Cassell The Beatmaker: My Audio World…
How winning an ‘Ivor’ inspired me to help artists ‘In the Making’ (ITM)
Photo credits: @echoheightsstudios
You might say Cassell The Beatmaker was born with a drumstick in his hand; son of a musician and earmarked for a musical career at an early age. But even with this early grounding in music, success has been spectacular for the London-based drummer, who has been known to sit behind the kit of two-hit acts, Plan B and The Streets (at times simultaneously).
Being a Ivor Novello Award winner and a senator for the Ivors academy. Cassell now wants to help develop underprivileged artists at the beginning of their music careers through his artist development programme ‘In the Making’. Here he tells us about his audio journey and explains ITM.
Music was always in my family. Dad was a singer in a band and from that, I always wanted to do music. I chose to become a drummer at the age of 9 when I first saw a family friend play a ruby red kit.
I went to the Newham Royal Academy of Music in East London, a classically based music school where I played percussion in an orchestral band at 10 years old. At school, my two best friends and I formed a band which was eventually known as Quite Sane. At the age of 17 we won a battle of the bands competition with Capital Radio and were awarded Band of the year. We went on to play shows in popular venues in London such as Dingwalls, The Jazz Café, The Blue Note, Subterranea, etc. We also played some shows in Europe. Quite Sane is where I feel I served my apprenticeship.
We were really young, but older musicians would come to see our gigs; we were always sold out when we played at the Jazz Café. We played jazz fusion mixed with hip hop and other popular music influences. The fact we had a rapper added an interesting slant to the band. The drum patterns were challenging and required a lot of practice. Fellow musicians would often ask how and what I was playing.
I had my mindset to do music as a career. My ambition was to tour the world playing the drums. I knew that I was on the right path when I was able to pay my bills. Lol! My first professional experience was in 2000, touring Europe with a headline act [Nigerian singer-songwriter] Keziah Jones. We headlined many festivals throughout Europe, sometimes performing in Lagos too.
I toured with Keziah for over six years. I was always away from home and not really working with other acts/musicians from London. I wanted to get back into the UK scene. Keziah was taking a break to do his new album and I was asked by a friend, Jade Richardson, A&R for Island Records (who signed Ms Dynamite to the label), to take part in a live music event called ‘I Love Live’, which involved me playing the drums alone on stage, with mainly rappers coming up to perform. Two of the people who came up were Ms Dynamite’s younger brother Akala and Ben Drew, better known as Plan B. I ended up touring with them both and later co-writing and producing on some of their projects.
I played drums/co-wrote and produced on some of Akala’s albums including ‘The Thieves Banquet’ and ‘10 years of Akala’. I received credit for playing the drums on Plan B’s first album, ‘Who Needs Actions When You Got Words. I went on to be awarded co-writing/drumming credits for his most successful album ‘The Defamation of Strickland Banks’. The track ‘She Said’ reached No. 1 in the charts. From this, I signed my first publishing deal with Sony ATV and received my first Ivor Novello award for the most played song. ‘Ill Manors’ was the next album, for which I received both co-writing and production credits for one of the tracks, as well as drumming credits for the rest of the album.
Becoming a member of Mike Skinner's band, The Streets, happened after Plan B’s publisher, Mick Shiner who also worked with Mike, put me forward to join the band as the new drummer. It was a few months later, while in Germany recording an album for Akala that I received a call from Mike himself. At first I thought I was being pranked by Ben (Plan B) as he had done this before and knew I was a fan of Mike's music. So I was a little cocky with my answers. A little later into the conversation I realised it actually was Mike Skinner on the phone. I was a little embarrassed, to say the least, but luckily Mike still asked me to come down and audition with his band.
Some of the most memorable moments in my career were at Glastonbury Festival with The Streets in 2009. A couple of years later, also at Glastonbury, I did the Pyramid Stage with Plan B and then had to take a crazy buggy ride over to the John Peel tent to play with The Streets. Then, at Benicassim, I was in the top two headlining acts. I had just finished the set with Plan B and one sound guy said, ‘Get off the stage because the next band is coming on!’ I said, ‘I’m in the next band!’ He looked at me with a confused face but was impressed at the same time.
For those few years, that’s how it was. I was travelling the world playing the two gigs and didn’t get much free time.
My proudest moment was making the front cover of Drummer magazine in September 2012. As a kid, I was always reading those magazines. I also got a massive feature interview in another top drummers’ magazine, Rhythm. I later featured in a six-page interview in Rythmn magazine with my 11-year-old son Bailey, aka Cassellbeats, who was playing drums and acting in the Andrew Lloyd Webber theatre production ‘The School Of Rock’.
In music, some people are lucky enough to just play in one band, but most of us can’t make a living just doing one thing. I had to take on a few different roles in music and circle between them. As one tour ended I would jump into the studio to produce/co-write with various artists. I often would be a part of music workshops with a close friend Marcel Pusey who runs an education company called Bassistry Arts.
One of my treasured moments was co-writing and playing the drums on two tracks with the legendary Jeff Beck… then later with the international star Garou as well.
One of my pride and passions as a musician is to give back to the future generation. At the start of my career, it was very hard to know where to go or how to get help or advice. I was a musician with no money but a deep desire to have a successful career in music. I wanted to tour the world but also get into production and songwriting. There wasn’t much help around at the time. I was very lucky to land an award - part grant and part loan - from the Prince's Trust. That allowed me to buy some equipment to start my first small studio business. This is where I taught myself the skills as an engineer, producer/songwriter. Even then it was tough and to get into the professional circle was even harder. Having first-hand experience of these hardships, I wanted to create something to help the new generation of artists, so I sat and wrote a business plan and set up a CIC company entitled In the Making (ITM). It was a long, painstaking journey and I submitted my plan to acquire funding more than three times. I finally received my first funding partly from the Arts Council and the rest from the PRS foundation. ITM has been running for four years.
My driving force is to help underprivileged future talent via an artist development programme. The aim is to help artists discover their musical sound and style, by working with me and other successful musicians and writers from my music industry circle. The latest programme has been given the name Inside Track as I have partnered up with The Ivors Academy Trust and PPL UK. The artists get to complete two tracks which are mixed and mastered ready for release. It also gives the talent help with aligning their social media handles and access to workshops with music lawyers, publishers, branding experts, PPL and The Ivors Academy, videographers, photographers and stylists to give them a better insight into the roles these professionals play. Towards the end of the programme the ITM talent get to showcase their talent new songs at a live event.
Some of the former and current talent from the programme have gone on to release their own music, put together bands, had offers from publishing companies and started working with major labels. All this re-enforces the effectiveness of ITM and drives me to find more ways to enhance and offer more opportunities to the talent. At the moment, we only have enough funding for four applicants a year. I aim to expand this to at least 12. Another goal is to work alongside another entity like a record label, publisher, or distribution company to help create maximum exposure for the songs.
When you feel like you’ve achieved something as a musician you want to leave a legacy and this is a good way to do it.
Find out more about In The Making here: @ITMpresents
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