25 greatest ever British drummers

5th Mar 2014 | 14:39

25 greatest ever British drummers
Simon Phillips
Toto/Jeff Beck

Simon’s list of drumming credits includes Jeff Beck (Simon recorded Beck’s There And Back album that features the awesome ‘Space Boogie’), Michael Schenker, The Who, Tears For Fears and Gary Moore, and he has just left mega-selling US stars Toto after playing with them since 1992.

Toto guitarist Steve Lukather said, “Simon Phillips is one of the finest musicians I have ever shared the stage or studio with.” And, coming from a man who played in a band with Jeff Porcaro, who Phillips replaced, that’s really something. We look forward somewhat rabidly to his next musical endeavour.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Bill Bruford
Yes/King Crimson

The original drummer for prog rock behemoths Yes, Bruford started his career as a huge fan of modern jazz, in particular Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers.

Yet it was the blues-rock explosion of the ‘60s that provided Bill’s earliest gigs, and he would go on to negotiate the complex arrangements of early Yes tracks, followed by the incendiary prog of King Crimson. He has also shared the stage with Phil Collins in Genesis and has played with big bands, orchestras and more recently in his own jazz-committed Earthworks.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Phil Collins

Underrated by many, perhaps on account of his popularity as a pop singer and heavy use of drum machines on his ‘80s output, Phil is without question one of our great British drum heroes.

He will forever be remembered for the bombastic and brilliant ‘In The Air Tonight’ drum fill, but the brilliance of his work with Genesis and Brand X before it cannot be understated. His fusion chops are in evidence on tracks like ‘Abacab’, ‘Eleventh Earl Of Mar’ and ‘Mama’, while his awesome drum battles with Chester Thompson in Genesis rightly earn Phil his place in this top 25.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Bill Ward
Black Sabbath

It’s not unreasonable to claim that Bill Ward invented heavy metal drumming, seeing as he was the founding drummer of Black Sabbath and as such gave ‘Iron Man’, ‘War Pigs’, ‘Paranoid’ and more to the world.

Sadly out of the recent Sabs reunion, his replacements including Tommy Clufetos and Brad Wilk have humbly paid their respects as best they could to Mr Ward.Problems with alcohol led to him being out of Sabbath for a long time, but his legacy is in tact – a truly great British drummer.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Mitch Mitchell
The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Jimi knew what time it was. Yes, it was teatime, England, 1966. Jimi chose London as his launchpad and hooked up with an all-British rhythm section: bass player Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell.

As one third of the incredible Jimi Hendrix Experience, Mitch had a jazz schooling as well as the kind of power needed to cut through in the days before decent drum amplification; all against the virtuosity of one of rock’s greatest and loudest guitar players. Think of any Hendrix groove, ‘All Along The Watch Tower’, ‘Foxy Lady’, ‘Voodoo Chile, ‘Wait Until Tomorrow’… even guitarists would have to agree, you’d want Mitch powering your power trio in the way he did with Hendrix. Britain salutes you, Mitch.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Cozy Powell

One of the great all-rounders, but generally found plying his session trade for ‘70s and ‘80s rock royalty, Cozy was the go-to-guy for hard rock but he also played on records by artists as diverse as Jeff Beck, Michael Schenker, Hot Chocolate, Gary Moore, Roger Daltrey, Donovan, Colin Blunstone, Cinderella, Emerson & Lake and Yngwie Malmsteen.

Naming himself after jazz drummer Cozy Cole, he was a true star of the drums and he even had a massive solo hit with Dance With The Devil, making him kind of the UK’s own Sandy Nelson. A great British drummer indeed.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Roger Taylor

When it comes to a huge rock beat, nobody beats Queen’s Roger Meddows Taylor.His huge sound and high backing vocals are an integral part of Queen’s sound, while his bombastic style of playing suited Queen’s theatrical style to a tee.

He even wrote several of Queen’s biggest hits including ‘Radio Ga Ga’. His sound and style is instantly recognisable, and he remains a fantastic ambassador for the drums.So, of course you voted him into the top 20 Greatest British Drummers.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Carl Palmer
ELP, Asia

Prog rock legend Carl first came to prominence as the touring drummer for The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, then forming Atomic Rooster with Vince Crane.

In 1970 he answered Greg Lake’s call to audition for what was to become one of prog rock’s most influential bands, Emerson Lake And Palmer. The band’s, and Carl’s, high point came with ELP’s classic Brain Salad Surgery album in 1973. After ELP disbanded, Carl joined now-classic rockers Asia. Today he’s still active in the drum community, and has his own power trio The Carl Palmer Band and tours his ELP Legacy show.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Charlie Watts
The Rolling Stones

Famed for his feel more than his chops, Charlie’s laidback style, often seeming to play behind the beat, New Orleans-style, has given the Rolling Stones their mojo for more than 50 years.

