At 13 years old Chris Whitten already knew he wanted to be a professional drummer.
Whitten couldn’t wait to exit general education and in 1975, aged 16, he left home and started his music education at The City Of Leeds College Of Music, one of only two UK establishments at the time offering a curriculum incorporating rock and jazz as well as classical music.
Picking up local gigs throughout his studies, Whitten eventually left college in 1979, before completing his diploma, in order to tour with seminal British jazz-rock guitarist Gary Boyle.
Punk and indie music had just exploded, so Chris’ next move was an audition for James Chance And The Contortions. However, that gig didn’t lead anywhere because Chance was transitioning his band, which soon re-emerged as James White And The Blacks, in collaboration with Joseph Bowie and New York musicians who also made up Defunkt.
In late 1980, at 21 years old and now based in London, Chris was desperate to find a full time gig, He had a lucky break and joined A&M signed band ‘Live Wire’ for their Summer tour of France and Italy. After the tour producer and guitarist Simon Boswell invited Chris to play drums on an album session in Rome, Italy. This was the debut album by RCA artist Nino Buonocore. It was also Chris’ debut recording session.
On returning to London, Whitten joined unsigned punk funk band ‘Out’, fronted by local fashion icon and ID journalist Alix Sharkey. Not long afterwards the band recruited Karl Wallinger on keyboards and vocals. During that period Chris repeatedly returned to RCA Studios in Rome, working as drummer and arranger on several hit albums for Italian stars such as Francesco De Gregori, Gianni Morandi and Riccardo Cocciante. Collaborating on the Copcciante album with Elton John and Miles Davis orchestral arranger Paul Buckmaster.
Wallinger had since joined The Waterboys, and in 1984 recommended Chris for the newly vacant drum chair. His Waterboys debut was at Goldsmith’s College, a benefit show for the striking miners. UK and North American tours followed and in 1985 the band recorded the ‘This Is The Sea’ album. Chris played drums on the hit single ‘The Whole Of The Moon’, which is still regarded as The Waterboys finest hour and signature recording.
Whitten started to gain a reputation as a freelance studio drummer with artists like Swing Out Sister and Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders). More and more this seemed to conflict with Mike Scott’s vision of The Waterboys. Chris left the band, but soon hooked up with ex-Teardrop Explodes frontman Julian Cope, becoming drummer in Cope’s infamous ‘Two Car Garage band’.
As Cope later wrote in his autobiography:
“We finished the set with ‘Reynard The Fox’ and threw the entire contents off the stage into the audience. I turned around to see Chris Whitten systematically dismantling his (hired) drums and throwing the pieces into obscure sections of the audience. AwwwLLL-Right!”
In 1986 they entered the studio with Ramones producer Ed Stasium to start the St Julian album. Cope’s biggest solo hit ‘World Shut Your Mouth’ emerged from those sessions.
While touring North America in 1987 to promote the St Julian album, Chris was contacted by MPL, Paul McCartney’s management company, to see if he was available to work with Paul in the Autumn of that year. Whitten obviously jumped at the chance.
In October 1987 they shot a video for McCartney’s Christmas single ‘Once Upon A Long Ago’. Over the next couple of months they traveled all over the UK and Europe promoting the single, which included re-recording some of McCartney’s biggest hits for an appearance on the BBC chat show ‘Wogan’. As 1987 drew to a close Whitten was asked to reconvene in the new year along with new recruit Hamish Stuart (Average White Band) to record McCartney’s next album. What was to become the ‘Flowers In The Dirt’ album took over a year to complete, and in the process prominent figures such as Elvis Costello, Geoff Emerick, Trevor Horn, Chris Hughes and Mitchell Froom were drafted in to help.
In a brief break from his ongoing McCartney sessions, Chris somewhat reluctantly agreed to record an album at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth with a new band from America; Edie Brickell And The New Bohemians. Knowing nothing about the band or their music, Chris turned up to find the drums already set up, ready to record, and over the next few days successfully completed the backing tracks. Later in 1988 ‘Shooting Rubberbands At The Stars’ was released to both critical acclaim and popular appeal. The lead single ’What I Am’ is still the band’s biggest hit and the album eventually achieved double platinum status in the U.S.
Chris returned at the beginning of 1989 to complete the ‘Flowers In The Dirt’ sessions and a frenzy of video shoots, tv appearances and rehearsals for a World Tour. The McCartney band was completed with the addition of Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens on keyboards and ex-Pretenders guitarist Robbie McIntosh. This was to be McCartney’s first tour since his infamous brush with the law in Tokyo, Japan, some nine years earlier. Chris was in seventh heaven as Paul had decided it was the right time to dust off his Beatles repertoire, many of the songs had never been performed live before. The tour started with a show in Oslo, Norway in September 1989 and after a quick circuit around Northern Europe found itself in Los Angeles around Thanksgiving.
