music / People

Fusing drums, pringles and jazz

27 June 2024

Did you know that drumming can boost your IQ? Well Croydon drummer Bella Matthews must be very smart, as earlier this year, she was the only female finalist out of 10 young drummers in the ‘UK’s Young Drummer of the Year‘ competition. Having already shared the stage with bands such as Squeeze, Supergrass and Madness, we catch up with Bella to find out more about the 17-year-old Brit School musician.

Croydonist: Firstly, Croydon native or convert, and what area do you call home?

Bella: Croydon convert! I started going to school in Croydon a couple of years ago but I’m from Forest Hill.

Croydonist: At what age did you realise you wanted to drum for your career?

Bella: I started busking from about 11 and played local street parties, then when I was about 14 I realised I wanted to start taking it seriously. I’d started doing lots of gigs and fell in love with playing to a crowd. I then started at the BRIT School, so I started to focus more on music and realised it was definitely what I wanted to do.

Croydonist: Do you play any other instruments? 

Bella:In lockdown I was learning guitar for a while and then started learning some bits on piano as well. More recently I’ve been trying to get into playing bass which has been the most fun as it’s so connected to drums.

Croydonist: Which drummers do you admire and why?

Bella: My top 3 would be Larnell Lewis, Tony Allen and Anika Nilles. I’ve learnt different things from each of them. I really admire the fact that Larnell and Anika compose their own music, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Their songs are really cool as well, really fun to play along to and you can tell that they draw from a huge range of different styles. I just love Tony Allen because he will always be one of the best drummers of all time. He’s completely unmatched in the Afrobeat world. I’ve got to mention Yussef Dayes as well, he plays some of the coolest grooves I’ve ever heard and there’s just a feel about his playing that I’ve never heard anyone replicate.

Croydonist: Tell us a bit about your equipment? What’s your favourite piece of kit?

Bella: I’m currently playing a Mapex Mars kit with mainly Zildjian cymbals. My favourite piece of equipment I have has to be my snare, a Tama Vintage Hammered S.L.P. I bring it to every gig with me. I also love my Istanbul Agop Clap Stack, they’re not a common find on most kits but I love it as it lets me experiment with so many different ideas. It looks really cool as well, it’s shaped like a pringle!

Croydonist: Do you have a favourite style of music that you prefer to drum to?

Bella: Jazz fusion is my favourite. There’s always so much room to play around and so many different elements to include like little hits from different instruments or time signature changes. It’s always a lot of fun to play. I also love playing Afrobeat. Fela Kuti tunes in particular always have such cool and complex patterns and are always a coordination challenge.

Croydonist: What’s the most important thing that a drummer can do if looking for session work / drumming opportunities?

Bella: Say yes to everything. Be open to playing all genres and all gigs no matter how small. Try and meet as many people as possible and expand your network and you’ll find you get more opportunities. I personally also think posting content of you playing is a great way to get work! Some people disagree but I’ve definitely had situations where someone has seen me playing on instagram and then asked me to play for them.

Croydonist: Every musician has a bucket list. You’ve played some incredible venues already, such as The Royal Albert Hall and the London Jazz festival at the Royal Festival Hall. What are the top 3 bucket list items for you?

Bella: This question is so difficult because there’s so many places I’d love to play. Madison Square Garden would be amazing. The Pyramid stage at Glastonbury has always been one I’ve wanted to do since I first started playing. And The Super Bowl halftime show performances are some of the best of all time, so playing one of those one day would be insane.

Croydonist: Who are you listening to at the moment music wise?

Bella: I’m listening to a whole lot of Snarky Puppy at the moment, as usual. It never gets boring. Also a lot of Tom Misch, particularly his album Geography. ‘Nothing can stop us’ and ‘Human Nature’ by Soothsayers have also been on repeat for quite some time!

Croydonist: What has been your favourite moment in music to date? 

Bella: There’ve been so many crazy moments, particularly in the last year. I think playing at the Royal Albert Hall with my band Ramfunk has to be one of my favourite moments ever. It was crazy to just be on the stage with some of my best friends and playing the music we had written to such a huge audience was insane. Playing in the finals of The UK’s Young Drummer of the Year competition was also one to remember. It was my first performance playing solo and was one of the best experiences of my life.

Croydonist: As well as playing drums, you also teach. What advice can you give to people looking to learn the drums?

Bella: Don’t get frustrated with it! Drumming is fairly simple at first but it gets complicated pretty quickly. Just stick at it and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to sound amazing straight away, the more you enjoy it the better you’ll sound.

Croydonist: Where in Croydon inspires you creatively?

Bella: My school, The BRIT School, inspires me creatively. Being around so much music means I’m constantly exposed to new artists and songs which I love. It means there are always new places to take inspiration from. Being around so many different art forms has also had a massive impact on me as it encourages you to use music in different ways such as in response to art or in a film.

Croydonist: Lastly, what’s next for you? Where can people see you play next and find out more about your work?

Bella: I’ll be performing at 2000 Trees on 13 July with House of Women which I’m really excited for. I’m playing at the Bread & Roses in Clapham on 6 September with Ramfunk, then at Strongroom Bar in Shoreditch on 14 September with House of Women. I’ll also be playing at the UK Drum Show on 29 September on the Main stage Mini, which is definitely going to be a highlight of the year. I’ll be playing some Jazz Fusion stuff with some Drum and bass, Afrobeat and Funk influences. My band Ramfunk also has an EP coming out hopefully towards the end of this year, so watch out for that too! There’s a few other shows in between, all dates can be found on my instagram: @bellaamatthews

Thank you to Bella for chatting with us.

Images courtesy of the artist.

Posted by Julia and Angela

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