WORK EXPERIENCE: Argus man restores vintage drums
6:15pm Friday 2nd May 2014 in News
John Phillips Work Experience at Nick Hopkin Drums in Abergavenny. John helps to polish one of the drums. (5658349)
AS I set foot in Nick Hopkin’s workshop, I stumble across a treasure trove of vintage drum kits, some dating back to the Roaring Twenties.
A cornucopia of drums and accessories of all shapes and sizes are stored at his base on an industrial estate in Abergavenny near Nevill Hall Hospital.
Snare drums, tom-tom drums, floor toms, crash cymbals, ride cymbals, splash cymbals and hit hat stands, the wonderful parts of kits that have given rhythm to music outfits for about a century.
For Mr Hopkin, restoring the rare drums manufactured before the days of mass production in the 1980s is a passion.
It is about giving a new lease of life to instruments that have been used by unknown or famous players who practised their art at home, in pubs, or in front of raving fans in concert halls.
Mr Hopkin, a former drummer himself, told me how he recently sold an early 1980s kit used by Carl Palmer, of prog-rock supergroup Emerson, Lake amd Palmer.
He is also hoping the elusive kit former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr used on the band’s first two albums may one day go through his doors.
He tells me Ringo is said to have only used five kits during his career, and being one of very few vintage drum specialists in the UK, the hallowed drums with a distinctive swirl design could one day come in for repair.
Mr Hopkin never achieved fame as a musician, but through his business has met some of the most established drummers in the UK.
The workshop in Union Road, has attracted the likes of Sean Moore, of the Manic Street Preachers; Steve White, who has worked with Paul Weller, as well as musicians with Portishead and Radiohead.
Through his profession, he has also chatted with Ringo’s son Zak Starkey, who has worked with The Who and Oasis.
Collectors sometimes pop into the shop, spending hours trying drums with distinctive sounds.
His job is often rewarding and even therapeutic, but also overwhelming. He spends about 80 to 90 hours a week taking delivery of old drum kits, dismantling them, cleaning them, rebuilding them, cataloguing them online and answering email and phone queries from all over the world.
His profession also involves a bit of detective work, for instance when he makes calls to try to find the owners of top of the range, uncatalogued drum kits from the 1970s.
Running his small business has been so intense, he has taken Govilon metal band guitarist Charlie Mills, 18, on to help him restore the vintage kits to their former glory.
They can spend around 20 hours restoring drums, which need to be stripped, cleaned, repainted, put back together and photographed.
It’s akin to working on a car, using brushes, sponges and tools like screwdrivers to dismantle the kits, clean them and rebuild them.
Mr Hopkin, 41, said: “It’s quite therapeutic. It’s rewarding. When they come they are absolutely filthy. You strip it all down and put it back together.”
Mr Mills, who plays with the band called Arlington Heights, said: “It’s nice to see a kit come in not looking its best and come out looking like it’s new.
“It’s a great skill. Now I can clean a kit for my drummer.”
Between the calls, email requests and promotion, Mr Hopkin is also finding time to contribute columns to two major magazines: Drummer, in the UK, and Not So Modern Drummer, in the US.
He also has to be discerning as he gets offered up to 30 kits a week.
Sometimes a kit may not be worth a great deal, even if it is restored, while at other times he stumbles across a gem from the pre mass production days.
For example a snare drum from the 1920s found in his shop can go for £300.
Mr Hopkin ships kits all over the globe, including to Australia and Germany.
The kits he sells were by and large manufactured in the UK before mass production in East Asia took its hold on world markets in the 1980s.
Later this month he will fly to the US to exhibit rare kits from the vaults of British drum-maker Premier at the Chicago Drum Show.
The show on May 16 and 17 will be an opportunity to sell and make new connections in the musical world.
He said: “I’m exhibiting vintage English drums at the biggest vintage drum show in the world.
“I’ll be the only British exhibitor there and to my knowledge, no one else from the UK has exhibited there before.
“The UK has a rich history in drum design and manufacturing, with brands including Premier, Ajax, Beverley and Hayman being highly collectible.
“Non-British brands, including classic-era Ludwig, Gretsch and Slingerland, also come through the shop, which handles a constantly changing inventory of great gear.”
For further information, visit nickhopkindrums.com
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