As discussed here I recently started drum lessons again. Well I have had 1 lesson so far. But my teacher mentioned that they were putting on a Drum Show the following week, and he suggested I go along to get some inspiration and immerse myself in drumming again for a while. Initially, I didn’t think I would be able to go due to having my girls that weekend, but a quick swapsie arrangement meant that I had a few hours free on Sunday afternoon.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, never having been to a Drum Show before, but the website promised a mix of demonstrations and exhibitors. I’ll be honest, I didn’t recognise any of the names of the performers, but a google search showed that I was at least familiar with some of their work.
I missed the first performance but arrived just as the second, Darrin Mooney, was underway. He played along to some songs, did a piece on his own and took questions from the audience. Somehow I hadn’t thought to bring earplugs, so I stayed at the back to spare my hearing slightly. It was interesting to watch his performance, I’ve never seen just a drummer on the stage before. It was amazing to hear how you can create a “song” with just a drum kit. He gave some very common sense advice – practice or you will still be rubbish, if your teacher is a muppet you will still be rubbish. All rhythms are essentially the same thing, it’s the fancy flourishes that make them sound different, but drummers are used (and paid) for the basic rhythms, the fancy flourishes are nice but not usually necessary.
I found it strange, but I suppose not actually surprising that each of the performers was attached to a manufacturer as a rep or endorser.
There was a bit of a gap before the next demonstration, so I took a wander round then decided to take advantage of the sunny day and get some air and sunshine. After a quick visit to Love Music to pick up a couple of records, I headed back in to have a look at the exhibitors. All the major manufacturers were there, showing their products and selling too. Punters were free to try things out, but there were queues at most stands and everyone trying things sounded far far better than me so I was too embarrassed to have a go. Especially when I saw a boy of about 9 totally smash it. I reminded myself I have only played once in the last 5 years, and a handful of times in the last 15. Maybe by next year I’ll be as good as a 9 year old.
Anyway, it was cool to see all the different kit and accessories.
The next performance was by Eddy Thrower, who gave a very entertaining demonstration and also did a Q&A. It was nice to see the kids asking questions about how the Pros started and who their influences were etc. This kind of event must be so inspiring if you are just starting out.
Next up was Steve White. He was extremely technically impressive, but I’m afraid I started to drift off during his performance, it just wasn’t so much my kind of music. However his Q&A was interesting and there was a nice bit where he gave a boy a pair of sticks after he asked a question.
I took another wander round afterwards and managed to have a go on an electronic drum kit. I was very impressed at how realistic it sounded through the headphones, but how little actual sound it actually produced. I am very, very tempted…
There was only 1 thing that spoiled the afternoon a bit, when I was browsing the displays, I saw this advert:
Really? In 2016? Ooh Mr Drummer, your sticks are so grippy, let me drape myself all over you! No – shove your grips up your arse, let me show you how *I* can handle a pair of sticks. One for #EverydaySexism unfortunately. There were women at the show, but mostly mothers bringing their teenage sons or women who appeared to be with their drummer boyfriends/husbands. I only saw 1 girl trying out a kit in the exhibitors area. As I wandered around no-one manning (and I use that word accurately) asked me if I wanted to have a closer look or try anything out.
There were a couple more performers but sadly I had to go. However I think they were filmed, so I’ll try watch them later.
On the whole, I enjoyed it and I’m glad I was able to make it along. It certainly was inspiring and I learned a lot and remembered a lot that I had forgotten. I hope they put on another event next year when I think I would get more out of it.
Well it’s been 5 years (!) since my last drumming adventure, but events of the last couple of weeks lead to me being in possession of a drumstick for the first time in a long time. It was only 1 (not complaining, the circumstances under which it was acquired were pretty amazing – thanks again, Keith!) but I immediately wanted to hold another and get tapping. I tapped (with my hands) on the table and my knees the whole journey home on the train. The next day at work I tapped on my desk. I had that drumming itch again. There was also something about going from festivals and gigs and speaking to musicians to changing bunk beds and trudging around Aldi. I missed playing and having something that was just *me*. So I thought, f*#% it, why wait. I started looking for drum lessons.
I decided to go back to the same place I went for those 3 lessons 5 years ago. They were good, encouraging, clearly passionate and there was no attitude about me being female or not a teenager. I hate that I even need to consider this, but I couldn’t be sure of the same positive approach if I went elsewhere. I wasn’t sure what had happened to my sticks when I moved house last year, but found them safely under my bed. I must have been unconsciously protective of them.
