When was the last time you went to a concert where the audience clapped and sang along to every song—a concert where you were mesmerized by a charismatic singer and the magic of moving music? Welcome to the world of Marillion.
Marillion plays complex rock that reflects influences from classical, Latin, and jazz to British folk, blues, and of course, rock ‘n’ roll. Already an established success overseas, the band’s first breakthrough in the States came in the form of last year’s hit single, “Kayleigh.” Marillion followed that up with impressive sales for the group’s third LP, Misplaced Childhood, and current mini LP, Brief Encounter. Drummer Ian Mosley joined the band in 1983, and his easygoing nature and sense of humor fit in perfectly with the extended family that is Marillion.
Although widely admired for his work, Mosley is a modest man. When he meets fans, he is always willing to answer questions and just generally talk drums. Even though Ian has a busy style, there are no arms and legs flailing away at everything within ten feet of the drumkit. Those intricate fills he plays may be hard work, but you’d never know it by Ian’s relaxed demeanor. He is the kind of drummer to whom young drummers look for inspiration.
In his early days, young Mosley’s musician father used to take Ian with him to West End shows in London. Ian was inspired by the drummers and began banging away on biscuit tins when he was seven. He started lessons at age 13, and played in his school’s jazz orchestra. After that, it was off to Guildhall School of Music, where he studied during the day and played in West End shows at night.
He says of his early influences, “I was totally into the big band drummers: Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, and Gene Krupa. Then when the whole jazz/rock thing happened, I started listening to Lenny White, Gerry Brown, and a lot of Latin guys, especially Ray Baretto. And I always thought that John Bonham was brilliant.”
After school, Ian played a variety of gigs, including session work. Then he was asked to do an album in Holland with keyboard player Rick van der Linden. Mosley ended up staying there for two years. He says, “It was great living in Holland. They had lots of jazz and Latin workshops where you could go along and play.
“Eventually, I joined Nippy Noya, who formed a band called Latin Explosion, which was about 20 percussionists and three or four horn players. Nippy, who’s a really good percussionist, used to go on first and start doing a thing on congas. Then another percussionist would come on, and it would build up. In the end, the whole band would be on stage. It was brilliant. I learned a lot because there were some great players going about.”
Mosley returned to London in 1978 and joined the Gordon Giltrap Band. While working with Giltrap, Ian met former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. Hackett was finishing up an album and asked Mosley to play on his upcoming tour. Mosley played with Steve for a couple of years. When Hackett decided to take some time off, Ian heard of the opening with Marillion. He was originally hired just to do an album session, but was asked to stay on permanently.
Does Ian feel that he has been typecast as a “progressive rock” drummer? “Yeah, maybe in the past, but I’ve played on all sorts of stuff, really. I mean, I’ve surprised myself in a couple of the things I’ve done. The last session I did—for a band called Propaganda—was a kind of jazz thing. They put down a basic Linn track that was quite straight. Then they said to me, ‘We want you to go totally berserk over the top of it. Go really . . . Keith Moon.’ So I did, and that turned out really well.
“I feel more at home playing complicated music, I suppose—although Marillion’s not really complicated. For instance, it was very unusual to play anything in 4/4 with Steve Hackett. It was always 9’s or 13’s. Marillion, I think, is more song-oriented, because we write as a band. We do try to emphasize melodies more, but there’s still room to do your 7/4’s and whatnot.
“I’d been doing a lot of it before in West End shows. There are always 5’s and 7’s, but I don’t usually count those things anyway. I try to play a melody because, if you’re trying to count—especially on some of Hackett’s stuff—it’s like going ‘1,2,3, 4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13.’ [out of breath] So you just try to play to the melody.
“I do try to listen to the whole thing as a piece of music, rather than beaming in on the drum part. Between the ages of 16 and about 24, I was guilty of just trying to please the drummers in the audience. But in the last few years, I’ve started to appreciate different styles of music.”
Ian has the ability to make the music flow smoothly, no matter what the time signature. As he says, “I seem to get great pleasure these days from just being able to play, say, four beats to a bar and create an atmosphere. It means so much more to me now than playing at 100 mph. I find it more challenging, in a way.”
Mosley’s feet are very quick. He will suddenly switch his foot from his hi-hat to the left bass drum and explode with a triplet or double paradiddle. Then, before you can react to that attack on your brain, he is back on the hi-hat, churning out an incessant, irresistible beat.
Ian explains how he acquired such speed. “I used to practice all the things that I did with my hands with my feet. I hadn’t done that for years, but I’ve started doing it again. I’m just playing four bars of paradiddles with my hands and then four bars with my feet.
“Foot speed depends on one’s pedal, as well. I always used Premier 250S bass drum pedals. Premier just stopped making them, so I bought the last 20 pedals.
“If you really want to do double strokes with the bass drum, practice them and try to put them in context. A lot of the time, it’s the same as when you practice a paradiddle on one drum. You get brainwashed into how it sounds on one drum. As soon as you put one hand up on a cymbal, suddenly it becomes a totally different rhythm. It has a whole new meaning.
“I think you can get bogged down with practicing to get these bits of wood to go as fast as possible. When it comes down to actually playing, I think you should try to forget about what you’ve been practicing. When you concentrate on one particular rudiment for hours on end, by the end of the day, every fill you do is going to be that rudiment. I think that’s probably wrong.
“Let’s say that I thought my double stroke was weak. I’d practice that for a couple of hours, and then I’d just forget about it and play for half an hour to records or whatever. By doing it like that, I was getting my weaknesses sorted out, but I wasn’t losing the actual feel in my playing.
