so much and I have so much praise and thanks for you all. For a kit we need for the likes of pub gigs or touring kits, with the knowledge you know and help pointing out the right kits for these things have been amazing. For someone that is a hard hitter like myself, picking the right cymbals and kit to last long on tours, you have helped a lot. The team at Drummers Only I can’t thank you enough for all the great help and advice. The most welcoming shop and most helpful.