Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Setup, Soundcheck And Action

I had a nicely mellow weekend. Mimosa, the funksters, had a gig on Friday night. It was our first gig with our new trumpet player, a shall we say, more mature chap, by the name of Leslie. His addition to the band means that I am no longer the oldest one there, so I like him a lot.

As I am possibly the only drummer in the world who always turns up early I arrived at the club at about 5 PM, we were due to soundcheck at 6 and I knew that there was no way that would happen at the allotted time. I sat in the car listening to some grooves and getting "in the zone" I saw Rich, our other new boy. We now have two Riches in the band, one who plays guitar and one who plays sax, with an age difference of many hundreds of years.

Young Rich has been with us now for about five months and he's a totally wickedly brilliant player who's only nineteen. He's off to college next year to study music performance and I have a feeling that he may do incredibly well in the future. His passion for everything and anything to do with music comes through like bright sunshine and permeates everything he does. It's so funny for the rest of us to have a nineteen year old in the band though. Everytime he tells a joke it makes all of us feel very old, everytime he plays something it makes me feel that I've got so much to learn in my drumming.

So he let me in to the club, gave me a hand to unload my kit and then messed around on the club's piano while I set up. I am one of these musicians with a passion for playing too. I can't explain it to anyone who hasn't felt it themsleves. Confab, if you're reading this then you may share the sensation, that desire to play anywhere at anytime, from my front room to a club full of people. Not that you know my front room of course.

As I set up my kit Rich was tinkling away at the ivories. His tinkling was interrupted every once in a while by his own murmerings of pleasure. He'd come across a chord progression or a sequence and say nice things about it, as if he'd just discovered a new sound on his ride cymbal or a little sweet spot on a snare drum that he's never heard before, I think that's the best way to describe it.

For some time, as I set my kit up and listened to his groans of pleasure, which reminded me of Paris Hilton in one of her home videos, I replied to each of them, as if I had a clue what a diminished seventh or an augmented third actually are. Then, after bluffing for a bit, it dawned on me that Rich was in a world of his own, he didn't need someone else there at all and he was just conversing with himself. This was good as I could get my kit set up and make a suitable affirmative type of noise at regular intervals, like having a chat with a Sri Lankan mother, or rather being chatted to by a Sri Lankan mother.

Once the Rhythmic kit was assembled I had the time of my life. Young Rich and I, with a whole club whose only occupants were us and a young blonde waitress, had a thoroughly enjoyable jam. The blonde waitress didn't play much of a role in it, unless the clatter of plates being put on tables counts as a musical contribution, which probably is the case in some of these modern jazz circles. I had volumes of fun as Rich would come out with a melody on his sax and I'd join in with a groove, or I'd begin a groove and Rich would come out with something. Every now and again he'd try to impress the blonde waitress but I think she was about seven divisions out of his league.

We called a halt to our selfish shenanigans as the rest of the band started to arrive. There was the usual amount of carrying and lugging equipment to be done and this club, that we play in regularly, has a nice "green room" where the artistes can relax, but it means we have to cart everything up a flight of stairs.

Soundcheck commenced. There were two songs that Leslie, the new boy, wanted to run through so we blasted them out. We've had many rehearsals recently in which there have been one or two of us missing and I got that familiar buzz that I often get, which is why it's a familiar one, when I feel the force of all eight of us playing together. It's a pit of the stomach feeling, like butterflies but more akin to ostriches flying around there, perhaps swans.

Playing with a guitarist, a bassist, keys and a singer is exciting and I'll probably never get bored of it, but to experience the air moving from a three piece brass section and to feel so surrounded by so many elements that all blend together (occasionally) is extra special. As a drummer it's like being the tiniest part in a huge steam engine moving at great speed. I'm not aware, nor can I hear much, of my own contribution to the big sound, but I know that I'm there in the mix and crucial to it, unless the sound man has fucked up of course.

After soundcheck we hung around in the green room. There was a good two hours before we were due on and it's a time when each band member deals with his or her pre gig thoughts and tensions. I must apologise as I'm vaguely aware that the last sentence sounds somewhat twattish, as if we're big superstars or something, which of course we're not. But we still have little routines and ways of preparing in the immediate build up to a gig. Usually there's lots of banter, lots of joking and messing around and a good whack of eating and drinking.

There's always some last minute adjustments to be made, a tweak to a song here and a nip to a song there. Singers of course, no matter what band I'm in, have to do their usual poncing about thing of getting ready. Whether they're male, female or anything else the routine always involves lots of clothes, plenty of mirrors and a few bucketloads of ego and vanity. Us drummers don't do any of this, if we're feeling tarty then we might just change into a new T shirt, with a different picture of a drum kit on it to the last one. All singers prance about, changing shirts or blousey things and acting as if they're one of the women in Abba warming up.

My pre gig routine is predictably sad and boring. No drugs, no sex and no wild antics with horses, it's just me with some drumsticks and a practice pad, beating out a few rudiments so to speak. I've discovered that I dislike with a passion that space between setting up and actually playing. I don't really suffer from nerves in that I'm not a chap who's throwing up behind the stage or getting into a strop, but I just feel impatient and angsty and yearn for the performance to begin.

After all the waiting and the routines we went on to do our stuff. We were great, even if I say it myself. I experienced a "first" midway through the first set; I counted in the song, one which is started by bass, drums and guitar coming in together. When we came in I heard straight away that something was drastically wrong and, after some puzzled looks, it dawned on me that I was playing a different song to the rest of the band. It's the first time I've ever done this in a gig, I had skipped a song whilst reading the setlist and seven others hadn't.

I was pleased with the way I reacted. Even though it was in a gig I had the sense to call a total halt to the song and start it again, it was remarkably mature for me as I apologised quickly and counted back in for us to restart without a hitch. The reason I was so chuffed was that it's tempting to keep going when that happens and to try to put it right, but it sounds like a train crash and usually ruins a good song. I hope it never happens again but if it does, I hope I react the same way, like Walker Texas Ranger or one of thoseother level headed heroes.

You know, I think I'll curtail this post about now. The gig went well, there were women dancing and we all had a good time, but you've heard all that before and are probably a bit of it. I thought you may be interested to hear a bit about the lead up and all those before bits.

The next gigs I've got are two gigs with the covers band on consecutive nights, we're calling it our world tour.

Should be fun, I'll probably tell you about them.


Java Jones said...

Nice one RD. But hey, ostriches can't fly!

Six & Out said...

Sounds familiar to me. I used to have a friend who was in a band. We'd all arrive early for the sound check and Id tag along. Ya sad I know. We'd goof around and then the guys would set up and get into a groove and have jam sessions which were, for me, the best bits about the whole show. There is always that bit of magic during that time, that the audience never sees.

Messing up songs is normal I think, Will prob happen again one day LOL.

Anonymous said...


Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Java - Yes, but I'd imagine you'd feel a couple in your stomach!

Six + Out - Thanks. Messing up songs is something I've done more times that I can remember in gigs, but I've never started the wrong song before. That was quite a big first for me.

Anon - Isn't that the wonderful thing about freedom of choice?