Charlie’s first love was jazz, in particular the music of Charlie Parker, and alongside the Stones he has put out jazz albums with his own quintet and tentet.As everyone knows he’s the coolest Rolling Stone by a country mile, thanks to his sartorial style and relaxed, effortless groove.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Ringo Starr
The Beatles

There are still, amazingly, Ringo detractors. But his high placing in his poll-group is an indication of the love that drummers still have for the Fab Four’s tub thumper.

In case you need any reminding of how great a player he is, check out his playing on tracks like ‘Come Together’, ‘Rain’, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ and more at MusicRadar’s round-up of Ringo’s 10 greatest beats. It’s worth reminding the naysayers that The Beatles actively sought out Ringo’s services after Pete Best left the group, as he was known to be a great drummer for his work with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Liverpool’s top show band. Not just a great drummer, his wry Scouse wit helped win over US audiences, while his performance on the Ed Sullivan Show 50 years agoinspired a whole generation of great drummers to pick up sticks and buy a Ludwig kit.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Mick Fleetwood
Fleetwood Mac

Coming out of the blues-rock explosion of the late ‘60s (he was a member of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers), Mick formed Fleetwood Mac with John McVie and Peter Green in 1967.

Here he honed his sublime blues shuffle, playing with emotion over finesse in a style that is instantly recognisable. Fleetwood Mac, of course, went on to become one of the world’s most successful rock acts, while Fleetwood has been the band’s rock through a tumultuous history and is still powering the drums for the Mac today. His awesome beats on such as ‘The Chain’, ‘Go Your Own Way’, ‘Tusk’ and more still stand as testament to his fantastic ability to play for the tune while dominating the stage with his presence from behind the kit.

25 greatest ever British drummers
John Bonham
Led Zeppelin

No surprises to find Bonzo here, he polled almost 50% of the votes in the first of our five polls. John Bonham’s trailblazing work with Led Zeppelin is still a benchmark for rock drumming; while his innate swing and musicality are appreciated by drummers from all genres.

'Good Times, Bad Times’, ‘Rock And Roll’, ‘When The Levee Breaks’, ‘Moby Dick’, and all the rest. Awesome grooves, incredible drum sounds, power and musicality. Surely favourite to win this poll, he is still widely considered possibly the best ever drummer the world has ever seen – and we Brits are rightly proud to have given him to said world.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Clive Burr
Iron Maiden

Clive joined Iron Maiden from Samson in 1979 and went on to play on their first three records, Iron Maiden, Killers and Number Of The Beast.

Though Clive’s drumming career could be said to have faltered after leaving Maiden in 1982, his legacy from those first three incredible metal albums remains, and the likes of Dave Lombardo, Charlie Benante and Dave McClain have all named Burr as an influence on their style. His playing on classics such as ‘Number Of The Beast’ and ‘Run To The Hills’ brought fast punk beats and great feel to Maiden’s influential brand of metal. Clive’s passing in 2013 after suffering with MS was mourned by drummers everywhere.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Aynsley Dunbar
Jeff Beck/Zappa/Whitesnake/Starship

Few drummers can be said to have worked with a more diverse number of artists over the last five decades than Liverpool-born Aynsley Dunbar.

The jazz-schooled young Aynsley played Mersey Beat with The Pressmen and The Flamingoes, and played with Peter Green and John McVie in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. He was in the Jeff Beck Group alongside Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, led his own groups and was then asked to take up the drum throne for Frank Zappa. He’s recorded with Bowie and Lou Reed, and played with ‘80s stadium rockers Whitesnake and Jefferson Starship. More recently his gigs have included Michael Schenker, and World Classic Rockers. With such a stellar CV, it’s hard not to imagine him right up there in this list of Great Drumming Brits.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Keith Moon
The Who

Keith Moon’s wild-eyed energy and musical flair, not to mention some of rock’s greatest ever drum tracks, has rightly earned Moonie his place among the drumming greats

He and Bonzo top every poll Rhythm and other drum mags have ever run, so it’s no surprise to find him highly placed in this poll. In many ways the quintessential British drummer with his Premier kits and place within the modish, swinging Who, Keith Moon’s influence and legacy burns as brightly today as ever.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Ginger Baker
Cream/Airforce/Blind Faith

He might be a better known as a curmudgeonly old geezer these days, but behind the wild-eyed, abrasive exterior lies a deep love of jazz and drums.