So I had my first lesson on Saturday. I was really nervous at first, especially when he did that thing, “I’ll just leave you for a minute or 2 to get comfortable, have a play around”. Eek. I hate that. I know they can hear, I’m anxious as hell and haven’t hit a drum for 5 years. I bashed out a few basic rhythms as best I could and prayed he came back soon. We started off on some really basic “grooves” (not sure just how groovy I really was), involving a simple beat and different bass drum patterns. It took me a while to get into the way of it again, given that another 5 years had passed since I played regularly and I was another 5 years older. However, I managed to get them all in the end.
It was fun, when I remembered it was supposed to be fun and relaxed. I think I spent half the lesson with my eyes closed, trying to bring the memory of the movements back up from the deepest recesses of my brain. Lots of times I was trying too hard and it fell apart. I remembered that amazing feeling when you stop trying, relax into it, suspend your conscious movements and let your body do what it knows how to do.
I explained that I wouldn’t be able to come every week, but booked in again for 2 weeks time. I’ll aim to go every fortnight initially but may have to go down to once a month if finances or time are stretched. I have my homework to do, so will be air drumming and foot pressing between lessons. Tantalizingly, I was told that back around Christmas time, they had an offer on for a series of lessons and an electronic drum kit for about £250. Although being a current customer/student doesn’t exclude me from any future deals so I’ll be keeping an eye out. In any case, I wasn’t in the right place to be doing this back at Christmas, so I tried not to be too annoyed.
Interestingly, a whole separate conversation with my cousin about examinations for deaf students, in particular deaf music students, led us to consider Evelyn Glennie. Evelyn Glennie was a huge influence on me when I was learning percussion at school. My school lessons included a whole range of percussion including timpani (kettle) drums and tuned percussion such as xylophones. I played with various wind bands, brass bands and orchestras through the amazing Dundee City Council schools music programme. I once played triangle at the Edinburgh Festival. The real highfalutin festival, not the Festival Fringe. I mostly played timpani, because that was what the performance pieces called for. If there was ever a drum kit part, there would always be an older, more confident boy there to leap into the stool.
Anyway, I was such a fan of Evelyn Glennie, that my parents took me to see her in concert, although unfortunately I have absolutely no memory of that. My cousin made me aware of a TED talk that Glennie had done a few years ago. Her talk is amazing and you should definitely watch all of it. Part of what she talks about is the difference between reading music and playing what you see, and feeling and interpreting music. This is why I paniced when left alone with a drum kit. Back when I learned at school, I was never given any chance to play around, experiment, improvise. Partly due to not having my own kit or access to one, but also the way our lessons were structured were very programmatic and designed to teach technical skills and pass grade exams. I’m sure this is not the fault of my teacher, he played jazz so I’m sure would have been all about the improvisation, but he was limited by the curriculum. So we spent a lot of time on flams and paradiddles and snare drum only pieces. I found some of my old books.
This is the kind of thing we worked on:
So my snare drum sticking got pretty good, I would have been ideally placed to join a marching band, but that’s not really what I wanted to do.
There was some drum kit work, such as this:
So I learned all that, but never learned to be creative with my playing. I was never given a piece of music and asked to create a drum part to accompany it. So on the few occasions I had the opportunity to play with other musicians, I was a bit lost, had no confidence without a drum score in front of me and was soon de-throned by an older boy whose parents had the space and indulgent nature to buy him a kit.
I don’t know if I’ll ever have my own kit. I don’t know if I’ll ever play with other people. I don’t know if I’ll ever get any good. I do want to pick it up again, so that when I say I’m a drummer I’m not referring to 20 years ago, or 3 measly lessons 5 years ago. I want to build my confidence and my improvisation skills. I want to prove myself and defy expectations.
Well, it was my birthday yesterday. I didn’t really expect to do anything special. It was mid-week, not a significant birthday. Well, turning 37(!) now does feel significant because I am no longer in the mid-30s zone. I am distinctly in the approaching-40 zone. Bleaugh. But then…those buggers We Are Scientists announced they were playing in Manchester that day. Given that I wasn’t sure at that point how much of a proper gig the Glasgow Stag and Dagger thing would be, and there were no other dates nearby, I decided to go for it. I couldn’t let them play somewhere on my birthday and NOT be there. Luckily, I was able to get a day and a half off work, found a cheap train and Premier Inn room so it was on. Also, shout out to my lovely dad who came down to mind the girls and let me away.
