"It allows me to have a much broader palette": Watch Bill Bruford introduce TV viewers to electronic drums back in 1985

Bill Bruford and Lesley Judd with a Simmons drum kit
A (Image credit: BBC)

Bill Bruford, one of the best drummers in progressive rock, was a pioneer in the use of electronic drums. He played a hybrid kit on the three albums that saw King Crimson return to active duty in the 1980s (Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair) and became something of a brand ambassador for Simmons, the company behind the most popular electronic percussion.

It was Bruford's workshops at the popular NAMM trade show in Chicago that saw retailers across the US sign up to sell the kits, and in December 1985 he appeared on the BBC TV show Micro Live, a series designed to help viewers develop computer literacy, and demonstrated what the drums could do.

Bruford - whose CV also included Yes and Genesis, and later Bill Bruford's Earthworks – a band whose music was built around the idea that the drummer would play the chords on an electronic kit – demonstrates the percussive potential for former Blue Peter presenter Lesley Judd. She has clearly done her research, and, at one point, as Bruford changes the presets on the bass drum to alter the sound, she exclaims, "Nice kick!". And he tells the story of how he came to play such drums.

"When we were reconvening King Crimson – the group I'm in – in 1981, the rest of the team were of course getting very involved with guitar synthesis," says Bruford. "The drummer looked around, obviously, and, not wanting to be left out, naturally knocked on Dave Simmons' door. And up comes this kind of equipment, which allows me to have a much broader palette."

Judd's co-host Ian McNaught-Davis – a veteran of computer-related broadcasting – goes on to interview Simmons himself, before Bruford rejoins the conversation. And while the drummer's enthusiasm for the new-fangled machinery is undeniable, he would eventually tire of them. 

"I was on board with electronic drums for about 15 years from 1980 to 1995," Simmons told Drummer magazine in 2009. "By the mid 90s, I had more or less done all that I was going to do on electronic drums.

"I thought it was all fascinating but it was a hard grind getting the instruments to do what you wanted them to do. And they were beginning to play all havoc with my technique and stick control."

Bill Bruford on a Simmons poster

(Image credit: Simmons)
Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 37 years in music industry, online for 24. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.