His work with Cream, Blind Faith and Airforce cemented his reputation has a swinging, jazz-inflected rock drumming god; in his later output he has returned to jazz and world music collaborations with the likes of Fela Kuti. Hugely influential, Baker’s legacy is assured and, for many, many reasons Ginger’s a Great British institution.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Nick Mason
Pink Floyd

Nick Mason has been the heart and rhythmic soul of Pink Floyd since the beginning, negotiating the band’s evolution from spacey, psychedelic ‘freak-outs’ and avant garde rock to the stadium-filling epics of the post-Syd Barrett years.

As the band became more massive, Nick’s drums took more of a back seat, but his restrained playing has nonetheless beautifully underpinned such sublime musical moments as can be found on Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Gavin Harrison
Porcupine Tree

Surely one of the greatest contemporary Brits to be still plying his rhythmical trade from these shores.

Gavin’s incredible polyrhythmic but tasteful prog chops for Porcupine Tree have made him one of Rhythm readers’ perennial favourites over the past decade or so. Just check out his playing on ‘The Sound Of Muzak’ or ‘Bonnie The Cat’ if you need further proof of his worthiness to be on this list.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Matt Helders
Arctic Monkeys

Matt Helders’ song-defining beats for award-winning Brit rockers Arctic Monkeys have thrust him into the spotlight as one of Britain’s best contemporary drummers.

His playing has gone from strength to strength as the band themselves evolved and matured from punky garage rock to r’n’b-tinged floor-fillers on their latest album AM. His frantic drumming on ‘Brianstorm’ still sends us cross-eyed and cross-limbed, while his taste and restraint is in evidence on t’Monkeys’ gentler tracks too. He even gets a drum feature, ‘R U Mine’, on AM – just one of the many ways Helders is keeping real drums alive in a pop market oversaturated with processed beats and cut-up grooves.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Nicko McBrain
Iron Maiden

The second Iron Maiden drummer to make your top 20 Greatest Ever British Drummers, Nicko joined Maiden in 1982 after playing with Pat Travers and Trust

His fast right foot has driven the band at a gallop on classic albums Piece Of Mind, Power Slave, Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son and more. ‘The Trooper’, ‘Where Eagles Dare’, ‘Aces High’, ‘Can I Play With Madness’ – classics all.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Ian Paice
Deep Purple

The only member of Deep Purple to have performed on every record, founding drummer Ian defined hard rock drumming from the late ‘60s and throughout the ‘70s with his extraordinary playing.

Purple classic ‘Black Night’ typifies his playing, from its fantastic intro fill in unison with the band to its subsequent shuffle groove and cross-rhythm feel. He’s still playing with Deep Purple to this day – the band’s most recent album Now What? Was released in 2013.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Steve White
Paul Weller/Style Council/Trio Valore

Steve is one of the UK drum community’s best loved players. He started out as a youngster with Paul Weller’s Style Council, going on to play with the modfather for 25 years, including on Weller’s ’90s classics Stanley Road and Wild Wood.

He’s also played swing with the Jazz Renegades, recorded with Ian Dury and Dr John and with his own funk band The Players. He is currently a third of Trio Valore alongside Ocean Colour Scene’s Damon Minchella. He’s an all-round top bloke, and a proper great British drummer.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Alan White

Alan White is one of prog’s defining drummers, and his work with prog behemoths Yes has made him perennially popular due to his masterful grooves and deep pocket, as he laid down the majestic foundations for the progfathers.

Rumour had it the band were notoriously picky in the studio, in the days when such bands could labour over snare sounds for days on end. But the results speak for themselves. His drum mastery allowed Jon Anderson to get away with 20-minute tracks interpreting Indian scriptures, and nobody minded. Check out ‘Gates Of Delirium’ from 1974 album Relayer. And he even played on John Lennon’s Imagine.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Mark Brzezicki
Big Country/The Cult

One of the busiest and best known British session drummers of the 1980s, Mark ‘Unpronounceablename’ (as Smash Hits called him) held the drum gig with Scots stadium rockers Big Country.

His session dates included stints with The Cult (magnificently on their 1985 Love album), Pete Townshend, Sting, Midge Ure, Marillion’s Fish and Procol Harum. He’s still part of Big Country’s line-up, as well as a member of Thunderclap Newman’s reformed band and From The Jam with Bruce Foxton.

25 greatest ever British drummers
Dom Howard

With alt-rock power trio Muse, Dom’s groove and evident chops have won him many fans since the Devon band’s inception in 1994.

His fantastic beats on ‘Hysteria’, ‘Newborn’, ‘Time Is Running Out’, ‘Plug In Baby’ and more have shown his ability to fill out the trio’s sound, and his evident chops and musicality extends beyond the kit to synths and electronics too.

25 greatest ever British drummers
So who is the greatest?
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Now find out who you voted as Greatest British Drummer of all time!

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