Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Music Making Me Merry

Music is important to me, if you're a regular then you'll already know that anyway. The older I get the more I feel that music and drumming are the things that really define me, that I'm comfortable with and I want to be immersed in. I think music, drumming and Colombo would be the three things I'd take with me to a desert island. And some white string hoppers.

But in the last week I've been surrounded by great quality music, as if it's coming at me from all directions and, in the words of Justin MacDonald, I'm lovin' it. To start with I went on a minor drummer's buying spree a couple of weeks ago when I was ill and feeling sorry for myself. I don't mean that I'm a minor drummer, although I am, but that wasn't my point. I meant that I was bored with watching daytime TV and old episodes of Miss Marple so I surfed to a drumshop's website and bought all the consumables that a drummer could possibly need. Things like new heads for all my drums, bits that go on top of cymbals and a host of other bits and pieces.

The most exciting purchase was a new book; a book specifically on playing funk, with a vast array of new grooves and ideas for me to work on. Funk is my chosen genre and in recent months I had been looking for some specific targets or goals to set myself for my playing for this year. I was drifting a bit and seeking an island to head for. Last year I tried to focus on learning new fills, with a target of learning a new one every week. The plan was going well but got ever so slightly derailed by the whole divorce and moving out and starting my life again thing.

Since I got the book I've learnt three or four grooves from it already and they really are fantastic. I know that I've stumbled upon a book that's going to give me month's of learning and new material. My drum book library is already quite full but most of them are books that don't fully inspire me, books that I'll often flick through, maybe work on a page or a chapter but then forget about it. This book feels different to me, one that I just know I'll devour and absorb, very probably over the course of the whole year. That's my first thing to be musically excited about.

My second thing is something that is almost definitely going to become my Sunday night routine, one that I like. One of my local pubs has starting hosting Jazz musicians on a Sunday night. There's a lot of history to this specific gig, it's one that has been going on for some years in another local pub and it's moved here while the original pub is being refurbished by new owners. Every week this gig has a different "star", usually someone superfantastic, but it's the backing musicians that make it for me.

Over the years this regular Sunday night event has turned into one that attracts the equivalent of royalty in terms of the musicians that play. The very top levels of pros turn up and play in a pub on a Sunday night for what I can only assume is the sheer love of performing with other like minded people. It's like turning up at your local park and finding the Manchester United team having a kickabout just for fun. Last Sunday I witnessed Ian Thomas play. You're unlikely to know his name unless you're a drummer but he's one of the most in demand players in the country. He's Tom Jones' regular drummer and played at Live 8, he's played with all the greats and I've seen him perform more times that I can count.

In recent weeks I've seen two or three really top level drummers play in this very same setting, but seeing Ian Thomas play was a sublime experience for me, a lowly dodgy drummer who wouldn't be worthy of setting up his kit. It was my equivalent of a religious experience. These gigs are often a coming together of superb musicians who, though brilliant players, often haven't had a lot of experience of playing together and therefore have to feel their way through the songs. We, the audience, see and hear them discussing what to play and then we'll see one of the band explaining the format of the song, the key changes and structure to the others.

Then bang, they play the song with more poise, confidence and tightness than any band I've ever been in can play a song that we've known inside out for many years, which may well be because of me on drums. My bands spend infinite amounts of time rehearsing our songs to get them sounding as tight and as good as possible. Then I watch people like this play and it reminds me that I've got a long way to go. The days of thinking "I may as well give up" are long gone. Music is a study that can take many lifetimes and watching experts perform motivates me to practice and to play in the most positive and inspirational ways.

The big lesson for me as a drummer, in watching this gig was how the top level players can express themselves not by the things they play but actually by the things they don't play. Many drummers, particularly at my level, think that the way to impress an audience is by hitting as many things as fast as possible. Mr Thomas' playing on Sunday was a masterclass in taste, subtlety and groove. He held back and let the other musicians get heard, he never fought for attention as so many do. Then, when it was his turn to solo, he'd come out with the most spectacular playing a drum fan could imagine. Theena, Java, Confab if you're reading this I just know you would have loved it.

My third and final bit of musical mayhem is the fact that Muse have released their new album. It came out on Monday and is a live one, complete with a DVD of the performances. The thrill for me is that it was recorded over their two gigs in Wembley in the summer, one of which I went to with the girls and Academic Bro. It was the first proper gig I've taken the girls to and the first proper one they've been to and we all loved it. I think that one of my lifelong memories will be the whole of Wembley Stadium jumping up and down in unison to Starlight and glancing at my eleven year old headbanging to Knights of Cydonia, as was I.

So to have a DVD of this gig is a superb momento for me as well as being a great performance on its own right.

There you go; three musical things that are filling me with excitement and inspiration, just thought I'd share them with you.

Of course, I'm easily excitable.

6 comments: said...

It is rather refreshing to hear of more and more people so moved by music. We need more people in the world to come together and enjoy music.

Jack Point said...

Funny how the drummer in a band is the forgotten one. The lead vocalists and guitarists get top billing, others somewhat less and the drummer lurking at the back, often hidden by the bass drum is quite forgotten.

Ringo is the only drummer I can name off-hand (and he always felt neglected by the rest of the Beatles), how many drummers can the
average man name?

Java Jones said...

Sounds almost like the Sunday gigs at Bareass Boulevard!

Theena said...

Jack Point,

Drummers are easily forgotten? I always thought it was bassists who fly below the radar - at least in most conventional rock bands.

As for Ringo, I am always reminded of John Lennon's response when he was asked if Ringo was the best drummer in the world. "He's not even the best drummer in the Beatles". Cruel and unfair, but true to an extent when you see what McCartney can do behind the kit.


Yeah, I've heard of the bloke and would have loved to see him play. I, too, went on a music binge and got myself some new CDs now that I've found an affordable online retailer ( Will be getting Soundgarden's Ultramega OK, Superunknown (which, by the way, completes my Soundgarden CD collection :D ), Tool's 10,000 Days and Aenima.

Oh and got a drum tutorial DVD as well: Flo Mounier's Extreme Metal Drumming 101. Sweet shit, I tell you. The bugger can drum like nobody's business.

Anonymous said...

so where is this pub then?? sounds awesome.

Confab said...

RD, i envy u on all three counts. i would've really loved to be at ur local on a sunday night. maybe when i'm in london next i shall give u a shout on sunday afternoon to make plans.

how are those drum heads sounding? or are u saving em for a lil while longer? remo?