You must have seen Rob Allum at least once if you’re reading this. He’s the guy in the 72 video behind the drum kit. If you don’t know him from that video, you know him from the many Turin Brakes gigs he has played. If you pay attention you notice a guy who likes showing off with his drum sticks whilst playing his trademark ‘Allum-shuffle’ on Underdog (Save Me). And if you haven’t see Turin Brakes live yet, you at least heard him play on many of the songs on the albums… Anyway… That’s Rob Allum to Turin Brakes fans. But now we meet the real Rob Allum. And we learn everything: from how he ended up in Turin Brakes to playing the Dark on Fire UK tour. And more. Rob: ‘There are so many shows I won’t forget… You name a venue and date and I could probably tell you something about it.’
Who is Rob Allum?
‘I’m a musician, composer of tunes, singer, serious cricketer and lover of good food and drinks! I don’t like being in places where they play loud banging tunes (I enjoy being calm).
I’m 6’2″ and I look a bit like Jack Bauer with baby hair…And I have had my portrait exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery!’
How did you end up in Turin Brakes?
‘Phil Passera (aka Big Phil) had just put out the first EP, The Door EP, on his Anvil label and my friend (and great engineer/producer) Charlie Francis was asked to engineer the first album, even though a deal hadn’t been signed yet! Turin Brakes wanted drums (they’ve been there from the start – not just on this new album!) and Charlie suggested that I would understand what Olly and Gale were trying to do so we met up in a rehearsal room near Old St.’
How did that go?
‘Well I ended up on drums of course, Big Phil played bass and Olly and Gale were there, sitting on big red chairs sitting on big red chairs that looked like medieval thrones facing the other way (I never did understand that?). The first song we played was The Door. It was excellent and it worked! I knew this was right the moment we struck up the first bars of The Door. From then on we met there often and worked out all the arrangements for The Optimist LP.’
So how come you’re only playing on Underdog (Save Me)?
‘I was really busy around that time but managed to record the trademark “Allum Shuffle” on the “breakthrough hit” Underdog (Save Me) before leaving the rest of recording duties to Andy Newmark while I was out on tour! Andy did a good job on my arrangements.
”We all get on like a big old eccentric family, we all really care unfeasably about the band”
Still you ended up in the live band, together with Phil Marten, who’s actually a drummer as well, right?
‘When it came to putting together the live band everyone thought I was gonna be too busy so Big Phil had a friend who played drums – Phil Marten (aka Little Phil). Phil’s a good drummer with his own sound but he told me it just wasn’t quite right so they asked me if I could commit. I thought “Let’s do it!” Little Phil moved onto keyboards (he’s a talented boy) and the rest is TB history!
So there’s no doubt about your position as a drummer in the band?
‘Everyone in the band (except maybe Ed) fancies themselves as a drummer so I need to turn up to soundchecks on time or anybody could be on the kit!’
So what other bands have you played in?
‘I’ve played with loads of random people… Slab, Will Oldham, Billy Bragg, Lee Hazlewood, Add N to X… The list goes on and on. I still play with the High Llamas (go buy some please – we’re not bad!) and I was playing with Joe Gallacher until he decided to move back to Scotland.’
And what, if so, makes Turin Brakes special?
‘Well, Firstly it’s the musical chemistry – no doubt about that. Secondly, it’s that we all get on like a big old eccentric family and all really care unfeasably about the band and (most of the time) each other too. After 8 years together I should bloody well hope so!’
What’s your favourite Turin Brakes song?
‘That is a really difficult question… My favourites constantly change. I really like By TV Light from The Optimist LP. There was one time playing that in Wolverhampton that the song just had a life of its own and I found myself in tears at the back of the stage not knowing what the hell I was thinking. It was like some intelligent mass of grey gas had hijacked my mind!
I’ve really been enjoying playing Here Comes The Moon from the new record on the final dates of the last UK tour. It’s just so cool. Very sleek and dark, like chocolate. Although it could also be like realising that you’re drowning all alone on a steamy evening in the backwaters of Mississippi.’
Speaking of touring, is there a gig you’ll never forget?
‘There are so many shows I won’t forget but all for different reasons. You name a venue and date and I could probably tell you something about it. We recently played a show at an old strip club in Soho (The Soho Bar Revue showcase for Tiscali). It was such a shambles!
The last gig in Manchester was special too: the crowd energy and response was incredible and made us feel like The Beatles… I remember lots of the festivals as well: Glastonbury (2003) was an anti-climax and an opportunity under-exploited by us (mainly due to external pressures). Plus the bass drum sounded really crap on stage for me. We were all quite worried before this year’s Latitude performance, but as soon as we got on stage it felt like coming home! And V2003 was great: crazy girls getting topless and putting us off our performance with obscene gestures!! Backstage our girlfriends/wives were watching, threatening to do the same! I could go on and on and on. A lot of the time I remember the show because of the people or the venue or the town (or the dinner!), not so much about our own performance. Musically I don’t often remember how a particular tune went in a particular town.’
