The London Centre of Contemporary Music is without a doubt the most gratifying teaching post I’ve ever held, my fellow drum tutors Rich Brook, Bryan McLellan and Will Taylor are great players with a wealth of experience to draw upon. Bryan and Will also run our drumline, The Beefeaters, and the guys were involved in the opening ceremony for the recent all German UEFA Champions League final at Wembley stadium.
May always marks the end of the academic year for my degree students. The issuing of the big band chart for their sight reading exam has caused more than a little trepidation it would seem. Personally I think they’re all going to nail it but I’ll confirm that next time.
One of the most interesting aspects of working at LCCM is the drum forum. Two or three times a year we get a name player in and we have a panel discussion, a little bit like ‘Question Time’ but all about drums. Our most recent visitor was Johnny Quinn from Snow Patrol who shared insights about how his band developed from playing tiny venues to tiny audiences, to selling out arenas. Johnny’s observations about taking care of the business, management, publishing end of things was particularly illuminating and not a single stroke was played (or discussed for that matter) the entire evening.
I’ve always maintained that when I’m teaching that I get a lesson as well, and some of my best ideas have been stimulated by a question from a student. Students can inspire in other ways too, as one of the guys turned up with a Ludwig Speed King that he had bought off eBay. I’d quite forgotten the unique feel and action of the Speed King and as I cut my drumming teeth using one I thought it would be nice to own one again. Impatient as always I couldn’t possibly hold out until the National Drum Fair in September so a quick trip round the corner to Drumshack in Battersea was in order where an appropriate investment was soon made. After using modern pedal designs for years the Speed King feels hugely different by comparison, but it’s whetted my appetite for vintage pedals and a Gretsch floating action is next on my wish list.
Time was that virtually all enquiries for gigs came by telephone. In these days of social media that’s not always the case and a couple of weeks ago I logged on one morning to pick up a Facebook message from a friend of mine who books a lot of session work, asking to see if I was available for a pop video shoot later that same week.
There’s no denying the fact that I turned 50 earlier this year so you wouldn’t imagine that I’d be terribly near the top of the pecking order for pop videos would you? Well, it would appear not in this case.
As is so often the case it was all a bit last minute but that’s the business sometimes. You need to be able to make quick decisions and arrange your life to accommodate the ever changing gig landscape!
Upon confirmation I learned that the video was with The Script and the premise is that a three piece band (us) playing in a very old fashioned social club (the fabulous time capsule that is the Effra Social in Brixton) suddenly morph into The Script. I suspect that it may turn out to be a commercial for a popular alcoholic beverage but we’ll see.
Having arrived at 10am as requested we then embarked upon a protracted period of hanging about and drinking coffee. I’ve spent a lot of time around the film and television industry of recent years and this is pretty much standard practice. Finally the second assistant director came looking for me (a drummer himself funnily enough, but committed the sin of pronouncing Tama as ‘Tay-mar’ in his broad Australian accent.
The Script were set up on stage and drummer Glen was just using snare, bass drum, ride cymbal and hi hat so they wanted me to replicate his set up exactly. Not a problem and with the addition of a ‘deadhead’ on the snare and some silent cymbals we were all set to start miming to The Script song ‘Millionaires’.
“Just keep the Beat” the director said but I was having none of it. Ever the professional I had done a drum transcription of the record and had notated every drum fill and cymbal crash; and my stealthy ‘cheat sheet’ was hidden just to the right of my bass drum pedal. Our vocalist was well up to speed with the lyrics as well so the director was knocked out and got far more than he had anticipated.
How it survives the final edit remains to be seen. With all these things there’s a degree of risk that it will end up on the cutting room floor (along with my one line of dialogue in the recently released Steve Coogan turkey ‘The Look of Love’). All in all a fun day’s work, oh and thanks Lambeth Council for the parking ticket. Us drummers have to unload our cars somewhere!
Folkestone in Kent seems like an unlikely hotbed of support for British jazz musicians but you’d be surprised. Every Thursday at the Tower theatre is packed to the rafters and it’s always a pleasure to play there. Last week was a particular highlight as the promoter Derick had assembled an all-star band consisting of Alan Barnes on sax, Steve Waterman on trumpet, Ted Beament on piano and the incomparable Dave Green on bass. One of those gigs that leaves you thinking
“Now THAT’S why I learned to play”.
Also it’s always good to see former London drum stalwarts Jimmy Tagford and Teddy Pope in attendance.
I’m back in Folkestone on June 20th with Tony Kofi. Come and see us if you’re in that part of the world.
Final gig for the month of May later today. It’s one I’m looking forward to with the great Greek saxophonist Vasilis Xenopoulos. With this new project we are re-examining some classic big band repertoire (e.g. Basie, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Thad Jones) but doing so in a quartet environment. Nigel Price (guitar) and Bill Mudge (Hammond organ) complete the group. Sometimes we expand to a quartet with the addition of the great Steve Fishwick on trumpet. I’ll be telling you more about this in future editions as we head into the studio in a couple of months time but for now, keep swinging and I’ll see you soon.