Back on the road with Level 42 for a string of European dates, Matt Butlin caught up with drummer Pete Ray Biggin on how he got into music, that fateful call from bassist and founder member Mark King as well as any future plans for 2023.
Pete, how did you get started? Did you have a musical family background?
Yeah, my Dad was a rock ‘n’ roll drummer in the 70s and 80s up North in the working mens club scene and I used to go and watch him whilst sat on beer crates so, I was always going to be a drummer. His Dad, my Grandad who I never met, had his own Big Band in the 40s and 50s in Sheffield, The Colin Biggin Big Band which was like an orchestra, playing ballroom dancing type material in Sheffield City Hall so there is a musical history. My Mum’s wasn’t musical, but her sewing machine was a Singer! (Ba boom tish)
So, was your first drum kit one of your Dad’s old ones?
No, I had one of those Toys R Us kits when I was 2 years old which I smashed up, so by the time I was 4 or 5 I had a proper kit which was a piece of junk but had all the parts. Back then, companies didn’t really make smaller kits for kids like now. I then used to flick through the Pearl Catalogue as they always looked good so by the time I was 11, I was gigging and my parents had bought me a decent kit to use. Then when I was 13, I was playing in a club band and earning £40 per night and gigging Friday, Saturday, Sunday which in 1993 for a 13 year old was great.
Up in Sheffield, you had a decent music scene and decent music shops to look inspire you even more?
Definitely, there was a lot to be said about music shops at that time. I used to shop at Carlbro Music and Electro Music and there’s a lot to be said for going into a drum shop and sifting through gear before buying it, to inspire you.
Obviously, we have seen the video taken when you were 11 years old meeting Level 42 at a gig, so how did it transpire years later for you to end up joining the band?
It was around November 2009 when I got a call at 8.30am on a Monday morning from an unrecognised number and a voice said ‘Hey, is that Pete? It’s Mark King’ and I instantly said ‘What took you so long to call me!’ and we got talking about music and he said that Gary (Husband) couldn’t do next years work because he was on tour with John McLaughlin and would I mind covering. I was like, yeah, I love the band, it was my favourite band as a kid. He said Ok we will have a run through some stuff in February (2010) and then take it from there. So, February came and I had Luke Harris who is now the drummer for the Brand New Heavies, helping me doing a bit of teching at the time as I was doing all sorts of pop sessions and the Incognito gig etc. So, he went and set my kit up and I think they were impressed that I already had a Drum tech! We had a play through all the songs and Mike Lindup (Keyboardist and founder member) said ‘Pete, this is good, you really have done your homework, well done’ and I’m thinking, ‘I’ve been playing these tracks for years!’ Then Mark said ‘Do you want to play another song?’ and I reply ‘Any! I know them all’. He then pulls out Love Meeting Love and I’m think ‘Oh, I don’t know this one’, so I just blagged it!
Literally as we finished the rehearsal, Christie Goodwin, a London photographer, came down, we took a few shots and then the next day the headline was ‘Level 42’s new drummer’.
Next year is 13 years since you joined so are there any tour plans for 2023?
Yeah, we will have a tour and some festivals booked in but we are a couple of years behind because of Covid. We usually do a big tour every 2 years so look out for dates in 2023. Mark is a guy without breaks, he’s a legend and monster player and so for me to play with him is like the perfect fitted glove and I love playing with him. I think we are so glued together because I grew up listening to him.
What’s a typical tour day like for you?
On this tour we are on 2 buses, 1 for the band and 1 for the crew so we have the lighting guys, the out front guys and the caterers who are all lovely. So, we find we just come on tour and get fat!
Soundcheck at 3.30pm, dinner at 5.30pm, chill out in the bus, watch a bit of YouTube or do a bit of work. None of us drink before the gig which I think is a great rule that Mark has. At the end of the day you are here to do that 90 minute show and you wouldn’t drink before you go to work. Once the show is done then it’s different and you can have a few, chat on the bus, go to sleep, wake up, have breakfast and repeat!
Do you have any other projects on the go? Can we expect any more with PB Underground?
Yeah, as well as a side project, I going to turn PBUG into a high class corporate band as there is a lot of function work out there but not at the quality that I will be pitching this at. So, we will shoot some videos and get it out there.
What was it like playing with Gizmodrome when you had one of your influences Stewart Copland playing in the same band?
That was amazing, just hanging out with Stewart as he was one of my heroes growing up. When I look out and I have Stewart, Mark King and Adrian Belew (Frank Zappa/David Bowie/King Crimson) who are all massive legends on their instrument. But I got really well with Stewart and he has such a unique fingerprint and energy that no one has come close to him. He never liked playing on the 1, that was his thing.
Can you tell us one thing that people may not know about you?
Not many people know that I play bass guitar quite well to the point where I write all my songs on bass. I tend to get in a keyboardist or guitarist and like bouncing ideas around and that’s how I wrote most of the PBUG stuff. Sitting in front of a computer and composing by myself doesn’t really do it for me. I can then get bass players like Mark King, Stuart Zender (Jamiroquai) and Bill Banwell (PBUG, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man) in so I might as well use guys like them to play it!
If you could relive one gig again, which one would it be?
Wow, this is tricky, but it would have to any gig with Amy (Winehouse). Just to have her back would be special as we were friends for a long time and she really liked my drumming. We did so many gigs together and she had that jazz twang that has since been taken on by others but she had a great spirit.
Is there one artist or band you wish you could play with?
I’d love to play with Sting, But I have to say that I am currently in my dream gig. Playing every night with Level is such fun. Since Covid, when all live playing got taken away from me, it changed my perspective so now I want to get out and play with anyone because I took it for granted.