World Solo Drumming – An Interview with Maestro Jim Kilpatrick MBE

Saturday sees the RSPBA’s World Solo Drumming Championship being held in Caledonian University in Glasgow. As a warm up for that event, and as a possible assist to competitors, we run the following interview with master drummer Jim Kilpatrick MBE, the record winner of the top title, and now retired after a wonderful pipe band and solo drumming career. The interview comes to us courtesy the Association and their official magazine ‘Pipe Band’. The interview was carried in the magazine in 2000 when Jim  won his 12th World Solo title. The above picture shows him with the coveted World Solo Drumming trophy…..

JIM KILPATRICK of Shotts and Dykehead has become the  World Solo Drumming Champion for the twelfth time. His brilliant technique and expressive phrasing put him well clear of the field at Bathgate on February 26. Runner-up was J Reid Maxwell from SFU who flew in from Canada especially for the event; all credit to him for that.

After the results were read out a jubilant Jim (43) talked about his victory and revealed some of his secrets. He spoke firstly about the pressure – or lack of it:

JKP: This is my twelfth title in 26 attempts and each time I have been beaten I have been runner-up which shows I’ve never been far away from the benchmark. My wrists are fine and the hands are going as well as they’ve ever done. Whether the experience I have means I can handle the pressure better I don’t know. When you are young you have no fears as far as competition is concerned. I have very little memory of being scared when I was 15 and 16 and just going into the Adults.

Jim was a multiple winner of the Champion of Champions Drum Corps title
Jim was a multiple winner of the Champion of Champions Drum Corps title
My idea was just to get up there and play and show them what I could do. I am not scared now right enough, but I am more aware that I’ve got further to fall. Under pressure, however, I seem to react better. It seems to make me focus more on what I’m doing. Being involved with Premier brings its own pressure [Jim is responsible for part of Premier Percussion’s sales and marketing]. The expectations are always there and there is another faction who really don’t want to see you winning any more. But that is like any pursuit in life. If someone is dominating an activity some people like to see them fail.

PB: How did he feel it went this time? What were the confidence levels like?
JKP: I was confident both before I played and after I came off.I was as relaxed as I’ve ever been. I had given myself a target of hitting ten world solo titles which was the record held by Alex Duthart. When I was young I never thought that I would come close or be good enough to do it. Once I had achieved that success I could relax and this time I was very relaxed indeed. In fact someone commented about my performance this year was that I was so relaxed when I was playing.I felt good. If everything goes well, if your drum is sounding good and there is nothing to bother you – just like a piper whose pipes are wee set – you can sit back and relax and just play.

PB: And who were your pipers?
JKP: Robert Matheson my Pipe Major, and Stuart Reid, the Pipe Sergeant. It is worth mentioning that Robert has played with me every single year in my adult solo career for the past 25 years.

 PB: Aren’t you getting sick of the sight of him?
JKP: Aye, on and off the stage!! No, seriously it is so important for a solo drummer to have pipers he can rely on and Robert and I eat and sleep and breathe the same kind of music We don’t even need to look at each other when we are playing. We can feel the music. We know that whatever we do the other one is going to be there. It really is a two-way process That in itself makes you relax. You know that there is only one person who can screw up and that is yourself.

Jim after his 12th World Solo win in 2000
Jim after his 12th World Solo win in 2000
PB: And what were the tunes you played?
JKP: My march, strathspey and reel were Highland Wedding, Atholl Cummers and Mrs MacPherson of lnveran. My hornpipe was Moving Clouds and the Jigs were the Jamphlars Jig and The Magpie. The settings were all written by myself.

PB: Were they new or had you played them before?
JKP: They had all been played before – very much so. The Highland Wedding was written years and years ago. The newest tunes were the hornpipe and Jigs but the MSR I have been playing for many years.

PB: And what about the drum?
JKP: It was a new drum that I played and I think it is a little better suited to indoor playing. The way that you set the drum up for inside playing is a bit different too. I probably have it set just a wee bit tighter. The skin would be the same as for outdoor work but the snares should be set for a closer sound. The acoustics of every hall are different, of course, but whatever you do you must have a controlled sound. I play the drum totally different in solos from the way I play it with the band. Some players make the mistake of playing the same. They actually treat the solo drum exactly as if they were playing with the band. In solo drumming you are the one the judges are listening to, but in a band you are part of an ensemble sound and are trying to create more dynamics. What you need in solos is a controlled sound and it needs to be very clear so that when you are playing the judge and everyone else can the specific intricacies of your technique, the loud and the quiet passages.

One thing you cannot do is thump it; some people still do that – good drummers at that. Some performances get ruined by the volume they are played at. It can be a great performance but it is ruined by the high level it is played at.

PB: What sticks do you use?
JKP: I actually select sticks specifically made for inside. These would be slightly lighter in weight. It is worth spending some time over this to get it right.

PB: What about the future?
JKP: I always get asked ‘are you not bored winning the title’ or ‘don’t you think you should stand aside’. My answer to that is that I play in this competition because I can. If I wasn’t fit for it or wasn’t playing well I wouldn’t need anyone else to tell me. So I’ll be taking part as long as I’m able to win it. If there was someone coming up and beating me I’d be the first to turn round and pat him on the back and say on you go son, it’s all yours; enjoy it. Go on and do what I’ve done. But at the moment whilst there are lots of great players out there, there’s no single person coming second to me every time. And the times when I don’t win it is not always the same person who is beating me. The margin I won by this year was one of the largest ever in the history of the competition, which is nice That said, all the players in the prizelist are great drummers and are capable of beating me on the day. I am not complacent.