The train ride was entertaining in itself. I busied myself writing up Sunday’s events, but shortly after we left Glasgow, an announcement came over the tannoy explaining there would be no trolley service due to the trolley attendant suffering a “mishap”. This lead the lady opposite me and I bursting out into inappropriate giggles. They later found a replacement trolley attendant and my fellow passenger asked what happened. “He poured hot water on his hand. He’d only served 1 cup of coffee! Had to leave the train! It’s not like he was having a baby!” Cue more laughter. About halfway through our journey, a couple got on and the bloke had one of those adult colouring books. His was a Bill Murray one which he kept telling us was a gift. The lady opposite me was fascinated and kept asking questions about it. It was nice to have a bit of chat to pass the time, the bloke was funny and the woman hilarious in that northern (English) way. “Eh up, ‘e’s doing shading now!”
Arrived in Manchester which was lovely and sunny, checked in to the hotel, finished off the Stag and Dagger blog piece with photos etc and then took a walk round Manchester. I wanted to find the venue so went there first, then took a walk around town. I thought about going into a museum or something but was feeling too energised after sitting still for 3 and a half hours on the train and in anticipation of the gig. I was too restless to meander slowly and focus. Unfortunately, Manchester is still 30% building site and 40% roadworks so it wasn’t the most pleasant walk. I grabbed some food and went back to the hotel to shower and change before the gig.
I had opted for the VIP package because y’know, birthday treat and all, and because the similar event in Glasgow a couple of years ago was definitely worth it (read all about that here). I arrived outside. A few people began to gather. A security guard came out and asked if we were there for the event. She told us they were running a little late, we should wait about 15 minutes or so. We waited. She came back, let us in. Looked at my ticket and pass and told me I was in the wrong place! I was now 15 minutes late and in the wrong building. Legged it next door, another security guard took my pass, gave me a wristband and said they were upstairs.
Then I spotted Chris speaking with a group of people just by a staircase. I still have no idea if there was a soundcheck this time, I asked one of the group but he seemed to say he had just stumbled on them and joined in.So much for VIP. Didn’t really get to chat to either of them (Other Keith wasn’t there) but then someone from their team offered to take photos. We took a group shot, then had individual pictures.
I took the chance, figuring everyone else has had their shot and spoke to both Keith and Chris while we did the photos.
I gave Keith a present, a reference to a conversation we had last time in Glasgow. It’s a sombrero juicer. He was well impressed that it would juice straight into a cup.
No idea what he’s doing here but he is wearing it proudly.
I chatted to Chris a little about the gig on Sunday and they both signed my ticket.
I asked Original Keith if Other Keith would be down because I had something for him too. He said he wouldn’t be at the meet and greet but he would ask him to come to the merch stall after the gig. One of the girls had a green I Are Scientists t-shirt on, Keith asked how old it was, reckoning it was a vintage. She explained she got it on the TV en Francais tour. I said I had one of those shirts from the first time I saw them in 2008. I’m not sure if they were impressed or appalled that I had been following them all these years. As part of the VIP package, we were able to pick a t-shirt or hoodie from the merch stall. I was really tempted by the smoking cat shirt, but opted for a hoodie for a change.
We said goodbye and after a while we were allowed into the venue. I got a spot on the barrier pretty much dead centre. There were 2 support acts. The first was The Alibi. From the outset they were egging the audience on in quite an aggressive way, demanding we clap along and join in. On the first song and we had no idea who they were. They were good enough, but I think a first support act should kinda have to work to win over the crowd and participation is better if spontaneous. Or at least later into the set once we’ve got a feel for them. Then the lead singer made some comments about joining him backstage which were just creepy so I was even less impressed.
Fortunately, the second support were much better. I thought maybe I recognised them, but wasn’t sure where from. They were a 3-piece called Flowers, fronted by a female singer/bassist. It was the kind of music that gets called “ethereal”, “dreamy” and “expansive” and because I’m writing this on a train after about 4 hours sleep that’s what I’ll call it too. Vaguely reminded me of Pixies. I really liked them and will be following them and hopefully seeing them again soon.
Then WAS. I don’t even know what to say. I’ve written about them so often I’m in danger of repeating myself. The girl next to me was seeing them for the first time and asked if I’d seen them before. “Yeah, a few times…” Like, about 10? Maybe this was the 10th time? I need to think back over those 8 years and try to remember… One thing I have said before that bears repeating is that you are guaranteed a good show if Keith is in good form, and you know he is in good form when he is so busy jumping, dancing and shredding his guitar that he has to rush back to his mic to sing the next line. That happened a lot, ergo it was a good show.
