M I K E E L L I S ~ drummer / producer / drum tech / writer
In most aspects of modern manufacturing, Great Britain has been instrumental and influential at one point or another during our glorious history. It’s arguable that from the late 50’s and during the 60’s, the UK musical instrument manufacturing market was one of the strongest and diverse in the world, thanks in no small amount to the punitive import taxes levied after WW2 to get funds back into our denuded coffers.
From a drumming perspective, up until the end of the 1970’s, there was an absolute plethora of UK made drums and brands which sadly, was slashed almost overnight to just a couple once the imports from the Far East landed on our shores. Many of the long established US brands were victims too, although most of them managed to limp on in one form or another until the mid 1980’s, some by embracing the cheaper manufacturing in the Far East.
From the early 80’s, there was effectively only one big player based in the UK and one or two smaller ‘custom’ companies and the small bespoke manufacturers appeared to be exclusive to North America. Consequently, the influence on the industry by the Brits appears to have been minimal until fairly recently.
As I was pondering in the Pondering Room I started to realise just how this state of affairs appears to have been significantly reversed. To be fair, there have always been UK based custom builders, some lasted longer than others, Gary Noonan, Richmo, Jalapeno and Eddie Ryan being examples of the long standing and well respected players in this field, but the last few years have seen more and more new entrants who are rapidly gathering good reputations. There isn’t a month that passes without me discovering another new ‘minnow’ splashing in the lake! The directory listings for UK drum companies on mikedolbear.com are quite astonishing and it’s easy to be unaware of just how many companies there are here.
Furthermore, the internet fuelled passion for vintage drums has spawned many more vintage drum dealers, both professional and hobbyists sourcing out those near impossible to find spares, wraps, stands, heads, you name it that are shipped off globally as well as to collectors in the UK.
The renaissance of Premier in the past 4 years continues to gather pace, BigDog are a relative newcomer to the scene but have in a very short time, built up an enviable reputation for supplying top quality hardware and snare drums (and I suspect more exciting developments from them in the not too distant!!), GTC, FVF, Highwood, KD, Marrell and many others have been added to the roster of UK based drum makers when not so long ago, you probably could have counted the entire UK market on one hand!
Whilst the USA has enjoyed being the pivotal point for many, many years in drum manufacture and more recently, for collectors of vintage gear, it appears to me that the UK is clawing back a significant share of this market with the proliferation of big and small makers, suppliers and customizers. Whilst many of the North American custom builders have a kudos and brand strength that is yet to be realised by some of the UK based makers, the inventiveness and creativity demonstrated by the British builders suggests that drums of equal or better quality can be sourced here for a fraction of the cost of their USA counterparts.
Whilst never having being one for subscribing to the mutual admiration society and perhaps that’s what I may very well be guilty of, I can’t help but be aware of the UK market continuing to grow in size and standing. I don’t think anyone can over state the circumstances; we have plenty to be proud of! It’s worth remembering this when the prospect of a new kit presents itself and you may be browsing the big brands colourful literature, or drooling over the website of an overseas builder, forgetting that there’s a big choice in the British Isles these days, not only drums, but hardware too!
Now can we get a foothold in the cymbal market too?