Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Week - Part 4

And so it came to be that I played 4 songs with the band called Flame.

For most tub thumpers playing the drums is as addictive as the hardest of drugs. We get frustrated and tired with them when they are freely available but, separated from a kit for a few days, we becomes restless, agitated and often quite dangerous. Once, when I hadn't played for some days, I almost drove through an amber traffic light, so bad was my cold turkey. The first thing I usually do when returning home after a holiday is to sit at my kit and play for a bit, just a few minutes really makes me feel better, honest, I kid you not.

When on holiday and much to the dismay of those with me, I always pack a pair of drumsticks and often a practice pad. I can be spotted around many a tropical pool working on my paradiddles while others are reading a good book and working on their tan. I spent a lot of time last week around the pool with iPod on and sticks in hands trying to learn "Golden years" for my covers band. I never really noticed it before but our David has got some good funky drumming going on in that song.

But bashing one out by the side of the pool is not the same as sitting at a proper kit and playing in anger. We aren't like guitarists or singers us drummers and can't easily take our weapon of choice away with us. My best mate, a guitarist, goes on holiday regularly to the Maldives and takes his acoustic guitar with him, and his wife. He tells me that it is great to sit on a beach strumming along to a bit of "Digging the grave" or something else nice and peaceful. I would never manage this with the drums, particularly with the stringent rules about the maximum size for hand luggage out of the UK now, unless I had a kind of magical expanding blow up drum kit.

On holiday in Poland recently I lasted about a week before I got talking to a whizz kid Polish drummer who kindly let me play on his kit. I needed a fix and just a minute or two of playing did the trick. I expect that the kid took his kit home that night and burnt it after seeing my brief performance. I could tell by the way he was laughing hysterically while I was playing that he was impressed.

You may understand then, that after 5 days in Colombo, the jitters were setting in. I was drumless and the feeling of withdrawal was made worse by the fact that I had seen 2 or 3 really great drummers playing. Then I got a text from my brother, the one who was with me in Colombo. It said:

"blah, blah.........drummer......blah, blah, band tonight....hotel....sit!"

You know how excited I was to read those words don't you?

So, on the Friday night after dinner with my good friends A + L the four of us were seated in The Library in the Transasia. The Library pretends to be a nightclub but it's really just a room with some books in it, a dance floor, a DJ (at times), lots of staff and usually some prostitutes. All these ingredients are cunningly mixed to prevent the presence of a crowd or any semblance of an atmosphere.

Well, on this night there was the additional ingredient of a band, the first time I have seen one there. In the few covers bands I have played in I have done a few gigs when we have started playing to small audiences but, in Sri Lanka, I have seen a couple of bands play their whole set to virtually no one. Except me. How they manage it so seemingly happily bewilders me. Or perhaps I am some kind of ideal audience of one. Maybe I'm so enthusiastic and mad for it that there are bands all over Colombo just clamouring to do a gig with only me as their crowd. Once I get to the venue I can imagine bouncers turning away hordes of people at the door because I am inside and they don't want others to spoil the atmosphere. This would also explain why I often witness people walk into a club or pub, take one look at me and leave.

In the club were the four of us, a couple of tables full of people, the band with a couple of their friends and 78 members of staff. It was one of those nights when many staff had been absent and the place had to manage as best as it could with a staff to punter ratio of only five to one. Tough times. The band were great in terms of musical ability and the way they played together but were a bit too "easy listening" for me. "Hotel California" made an early appearance to the delight of my friend L. You probably know him, he's one of the nicest people you could ever meet and one of these rare fellows who knows loads about loads but doesn't come across as conceited. A highly intelligent chap who no doubt eats a lot of Brinjal. Actually he eats a lot of everything come to think of it.

We watched their first set and were contemplating leaving as it was now about 11 PM and we wanted to go to Rhythm and Blues where we had been told it would be kicking. But, the interval came and we got talking to the singer who said to me with genuine Sri Lankan kindness and hospitality:

"You'll play something with us won't you?"

Red rag, meet bull. Oil, meet fire. Mr Cornell, meet the former chaps in Rage against the Machine, the ones who are looking for a singer. I couldn't resist, I couldn't refuse and I wanted to play anyhow so we hung around. Our friends A + L were keen to see me play. They had witnessed me practicing in England and heard me babbling on about drums for years but never actually seen me play with other musicians. While we were waiting L asked me what I thought of the drummer in the band and how I might sound different. I said to him that he sounded like a great player and was much better than myself but there was one element I was a little bit worried about.

I have noticed with a few bands I have seen in Colombo that the drummers play rather softly. In venues that are fairly small they have their kit fully miced up and put through a PA. This means that the sound is controlled by the person on the mixing desk and the drummer can play as softly as he wants to. Here in England most of us "pub" drummers are used to a very different scenario. We play in similar sized venues but unmiced and therefore have to learn to play much more loudly. There is no right or wrong to this and it's just horses for courses. The only occasions when this might be a problem are when a drummer who is used to playing quietly plays for a pub band in England or when a drummer who is used to playing above the sound of miced up instruments suddenly plays a few songs with a band that has the drum kit fully miced up.

