Cup of tea
It’s a real privilege to play drums, for the second year running, for the Chelmsford city pantomime. This year’s production is Cinderella. It is one of those rare occasions on which I am hired for a substantial fee, but am required only to do two things: turn up on time, and play drums all day. Since the age of 15, when I resolved to stop being late to things (at the time, principally my girlfriend’s house – she and her mother had a running joke that I would always be thirty minutes late for anything), the first one of these has been no problem; it was further drilled into me at music college, by the Head of Woodwind, Brass and Percussion, Richard Adams, who instilled in all under his care a rigorous sense of punctuality. I have since tended to make quite a thing out of being on time. I’ll often get worked up in the process of getting out of the house early enough to be punctual, but in many situations – especially those involving musicians and theatres – the effort is always rewarded by me not getting fired, me being hired again, and the day not being ruined for all several-dozen others working on the production (plus the audience of a few hundred) because the drummer couldn’t be bothered to plan ahead. The second thing – playing drums all day – makes me very happy, and also comes easily. I have been playing drum kit since I was twelve years old, and have played in countless rehearsals and concerts over the years with brass bands, wind bands, marching bands, orchestras, hip-hop groups, jazz ensembles, dance troupes, musical theatre productions, punk bands, stoner rock bands, and all manner of progressive rock, heavy metal, folk, psycho-ceilidh and indie bands, along with numerous singer/song-writers. Before and alongside playing drums I played clarinet in concert bands, wind quintets and clarinet choirs. I have been reading music since I began playing recorder at age seven. So the musical theatre gig is a breeze.

I love my drums – the way they look when I take them out of their cases and set them up, the way that they sound when I hit them, and the fact that I have to configure them differently for every musical theatre show on which I work. I love the feeling of constant movement when I play. I love the dance from drum to drum required in a fill, the bounce on the hi-hat in an unstoppable pop groove, and the effort required to play with energy and intensity for several minutes at a go. I love having a click-track to follow, and embedding its metronomic punctuation of time into my own pulsating, embodied rhythm. I love the freedom of no click-track, and the reliance on the mutual musicality of my fellow band members. I love the swish and tinkle of brushes on a cymbal, and the gorgeous, glittery glow of the mark tree (chimes) as it sparkles up and down evoking magic. I love the thump and crash of Rocking Out. The toms thrill me as they resound with stroke after stroke, culminating in the cavernous boom of the floor tom. I love the sound and feeling of a miked-up bass drum, its emphasized warm “dthoohm” making me grin from ear to ear. I love the feeling of being the music, that when I don’t play there is no sound, and that when I do play suddenly the air is alive, pulsating, irresistible!

Owing to recent adventures in academia and the constant challenges that present themselves (and that I create for myself) in my teaching jobs, plus the wonderful, exhausting and tireless joy of fatherhood (our daughter is six months old), alongside the ever-increasing rent, taxes, obligations, responsibility, and accountability that I face in every other part of my life, I sink in to my old friend drumming with a pleasure akin to arriving home after a knackering and stressful day in the office, sitting down, disappearing into the sofa, and being gloriously overcome by sweet, enveloping sleep; despite knowing the world is still out there and that there will be another hard day tomorrow, I am home, and recharging. I am comfortable. I feel as “at one” with the world as when I’m enjoying a large glass of Malbec on an evening in with my wife, or when I got out of the car last November on US Highway 1 to watch and feel the sun set over the Pacific. I am in the zone. I am untouchable. I am drumming

When I am hired as a drummer there are no meetings, there’s no bullshit, no unaccountable pressure, and no micromanagement. Just reading, watching, listening, and drumming. The mutual weaving of time in groove with the bassist and pianist when these musicians move together is like a hug. This is empathy and mutual generosity. Like driving fast along a road you know well. Like going out in a favourite jacket. I feel confident and happy. Drumming is me. I am drumming. I am certain of this. Drumming makes me feel fantastic. And my drumming makes others feel good.

This is definitely not one of the most important things in the world, or to the world. I feel, as I said, privileged to be a drummer. And on a gig like this one, where the theatre’s sound guy has carpeted the band pit, where I get paid to set up, rehearse, wait around, as well as to perform, when I’m earning more money for drumming for four hours day than I ever do for planning, teaching and assessing for ten hours a day, when the only two things I am required to actually do are to drive to Chelmsford and back and to play the drums, I feel very, very fortunate. It sucks that my wife and daughter are in another country; but the break will be good for us all, as it’ll be amazing to be back together.

I don’t deserve this. Some people tell me I’ve earned it, but I haven’t really. I am extraordinarily lucky. I have worked hard, yes. I have worked a seven-day week for as long as I can remember, and have routinely put in 12- to 18-hour days for almost a decade. But so have plenty of people who mine coal or diamonds, or who clean toilets or work in fast food restaurants. My parents bought me drums and let me play them, and they didn’t shit on my dreams of being a musician – although we all had very little idea of what that would mean. I had great teachers, coaches and friends. I just wanted to play drums. When I get to play drums, when my drums sound as good as I recall – and often better, when I am in the groove, when I a drummer, I am happy, I am me.

That being said, I also need my writing, teaching, thinking, and my family and friends. Currently I’m working at being a feminist cultural psychologist. I need another cup of tea.  You can find out about the panto here. 




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