An interview with Christian Madden, Liam Gallagher’s keyboard player

Christian Madden is a professional keyboard player, currently playing for none other than Liam Gallagher. Prior to this, he was one of the founding members of the Warner-signed band The Earlies, and he has played with TOKOLOSH, Cherry Ghost, Jimi Goodwin, Paul Heaton, King Creosote and many more. He also somehow finds time to release music under his own name.

We talked to him about how he got into music, what makes a successful pro musician, and what rehearsing with Mr Gallagher is really like…

How did you first get into music?
I got a keyboard when I was about 10 years old, a Casio MT-220 with four yellow drum pads and some auto-accompaniments. My Dad taught me to pick out a few tunes with one finger and not long after I enrolled in a Yamaha Electone organ course at the local music store. I could only progress so far because I didn’t have anything at home with pedals to play on but I learnt a few chords in the process. As my teenage years went on I started listening to 60s and 70s bands where the various keyboards of the era were prominent and that drew me into something more serious.

What was the most important musical instrument you played when you were growing up?
The Hammond Organ without a doubt. I got my first one when I was 15, the day after I saw Keith Emerson playing “America” with the Nice on “Sounds of the 60s”. I paid for it with my milk round money over 10 weeks or so, it was a T500 with a 147 Leslie. A couple of months later I swapped it for an M102 which I’ve still got today. I’ve battered, mistreated and dragged it around Europe, I’ve left it on stage at gigs that I couldn’t figure out how to get it home from. I’ve left it in pubs for weeks, friends houses for months, studios for years. I’ve spent far more money patching it back together than it initially cost me (it needs a bit of TLC again to be honest!).

Who would you say were your biggest influences musically?
As a teenager all the obvious ones grabbed me, Keith Emerson as mentioned, Ray Manzarek, Jon Lord, Rick Wakeman, Billy Preston, Alan Price, Brian Auger. Booker T was a massive influence on Hammond and still is. As time went on the list kept getting bigger and bigger.

What gear do you use on stage?
On the last tour I was using a Hammond XK5, a Yamaha B3 Upright, a Mellotron M4000D, a Korg Kronos 2-73 and a Roland SH101. The Hammond goes through a Lounsberry Tall Fat and Wide pedal and a Ventilator. The SH101 goes through a Moogerfooger analogue delay.

What gear do you use in the studio?
Most of the recent recordings we’ve done have been in Abbey Road or RAK in London. Both have good acoustic pianos and good (if slightly battered) Hammonds. I tend to take the Mellotron M4000D along as it really does seem to have an edge over using plug-ins.

Which bit of music gear could you not live without, and why?
I always like having a Hammond and a Moog Voyager in the house but I must say, since the pandemic hit I’m very grateful to live in a house with a piano in it.

What’s the best gig you’ve ever played?
There’s a number of ways to interpret that I suppose. They’re the ones that are the most prestigious, the ones with the biggest crowd, the ones where you know the audience are having the best possible time, and then there are the ones where you are playing as effortlessly and freely as is possible. Often the latter happens in less grand circumstances but feels better than anything. One of my favourite ever gigs was the first time my own band The Earlies played Glastonbury on the John Peel stage. There was a lot of warmth in the tent. I think one of my favourites with Liam Gallagher was on our last tour of Europe when we played Milan; the audience was so good you couldn’t help but get carried away with it.

What’s the worst gig you’ve ever played?
I once got on a plane with my friends to play in Naples, we’d been asked to play at a party doing 60s soul covers so we learnt a set. We got picked up at the airport and as we were driving to the gig we saw posters for the Commitments increasing in frequency. When we got to the gig it was in Naples town hall with an audience of 1000 people and we were most definitely billed as being the Commitments. We were all 10 or 15 years too young to have had anything to do with the film, but a rather cavalier Italian agent figured he could just book British bands and call them whatever he fancied (“Status Quo” were playing the day after). Anyway, we got our heads down, played our set, spoke in Irish accents wherever possible and fooled nobody.

How did you end up playing with Liam Gallagher?
A number of friends recommended me for the job when they heard about it. One was a keyboard player called Matt Steele and another a drummer called Joe Clegg. These recommendations put me on the management radar. The main thing that sealed the deal for me was the fact that I’ve been a long time friend and musical accomplice of Simon Aldred from the band Cherry Ghost. He’d been involved in doing some co-writing with Liam so when they asked him whether I was worth phoning up he kindly painted a very positive picture of me.

What are rehearsals like with Mr Gallagher?
We do a lot of work without him to start off each block of rehearsals. We try to get everything in place so that when he turns up he can just concentrate on himself and whether the song is working for him rather than have him stand around whilst somebody figures out a chord progression or auditions presets. He often just comes in for a quick blast through the set in show-like circumstances, which is good practice for everyone. So they’re pretty business-like rehearsals in many respects but he’s also a good guy to work for- there’s no victimising or bullying anyone. Generally the only person he will get angry at in rehearsals is himself.

What’s the most rock ‘n’ roll thing that’s happened on tour?
It would be foolhardy of me to answer this.

Have you got any top tips for people wanting to make a career as musicians?
I would say just to make sure that you commit to doing everything that you agree to do wholeheartedly. If you can’t quite be bothered on a gig you’re doing and let it be known in your presence and preparedness, anyone who comes into the room will be able to tell. You never know who’ll be in the room or for how many years the opinions that they form will last. So refuse to do things that you don’t want to do by all means, but once you’ve agreed to be on the gig be present and professional.

What are your thoughts on how the government is supporting the events and entertainment industries during the pandemic?
I could talk all day about it but the basics are that they need to give more to this important and dynamic sector. You could almost have sympathy with the difficult decisions they’ve faced, but then they went and gave their mate 12 billion quid to make a track and trace app that didn’t work. Germany made a working one for 20 million. The gulf between those two figures is astonishing; it’s a lot of money that could save a lot of jobs and companies in the devastated arts and hospitality industries. They hand out money to completely unproven companies every week with no transparency or accountability but then seem to have an ideological principle against assisting proven viable companies in a massive industry that has been ground to a halt. Having people battle it out for arts council grants against each other isn’t a civilised solution either. Anyway, I’m rambling. They’re a disgrace and they need to be removed.

What’s next for you? Any gigs or releases coming up?
I released an album of keyboard instrumentals the other week on Bandcamp. I enjoyed that and I think I’ll do another over the winter. We’re looking at May at the earliest for touring so in the meantime I wake up, I practice, I listen to music, I try to stay sane. I try to stay positive and not get bogged down in the news cycle. I wash my hands regularly. Whatever music industry there is left at the end of this I’m determined to be a part of so I’ll just try and hang in there.