Old favourites were refreshed with a heavier, bassier, stompier sound. The Scene is Dead and Impatience sounded great again. We got Cash Cow this time too. Sprinkles is one of my favourites from TVeF so I was delighted to hear it. Once again the new songs just come alive on the stage. We got the same 3 as on Sunday – Buckle, In My Head and Classic Love. Listening to the record the vocals are sometimes a bit sparse. When I first listened, I got the impression of Keith sitting on a stool, occasionally leaning into a mic to record a line. In reality, when performing live, he is singing as well as providing lead and rhythm guitar, as well as leaping around and going crazy on stage. When it all comes together like that, along with the heavier bass and drums, the new songs feel completely and utterly different from the way I interpreted them on record. Now that I have those images in my head, I’m listening to Helter Seltzer in a new way and hearing new aspects of it. Images like this:
(I don’t normally take so many photos but I have a new phone and the camera is a million times better than my old one. At least being barrier I didn’t have to hold it up and obstruct anyone’s view. But they are only phone photos, I’m not a pro.)
I’m almost at the point now where I could do without hearing the likes of It’s A Hit, Great Escape and After Hours because I’ve heard them so often, all I really want to hear is the newer songs. I was having that kind of thought during Nobody Move last night when Other Keith mouthed “Happy Birthday!” to me. (We had chatted about this on Sunday, it was his birthday the day before) I kicked myself and realised that those songs are still awesome, they get the crowd going and I should be revelling in every moment of my birthday treat gig. Getting a “Happy Birthday” and a big grin from one of the band during their biggest song is pretty amazing.
Other Keith is brilliant. I love his drumming style and the sound he brings to the band on the old songs as well as the new. He looks like he’s having the best time and who could blame him?
There were the typical WAS between-songs discussions, last night’s mainly involved Chris trying to convince us he could make an engine revving sound with his bass. Repeatedly.
We got Textbook! I suppose it’s not a surprise that we are hearing a lot of songs from With Love And Squalor as they gear up for the album gigs later this year, but it’s always nice to hear Textbook. This was the song that made me fall in love with WAS. Whilst I am a huge fan of the rockier songs, my very first listen of WLAS had me hooked, but Textbook showed me they had more depth. And those drums! I fell in love with the changing rhythms on Textbook. And Keith’s use of language on “makes me wish I were dead”. So even if I don’t get to the album show we heard a good chunk of WLAS last night. Actually scrap that, I would kill to hear Inaction, Can’t Lose (I love Can’t Lose, that and Scene are my favourites on the album I think), Lousy Reputation, jeez they are all so good I really want to go to a WLAS album show! Either record it or do it in the UK please guys?
Towards the end there was some problem with Chris’ bass, engine noise or not, that reverberated weirdly and extrmemely loudly, meaning all of us in the front felt like an earthquake was going through us. Keith described it as demonic and they debated whether to go ahead with the last song. They did, we all felt like our guts were being ripped out but it was worth it,
As they headed off stage, Other Keith gathered up his stuff, then came down to the front and handed me a drum stick, saying “Happy Birthday” again, then telling everyone else who was clamouring for things “It’s her birthday!!”
Afterwards I headed towards the merch stand thinking I might get a smoking cat t-shirt anyway, but there was a huge queue. I wondered what the chances were of a) Original Keith remembering to tell Other Keith, and b) Other Keith making it down, given that he’d just done the thing with the drumstick. I waited in the merch queue anyway, until the girl in front of me got the last cat tshirt. Then I turned round and Other Keith was there! I hugged him and thanked him for the drumstick and gave him the present I had brought for him – a book with a collection of modern facts and info about Scotland. This was part birthday present and partly because I have given Chris and Keith books on previous occasions. We chatted about what we had done since Sunday, his involvement with the band, the sound of the new record and his contribution to it and future UK tours. Seriously guys, keep him, he fits right in and is just awesome. He remembered that I used to play drums, so I promised that when I make it to New York I’ll bring the stick and he can give me a drum lesson.
He left to join the others, who had come down to the lobby, but there was quite a gaggle vying for their attention so I left, pleased that my evening had ended better than it began. Went back to hotel, couldn’t sleep, eventually did fall asleep then woke up at 5am re-living the gig and remembering how great it was and reflecting on what a good decision it had been to make the trip.
Writing this on the train now heading back to work and the real world. I’m listening to the album with fresh ears. I realised that it has all the elements that I love about WAS. Beautiful harmonies, complex and varying rhythms, head-banging rock parts mixed with delicate fragile sections. Whilst the live performance didn’t create a eureka moment for me, like with TVeF, Helter Seltzer has been a grower, and the live experience only enhanced my understanding of an album that is more complex than first appears. Roll on October and let’s get some dates confirmed fellas!
