AOS Presents: Interview with Drummer / Percussionist extraordinaire & Fashion designer ‘Holly Madge’.

ABRSM, Drummer, Frank Turner, Hans Zimmer, Holly Madge, Idris Elba, Music, No Man's Land, Percussionist, Pop, Rock Music, Rock'n'Roll, Sound, The Lion King Soundtrack

Drummer / Percussionist – Holly Madge. Credit: PIERRE FUTSCH for HANS-ZIMMER.COM

1. Aos. Hello to the wonderful ‘Holly Madge’ – Welcome to ‘Architect of Sound’, 2020.  Firstly if you could introduce yourself and what it is you do to our audience please 🥁 🎵 >>>>>>>>>>>Drum Roll Please…..🥁 🎵

Holly Madge: Hey! I’m Holly, I’m a drummer and percussionist based in London.  I’ve spent the last few years touring with Hans Zimmer on the Hans Zimmer Live show, playing percussion on live progressive house sets with Idris Elba and My Guy and began a move into studio session work recording percussion on the new Lion King soundtrack, the bongos on Lorne Balfe’s latest Mission Impossible score and Frank Turner’s album No Mans Land.

2. Aos. At what age did you start learning the drums and what attracted you initially to the instrument?

Holly Madge: I was ten, the school needed a drummer for their production of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and having tried out my family friend’s drum kit in a barn back in Devon not long before I thought it was worth a blast.  I fell in love with the combination of expressing yourself creatively and, as a bit of a maths nerd, I loved feeling like I was cracking the code of drum notation.  I remember seeing a drummer playing a medley of the Lion King soundtrack with an orchestra and that left such an impression on me, I knew that’s what I wanted to do, I never imagined I’d end up playing on the next Lion King score!

3. Aos. You graduated with a BA (HONS) Degree in Music in Southampton, England.  Did you learn a lot of different musical styles during your degree? During your studies did you collaborate with other musicians? Did university help you towards a career in music?

Holly Madge: I absolutely adored my time at uni, it was three years where you were wholeheartedly encouraged to spend your days in practise rooms with dear friends working on music that made your heart sing and pushed you harder.  We were all in it together so working hard was such a pleasure.  The course at Southampton University was unique – I picked it over a conservatoire as it covered a broad range of areas in the first year (from Bach Chorales to Bartok to Benny Goodman) and then you could specialise in second and third year in performance, composition and/or musicology.  Our Jazz and Pop performance teacher Dave Marchant was a total legend and the highlight of the week was sitting in the class on Friday mornings listening to your friend’s performances and providing constructive criticism for each other under Dave’s expert eye and advice, we learnt so much from that.  Sunday nights were big band rehearsals, we’d host mid week jam sessions at the local venues and have wicked teachers who would put great new music under our noses. Being part of a university as opposed to a conservatoire gave you opportunities to mix with other non-music graduates which, alongside the excellent social scene, allowed us to build our business skills, often taking bookings for sport society balls and Army events.  The university big band (SUJO) organised our own tours and performed at Montreux and North Sea jazz festivals which was a total blast.   I specialised in performance and musicology and wrote my dissertation on black identity and post feminism in the work of Destiny’s Child for which I got a first.  Like I said, they really let you explore what made you tick and I loved and appreciated every second of it.

4. Aos. I understand your a music maverick and can simply adapt into different musical environments ranging from performing deep house in Ibiza with Idris Alba to percussion with Hans Zimmer on the world arena stage. What was it like playing drums & percussion in both of these settings with extremely talented and versatile world musicians?

Has it been a steady progression in your career to reach such heights of performing with famous composers and musicians or was it a case off simply throwing yourself out there in the deep end with positive like minded people and all of a sudden opportunities started simply opening up for you?

Holly Madge: Haha great question!

The music industry is a very funny place.  In the beginning there was steady progression, you left uni and gradually learnt new skills in new environments of being a professional working musician (bigger live shows, working with well known artists, live TV etc), it always felt like there was no order to it but the progression felt relatively steady and then BAM you’re recommended for something huge that feels stratospheric so you throw your all into that refining the skills required to do that job.  Its a new area so you try to fight off imposter syndrome, learn from the greats and give it your all.

I’ve found at my stage now there is a funny snakes and ladders situation, that big gigs come along and then between those there is naturally some down time so one week you can be playing Wembley Arena the next week, to keep yourself playing and to keep the rent paid while your waiting for the tour invoice to go through, you can be filling in the gaps with function gigs, its quite jarring and requires a strong consistent sense of who you are and what you stand for artistically to avoid getting affected by the ups and downs and be wary of instagram, I’ve learnt a lot of musicians are in the same boat work wise but you’d never know from their social media so comparing yourself to a carefully curated version of others is very dangerous.  Just don’t.

