The beat goes on for Sheffield’s Ross

Ross Orton
Ross Orton

If it wasn’t for a 1980s kids’ programme, Ross Orton’s life may have taken a very different turn.

The producer and drummer has worked on albums by the likes of M.I.A, the Arctic Monkeys and – more now – Drenge. He’s drummed on Jarvis Cocker’s 2009 album, Further Complications and has laid down tracks for Roots Manuva. Orton is one of the UK’s most prolific and cutting edge producers.

But at the heart of all this is his obsession with rhythm.

And that’s thanks to something the young Orton saw on telly as a young teenager.

“I can remember it really well. There was this programme and in it a girl was going out with a lad in a band and they filmed him playing live. It was just a 16 year-old playing in a practice room but it was the first time I saw live drums.”

“I became obsessed and eventually started wagging school to go and play on a drum kit that was set up at a youth club up the road. I’d go in the afternoons and the youth worker would say ‘are you sure you shouldn’t be at school?’ and just said ‘no’. I’m sure he knew full well that I should have been at school, but drumming was keeping me out of trouble.”

Orton was also in a marching band, playing a huge bass drum and later a snare.

“I went out with this girl when I was about 14 and she told me she was in this marching band. So I joined in. It was great and we’d enter competitions and travel to places like Holland. There were hundreds of us.

“Suddenly I had an identity. No-one in my family was musical and while my parents were very loving they discouraged me from pursuing music. But I did it anyway.”

But by the age of 20 Orton had entered a rhythmic hiatus. “I was welding full-time and it was awful work. But I was at the pictures one night and I went outside for a fag in the corridor – in the days when you could smoke inside – and this man from Red Tape Studios I knew came up to me and said ‘are you still drumming?’ I told him no, so he urged me to audition for a band called AC Temple. They were a proper studenty band, really middle-class and nothing like anyone I knew but I got the job and we were straight into a European tour.”

Orton had also started helping out at a studio in town.

“At first I’d started just letting bands into the building as I’d be in there at night playing drums but then I started to learn about the production side and suddenly I realised that I could create all these sounds and add in drums and synths.”

This was 20 years ago. And he hasn’t looked back since.

But according to Orton the key to being a producer is not in the celebrity of the band, or even the prowess of his technical skills, it’s more about letting the band do what they want to do.

“It’s about the band, the songwriter and their ideas. I just help them cut out the flab.”

Orton is working on Sheffield-based Drenge’s latest material.