Drummer’s Review’s Matt Butlin catches up with Freddy Sheed during the Lewis Calpadi UK Tour…
Where did your musical interest come from?
My Dad is a keys player and was always very encouraging with playing and I pick up playing pots and pans when I was 3 which obviously sparked something. For my 6th birthday I got given a session in a studio as a present and made a cd. Up until I was about 11 there really was nothing else other than drums and I had some lessons with my neighbour and at a local shop in Chichester, Berns Music which is sadly long gone. I then lost interest and then picked it back up again when I was 14 and by then YouTube was giving a lot of online content and tips so was mainly self-taught up until 18. I then went and started lessons with Bob Armstrong.
So, how did having formal lessons with Bob help your playing as he has quite a tough reputation?
Yeah, he was hard as nails. I was in danger of disappearing up my own a**hole and he totally rebuilt the architecture of my playing. I think we spent about 5 months just on the ride cymbal at slow tempos studying jazz and he scared the s**t out of me but in a loving, caring way. I went for 1 hour every 2 weeks and he said ‘if you’re late, never come back’. I will never forget the first lesson I had when he took my sticks and tapped then next to his ear and then launched them across the room and said ‘Paint stirrers!’. He then pulled out a pair of Vic Firth SD9 maple sticks and said ‘no lower pitch than these’. I was then on tour in Tokyo went into a local music shop to get some sticks, held a pair up to my ear and tapped them and someone came across the shop and just pointed at me and said ‘You know Bob Armstrong?!’ which was just bizarre. It’s something I still do today.
By this time you were touring so how did you find that experience at a relatively young age?
I was out on the road a lot but managed to squeeze in the odd lesson with Ralph Salmins who was brilliant for me. I then also had a few lessons with Dave Elitch when we shared a drum tour together which was a big thing for me after seeing videos of him playing The Mars Volta. He was very similar to Bob in that there is a right and a wrong way to play. There is a grey area, but he keeps the grey area creative. I love taking lessons so I don’t think I will ever stop having them.
Did you then get into the session world around this time?
My first break was actually recording a Christmas album for Leona Lewis which was very weird recording live sleigh bells in August! Once I had done that, I added that to my CV to procure some more work and I got sessions with Nina Nesbitt, The Japanese House and 1975 so very much stayed in the ‘Pop World’. There are so many great pop drummers out there that I feel particularly lucky to have got so many gigs in this genre.
The 1975 gig was a baptism of fire, wasn’t it?
I was playing with one of the support bands and then George broke his collarbone, so when they asked, I said of course I will do it. They talked about cancelling the following nights gig so we could rehearse and then aim to gig 2 nights later. So, I had a leisurely morning, woke up and got off the tour bus around 10am and noticed they were loading video walls into the venue. I thought that it was a bit strange to go to all that effort for a rehearsal and they then informed me that they couldn’t cancel the gig so we were just going to have to do it. It was a really good opportunity and we worked hard for 10 hours and I really enjoyed that first gig with them.
How did the Lewis Capaldi gig come around after that and how do you approach the gig when the songs aren’t exactly ‘drum heavy’?
He was a big fan of the 1975 and The Japanese House so my name was floating around and I had met a few of the people on this gig whilst spending time up in Glasgow so it was all very organic. The live show is very different and Lewis is very encouraging of playing out so the tracks aren’t faithfully recreating the album but I approach it playfully and they let me do my thing. The beats and the parts are the same but the fills stay open and I try and add some variation to each show. The newer tunes are a lot more instrumental and I think the production has opened up a little bit more ultimately, don’t change the winning formula of the first album. I have 4 toms on this kit and we change the snare out on particular songs rather than have a side snare, etc.
What’s the ratio split of your production, programming and studio work to live work?
Obviously, during covid I had a lot of that work and I think in 2021 I picked up the sticks twice, which is not like me. I had 2 playing sessions and then everything else was behind a computer in some form or another. This year it’s probably more like 60% drumming of some type. All of my gaps on tour I’m trying to fill with studio work. I think my ultimate goal would be 90% studio leaning but that would include tracking, producing and programming. Even if the 10% is playing in a pub, after the pandemic my priorities have totally changed. I really enjoy focussing on being creative.
Back in 2018 you played the UK Drum Show and had a very noticeably different set up to what you have today, with a 10” detuned tom to the right of your first rack tom. Was this a deliberate set up choice and how did it come about?
