Robert Brian Royal Albert Hall 2019

Tapping into the talent of Robert Brian

‘One of the U.K.’s drumming gems’

Robert Brian’s love of drumming began at the impressionable age of nine when he picked up his dad’s drumsticks and began hammering out a beat on his pillow. His late father, Ray Brian, a session drummer, naturally took his son’s interest to heart.

“I remember him telling me, ‘if you’re going to do this, you’re going to do it properly’,” Robert recalls. “He wanted me to learn the basics because he knew if you got that behind you it would set you up.”

And that it did.

Four decades later, Robert has earned a reputation as one of the U.K.’s finest drummers. He’s performed all over the world with a diverse range of bands and solo artists and has been the drummer on 24 albums, one of which became a Grammy Award winner and another a triple platinum seller. One aspiring 18-year-old drummer who attended a concert where Robert was performing, wrote a letter to Rhythm Magazine gushing, “the highlight of the show by far was the drum solo, which was one of the best drumming feats I have had the chance to witness so far in my life”. The magazine agreed, adding its own footnote: “Rob is indeed one of the U.K.’s drumming gems and his playing is sublime”.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that Loreena tapped into that talent. When it came time to record her Lost Souls album at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in South West England in 2018, Loreena approached Robert to join the band on drums and percussion. The critically-acclaimed release, Loreena’s first recording of original music since 2006, was followed by her year-long Lost Souls Tour and Robert came along for the ride, touring with the band in Canada, Europe and South America.

“You don’t always get another phone call after a recording session since people have their own entourage. But I studied all the songs and knew them inside out,” says Robert. “I was a real nerd, but I wanted that gig so badly. I also really enjoyed hanging with the band.”

“It has been magical and transformative working with Robert,” says Loreena. “I’ve come to appreciate how he plays drums and percussion like a classical instrument – with great feel and dynamics, as well as imagination – skills one doesn’t always associate with drummers. It’s clear to me that Robert is adept at tuning into the imagery I’m trying to create through the arrangements. The fact that he’s also a delightful travelling companion with a great sense of humour is a wonderful and essential bonus.”

Robert, who lives in Corsham, Wiltshire in the U.K., grew up surrounded by music. He recalls weekends at home with his mother in the kitchen preparing Sunday lunch while listening to The Mamas & the Papas and Elton John on the radio, while down the hall his father cranked up the Average White Band, Herbie Hancock and Buddy Rich on the stereo. “It helped me gain a broader love of music,” Robert says.

But when his father recorded a Frank Sinatra concert on TV that featured the famous drummer Buddy Rich as guest performer, the dye was cast. Robert was blown away. “My jaw dropped to the floor. I watched that VHS tape over and over again. I think I wore it out. It’s fair to say Buddy looms large in my life.”

During his drumming career Robert has performed with a broad range of bands and solo artists, including Peter Gabriel, Scottish rock band Simple Minds, Italian singer-songwriter Laura Pausini, and rock era siren Siouxsie Sioux, to name but a few.

He’s also been teaching drumming at universities, online and in private lessons, something he also loves doing.  Remote teaching has been particularly rewarding during the pandemic since it gives him a chance to check in with students. “I love the connection and seeing if everyone’s doing okay – and it’s been helping me,” he says.

Artists, he believes, have all but been abandoned by the government during the pandemic. “There were no grants for artists. It was every man for himself and we were all left standing by ourselves,” he says. “Artists are not valued. Amazon drivers are more valued. I admit I’ve had a few dark days. Drumming is my life, my work. It’s everything to me.”

And since the pandemic also pulled the plug on live performances, that only added to the financial challenges posed by the advent of music streaming through such platforms as Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music and others. “I don’t want to sound old-fashioned or out of date, but I’m not behind those one bit. The executives of platforms like Spotify expect an assembly line model of producing music and they pay nothing. This isn’t good for artists at all.” According to a recent New York Times article, there are roughly seven millions artists on Spotify, yet only about 13,000 of them made $50,000 (U.S.) or more in 2020.

Since the pandemic began in early 2020, Robert has been spending more time in the studio creating “an eclectic mix of material”. He records the drums first then adds the rest in later. “It’s ass backwards, but I’m having a ball and that sort of freedom is wonderful.”

Asked if he’s optimistic about the future of music given the current business model, he says, “I want to say yes for all the young people who want to get into the business. They’ve seen the glory days and they’ve seen how things work now. I think they’re prepared to try and change that. I expect we may see some sort of revolution and things will change.” He may just be right. Last month a group of musicians gathered outside Spotify offices to protest their pay model.

Streaming aside, most artists still tend to make their money from live performances and Robert is anxious for that to come back.

“I love playing live so the future looks very bright in that way.”

Twitter: @RobertBrian
Instagram: @robbriandrummer

Written by Diane Sewell, a career journalist for more than 30 years. In addition to working with Loreena for 20 years, she has also written for the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and assorted consumer magazines. She is also the author of several commissioned books.