Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Love and Hate

I have a love/hate relationship with playing at the moment, which maybe to do with the nature of playing such diverse styles of music back to back. Earlier in the week I played in Mamma Mia, then I moved onto Thriller first on drums, then on keyboards and percussion, then back to drums the following day.

After that, two shows of Grease the Musical at the Piccadilly Theatre and then I polished off the week with 2 further shows on Sunday on Thriller again on keys and percussion. I haven't played Grease for over a year, so I had to treat it like a "first time" show, and subsequently practiced it every day, during the day in preparation for the 2 shows on Saturday. At the same time I played in the evenings on the shows just mentioned. This means holding the drums sticks for anything up to 6 hours a day,

On the one hand it's great to have so much variety, but on the other I miss being able to focus on one thing and really nail it, like we do on tour. I'm sure the audience don't know the difference, but as a player every minutia is investigated by both the conscious and subconscious mind before and during the performance. I also find myself dissecting in retrospect in this blog, which is becoming a hugely enjoyable activity. Almost like a debriefing exercise after an important mission (last night a drummer er,... DJ saved my life)!

Of course being a musician isn't all hard work and juggling gigs. After a concert with the Moody Blues at the Radio City Music Hall last year, I came down to meet the tour bus the following morning and, popping into Starbucks on the corner just south of Central Park, I found myself being chatted up by Renee Zellweger whilst waiting in line. I didn't realise who she was until it was too late, but I will always remember the smile she gave me as she bade farewell. However, I digress. I'll expand on that little anecdote another time.

To quickly breakdown the activity of the session musician into its various parts on a typical gig/session, I'll go through what I do when I play in Thriller on keys and percussion.

Arriving early to get all the gear into position, and getting the charts in order, you are faced with a series of instruments. On my left is the Roland Fantom-G6 Workstation, a 76 note keyboard. To the right of that is a Percussion Table with a pair of sticks, a tambourine, several shakers, and a packet of Smints (very important). Above the percussion table is the Roland SPDS Sampling Percussion Pad with 9, four inch pads which have various sounds on each pad. To the right of that are a pair of LP congas. There is one overhead microphone.

Now, the first song is Jam from the Dangerous album and it's entirely on the Roland pads, so patch number 1, has various scratch sounds, snare and bass drum samples, all sorts of things spread over the 9 pads. The song has a pretty complicated series of sticking patterns, but a great start to the show.

After that we segue into a lovely song recorded by Michael when he was just 14 called "Music and Me", for this I turn to the keyboard, where patch 1 is a vibraphone sound, and I play the vibes in the first half of the song, and towards the end move to patch 2 on the keyboards, and play the string arrangement for the ending.

Then over to the congas for the Jackson 5 medley, of "ABC", "The Love You Save" and "I Want You Back". Then Tambourine and Vibes for "I'll Be There" and then to the shakers and Roland pads (at the same time) for "Show You The Way". It continues like this through the whole show (all 32 songs) with a different patch on both the pads and keys for each song.

When I play drums on this show, I am playing the Roland TD20 again with a different patch for each song, this means that every song has a different drum sound. A great way for replicating the true sounds of a record in the theatre.

When I play with the Moody Blues, I use a double bass drum pedal, which allows me to move my left foot from the Hi Hat pedal and use two bass drum beaters on the bass drum (a little like playing with two sticks, but with your feet)! It's used a lot in Heavy Metal music, but on the more sophisticated gigs like the Moody's it can only be used in small quantities. For instance the end of a rock song, when the drums may do a flourish to finish off, then the Double Bass Drum Pedal comes into it's own.

There is almost no double bass pedal stuff on Thriller, however there is one final chord at the end of "They Don't Care About Us" which I thought would be great to use; a fast roll on the bass drum, both crash cymbals being given a good thrashing, then move over to a few hand and foot patterns between the toms and kick drum, the sort of thing I do on big stages with the Moody's every night on tour.

Anyway, my plan failed miserably, as when it came to this big final smashing chord, my hands and feet decided they didn't belong to me! It was not so much a train crash, more a bad landing in a plane, which whilst you could walk away from was certainly not very comfortable. A few choice looks from the other musicians (who took it well, considering), made it a very unpleasant experience, as I am not used to messing up like that. When I got home I went straight into my studio and played the same thing on my own, note perfect. Talk about love and hate.

I'm reading the Micheal Palin Diaries at the moment "Half Way To Hollywood". It's really interesting to hear how the movies that keep us entertained on the Moody Blues tour bus "Life Of Brian" and "The Meaning Of Life" were written. Python is a staple part of our humour, and we are constantly quoting phrases to one another. When squeezing past Justin or John on the bus you are likely to hear someone shout in a silly voice "Don't jostle the saviour". I love humour!

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