Good morning Mike.
Please tell us about your
background and the background to Classic Drums.
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.
Are you in amateur bands?
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.
No, it might dilute it.
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.
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.”
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.
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
People don’t know that, do they?
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.
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.”
Who are your drumming inspirations?… Mine are old timers like Joe Morello or
Bobby Graham or Bobby Elliott.
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.
Stuart Copeland from The Police?
No, I'm not into Stuart Copeland.
I love his unusual stuff with the percussion and cymbals.
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.
Just like the gunfighters of the wild west!
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.
You're based in Bournemouth. What
does The Internet mean to your business?
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
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.
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
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?
Yes, the only reason they're buying from you is because
you're £5 cheaper or something.
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.
It's a very interesting take on things Mike. What
sort of feedback do you get about your products from
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
You prefer the face to face and building up relationships?
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.
Some people use The Internet to do their research and then
go along to the physical shops to buy.
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.
It's human nature.
Yes, I'm not saying people are wrong for doing that because
that is the way people will do it now.
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.
What are the most enjoyable aspects
of what you do?
It boils down to being involved in the music industry and
gigging and music really.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of companies
satisfying our demand for retro and nostalgia. Why is
retro and nostalgia so enduringly popular?
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.
It is a generational thing because when I think of who inspired
my favourite musicians it was people like Lonnie Donegan
and Hank Marvin.
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.
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.
Can you tell us about your future plans for Classic
Good service, personal service...
And be a pioneer for the old-fashioned values?
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
A lot of people see The Internet as just another way to
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.
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.
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.
Thank you very much David.