Whitten, always a dance and electronic music fan, wasted no time in hitting Tower Records on Sunset Blvd. He picked up several new Hip Hop albums. “I chuckled to myself as I played NWA’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’ on a boom box in my room at The Beverly Hills Hotel. It seemed incongruous with my surroundings, although ironically rap soon transitioned from protest to a celebration of the excesses wealth can bring.”
On the strength of the pop hit ‘Bust A Move’ he also picked up the Young MC album. “To my surprise and delight I found one of my drum grooves from a Nat Augustin single had been sampled and reworked into the album’s opening track ’I Come Off’.”
A generous McCartney had determined all four sidemen would have their own moment in the live show. In a nod to the new sample and loop culture, Whitten sequenced up percussion grooves for the song ‘Coming Up’ and created a breakdown section based around bombastic hip-hop drum beats, allowing him to get out from behind his drum kit.
The tour finally drew to a close at Soldier Field in Chicago, July 1990. Having dedicated three years almost exclusively to Paul McCartney, Whitten felt it was time to move on and seek a new challenge.
Old Waterboys comrade Karl Wallinger released his second World Party album, called ‘Goodbye Jumbo’ on which Chris had contributed some drums. The album was critically well received, garnering a Grammy nomination for ‘Best Alternative Music Album’ and at the conclusion of 1990 was named ‘Album Of The Year’ by Q Magazine.
While momentarily at a loose end, Whitten received an invitation out of the blue to join Dire Straits for their upcoming world tour. The tour began in August with arena shows around the UK and Ireland. 18 grueling months later the ‘On Every Street’ tour wound down with a final performance in Zaragoza, Spain, 9 October 1992.
After the tour Chris decided to put down his drumsticks and at the encouragement of old friend Simon Boswell, embark on a new career writing music to picture.
Whitten set about equipping a home studio with an emphasis on the vintage analogue synths he’d always loved since his college days in the late 70’s. First purchase was an Oberheim Four Voice, followed by several other iconic instruments and eventually a foray into modular synthesis.
In the beginning, while learning his craft, Chris collaborated with Boswelll, first on the full blown music score for the Philips Interactive computer game ‘Burn:Cycle’ (1994), and later with Boswell and Alex Heffes on the score for Lynda LaPlante’s techno thriller ‘Killer Net’, starring Jason Orange (Take That) and a young Paul Bettany making his TV debut (1998).
Stepping out alone, Whitten wrote the score for two major multi-episode series ‘The Ultimate Guide’, Discovery Channel USA (1996) and ‘Superhuman’, BBC1, starring Professor Lord Robert Winston (2000).
Chris found a friend and fellow analogue enthusiast in British techno pioneer Kirk DeGiorgio. It was under DeGiorgio’s guidance and encouragement that Whitten produced a NuJazz/Breakbeat solo release under the moniker ‘Solid State Collective’; the track ‘Orange 1974’ on the compilation ‘Soul Of Science II’ (2001). That same year Whitten picked up his sticks again and contributed drums to DeGiorgio’s “As One’ release ‘21St Century Soul’.
Inspired by the electronic music of the day, and in need of a drum library for his own scoring work, Chris set about recording drum samples and grooves in several different London studios with the help of record producer Peter Henderson. That eventually led to an invitation to multi-sample drums and cymbals for a new virtual drum instrument being developed by Swedish company Toontrack. The resultant expansion pack for their Superior drum software was titled ‘Custom & Vintage’ (2005) and is still one of the best selling expansion packs for Superior Toontrack have ever released.
In 2005 Whitten again looked for a new challenge and emigrated to Australia, taking all his vintage synthesizers and drums with him. Just before he left, Chris provided drums for a new Kirk Degiorgio project, a more traditional melodic, vocal driven album called ‘The Beauty Room’.
In 2006, while based in Sydney, Whiiten joined Karl Wallinger’s World Party for an extensive tour of North America. The following year, Whitten again occupied the drum chair as World Party supported Steely Dan around Australia and New Zealand.
Chris finally settled in The Hunter Valley, New South Wales and spent several years working his land, growing grapes for award winning wines; Mistletoe Reserve Chardonnay and Semillon.
In 2010, Whitten traveled to Los Angeles to record songs for a second Beauty Room album (Beauty Room II), recorded at Sunset Sound Studios.
After much soul searching, Whitten returned to the UK for good at the beginning of 2015.
Since 2015 Chris has played 100 shows in theatres and arenas around Europe, India and Australia with former Dire Straits bandmate Chris White. His partnership with Peter Henderson continues with a collaboration on a new flagship drum module with the Roland Corporation, sampling drums at Real World and Rockfield Studios, as well as contributing an electronic library created using Whitten’s extensive modular synthesizer system.
In 2018, his game score for Burn:Cycle, co-written with Simon Boswell, was remastered and re-released by Here And Now Recordings. Chris has reworked and updated four of the titles from the soundtrack for a new EP which is scheduled for release early in 2019.
Listen and download ‘Burn:Cycle (Original Game Soundtrack) Remastered’