”I’ve worked with ‘producers’ who don’t actually know very much about songs or musicianship, but Ethan fully understands all aspects of the process.”
What was it like recording Dark On Fire?
‘Recording TB4 (as we were refering to it at the time) was quite a lengthy process. Not so much in the recording process itself, but because we had the tunes ready a long time ago and had been living with them and playing them live for quite a while before recording actually started. Once the recording actually started it was a quick process. All the recording of the basic tracks was done live at Miloco (Pool Room) near Tower Bridge.’
So when did you meet Ethan Johns, the producer?
‘I didn’t meet Ethan until the first morning of recording! It sounds crazy, but it was completely cool. Ethan’s very easy to work with and approaches production very much from a musician’s perspective. I’ve worked with ‘producers’ who don’t actually know very much about songs or musicianship and just concentrate more on the studio trickery. It can be a bit of a nightmare. Ethan is very much a musician/producer and fully understands all aspects of the process. Of course, he can play a lot of different instruments too so it keeps everyone on their toes…!
The recording of all the basic tracks (except Dark On Fire and New Star) was pretty much recorded live (including most of the lead vocals) with all five of us set up in the same large room in ten working days. So I guess that averages at 1.5 tunes a day? Not bad considering that we got into the habit of frequenting a charming gastro-pub for a hearty luncheon most days (I can recommend The Hartley on Tower Bridge Road to anybody who likes good food and some wonderful Polish specialities including a soup with a whole boiled egg and a sausage floating in it!).’
Did Ethan change a lot to the songs?
‘No, he didn’t make too many changes to the arrangements we had already. It was mainly a case of recording a different bunch of takes and using the best ones. The version of Here Comes The Moon on the album was a first run through where we were just kind of messing about a bit and trying to find our way around. Very natural sounding and I’m not surprised that a lot of people seem to like it. You can hear the tempo going all over the place, but I think it proves again that it’s often the so called imperfections in a recording that can give it that magical quality.’
But after those sessions at Miloco, you changed studios, right?
‘Yes, after these sessions TB4 moved to Olympic in Barnes where New Star and Dark On Fire were recorded. We also recorded overdubs and backing vocals. I had to do some backing vocals when I had a shocking cold and I was gutted that I couldn’t do as good a job as I could! After that it was compiling the recordings and doing the final mixing using the amazing vintage EMI desk that they have there. On the last day of mixing we had a listening session where about 20 of the guys from the record label came down into the control room to hear what we had done. That was very nerve wracking because there was complete silence in the room until the end when Olly turned around to everyone and said “And.. Relax”. It got a good laugh… Phew!!’
Is there a song from the Dark On Fire sessions that makes you extra proud?
‘I’m proud of the recordings as a whole really. I know that sounds like PR-crap but I can’t single out a particular track. I’m my own worse critic (I dearly hope so anyway!) and I’m never completely satisfied with my own performance, but as a group I think we delivered a set of great songs played with a slightly different TB angle, compared to the previous records. The tunes just evolved to that stage in an uncontrived way – like the songs were beamed through our collective prism and that’s what shone out the other side? Anyway, I’m proud to be a part of it. A part of the spectrum.’
How are you looking back on the recent tour? Any highlights?
‘Some personal highlights are:
– Sitting on Phil’s balcony after the Falmouth show drinking red wine with my compadres, looking out to sea wondering what the next few weeks would bring..
– The responses of the audiences were, as ever, stunning! We got a double encore every single night.. thanks:)
– Meeting all our TB friends again… wouldn’t be the same without seeing the people who have supported us through thick and thin standing at the barrier….and sometimes after a show in the bar or somewhere!!! Cheers to you!
– The Chinese restaurant in Bristol (were we the only non-Chinese diners?) Yum!
– The incredible dressing room at Oran Mor in Glasgow (As seen on Horses Mouth on TB site).
– Having a really great crew around us on this tour was just the icing on the cake and made life on the road a real pleasure. Dino&Joe&Matty&Cate&Carly&Jon I salute thee! Anyone in a band out there should kill for a support crew like this!!’
What will you be telling your grandchildren about Turin Brakes?
‘It’s ok grandchildren, the medication worked!!’ 😉
Thanks to Rob Allum for his time, wise and kind words and of course the Underdog-Shuffle :).
Rob Allum also plays in the High Llamas.