Overall as a professional musician, I think listening is the key, as much prep as you can to feel as comfortable as you can in new situations is great, but often there is no prep time and your thrown in the deep end so staying positive and open will arm you with the best outlook in what is such a varied line of work.

5. Aos. Do you find it challenging playing different styles of music with different world musicians in various spaces and if so do you relish these challenges and opportunities?

Holly Madge: I’m finding my feet in new areas of the business all the time and drums by their very nature lend themselves to so many different types of work its a creative blessing to get involved in such variety and keep things fresh but perhaps a bit of a curse as the range is so broad you can often find yourself learning a new style or type of instrument for each specific job, something people in other instruments groups don’t have to do so much!  I think its a case of culminating what you’ve learnt, being open to and mindful of what’s come before you and finding your personal voice across all styles and situations.

6. Aos. Holly, you also do a lot of session work and have many super credentials to your name ranging from playing bongos in the opening of Lorne Balfe Mission Impossible – Fallout, percussion for Hans Zimmer’s The Lion King sound track, drums for folk rock singer Frank Turner’s latest album “No Man’s Land” and new practice material for the UK’s most prestigious exam board ABRSM.

What was it like working with Hans Zimmer on the wonderful soundtrack ‘The Lion King’ 2019?

Holly Madge: Nuts!  It was incredible. It was such a momentous occasion, to witness the reunion of so many people who worked on the first one, hearing their stories in the control room and seeing and hearing Hans’ vision to bring together musicians from all backgrounds, including the mighty Re-Collective Orchestra (go check them out!) was very special indeed. Personally sitting in a room with such percussion greats playing the themes to my childhood was extraordinary – beginning with (spoiler alert) Mufasa’s death on repeat was quite traumatic but definitely got the emotions going!

7. Aos. You added new percussion material for the Associate Board of Royal School of Music (ABRSM).  Learners worldwide can now immerse themselves in the new added material.

For any person learning to play drums and percussion would you recommend them learning through ABRSM? what variety of genres and styles do you play in the new material? What grade numbers did you play too?  Finally, Do you have musical grades Holly?

There is a variety of choice when it comes to learning music grades – there is obviously Trinity College London, ABRSM, Royal Irish Academy of music and ROCKSCHOOL.

Holly Madge: The new material I recorded was actually playalong material for guitar, but its a great concept and would be a great tool for non guitarists if they decided to expand it out to other instruments soon.  I think grades are a wonderful marker for progression, a great way to get used to performance in situations that make you nervous and can teach you excellent discipline skills. Personally I did Guildhall exams on drums, and ABRSM on piano and clarinet and really enjoyed the challenge and natural progression that they facilitated.  I would say though that they should be balanced with other performance environments that offer up situations to try new things, jam and improvise with friends and play a wide range of styles alongside those covered by the exam boards.  Then you get a full spectrum of experience to provide the bedrock for a professional career. Reading music is a skill I would highly recommend, I have friends who shy away from certain session work because of their lack of confidence in sight reading which is a shame as they are excellent players, so to keep your options open I’d recommend having it as a string to your bow if you can, but if not there is still plenty of work for those who learn by ear.

8. Aos. ‘No Man’s Land’ by Frank Turner is a great record which I listen too regularly.   I also had the pleasure of Interviewing Frank Turner online in recent months about the record.  That record seemed a special kind of record with a great atmosphere to be part off.  What was the experience like playing on ‘No Man’s Land‘ with Frank Turner among many other musicians including production by the fantastic ‘Catherine Marks’.

Any particular tracks on the record which stand out for you Holly? ‘Jinny Bingham’s Ghost, Sister Rosetta, I believed you, William Blake, Silent Key, The Lioness’ etc

Holly Madge: Ah this was such a huge pleasure.  I’ve loved Frank’s music for a good decade and I laughed out loud in delight and disbelief at his initial email asking me if I’d be up for it.  This was a very special album, he’s a master story teller in music and, I found out, in person too so there was opportunity to put so much emotion into every track when you knew the back story.  Catherine was an incredible person to work with, she really gave you space to play with your heart.  A favourite moment was A Perfect Wife, a song about a serial killer who killed all her multiple husbands.  Frank wasn’t sure if it needed drums or percussion and Catherine suggested a scratch kit set up which she and her team set up from bits of scrap metal and hard cases.  Frank and I sat opposite each other playing through ideas, and one groove really stuck.  The process of recording this so organically was a huge joy to for me and a total privilege.

9. Aos. Who would be your musical drumming inspirations?

Holly Madge: I’ve been a life long Steve Gadd fan, Geoff Porcaro dominated my university listening and Richard Spaven constantly inspires me.  Obviously there’s a million more, I enjoy my regular instalments from The Pocket Queen on instagram and love finding new inspiration, but those are my go-to’s.

10. Aos. The year is 2020.  What can we possibly see from ‘Holly Madge’ this year? Any new music, projects, collaborations, tours, traveling or anything else on the horizon?

