Mark Fletcher - Drums

“‘Fletcha’, come down and play some drums”.

“Ronnie Scott would call me when he was getting his chops back together after the operation. We had some great moments – Ronnie and I playing just sax and drums in the club on an afternoon. He could have called up anyone in the world – he had everybody’s number. But I got the call, I felt really honoured.”

Fletcher clearly felt the rhythmic need from an early age. “My dad was a drummer who did working gigs and stuff, but gave up when I was about nine years old. It was only after he sold his drums that I got interested in playing – I guess it had seeped its way into my subconscious. My first drum kit was a Premier that I got for my twelfth birthday, up until then I’d been playing my drum teacher’s.”

Fletcher was clearly a natural and soon out gigging. “Sound is what it’s all about and I was aware of that from an early age. After every gig I used to bug my dad to death about how everything sounded – what worked and what didn’t. Throughout his teens Fletcher played Premier, but in the late-1970s moved onto Gretsch. “I bought one of the ‘Nameband’ kits with a 22-inch base. It was a big band set-up with a nice meaty sound – I had that for several years. Then I went on to the Yamaha 9000 in the early-80s. They sounded incredible – there was nothing else like them at the time.”

Fletcher continues. “I also had a lovely little Fibes kit with an 18-inch bass. But it was a crazy period for me, I used to go through two or three kits a week. I’d buy the kit, gig it, then take it back and swap it for a different set!”
In the mid-80s Fletcher spent four years on the cruises and while he was in the States, got to play on some DW gear. “I thought God they’re good. I’ve always liked something that’s a bit different. I ended up becoming an endorsee and stayed with them for five years.” But then Fletcher had a tom-tom stolen at a jazz festival in Bracknell in the early-90s. “That upset the whole kit and in the end I sold it off to pupils that I was teaching at the time.”

It was then that Fletcher picked up perhaps the one kit that he regrets ever selling on. “Noble & Cooley were known for making toy drum kits, but they also did ridiculously high end snare drums, like a solid shell for around £1, 000. I found out where there was a 20-inch kit going and instantly fell in love. Being vintage, with properly seasoned wood, it had a distinct tone – with a fantastic bottom end and plenty of projection. It was a wonderful kit and I used it on loads of sessions and tours – typically with In Cahoots and Soft Machine.” Fletcher kept the Noble & Cooley for around half a dozen years before once again moving on. “I sold it for a Gary Noonan custom made kit, but the finish messed up and started to bubble after a couple of weeks – so that got sold. I still ask myself why I ever let that Noble & Cooley go.”

Fletcher’s current workhorse is a Gretsch ‘New Classic’ kit with Gladstone lugs on it. “It’s got an 18-inch bass and has a lovely vintage, broken glass splitter and that tone is right there. But I shall be using my DW kit on the next tour with Michel Legrand, because it’s an orchestra thing and it needs a bigger sound.”

Talking of sound, I wondered what heads and sticks he was using. “I always use Remo-coated Ambassadors for the jazz gigs and Remo Emperors if I’m doing a rock gig. As far as sticks are concerned, I’m an endorsee of Regal Tip’s ‘E’ Series. Although they have a grooved nylon head, they actually feel and play like wood sticks, but last 10 times longer. I also use their regular telescopic brushes.”
Finally we get onto cymbals. “I use rubber grommets,” I’m clearly looking confused! “You know, those things that plumbers and electricians use… I use them instead of nylon sleeves. They make the cymbals breath and sound great. I’ve got a couple of Ks, a couple of Bosphorus and some hi-hats that Elvin signed for me at Ronnie’s. On smaller gigs I use 13-inch Bosphorus Turk hats because they’re fantastic. My main ride is a 22 high bell K Constantinople that I’ve drilled 8 holes into ’cos I love a rivet ride, but I’ve lost half the rivets!” Fletcher also uses the Bill Stewart Complex ride – “which is fantastic. It’s half lathed and it’s raw for the first four or five inches. It has a very short decay, so you can crash it, but it doesn’t go on forever and it’s got this lovely dry stick sound. Then there’s the Wuhan 24-inch ‘China’. They come quite thick, so I use the finest wire wool and soak it in WD40 and rub round the lathe lines – then it breathes incredibly.”

Fletcher’s recently been buying off eBay. “If you know what you’re looking for, you can buy some real peaches for pennies!” One of Fletcher’s recent finds was a 1912/15 snare made by the Advance Drum Company. “It was in somebody’s attic. George Way’s first drum. It just happens that the owner of the current Geo. Way company is a big drum maker called Ronn Dunnett, who is a good friend of mine. He took the drum off me to put in his museum – it’s the earliest drum that he has found. Then Ronn kindly made me a custom-made solid titanium snare that he’s called the Fletcha’ – it’s fantastic. He’s making me a kit this year, a solid one piece shell, I can’t wait!”

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