Friday, August 10, 2007

Barefoot Drumming - Darwin that was close!

Barefoot is one of my favourite places in the world. I shan't wax lyrically about its charms and its atmosphere, you've either been there and understand it or you haven't been there and don't. There's just something about the garden that can capture people.

Whenever I go to Sri Lanka I spend a considerable amount of time in the Barefoot garden, drinking Diet Coke and talking to beautiful women and photographers.

Sundays are particularly nice there. The jazz quartet plays and features one of my favourite drummers, a chap who I've praised many times before but whose playing continually impresses and insprires me; Shirazz Nooramith. I've seen many Sri Lankan drummers, from kit players to Kandyan drummers, from terrible percussionists to world class conga players and Shirazz is one of the best. He's one of the best known kit players in Sri Lanka and I see his name associated with many of the country's top musicians.

The first time I saw him play at Barefoot I was immediately struck by his minimalist kit, a snare drum, a bass drum, hi hats and a ride cymbal. That was it. The variety and colours that he pulled from this small kit floored me. He can extract more "voices" from this than many can get from a kit the size of Java's frog collection. As I watched and listened to his playing I felt positively inspired, to go home and pull out wires from my electronic practice kit and try to use less voices. It was his playing that prompted me to reduce my acoustic kit to only two tom toms, to try to increase my musicality and not rely on having so many different things to hit.

The rest of the band's damn fine too. Ray, the bassist is one of the most grooving and stylish players I've heard for a while too, never too busy but consistently on the money.

Last Sunday was my last day in Sri Lanka and last days have to be planned carefully in my world. Moments have to be treasured and time must be valued. There's nothing worse than getting back to my Southall desk and thinking "shit I wish I'd.....".

I arrived with a good friend at Barefoot sometime around one o'clock. The usual Sunday assortment of people was there; a gaggle of kids running around, some tourist types who just fancied a drink after buying things in the shop, a few groups of youngish looking locals in their bright white trainers and way too ironed jeans and a few NGO looking types. It was rather pleasant and we settled down to some conversation, some music and some atmosphere.

I strolled over to say hello to the band. This wasn't as easy as it sounds as they are putting in a new floor in that bit where the band normally play so they were set up at the back this time. With my sharp observational skills and my usual drummer's keenness for detail I hadn't spotted them when we walked in and thought that they weren't playing that day. They were on a break so the whole sound thing wasn't there to aid me either. It was only when I asked Naz and she looked at me with an eye rolling look and said

"Yes they're playing, look they're over there"

that I realised that they were indeed playing and were indeed over there.

Being a musician is a bit like being part of a brotherhood sometimes. Not a brotherhood that makes you swear allegiance to goats and things, nor one that makes you wear a uniform, unless you're in Slipknot or Kiss of course. But it's a kind of club, one which has an intrinsic appreciation of its members. I went to the Rockapollooza thing on Friday and saw some great stuff and some not so great stuff, but those guys were out gigging on Friday night and I wasn't. That alone commands and gets my respect, I suspect most musicians would feel the same.

We got down to some watching and listening. It's always a bit frustrating when you play and people are treating it as background music rather than concentrating on the sounds you're creating but it's also part and parcel of doing a gig like that. I did one recently in which the first set was supposed to be "dinner jazz", some easy listening mellow stuff to help people eat and drink. It's bloody hard to do and there were moments when I felt as if it would have been so much easier for everyone to have just let the band go and put on a "Best mellow jazz songs in the world ever part 19" CD.

Everytime Shirazz and the band finished a song there was only a slight murmur of appreciation from the crowd. I felt a need to clap like Forrest Gump after each piece, sometimes these things must be done out of principle. It made me, and my friend, slightly conspicuous but we were proud of that.

I was savouring the moment. There aren't many better that don't involve nudity or myself on the drums. This was close though. There were drums, there was Colombo and there was myself. It was just a bit mixed up, not quite in the right order. At some point I was asked to play a song or two. I did the usual musicians thing of being bashful and shy, the whole

"Oh no, I'm just here to watch, it's your gig" thing.

All musicians do it when asked to play at someone else's gig. It takes many years of practice to master the art and get the right balance. If you show too much eagerness to play then it smacks of desperation and if you appear too reluctant then you won't get asked again as no one can be bothered to beg, except beggars. If you can play a bit it helps too. So I strolled up and played a couple of funky tunes. There was "The Chicken" which I believe is a Weather Report / Jaco Pastorius song and Watermelon Man, the classic Herbie Hancock song which, through luck and fortune, I know because we do it in Mimosa.

It would have helped me a lot if I'd recognised Watermelon Man a bit sooner on Sunday though, it must have taken me about two minutes of arsing around with variations on a groove before I realised that this was the song the band were playing and I already knew it.

I had a blast; to play a brace of funky songs at Barefoot in front of friends with those musicians was as close to Utopia as it comes, and I almost did.

The rest of the day was good too, I'll tell you about that later.

Amazingly Tuesday morning found me back at my desk in sunny Southall. In one way I felt wholly surrounded by Colombo, enveloped and warmed by its beauty and its personality, its charms, its sounds and its smells. Yet, in other ways it felt like a dream, a "was I really there?" thing.

But, as I trawled through the hundreds of emails that had found their way to me, the very last one was one from Darwin. Many people know that Darwin was in Sri Lanka for a while, I was asked several times if I knew her personally and what she's like. I've exchanged emails with her but we've never met.

The email she sent to me had an attachment which I opened. It was the picture above. Darwin explained that she was at Barefoot on Sunday and went around taking random photos. She had put some up on her Facebook thing and Child of 25 had told her that the drummer in the picture was me.

I felt a bit gutted. We had been standing a matter of a couple of feet away from each other, she had taken a picture of me, I had probably winked at her and smiled flirtaciously, the way I still haven't mastered. Yet we didn't know and we didn't meet. It was an amazing thing. Darwin lives in Glasgow, I live in London, we both have Sri Lankan flavoured blogs and we were in the same place on Sunday. She was probably straining to hear her friends' conversation because of my bashing on the drums and we never knew of each other's presence.

Next time maybe!

Thanks to Darwin for the photo too.


Indyana said...

The strange non-meeting between Darwin and can't get stranger than that!what a pity you couldn't meet!

Lady divine said... close... yet the 2 of u didn't know... strange but nice...:-)

Darwin said...

Lol small world eh? You're welcome for the photo:)

n said...

heh...was a bit surprised to see u in the photograph, didn't realize u had been in SL..