“I went through a stage where I used to practice paradiddles, flams, and everything. Then when I went to Holland, I saw all these drummers playing amazing stuff. I’d say, ‘Are those paradiddles you’re playing?’ They’d say, ‘I don’t know.’ That’s when I started practicing rhythms. I’d listen to a record and think, ‘That’s really nice. I want to learn that.’ I’d learn the rhythm, and then I’d say, ‘Wait a minute, what is this?’ Then I’d realize that it was maybe a double paradiddle, but it was split up around the kit.
Mosley’s playing is so precise that, even with the most intricate fills, every stroke is clean. He modestly explains, “It was always driven into me to try to make every beat as clean as possible—accenting the second beat on double strokes to really lift the beats out of the drum, rather than playing into the drum. That’s just the way I was brought up. People do say that it seems as though I don’t put a lot of effort into it, which is quite encouraging.
“I didn’t practice for about a year, because I was playing every day. But in the last couple of months, I’ve started. I just do an hour a day of rudimental stuff. I was brought up playing orthodox grip. There are still loads of things that I can’t play matched grip but I can play orthodox. Whenever there’s a real complicated bit, I’ll switch to orthodox because I know that it’s no problem. I’ve still got probably a lifetime’s work getting my hands up to standards on matched grip.
Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood LP is one continuous piece of music that was recorded live in the studio. Ian describes the recording of the album. “I joined the band on the Fugazi album. On that, we put down a basic arrangement, and then the whole thing was ripped apart by our producer and everything was overdubbed. I think it took away a lot of the spontaneity. Some of the original ideas and feels that we created in the rehearsal room were lost. “With Misplaced, we went in, and Chris Kimsey, the producer, said, ‘You’ve got one piece of music that’s 20 minutes long, and we’re going to go in and record it. We’ll see how far we can get before someone makes a mistake.’ We started the day off at about two o’clock, tuned the kit up, and then all played as a band in the studio.
There was very little overdubbing. “What’s happened in the last few years in the studio is that the only person who really has to get it right every time is the drummer. All the other musicians are saying, ‘If I mess it up, I’ll overdub it.’ ”I tried to limit myself to starting the day at two o’clock and finishing it at six o’clock, because after three or four hours in the studio, I’m past my peak. It was a really nice way of doing it. It was very relaxed. Plus, I think we captured the feel of the band on record, which is very hard to do.” On the band’s last single, “Lady Nina,” Ian used a Yamaha RX 11 drum machine. He has used electronics before in session work, but never before with Marillion. Is this a new direction for the band? “I’m always open for suggestions,” Ian laughs.
“I think that, if there were room in the music, I wouldn’t mind messing about with some Simmons kits, especially now that you can sample your own sounds. I’m up for experimenting. But at the moment, I can’t see that there’s room for it in Marillion’s music. I prefer to try to get a really nice drum sound out of an acoustic kit— especially live. Some kids came up to me on this tour and said, ‘What are you triggering with your tom-toms? It sounds electronic.’ I think that’s great. That’s the sound I wanted—something with lots of attack, but still with the warmth in it. We’re just putting lots of reverb on the toms. It’s got the attack of a Simmons kit a lot of the time, so I’m pleased with that.”
Ian’s Yamaha kit consists of two 22″ bass drums, 10″, 12″, 13″, and 14″ rack toms, 14″, 16″, and 18″ floor toms, and a 7 1/2 x 14 wood-shell snare drum. About his Yamaha drums, Ian says, “They’re so versatile. I can take that big kit that I use live and use it on anything from a jingle session to a really adventurous album session. I can break it up into a small kit, and I never seem to have any problems with anything on the road. They’re well made.” Ian’s cymbals are all Zildjian Brilliants.
Mosley still does session work, as his schedule permits. “When at all possible, I try to play on other people’s material, because I think it’s very good to keep myself fresh with new ideas and someone else’s approach to working. It lifts me up so that, when I come back to do the Marillion stuff, I’ve got more energy. I think that’s really important.
“I’m all up for all the guys doing other stuff—within reason. My ideal situation would be to have the main project—Marillion—and then to do these other spin-offs. Being in that situation would be paradise. But at the moment, we’ve got to put all the work into the band.”
Marillion has a pretty heavy touring schedule. How does Ian keep in shape for those strenuous gigs? “I’ve started drinking heavily,” he jokes. “I suppose it depends on the music you’re playing. If you’re not feeling 100% at the gig and it’s your fault, then it’s no good shouting at anybody. But if you’ve done everything possible to stay together—a bit of practice, a few push-ups and sit-ups—and someone else lets you down, then at least you can say,’ I did my best.’ Everyone slips up now and again. I just think that, because it’s quite a physical thing, you can’t party every night, especially on a really long tour. If someone’s had a really late night, you do notice it.”
Marillion’s success has been steadily building, but Ian is cautious. “I’m a pessimist at heart, probably,” he chuckles. “No, I really enjoy things. It must be the old session musician part of me that always thinks, ‘Well, it could be all gloom tomorrow.’ Everyone in the band is having a great time. We all get on really well. We just keep going. It might last for another ten years; I don’t know. It’s best to make the most of it.
“The last two years have been very intense touring, and I think the next year or two are going to be, as well. But after that period, I can see us just holding back a bit. I mean, if we crack America somehow, then I’m sure we’ll probably sit back a little bit just to get our sanity. That’s the time when I’d love to do other little projects. Then it’ll be fun for the band every time we get back together to tour. It’ll be fun, rather than just going back and touring for the money. We’re nowhere near that, of course. But I think there will come a point—with a bit of luck—where we’ll say, ‘It’s not really the money.” If you’re not enjoying it, it doesn’t matter how much you’re getting paid, does it, really? That applies to any job. But at the moment, we all really enjoy being together.”