Like me.

Flame were just about to commence their second set, my friends, my brother and I were wondering whether the thing about doing a song with them was just the singer being nice and if it would never take place. And at that moment out of nowhere the singer walked over and asked if I'd like to do a song straight away.

"Yeah, of course". I say, in my best "I'm quite cool and I'm a musician doing a guest slot" voice. I may have been a bit squeeky but it was because of the A/C, not nerves at all.

As I walked towards the members of Flame I noticed the drummer was sitting at his kit with a slightly puzzled look on his face. We are a brotherhood us drummers. We share handy hints, we exchange ideas and we all get along fairly well together. Guitarists and singers are fiercely competitive and look at each other through evil "I'm better than him" eyes. Bassists are just bassists. Drummers get along fine purely because we are looked at and hated by other musicians and we have few friends other than each other.

So, as soon as I clocked the other drummer I knew what had happened. The singer had promised me a guest slot without asking the drummer first. He had meant well, the intentions were kind and generous I felt a bit bad over this.

Not that bad, not bad enough to refuse or anything drastic. I shoved the drummer off his kit and sat down. There followed that typical band discussion along the lines of "Do you know x?" directed towards their guest.

After a few "No" s we found a song that I pretended to know. "My Girl", the old Motown / Temptations standard. The guitarist played the intro and I came in with my best impression of a fairly standard Motown fill. I started playing and got into a bit of a groove. There was panic all around me. Of course the levels had been nicely set for the other drummer and, with no soundcheck or any idea of how loud I would be, it sounded out front like there was a barrage of drum kits charging full pelt towards a helpless Smokey Robinson. After some frantic adjusting of levels things settled down quite nicely. The band were great, the bassist was a pleasure to play with and they didn't look to have any major problems with my playing. Apart from the stops.

We finished My Girl. I say "we" but they had finished it quite a long time before I had. Then we moved on the "The ballad of John and Yoko". I had expected to play just one song so another one was a compliment, or their drummer had gone off for a poo. Luckily "The ballad of J and Y" is a song I used to play so I could do a more passable job of it.

Then they asked for another. La Bamba was decided on. I bludgeoned my way through it, I think it probably sounded more Foo Fighters than Latin, albeit with none of Taylor Hawkins' finer points or skill. Again they ended it and again I stumbled to a stop a few seconds after. Again they asked me to do another.

This time they decided on "Cocaine", a Cream or Eric song I think, I really don't know it at all. I played it as straight as I could. I had a great teacher when I started playing and he always used to say

"If you don't know it just play beat 1".

Beat 1 is the simplest of grooves and that is what I stuck to. It just about did the job. By the end of it I almost knew how the chorus was going and chucked some cymbal crashes in to accent the vocal line.

Job done. I got up and thanked the band for letting me sit in. It really was my pleasure. The other drummer was gracious beyond description. All smiles. The audience, which consisted of about 20 people and some staff, didn't boo me off, so I must have done something right. My first proper drum mentor, Alun Harries, was the guy who made me appreciate the importance of being able to play in a variety of styles and here was the ultimate test. Four songs each in a different style. Even if I say it myself I think I just about passed the test. Maybe each style was considerably different to the style required but that's just splitting hairs.

So thanks to the nice chaps in Flame I achieved one of my ambitions, to play with a band in Sri Lanka. I got the chance to show off my lack of talent to some great friends and I got my drumming fix.

Then we went off to Rhythm and Blues only to find Mr Cheese and the corny covers band playing.


If you know the chaps in Flame please tell them Thank you from me. I loved it.

to be continued.....


Theena said...

Nice story :D

Dude, I am looking for drum pads to start up before I go looking for a drum kit. Any particular brands you'd recommend?

And oh..La Bamba by Foo Fighters is the greatest idea ever. You should let Dave and the boys know.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Theena - if you are looking for the pads that go over drums to silence them then QT or Vic Firth are probably the well known ones over here. The most important thing is to get ones that retain as much feel as possible. I hope that helps a bit but I'm not sure what you'll be able to get hold of in SL.

In my old covers band we used to do a cover of Baker St as done by Foo Fighters. They actually recorded it but it's quite hard to find. Check it out, it's the best version of Baker St you'll ever hear. Whenever we played it most people thought it was our own version and either thought we did a brilliant job or murdered it.

SpectralCentroid said...

Flame is one of the best cover bands in Sri Lanka. (My opinion is also biased by the fact that they might be the only band who can play other songs by Oasis than 'Wonderwall' :))

I dunno if its still him, but if its Niroshan the drummer you are talkin about, he's indeed a nice bugger.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

They used to be one of Sri Lanka's best covers band, until they let me sit in. I'd be surprised if they get any gigs now. I think I managed to undo their years of hard work!

I didn't catch the drummer's name, sorry.

SpectralCentroid said...

Damn you RD!! The poor buggers are being hunted down by angry ex-fans with rotten tomatos...

Darkish dude with longish hair..

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Sorry mate. All my fault.

"Darkish dude with longish hair". That fits his description but also every other SL drummer I know, apart from me, until my hair grows some more!