Friday, April 13, 2007

Joys Of Music

I had an extra good Mimosa band practice the other night. Please pull up a chair and relax, pour yourself a glass of wine and allow me to tell you about my joyous evening. Or don't.

The studio where we practice is a typical British rehearsal set up. Now I don't know what they are like in any other Country but UK ones share certain traits. For starters they are always in premises that are cheap. Musicians, apart from the ones with some money, are penniless, that's a fact. So studios are bunged under railway arches, in the back of a printer's warehouse on an industrial estate or, as in the case of our chosen place, in an old iron shed in the back of a builder's yard.

They smell. Of tobacco, drugs, urine and creativity. They're decorated with bits of old instruments and, in our favoured one, with various parts of an old VW Beetle that has been cut up and scattered around. In its reception area is the whole backside of this car. It's been cut in half from a point just in front of the back seats and I often sit in its "back" and chill. It takes me back to my childhood when my parents had a Beetle and I'd sit in the little cubby hole type of thing behind the back seats.

But, the most important thing about every single one of these rehearsal places, is that they're warm, in every sense of the word. Most bands have a regular slot for their practice, ours is Tuesday evening in case you were wondering. As a result everyone gets friendly with each other, as bands vacate one studio they get to talk to the band coming into it and some jolly nice little relationships develop. There are always bands who book a rehearsal studio as a one off, they are accommodated and treated with scorn and disdain by us regulars.

There's a bunch of youngish geezers who are usually in our studio (the large one at the end) immediately before us and I've got to know them a bit. Mostly because I'm obsessively early to everything so I get to see them for a while as we swap places and shoot the shit. They're one of those Indy Rocky outfits, doing their own songs and seemingly good musicians. The drummer, Sam, is a twenty something guy, he's been to music college and plays things that, if I even dreamt of playing, would make me wake up feeling nervous and insecure.

One of their guitarists is in a band with our trumpet player and has seen us play live, so knows us quite well, their singer has got that mean look sorted to perfection. He's got both arms covered in tattoos, he's quite muscular, though not so much that he looks like a twat, he's got a shaved head and usually wears "rock star" clothes. If I didn't know him and saw him as I was walking down the street I wouldn't know whether to cross the road to avoid getting beaten up by him or to ask for his autograph.

Then , when he talks, out comes the most middle class English accent one could imagine. He sounds like one of the characters from a 70's BBC sitcom. He's polite, respectful and thoroughly decent. One of those rare men who I can well imagine never farts in private as it's too rude, but will happily do it on stage for the audience. In ten years' time he'll win The Apprentice and go on to run Amstrad or perhaps even a successful Company.

The bassist, whose name I don't know, is one of those guys who's an automatic target for piss taking, bullying and general mockery. He has that look about him. As if he thinks he's very streetwise but is actually naive and wide eyed, like a rabbit in the headlights. Not one of those "ladies" rabbits either. I was watching a video of the Manic Street Preachers' new song the other day and I realised that this chap must be basing his look on that of Nicky Wire, the Manics' bassist. Frankly I think Nicky Wire looks like an idiot, black eyeliner, longish rockstar hair, tall and lanky, but he can just about carry it off, in the way that multi millionaire rock stars with adoring fans all over the world usually can.

This chap, the nameless one, has a slightly more mundane day to day existence yet still goes for the make up and the general look. It's all well and good on stage at Glastonbury, just a bit weird at the fish counter at Tesco. I'm not even sure whether his local Tesco has got a fish counter. Come to think of it he may be vegetarian, but he's the sort who might be buying fish for his Mum. All his fellow bandmembers mock him regularly and I, with my track record for standing up for the defenceless and the weak, have joined them too. It's all good harmful fun.

