NEM #25: Bill Bruford: Drumming Matters

Bill BrufordBill played with all of your top three ’70s prog bands, as the original drummer for Yes, a default member of King Crimson, and even briefly played live with Genesis. His near-final foray into pop stardom was with U.K. in the late ’70s, but most of his output has been with his own jazz-inflected bands Earthworks and Bruford, as rock proved too confining for his rhythmic and tonal creativity.

We discuss King Crimson’s “One more Red Nightmare” from Red (1974), “Thistledown” from If Summer Had Its Ghosts by Bill Bruford, Eddie Gomez and Ralph Towner (1992), and “The 16 Kingdoms of the 5 Barbarians” from Every Step a Dance, Every Word a Song by Bill Bruford/Michiel Borstlap (2004).

We also listen to “Hell’s Bells” (written by Alan Gowen and Dave Stewart) and (during the intro) the title track of One Of A Kind by Bruford (1979), and also during the intro you’ll hear “Five Per Cent for Nothing” from Fragile (1972) by Yes.

Learn more at Here’s more interview with Bill and one of the performances from his initial meeting/show with Michel Borstlap that I refer to in our discussion. Here’s Bill demonstrating electronic drums in 1986. And here he is in that Yes reunion (technically “Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe“) around 1990 (this is the tour where I saw him live), including a very long electronic drum solo starting about 3:30 in. Here’s a later incarnation (2002) of Earthworks live, going full throttle. Here he with the band U.K., and then within about a year of that, live with his quartet Bruford (every member of which I’d like to interview). And if you doubt how difficult Bruford’s composition for Yes’s “Five Per Cent for Nothing” is, here’s the band without him in 2014 trying to play it. Here’s the trailer to that documentary about neurotic classical musicians that Bill brings up.

Photo by Steven RiederOwn work, creative Commons, more info.

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  1. Mark, Sounds good. I take exception, however with your strange sub-title to the right of the colon: ‘The Drummer not the Song’. After an hour or so with me I’m surprised that you should come away with a phrase that seems to show me as preferencing one over the other. Any musician worth a damn knows that s/he exists to serve the music, not the other way round. If by ‘song’ you mean ‘the music with or without singing’, I should have thought your audio examples indicate absolutely that I have strained every fibre to find the best way to make the music work and my contribution matter. How about changing it to:
    Bill Bruford: Making it Work, Making it Matter.

  2. Thank you, Mark, for giving the world this gift of one of the world’s great musicians examining his own body of work. Mr. Bruford is my personal favorite drummer, and such an insight as this is invaluable — along with his autobiography. As I commented on Bill’s FB where he (or his team) posted this: My only complaint is it’s not long enough.

    Thanks again.

    Kevin Courtright

  3. Ummm…. The intro to ‘One More Red Nightmare” isn’t in a “minor key”. The figure contains (along with the root), a major third and a flatted fifth… In other words – Lydian.

  4. A really good interview,Thank you.
    I last saw Bill live back in London on the ‘Union’ tour – my wife and I were both extremely impressed.

    Best Wishes


  5. Nice to hear Bill’s positive comments on Hell’s Bells! Just to clarify the compositional credits, I wrote the main theme and we borrowed a 7/4 riff by Alan Gowen (with his permission) as the basis for the guitar solo. Thanks to Mark and Bill for an interesting podcast. Best, Dave.

  6. “everything floating around until it found a home”…!!! I love that! I write a lot of music and that’s how so much of it is constructed. It floats around until it finds a home. I’ve listened to One More Red Nightmare so many times and just managed to get Red on vinyl a few years ago. Hearing an in depth look at it from Bill’s point of view is great.

    I was completely unaware of Thistledown, which is beautiful. Chamber-jazz! I love the chamber-jazz. Sonic architecture with groove and improvisation…what’s not to love. The kalimba/drums is a wonderful effect and the drumming really is feather-light when it comes in. I’ll be picking that up soon.

    The ebb and flow of energy levels on the duet are really conversational. process v product is a great way of thinking about the differences between the performance and energy of the moment v the song. Although when you record anything you now have product…right? Even if that product is a representation of the process.

    Loved this.

  7. I used to admired group King Crimson and actually Bill Bruford by his performances inspired me to take lessons of play the drums. All my teenage age a spent with Iron Maiden, King Crimson, AC/DC and RHCP in my headphone and dreamed about the own rock band.
    Later I chose a different path but love to old school rock forever with me. I going to start next year from visiting RHCP concert as a part of RHCP tour 2017 and keep this trend of good music during the year.

  8. Hello Mark!

    I’ve just now come across this blog and happened to see the podcast with Bill Bruford!

    I must say this, for me, was time well spent!!!

    I come away from this podcast with much inspiration for my instrument (the drums). I’ve always been a fan of Mr Bruford’s playing and simply loved the discussions around the songs you highlighted in this podcast.

    You have yourself a new regular listener!

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