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Classic Drums






Classic Drums


Here Digger talks to Mike Nicholls at Bournemouth-based drum store Classic Drums about his love of drums and drumming and his ethos for traditional customer service in this rather impersonal Internet age.





Digger:  Good morning Mike.

Mike:  Morning David.

Digger:  Please tell us about your background and the background to Classic Drums.

Mike:  Most people that run shops do it because they play and they just want to be involved in music or in drums. If you did fishing and you enjoyed that you’d probably go and open a fishing shop because it’s that sort of thing.

Digger: Are you in amateur bands?

Mike: I do play. I’ve had a lot of people over the years saying they’d like to do what I do and asking how do they get started and to give them some contacts. My view is if I told everybody then they’d all be doing it and I wouldn’t have a business. I don’t want them opening a drum shop. (Digger laughs) I don’t want people to know too much – can you imagine?! If you’ve got something that works for you, then you don’t want to share the secret of your success with others.

Digger: No, it might dilute it.

Mike: Exactly.

Digger: Although there is a difference between people like us who set up a business because we are passionate about it and the 99% of other people who dream about doing something they enjoy but won’t ever do anything about it.

Mike: If someone approached me I’ve always had the attitude that if they say “It’s a dream running a drum store and something I always wanted to do.” Then I say to them “It’s a difficult business but obviously something that gives me pleasure and my livelihood, but if you want to make me a sensible offer – buy me out.”

Digger: Hmm.

Mike:  It’s like your business. You’ve got something that works and is successful and people could jump on the bandwagon and do what you’re doing. Interviewing people and so on.

Digger: That’s the glamorous side but there is a lot of hard work and it has taken ten years to get to the stage I’m at now.

Mike: People don’t know that, do they?

Digger: No, and most people would find it too much of a challenge for them. You need to be motivated and passionate about what you’re doing. That makes the difference, I think.

Mike:  You’ve got to have, as you say, in the music game and it applies to gigging and playing – you’ve got to have the passion. If someone had, or inherited, a load of money I would say to them “Don’t buy a music shop, a drum or  guitar shop. There are better ways to invest your money and don’t do it.”

Digger: Who are your drumming inspirations?… Mine are old timers like Joe Morello or Bobby Graham or Bobby Elliott.

Mike: Bobby Elliott’s very good.  People who I like and follow... well, the first person who really turned my head was Dave Weckl and then I got into Steve Smith. So I would say Steve Smith is the one whose career I have followed for twenty years. Gary Husband I've followed too. It's very difficult, because if you said to me "What's one of your favourite bands?" then I'd say "Level 42." And the reason is that Phil Gould, the original drummer, is a funky drummer and it's a great band. Gary Husband did an awesome job of filling how Phil Gould played so I follow Gary Husband. Now, if you asked me if I like his work with Allan Holdsworth and all these other projects then the answer would be "No." I like him because he was in Level 42. He's just left and the new guy is also quite a good drummer and he's an unknown. Yes, I like Gary for the work he's done with Level 42 but his other projects are not my cup of tea because it's too avant-garde and too off-the-wall. Therefore, the people that do it for me are Steve Gadd, which 99% of drummers would say and Vinnie Colaiuta because of his timekeeping and time signatures which are amazing.

Digger: Stuart Copeland from The Police?

Mike: No, I'm not into Stuart Copeland.

Digger: I love his unusual stuff with the percussion and cymbals.

Mike: Yes, I respect him, as I respect Ringo, but I think Stuart Copeland's writing abilities are stronger - he's written some very good stuff. He's well respected and up there. The Police wasn't just Sting, he contributed to it as well. Some of the rhythms were very good and he left his mark - he inspired me and they are one of my favourite artists. I prefer when Sting went on to his solo career with Omar Hakim. If you look at Copeland you go "Wow, he's great." And then Manu Katche and Omar Hakim come along and those two make him look rubbish. He's not, of course, but they are just so good. You can't put them in the same category. Phill Collins, a great drummer, in Genesis and as a soloist and he's a multi-millionaire, has done many albums and is hugely successful. Great. But you put him on stage when they did the Buddy Rich tribute and you've got Dennis Chambers who is an amazing drummer and in the top fifteen in the world. Phil Collins just about pulled it off but put him on stage with the three drummers doing a tribute to Buddy Rich and, as good as Collins is, you can't put him in the same category. It's like saying here's a great pianist and here's Liberace. (Digger laughs) I learned very quickly that you get confident - when you start drumming you get better and you think "I'm getting quite good now, I'm doing this and have mastered that." But you get a little over-confident and it's nice to have a bit of confidence without getting big-headed. And then suddenly you get carried away with it all and somebody comes along who's really good and you think "I'm rubbish." There's always somebody better than you who comes along and is really good.

Digger: Just like the gunfighters of the wild west!

Mike: I learned to keep my feet on the ground. There's a mate of mine who won young drummer of the year at sixteen. I sold him his first kit when he was ten and what he's achieved in six years most people wouldn't in twenty. It's all down to six hours a day practicing and he goes to Guildhall in London. It's down to him and dedication, dedication, dedication. Yes, he had a natural talent but he's become so good because he's worked at it.

Digger: You're based in Bournemouth. What does The Internet mean to your business?