I had never heard of Stag and Dagger, but when We Are Scientists announced that they’d be playing at it this year, I was of course going to check it out. It’s one of those multi-venue indoor city festivals. An indoor festival in Glasgow makes a lot of sense at any time of the year.
Once the rest of the programme was announced I was disappointed that I didn’t recognise too many other names on the bill, and that WAS were not even headlining one of the venues. Oh well, times change, and for me it would be a good chance to discover some new music.
I wasn’t able to get there too early but arrived in plenty time to pick up my wristband and catch the band on before WAS, which was GUN. Gun/GUN are old school Scottish country-ish rockers. They were good (reminded me of one of my favourite Frasier quotes when Roz tells her sister “For your information Classic Rock is both classic and it rocks!”) but had the same problem I find with most straight-forward rock music – it can get a bit dull and predictable. They were clearly very experienced and talented musicians, and the lead singer had swagger in buckets but for me it was missing something. It was also strange to hear a band from the era when singing in an American accent was de rigeur, even if you were from Coatbridge. I’m so used to hearing the likes of Biffy Clyro and Twin Atlantic comfortably singing in their own accents that it was bizzare to remember that once upon a time not too long ago people affected the other to be taken seriously. And I suppose if you have adopted that for a number of years you can’t very well change suddenly.
So, the older demographic classic rock crowd dispersed and the younger indie crowd filtered in, as well as the ones who were getting in early for the later bands. I had loitered at the back for Gun, but took up my usual position at the front for WAS. I’m going to try to hold back on the WAS -love cos at the time of writing I’m en route to see them again in a stand-alone gig in Manchester, so will likely write about that too. (I did – find it here) So We Are Scientists highlights – new stuff sounds WAY better live (I hate that this is the case cos not everyone gets the chance to see them live and experience the full force of live versions) I love the edgier, harder sound, old stuff re-worked is immense, they opened with a killer version of The Scene is Dead and we got a banging new version of Impatience too. Other Keith is their best drummer yet (Ok, I never saw Tapper but we can be pretty sure he’s not coming back) I really hope they keep him, I love the different quality he brings and he looks like he’s having a blast doing it. It was Other Keith’s birthday the next day, so Original Keith led us all in a rendition of Happy Birthday.
They only had a 45 minute slot but jam packed it full of oldies, a few from Barbara, and 3 new songs from the new album – Buckle, In My Head and Classic Love.
I had a bit of time before the next band I wanted to catch, so I hung around at the venue a bit in case any of the band were around. Original Keith and Chris came out but were in a rush to go and get some food so didn’t stay. A few people caught them and asked for photos, I ended up taking a group photo for someone but didn’t get to speak to the guys at all. I was just about to pop into a shop to get a snack to fuel me for the next couple of bands when I saw Other Keith heading towards me. He remembered me from the last couple of times in Glasgow (read all about them here and here) and we had a quick chat about the new record, his dad (hi Tom!) his Scottish roots and birthdays. I told him I was going to the Manchester gig so would see him again soon.
Next up was We Were Promised Jetpacks (best band name ever) at the Art School. I honestly can’t remember if I’ve seen WWPJ before. I have a vague recollection of looking for them at a festival or some event. In any case, they are a band that have been on my radar to check out properly. The Art School was packed, so I was glad I got there early. I took a position leaning against the sound booth. Not a great vantage point but I was tired and thought I might have to sneak out a bit early to make sure I got in to Slow Club later on.
WWPJ were really good. I have no idea if they were playing old stuff or new stuff, but they clearly have their dedicated fans who were loving every minute of it. I could have done with a bit longer to really get a feel for them and how they were different from other Scottish indie-rock bands, but I liked the sound of them, especially the more sweeping, landscape-evoking ones.
I was keen to catch Slow Club because I’d heard a few friends talking about them and I had a quick Spotify listen and really liked their sound. So it was over to the CCA for this one, by now I was really digging the indoor-ness of this festival due to the intermittent Glasgow rain and it was cool to just flash a wristband and take your pick of small venues and different bands. The CCA was surprisingly empty for a headliner but Slow Club were very impressive. 1 girl, 1 guy, a couple of guitars and a keyboard. They sang beautiful melodic songs of love and loss and actual hunger, as was explained. They were funny, cool and magical. It was such a chilled out way to end a busy day of very different kinds of music.
So all in all it was a successful day, a rocking We Are Scientists gig, and finally getting to see 2 other bands that I had been meaning to catch for a while. The format of the day was well planned, all smallish venues around Sauchiehall Street as well as the ABC as the focal point. I’ll be keeping an eye out next year and even if I don’t immediately recognise names I might just go along anyway, I’m always on the lookout for new music.