Band practices are one of those enigmatic experiences that only chaps in bands can really understand. Even if you sit in on a band practice, perhaps as a friend of one of the band or even a wife or something, you'll get an idea but won't see the full picture.
Seeing, understanding and appreciating the full picture requires the full knowledge and information. You need to know what happened last week, which might just explain why there's a but of tension between the drummer and the guitarist this week. You need to understand that the singer always forgets when to come in on that song, which is why people are a bit impatient this week.
Probably more importantly you need to understand that there is always tension between drummers and guitarists and singers always forget when to come in, then look around at the rest of the band with their "which one of you lot came in at the wrong time?" look. Such are the laws of music and band practices.
One of the other laws is about how the first half hour or so of any practice is meant to pan out. Every single band I've been in has followed roughly the same routine. Just ask Confab or any one of those muso types and I bet they'll vouch for me on this. I'm sure things are different if you're a member of Oasis or the Stones but we're talking about street level bands here.
Now most bands operate a Sri Lankan approach to punctuality. A 7PM start means that the members will arrive anytime between about 6.30 and 8.00, that is if I'm in the band. In other bands it the range will be from about 7.30 to 8.30.
There's usually a jovial atmosphere of setting up, mutual carrying in of things, setting up and tuning. It's a cacophany of noise but one that is enjoyable to be a part of. In a covers band there's usually talk about doing new songs, have you heard their new single, what do you think of doing that Kings Of Leon's song and that kind of banter.
In the case of my covers band, which is full of captains of the creative industry, as well as me, conversation often revolves around the lastest scandal in the world of media and advertising, who's about to be fired, hired or arrested. DD would love to be a fly on the wall for sure.
Last week the conversation began with a detailed run down of C's latest luxury holiday. C is a singer and many of our practices begin with a precis of someone's holiday. This time Egypt was C's choice of venue, the details about it are not important unless you're Egyptian or a tour operator. Or both.
C told us descriptive and interesting tales of the holiday. He finished with the sentence
"do you know I think it was probably the best holiday I've ever had, well nearly. I think Sri Lanka was the best place I've been to."
Class, I thought. We have discussed Lanka many times. It's a five piece band and four (including me) have been to Sri Lanka, unusual for a band, but an anomaly I like.
Conversation shifted seamlessly to Mother Lanka, aided not insignificantly by me asking C what he liked so much about Serendip. I'm devious like that.
Something about the conversation felt very weird. All of a sudden there were three egos in the room, all fighting to demonstrate who had the greatest knowledge about Sri Lanka. And inexplicably, one of the egos was mine.
C started to talk about Sigiriya. It's an amusing story that I've heard before, how he climbed it but got scared when he got to the Lion's paw bit, so waited there while his wife trotted up happily, then came back down and told him how great it was. After he'd finished I pointed out that both of my kids have climbed it several times and weren't scared of the height or overcome by vertigo, probably the same thing I know. I thought it was kind of ironic that one of the songs we do is Vertigo too.
You probably aren't aware of the way these English blokes, most likely other Suddas too, talk about things in foreign countries. I get to hear it from both sides of the chasm. On the one there's RD the Sri Lankan who writes a blog that's read by a few in Sri Lanka and all. On the other there's Rhythmic, the drummer in the covers band, who has a West London accent that's more cockney sounding than the distinctly middle class public school accents owned by the others in the band.
My identity compass, the one that has worked so well in my later years and points firmly in the direction of both Sri Lankan and British and is totally comfortable pointing that way, went totally absofuckinglutely haywire. If it was a real compass rather than a metaphor, the needle would have been spinning wildly and not knowing which way to point. Fortunately it is only a metaphorical one so I just got a bit confused. That confused look is hard to spot on the average drummer, it's normal for us.
It's the pronounciation that causes the issues you know. In my head I can pronounce Sigiriya perfectly. The emphasis is placed on each syllable exactly as it would be by a Sri Lankan and I can do that rolling of the R that you lot do so well. When a Sri Lankan says an R you form it by doing something with the tongue on the roof of your mouth and making the sound as if you're a Lion going "Grrrr", but without the G. Us pseudo cockney geezers make an R by using only the teeth and the lips, there's no tongue movement going on at all really, the story of my life, but I digress. It comes out as if it's an R with all the blood sucked out of it.
But when I actually try to say the word out aloud confusion reigns supreme. I say the syllables with the right emphases, I so nearly get it right, so nearly pass myself off as a fully qualified Sri Lankan. The only things missing are the ability to pronounce Rs with my tongue and a need for me to jump through hoops or bribe someone before I can visit any other country worth going to outside Sri Lanka. On balance it's probably quite a good deal to get a passport that allows me fairly free movement and that I have problems with Rs, but given a choice I'd quite like both.
So it was annoying when I would say the word "Sigiriya" and they wouldn't understand what I meant until one of the others said "Sigger reeya" to be greeted with nods of understanding all around. Fuck it I though, I'll just write a blog post about it at some point. I probably never will though.
Then the conversation moved on, to "that place with the reclining Buddha." None of them could remember the name and I knew I'd have to step up to the podium along with my dodgy accent. I let them try to remember for a while but had to interject when it became too painful.
"You mean Polonnaruwa?" I asked, with the now familiar to you good syllables and bad Rs.
B, the guitarist, and C looked at me. Then one of them said
"Yes that's it, Poloner roower"
for all the world as if I had got it totally wrong but had done just enough to remind him how to say it properly, a kind of the natives are alright but don't get too close to them sort of thing. I shook my head silently, Charlie Chaplin would have been impressed, and we decided to play a song or two. We started with Tempted.
It sounded fucking excellent.
Sometimes these Suddas can be good at things, particularly with a Sri Lankan drummer!
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika
1 hour ago