Mike: I hate The Internet because it's killing business off. It's very good for information, history courses for degrees and when the Battle of Hastings was, all about facts and education. It's amazing for that and for getting in touch with your long lost uncle in Australia - great. But for shops it's absolutely the death knell, it's killing business and it's an evil force. There's a shop in Brighton with a  margin for Sabian cymbals of 11% but you can't run a business on that - you need between 30 and 40% profit otherwise you're not making money. What happens is somebody goes on The Internet and searches for Sabian cymbals and they come up at, say, £250. The Sabian sales rep suggests that you do these cymbals and says "They're a great product mate..." "How much is it going to cost me?" I say. " £229" he replies. "Hang on, they're on The Internet at £249" I remark. "Yes, but there's nothing we can do about that because of European law" says the rep. "So hang on, you want me to spend a couple of grand with you to stock these cymbals and put them in the shop, advertise them, put them on the web, box shift them not to make any money? Sorry mate, I'm not going to do it."  We just had two dealers send a memo to shops saying if you give more than 20% we're going to take your dealership away. I said "Good for you." But one of them sent a follow-up saying please disregard what we said, we cannot do it according to confusion between our legal team and European law. What they were trying to get dealers to stick to a certain price, which I'm all for.

Digger: Is there not a flipside to it as well, because you're in Bournemouth you would have picked up trade from there and the surrounding area but now you've got the opportunity of getting business from anywhere in the UK or indeed the world?

Mike: It may not sound very businesslike, but I'm a firm believer that if I have got my local customers here on a busy main road and little Johnnie wants a Pearl Export for £600 and he comes to me because I've got it in stock. If it's not the colour then I'll order him the colour. If little Johnnie in Glasgow wants a Pearl Export he should go to the Glasgow dealer. Why should I send my kit all the way from Bournemouth up to Glasgow when there's three big perfectly good Pearl dealers in Glasgow?

Digger: Yes, the only reason they're buying from you is because you're £5 cheaper or something.

Mike: I don't want to be a box mover. We're not market trading. When you buy and sell fruit you have to sell it that day or it goes rotten but we're not market traders. You've got professional companies like Yamaha and Pearl, Zildjian and Sabian with top products. Why are dealers doing this? I understand they have staff costs and overdrafts and VAT to pay and they need cash flow.

Digger: It's a very interesting take on things Mike. What sort of feedback do you get about your products from customers?

Mike: I'm doing it like you would twenty years ago so I'm looking at local service and a personal service and I don't like all this box moving because it's not healthy competition.

Digger: You prefer the face to face and building up relationships?

Mike: Yes, the old-fashioned way. It's musical items - if you're buying drums or a guitar you want to feel it, hear it, play it. I'd never buy anything like that on The Net. It's just not the same.

Digger: Some people use The Internet to do their research and then go along to the physical shops to buy.

Mike: Yes, exactly. But if you stock some beautiful Yamaha equipment then people will come along and try it all and take up your time and say "Thanks mate." And then they will go home and buy it from the cheapest person on The Internet. Therefore you've done all the work and somebody in Glasgow who's prepared to do it for £20 cheaper will get the sale. And that's what anybody would do.

Digger: It's human nature.

Mike: Yes, I'm not saying people are wrong for doing that because that is the way people will do it now.

Digger: It's going to make for less choice eventually because there will be a few big websites that can knock stuff out cheap. Just like what has happened with small high street shops and the big supermarkets.

Mike: Yes.





Digger: What are the most enjoyable aspects of what you do?

Mike: It boils down to being involved in the music industry and gigging and music really.

Digger: There are hundreds, if not thousands, of companies satisfying our demand for retro and nostalgia. Why is retro and nostalgia so enduringly popular?

Mike: I think a lot of people like Led Zeppelin and groups like that and they were very important in giving people the impetus and lead the way for a lot of careers.

Digger: It is a generational thing because when I think of who inspired my favourite musicians it was people like Lonnie Donegan and Hank Marvin.

Mike: Yes, a lot of retro stuff's coming back now and everything in music goes full circle. Punk, for example, is all coming back so people tell me.

Digger: Wow.

Mike: Not that I like punk music, but I think what happens with fashion and trends is that they run out of ideas, even with things like car designs. We can't go any further and we've made space ship cars and so on. If you look at cars they've gone back to the old tried-and-trusted designs and back to the drawing board but with a modern twist.  Everything goes full circle.

Digger: Can you tell us about your future plans for Classic Drums?

Mike: Good service, personal service...

Digger: And be a pioneer for the old-fashioned values?

Mike: Yes, and not just a name on a piece of paper and a click. Do it the old-fashioned way which isn't modern but it's what I believe in and I'm clinging on to the old-fashioned ways.

Digger: A lot of people see The Internet as just another way to shop.

Mike: Well it is, but the trouble is you can claw on to the old ideas but you have no option but to go that way. I don't think it's good.

Digger: It's like me going to Tesco or Sainsbury's or Morrison's although I know that it's not a healthy thing for choice or competition or the environment long-term. Stuff coming from all over the world and then being shipped again up and down the country. Let's get back to the days when you could only get things in season.

Mike: Exactly. 

Digger: Thanks Mike for your take on things and letting us know about your traditional ways of running your business. I hope that the personal approach continues to flourish.

Mike: Thank you very much David.


When it comes to music, there's nothing quite like whacking the drums, at least that's according to Mike Nicholls the owner of Classic Drums in Bournemouth.
Classic Drums, a great place to ask about drums and drumming, is situated just a few minutes walk from Pokesdown Railway Station. 

As an experienced drummer, Mike, is well placed to make sure you buy the right drum kit. One that is suitable for your needs, be it gigging, studio, or for your school.

Shop Hours
10:00 - 17:00

01202 431050
07870 363717

839 Christchurch Rd





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