Holly Madge: Good question!  I’m working on that one ;  ) I’m not currently on tour this year so excited to have time to work on projects that I couldn’t commit to before.  Writing my own music which kind of falls into either super folky lyric driven stuff or tasty Latin and fusion inspired dance music.  I’m jotting down funny things that happen on gigs in a journal, who knows what may come of that one day and also starting my part in a mentorship scheme run by RB&H Arts shadowing musicians in residence in hospitals playing and music-making with long term patients in the wards.  There’s so much else I want to do, more film sessions, my own live project, collaborations and working with homeless people, there’s an endless list so I’m staying open for the right opportunities when they arise and cracking on with the busy gig schedule in the mean time!

11. Aos. I understand you are not only a maverick musician drumming extraordinaire but you also own and run your own dress company titled ‘Sailaway Dress Company’ (link) which originated from a trip in India.  How did this business adventure come about and how’s it going now and are their any new products for customers in the near future?

Holly Madge: I found a dress in a market stall on a tour of India and fell in love with it.  My friends all tried it on and they just came alive – they all seemed to feel so feminine in it and were swishing around in it like they felt a million dollars.  That was quite a reaction and its stayed with me so when I got a rare tax rebate I spent £500 on the flight and £500 on developing the first collection with local family tailors.  I was my own customer so picking designs and styles and road testing them when I’m off travelling on gigs made the whole thing feel very natural and organic and working with independent tailors made it a personal project between us all and we’ve grown together other the years.  Fast forward six years and we have a shop in North Devon (no. 27) and have welcomed Maddie Meddings as our full time Creative Manager.  Fresh from our trip to visit our tailors we have some exquisite new ranges launching this spring including some statement beaded kimonos made from vintage Indian scarves, they really are knockout and the perfect piece to take you from every day to stage ready or festival ready in an instant.  I fall in love with them every time I see them and remember hand picking the fabrics sat on the floor of our tailor’s house in Goa.  Side businesses do take up time but they are so worth it for the adventures, the stories and the unusual people you meet.

Holly Madge – Credit:

12. Aos. How do you balance your life in terms of creativity, work, relationships, travel and keeping something for yourself?

Holly Madge: I’m still trying to work that one out.  Its ever changing by the nature of the job, but whatever’s going on I try to make time to have quality time off with my fiancee, family and book in catch ups with dear friends.  If we’re on tour Lou (my fiancee) will fly out to visit, but when I’m home and gigs can be so variable in their requirements and commitments I try to keep grounded and clearheaded by cooking my favourite dinners, going for long beach walks in Cornwall or catching up with local mates back home over the pub quiz.  Getting a puppy this year has certainly added a more structured routine which I think has helped me in being more productive with the time I have, as well as making me get out and about on the daily rather than staying in, learning sets and forgetting that hours have passed and I’ve not moved from my laptop!

13. Aos. Do you ever go busking on the streets with your craft and if you do does anybody ever recognise you?

Holly Madge: I grew up busking a lot, my mum would take me when I played clarinet and I would busk for charity at events like Sidmouth Folk Festival.  Over the week I’d have a goal of earning a thousand pounds for charities that meant a lot to me.  I’d be sharing the spot with Big Issue sellers and fellow entertainers and the skills I learnt from rocking up, negotiating my slots and then playing in front of such an ever changing audience was unbelievably formative.  To anyone with musical kids, get them out there busking it will do them (and the general public) the world of good, and there’s nothing more satisfying at the end than tipping the money out onto the kitchen table to count it and know its going to a good cause.

14. Aos. Last question, What was the last record you listened too?

Holly Madge: Punch Brothers’ latest album All Ashore.  I was lucky enough to see them perform at the Barbican and wowee was it special, the artistry just blew my mind.  This album has a wonderful political commentary about our current position and is woven so expertly into this musically outstanding offering.  If you haven’t heard of them, please do check this out, I hope it will brighten your day like it did (and still does) mine.

Aos. Thank you Holly, I will.  An absolute pleasure to speak to you today Holly Madge and I hope you continue being an inspiration to all.  Wishing you a great 2020 and start of a new decade.  Hope the decade rocks for you!

Holly Madge: Ah thank you and same to you, thanks for such a wicked site you’ve created here!  Here’s to a mega 2020 for you and everyone reading this!

To follow the fantastic Holly Madge for any further news, 

releases, gigs, tours etc
See website inks below:
 Sailaway Dress Company & Co:
~ Thank you ~

3 thoughts on “AOS Presents: Interview with Drummer / Percussionist extraordinaire & Fashion designer ‘Holly Madge’.”

    • aos says:

      That’s fantastic Mark, Well Done! As you probably read in the Interview, ‘Holly Madge’ has busked for charity events such as the ‘Sidmouth Folk Festival’. I too have busked on the streets, it’s exciting.

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