Up until about a month ago I'd never actually heard these guys play. I've not been to one of their gigs and our meetings take place as they have finished their rehearsal. But, about a month ago, I was sitting in the back of the Beetle in reception waiting for them to finish when Mike, the singer, came out of their studio. He strolled over to me, he's way too cool to just walk, and asked me if I'd come and have a listen to a couple of new songs they'd written. I was surprised and rather chuffed by this and followed him into the abyss. Of course I tried to do my nonchalent strolling musician walk as I went. I can't get the knack of wearing my jeans halfway down my arse though and my tattoo doesn't show unless I have my shirt off. And good God, I'd catch my death of cold if I wore something sleeveless.

I sat down, after saying a cheerful What Ho to the lads. It dawned on me that, in about two years of knowing them, I didn't have the slightest idea what they'd actually sound like. They kicked off. The songs were all pretty good, one in particular caught my ear. Their sound reminded me of some of the more edgy US rock that is all the rage over there. A bit Creed, a bit Pearl Jam and with well written and well played songs. They asked my opinion. A very stupid thing to ask, but they had done it.

All I could offer was a minor suggestion about the bass drum part during the verse of one of the songs. I thought that it would feel better if Sam, the drummer, simplified it ever so slightly. One of the huge benefits of a tad of experience is the vital realisation that simple can be wonderful. Then I left them to it, they packed up and I set up and life went on.

This week, on Tuesday, Mike grabbed me again. He asked if I wanted to sit in and have a listen as they were playing a few songs to a handful of people that hadn't heard them before. Again I was pleased to be asked and happily trotted in to find several girls there. One of them turned out to be Mike's "new bird" and the others I recognised as a band that practices in one of the other studios on a Tuesday too. Although there is that instant bond between musicians I have to confess to struggling with it when they are ugly women.

I'm a liberal chap, I believe in equality of the sexes, equality of opportunity and I even think that female Sri Lankan Doctors shouldn't call themselves "Dr (Mrs)". But even I have my limits and women in music is fine, but they should be attractive.

So, we sat, we laughed, we listened and we watched. The band ran through four songs, one of which was the new one that I had liked so much previously. It felt rewarding when they played it and, as they got to the first verse, the drummer looked and smiled at me and then played it in the way I had suggested.

The nameless bassist had his make up on and his Timberland boots. He's not the greatest player around but he had a certain bit of life in his playing. He danced around a bit and looked like he was enjoying himself. This is an important factor in my own judgement of a band. They can be the best musicians under the sun but, if they don't look like they're having fun, then I probably won't. Drummer and singers usually do look like fun is being had, as what we do is so physical that it's almost always enjoyable. Guitarists often get one of those faces, you know the one that looks like they are concentrating very hard, usually because they are.

But the nameless fellow was well into it. I liked that. He still looked like an idiot, I'll take the piss out of him next week for that thing his bandmembers told me about, you know, the blow job business, but fair play to him for trying to put on a bit of a show, to an audience of five as well.

They finished their stuff, we applauded with genuine enthusiasm and the girls went off to continue to murder some songs. I hung around, I shook Sam, the drummer's hand and complimented him on his playing. Even thought the little bastard is half my age and twice my ability I still like to show my appreciation. I tried to squeeze his hand as hard as I could though.

Then the Mimosian chaps arrived, we set up and got on with our stuff. I was left with a feeling of wonder and warm enthusiasm. It was nice that we have a little community at the rehearsal studio. What was more apparent and powerful was that music is a strong thing. It brings people together, it touches lives in special ways and it's something I truly can't imagine not having in my life.

Terrific eh!


sach said...

nice post R and I read every word of it, as much as I suffer from ADD. love your writing as always and I can't wait till I go some place where I can make music the way you all do.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

sach - thanks, hope the carpal tunnel feels better. It's a very common drummer's injury, luckily I haven't succumbed to it.

Theena said...

Nice post.

Even though I don't make music - yet! - I know if I were to lose my music collection, a huge part of me would die. And that is not an exaggeration.

How goes it, drummer sir?

Anandawardhana said...

Beautifully written! Thanks for sharing this :-)