Ahh the flipped toms. I really like a 12” tom so wanted to keep the feel of a 1 up 1 down kit as if I had the 10” tom in front I would use it too much and not the 12” as much. As it’s smaller it also meant I could bring the ride in. But now I need them in the regular order to fulfil the parts with Lewis. There’s a song called ‘Forget Me’ which is one of the tunes I recorded in the studio and I could play it easily if the toms were flipped but it wouldn’t feel right. I try not to be too precious with my set up. If someone wants a Ringo vibe then I will set my kit up like him to channel my inner Ringo. Or the same if I had to do a Bonham set up. When I’m recording things, I like reacting to an environment and being slightly uncomfortable is kind of nice and records really well in my opinion.
Talking of gear, you are a big lover of all vintage gear.
Yes! Snares, kits, cymbals, the lot. I haven’t delved into microphones yet, but that’s en-route! We have to mention Joe Cox (Joe Cox Drums) who’s my tech on this tour. He sold me my first Acrolite and I am a regular visitor to Mark at Rusty Drums. Those 2 shops are the best for vintage gear in the UK and import stuff on a regular basis. Joe is more into restoration and bringing gear back to life, whereas Mark has bought in some of the most exquisite things I have ever seen. I will never forget seeing a video of Steve Jordan playing a pink ripple Rogers kit and saying to Mark I wanted one. He said, ‘No chance you will find one of those’ and then 3 hours later he rang me and said ‘You need to stop asking me to do this’ and proceeded to send me pictures of an immaculate one he had found and it’s one of my main studio kits. Mark looks after my kit’s and when I’m in a studio like Abbey Road, he will get in his van and drive the kits down to me and he will know what head combinations will work best for certain drums to capture a certain vibe. I have a couple of old Gretsch kits and love the old 80’s square badge Gretsch kits if you can find them. I don’t know what was going on with the lead paint and jasper shells but those are probably my favourite recording drums. I have a starlight sparkle round badge Gretsch, a Vistalite, some Camco’s, Radio Kings and WFL kits and then snare wise 1920’s/30’s Ludwig’s, 1970’s Black Beauty’s… I could go on. I am just starting to go down the Craviotto route as I am interested in the boutique snare market. Some producers will hire me for my collection and I will bring 16 or 17 snares to a session if they don’t know they want. I really wish that they catalogued where the vintage drums had been and what recordings they were used on. It would be good to trace the lineage of some of these drums. I have a Black Beauty that has marks all over it and you know that it’s been used and played but where?
What’s planned for the rest of 2023?
A bit more touring but trying to keep the studio stuff going. Last year, I met this producer called Andrew Wells who has completely changed my life. He has given me the courage to put myself forward as a studio player as it’s really kept me going. Before, I thought the studio thing was an unsustainable way of working for me, but now he’s shown me it’s possible so I’m putting some focus on that. I also love teaching. I’m obsessed with meeting students and meeting other drummers. It’s so much more satisfying watching someone struggle and then get through it and have ownership of something new and being able to help with that process. After being fortunate to learn from Bob Armstrong, there will always be that inspiration to teach more. That said, we still have some really big gigs left to do this year but whilst I’m on tour I want to be meeting drummers and giving students tickets to gigs. I got to the start of 2020 before the pandemic and realised that I hadn’t really given anything back so I want to use the tour to get out and meet people, teach and share whatever information I can.
What do you enjoy doing away from drums and music?
I really enjoy cooking and for my birthday Lewis and the band bought me a Big Green Egg Kamado Grill so I did the Christmas dinner on that in the rain! It’s incredible, so I’m going to keep chasing that. When I’m on tour I love going and finding different restaurants. I’m into Anthony Bourdain (Food/Travel Writer) and found a lot of comfort in following his footsteps and eating some of the meals he ate whilst travelling. When we are abroad later this year, I’m going to visit some of the local markets with one of the chefs on tour with us at the moment and they are really interesting people and so much more Rock ‘n’ Roll than the band!!
With Special thanks to David Phillips & Gretsch Drums
Lewis Capaldi Tour Kit:
Gretsch Broadkaster in 60’s White Marine Pearl
10”x7”, 12”x8” Rack Toms 14”x14”, 16”x16” Floor Toms
22”x14” Bass Drum