6 career defining records of Ralph Salmins

11th Jan 2010 | 15:45

6 career defining records of Ralph Salmins
Ralph Salmins
Van Morrison/Bjork drummer chooses his six best

Ralph Salmins is one of Britain’s most accomplished drummers. Acclaimed for his versatility, he’s at home with all styles of jazz, pop, rock, West End and studio work. And if that’s not enough there’s his tally of over 100 movie soundtracks.

Here Salmins shares the six records which have most defined his career, telling Rhythm Magazine why they mattered so much along the way.

First up: Mercury Prize nominations and Britain’s foremost trumpet star

6 career defining records of Ralph Salmins
Into The Blue (1995)
Guy Barker

A wild card short-listed contender for the 1995 Mercury Music Prize, Britain’s foremost trumpet star Guy Barker’s classy debut album heralded the start of an amazing year for Ralph.

Ralph Salmins says:

“We called it Into The Red! Guy was the first Brit to sign with the Verve label. It came at a great time for me. I’d just been with Everything But The Girl and they were having their big hit, Missing. I’d also just started with Van Morrison. I remember the Mercury Prize gig at The Savoy and Van came and played with us.”

“There’s a New Orleans groove track called Oh Mr Rex - a tribute to Rex Stewart, Duke Ellington’s cornettist. I love New Orleans things and Guy likes writing them for me to play. I listen to The Meters, but Herlin Riley with Wynton Marsalis is my favourite, absolutely fantastic.”

“Guy’s music is sort of adventurous modern jazz. I’m back in his band now. We’ve just done The Amadeus Project (2008), like a jazz version of (Mozart’s) ‘The Magic Flute’ – fun, wacky, modern big band.”

6 career defining records of Ralph Salmins
Post (1995)

Ralph played on just one track for the unpredictable Icelandic star, but it was the stunning hit It’s Oh So Quiet, a fabulously different big band confection. Ralph says, “It was all happening for me then.”

Ralph Salmins says:

“There’s a great story to this one. The session was at Angel Studios in Islington, just three hours from 10am to 1pm. I’d been doing a lot of jingles for [arranger] John Altman, but he also did pop things.

The chart was a bit unusual with the quiet waltz section where Bjork whispers and then the chorus, which is the big band shout-up. We played it down three or four times and it sounded great. We did a take, another take and then took a break.”

“We were still waiting for Bjork to arrive and she finally turned up at 12.50pm and the band was about to be broken up at 1pm. I remember being knocked out by how great she was – she just put it to bed straight away. She did a second take for safety, but I know that they used the first one that she did. Bjork is really quite a talent.”

6 career defining records of Ralph Salmins
How Long Has This Been Going On? (1995)
Van Morrison/Georgie Fame

How Long… was the first of three albums Ralph did with Morrison.

Ralph Salmins says:

“It’s great to record with Van - you’re making history. Guy Barker introduced me to Georgie Fame - who I played with - and Van asked Georgie to put a jazz band together.

“I’d met Van because he came down to Ronnie Scott’s when I was playing with blues shouter Irene Reid. He loved the gig and invited me up to his table. So I was quite unfazed recording the first album. Pee-Wee Ellis (of James Brown fame) did the arrangements and we recorded it on the stage at Ronnie’s one afternoon - like a live album but with no audience.”

“There’s a fast version of Moondance, and I’d also pick Your Mind Is On Vacation..., a Mose Allison song, quite fast and funky. I played an old Gretsch jazz kit, 20", 12", 14" with a 1958 14"x5 1/2" Silver Sparkle Leedy and Ludwig snare with ‘stick chopper’ hoops - nice and lively.”

6 career defining records of Ralph Salmins
Swing When You're Winning (2001)
Robbie Williams

When Robbie wanted a swing orchestra who should he get on drums? Ralph of course. A number one hit ensued - Robbie’s duet with Ms Kidman, Something Stupid.

Ralph Salmins says:

“Have You Met Miss Jones? was commissioned for the film Bridget Jones’s Diary. Robbie wasn’t there - I hadn’t met him yet - so session singer Lance Ellington ghosted the vocals. Robbie liked the track so much I think that sparked him to do a whole album. I did four tracks and they did the rest in LA with (Count Basie’s) Harold Jones.”

“Something Stupid was the Christmas number one, but I didn’t meet Nicole Kidman. Gutted! I also did Well Did You Evah and Things, which was Robbie and Jane Horrocks. That led to the Albert Hall concert/DVD. I hired a really old ‘round badge’ Gretsch in White Pearl for the Albert Hall, which led to my Gretsch endorsement!”

6 career defining records of Ralph Salmins
Harry Potter: The Prisoner Of Azkaban OST (2004)
John Williams

Next time you’re at the movies listen out for the soundtrack - it’s likely to feature Ralph at the drums. He’s played on over 100 movies, including loads of biggies.

Ralph Salmins says:

“Movies I’ve played on include Burn After Reading, Donnie Brasco, Evita, Goldeneye, The Last King of Scotland, Philadelphia and Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King. Azkaban is my only Harry Potter, but it was for the great (composer) John Williams.”

“I would say The Knight Bus was the most difficult music I’ve ever seen given to any musicians on a recording session... except for my part, which was very easy! I’m playing an off-beat choke cymbal. It was recorded in Abbey Road Studio One and involved drums, bass and piano with an extremely large wind orchestra.”

“It’s an honour to work with John Williams; a delightful man, whom I would call a genius.”

6 career defining records of Ralph Salmins
London Undersound (2008)
Nitin Sawhney

Ralph got a MySpace message from the Anglo-Indian polymath asking was he the same Ralph who played on a drum’n’bass track by classical viola player John Metcalfe, and would he play on his album? Of course…

Ralph Salmins says:

“I did two days recording - one in his house and one at RAK Studios and it was a great experience. Nitin’s very erudite, a great musician who knows exactly what he wants. He gave me some really challenging things to play, such as drum‘n’bass on Bring It Home.”

“I’m also on Days Of Fire, October Daze and My Soul, a collaboration between Nitin and Paul McCartney. What I do on sessions like this is write my own chart so if I’m playing a take and it’s good I’m not worrying about the song structure, I’ll get the take without making structural mistakes.”

“McCartney wasn’t there, but what a buzz - his voice was on it and I said ‘Who’s on bass?’ and Nitin said, ‘Oh yes, it’s Paul.’”

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