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Chris Whitten (born 26 March 1959) is a British session drummer who provided drums for the hit singles “What I Am” by Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, “World Shut your Mouth” by Julian Cope and “The Whole of the Moon” by The Waterboys. Two critically acclaimed projects that Whitten was the drummer for were Paul McCartney’s Flowers In The Dirt album in 1989, and Dire Straits final world tour from 1991-1992 to accompany their last studio album, On Every Street. He also played drums on some tracks of the album Titanic (1982) by the Italian songwriter Francesco De Gregori.
Whitten unusually has used a Noble & Cooley drum kit which are radically designed drums. The toms and snare are single-ply, steam-bent shells which give them (especially the snare) a distinctive sound. He has also recorded with such varied musicians as Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, The Pretenders, Swing Out Sister, ABC and The The.
Whitten has been an active participant and Honorary VIP Member of the Drummer Cafe community forum since 2003.
It was 5am and there was a message on my answerphone asking me to contact Paul McCartney’s office. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep until office hours began and I could ring back!Chris Whitten, Club Sandwich N°52
MPL had heard of Chris through Simon Boswell and Jeremy Jones, husband of MPL’s Shelagh: hence the Sam message. Rehearsals at Woolwich followed.
“They flashed by, I was in such a nervous state. I was called up again soon after, with people like Mick Green and Nicky Hopkins, who was a big hero from his work with the Steve Miller Band. (My brother is seven years older than me and got me into the Beatles and Hendrix as well.) Then Richard Ogden phoned to say they were going to record the oldies and I was wanted.
“Those sessions were a new thing for me and fairly hectic. It was all nervous energy again; I was on the edge of my stool trying to keep up. After the first session, I decided to try and enjoy it, in case I never worked with Paul again.“
Urgent messages from MPL during his last tour with Julian Cope (America, summer ’87) showed that the Whitten approach had worked. Would he be back in time for the ‘Once Upon A Long Ago’ video and the promotional appearances for All The Best? He certainly would. In January came the invitation to do an LP with Hamish Stuart and Paul.
“The Elvis Costello sessions were the first major ones I did. I just kept quiet if Paul and Elvis disagreed and some good stuff came out of it. The Trevor Horn/ Steve Lipson sessions were the way I was used to working. They wanted to use a drum machine, but Paul insisted on using me, so I had to live up to that.
“Hamish was a very good choice. The Average White Band’s white album with ‘Pick Up The Pieces’ was a very big influence on me at school. I like everyone involved: everyone has something to contribute. Paul Wickens (Wix) has been seriously involved only in the last month or so, though he was on a new version of ‘Figure of Eight’ produced by Chris Hughes and Ross Cullum. Robbie suggested Wix — I’d worked with him on the Hipsway sessions.” […]
How did Chris feel about playing synth drums on ‘How Many People’?
“I used to play quite a lot of synth drums on sessions. We used them as it was a reggae track.“
The singing drummer is a rare breed, but the Whitten voice is heard on Flowers In The Dirt.
“I did a lot of vocals with Julian Cope, as the others didn’t sing. Paul cajoled me into it – I was nervous. I’m in the ‘choir’ on ‘Don’t Be Careless Love’ with Paul, Elvis and Hamish and very much in the background on ‘How Many People’ with Paul, Linda and Trevor Horn.“From Club Sandwich N°52
Exactly 35 years ago (16th Oct 1987), I awoke early after a night in a small coastal hotel in Devon. I switched on the tv and was shocked to see a newsreader in a cupboard, with a single camera and one light, reading the news from written notes. There had been a massive storm overnight. In the West we hadn’t been so badly impacted, but SE England had been devastated, with building collapses, thousands of trees uprooted and widespread power cuts.
I was in Devon to shoot a Paul McCartney video. I went down to breakfast to see if our filming was going ahead. Despite bad weather in our area, we did shoot the video for ‘Once Upon A Long Ago’ that day.
It was the real start of a great adventure for me. I had done a couple of Friday afternoon ‘jam’ sessions with Paul early that summer, which were effectively auditions. I had spent a day at Paul’s studio recording some ‘rock n roll’ from the jam sessions (Coba B CCCP).
I was amazed to find myself in the video band with well known jazz musician Stan Sulzman and classical prodigy Nigel Kennedy
Here by popular demand… Here’s how from my understanding it all came about. Late 80’s Paul hired a new manager. Career somewhat in the doldrums, poor critic reviews etc, the manager suggests Paul revamps with a song writing partnership with Elvis Costello, a new young band, a new more edgy album and a world tour, his first for around ten years.
With the song writing in progress, how to find new musicians? Paul suggested Friday afternoon jams rather than strict auditions. I think Paul thought it would be fun to play his favourite songs from the 50’s, rather than auditioning people with his own material.
So I ended up being invited to one of these ‘jams’. We blasted through songs by Little Richard, Fats Domino etc. Through this process Paul began to feel he had found a core of musicians. Also he so enjoyed the jams he wanted to document them. So two different line-ups were invited to attend Paul’s studio on consecutive days in July 1987. We recorded the songs live, no rehearsal, no second takes.
In the end, going into Autumn of that year I was the only musician Paul decided to pursue. Hamish Stuart was personally invited to join Paul, Linda and me for the Flowers In The Dirt sessions.
I would have continued with the tour quite happily until the end of that year (1990), but Paul and Linda usually took their major holiday in August every year and Paul saw it as a natural end point for the tour.
For me it was a three year project that required a 24/7 commitment.
I had hooked up with Paul in Autumn 1987 to make a Christmas video and promote his ‘All The Best’ album through to the end of the year.
In January 1988 we were joined by Hamish Stuart (and Elvis Costello) to start work on the ‘Flowers In The Dirt’ album. By the Spring of 1989 we were still working on the album.
The album was a big success with critics and the public. The tour was the biggest news in 1990, hugely successful, which set the live model Paul has pretty much followed ever since.
Towards the end of the tour I was contemplating another year domiciled away from home (London) in a sleepy country town, followed by a tour that couldn’t possibly reach the historic heights of the 88/90 tour. At the time it just seemed my three years couldn’t be beat and it was time to look for a new challenge.
Last updated on November 11, 2022
Albums, EPs & singles which Chris Whitten contributed to
Concerts, TV & radio shows
Feb 27, 1988 • Italy • San Remo • Ariston Theatre
Nov 20, 1987 • United Kingdom • London • TV show
Dec 03, 1987 • United Kingdom • London • BBC Television Centre • TV show
Dec 12, 1987 • United Kingdom • London • BBC Television Centre • TV show
Dec 20, 1987 • Germany • Ludwigshafen • Friedrich-Ebert-Halle • TV show
Nov 24, 1987 • United Kingdom • Newcastle • Tyne Tees Newcastle Studios • TV show
Nov 18, 1987 • United Kingdom • London • Ewarts TV Studio • TV show