Premier Percussion and the Rumour Mill



Although some are no doubt aware, the rumour mill has been in overdrive this weekend concerning the future of British drum manufacturer Premier Percussion. Although there has been no official statement, it appears that the company’s British manufacturing operations have ceased as of Friday 17th of July 2015.

Without wanting to simply add to speculation or espouse some sort of ill informed pseudo-factual nonsense, I’d simply like to express regret over what is a sad turn of events for the British drum manufacturing industry.

Currently there are very little details about why such a situation has come to pass, and it’s worth noting that until an official statement is released, it would be wise not to buy into the finger pointing and tongue wagging that is likely to ensue.  A lot of people had a vested interest in Premier: customers, staff, owners, suppliers, retailers, distributors, investors, all in the least - to varying degrees - who have been let down. Emotions will no doubt run high.

As a manufacturer, it is true that Premier has had a turbulent history, ebbing through cycles of boom and bust, chronic mismanagement and severe identity crisis.

Back in 2013 when I first met Keith Keough, (then the newly appointed head of Premier’s R&D) I felt a genuine excitement about the potential for Premier to be an exemplar of modern British bespoke manufacture. Keith’s work, as everyone will admit, was some of the best and most innovative craftsmanship around. His outlook, along with some of the lower management team I’d met, was incredibly forward thinking. They were passionate about taking Premier back to the forefront of global instrument manufacture. I realise, however, that not everyone agreed with how this was to be done. From what I gather, the “new” Premier sought to move away from certain aspects of its reputation – a purely “vintage” brand whose modern worth had diminished in light of overseas manufacture and a focus on affordable, mass-produced product lines.

Premier workshop staff, 2013. Keith Keough is second from left. 

Premier workshop staff, 2013. Keith Keough is second from left. 

Re-establishing Premier as a British brand, with their flagship models being produced by Keith and his team on UK soil was a bold move and one for which they should be commended. Whatever the reasons ultimately are for the closure of these operations, it would be all too easy to read into these circumstances as something endemic in British manufacturing as a whole. This is not “the death of British drum manufacture.”

I firmly believe the UK has some of the best drum builders out there. Whilst there is no shortage of companies in what is quite a small, competitive market place, levels of innovation are high. I routinely see work that comes out of British workshops and marvel at it. This isn’t just bumbling, misplaced patriotism but simply an acknowledgment that progressive, forward thinking isn’t necessarily representative of the drum industry as a whole.

Of course, without specifics this is a horrendously broad and fairly redundant statement in itself – there is no singular “drum industry” in reality, just like there is no singular “music industry.” They’re generic terms at best that mean relatively little.

Although the news about Premier is sad, it should not be read as a sign that “this is what you get for trying something different.” I hope it doesn’t only serve as forum fodder for those who are intent on highlighting personal and professional misgiving for no reason other than it offers up some weird, egotistical, keyboard-infused power trip.

Fundamentally, I hope Premier’s current situation doesn’t discourage others from trying, or giving something a go.