Saturday, 15 May 2010

We're Back....

Mamma Mia revisited.

Mamma Mia Matinee yesterday? Nailed it to the door. I am so pleased, what a relief!

I was in the gentleman's bathroom (WC/restroom/toilet, or whatever the literary term is), in the interval and the guitarist uttered those two words you really don't want to hear from another guy in the "Gents"........."nice one" he said. I am assuming he meant my "drumming" in the first half of the show.

He confirmed my suspicions that his observations were of the creative variety, and not referencing my physical attributes, by continuing the same theme when I bumped into him again in the same place after the show. He was extremely complimentary about my playing, and said I had a "great groove", which for this sensitive drummer standing in the toilet underneath the stage of the Prince of Wales Theatre in London was like a breath of fresh air.

Ok. Two shows on a Roland TD20 today in Thriller Live! at the Lyric Theatre in I love doing this show.

All I have to do now, is remember that the overture in the Micheal Jackson show doesn't start with Dancing Queen.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

I've been asked back!!

When you "dep" in west end musicals, you pretty much have to wait for the phone to ring, it's not uncommon to have nothing in the book at the beginning of the week, and by the end of the week you may have played between one and six shows depending on how many "chairs" you cover, unlike being on tour, where you know exactly how many shows you will play before you get on the plane. This means that there has to be a certain amount flexibility involved in the working week.

Yesterday I was sitting in my studio working with my trusty Roland TD20 drum kit, (I love that thing) working on a new lesson to put on line, with the prospect of Friday and Saturday off, when Accy the percussionist from Thriller Live called me "I've broken my thumb playing cricket" he said, can you play tomorrow night for me? "Yes no problem Accy" I replied. Actually there was a problem, the family had been invited out to dinner at my sister-in-law's house, so I had to cancel. Minutes later Frosty called from Mamma Mia and he wants me to go back in to play the matinee today (Saturday 8th May)! I already have two shows on Sunday booked on kit in Thriller so the weekend turned into quite an eclectic musical few days.

So anybody who read my previous blog "Playing Drums in Mamma Mia" will know what I'm in for this afternoon. As I sit here on the sofa trying to compose myself, it's suddenly gone from a relaxing weekend with the family to an activity that will have my backside resembling the mouth of a sky diver.

Actually one thing that is a little worrying is that I have been asked to play with Frosty's drums sticks instead of mine, it apparently alters the sound. I have used the same Regal Tip drum sticks since before I joined the Moody Blues, in fact I endorse the Regal Tip brand and even have my own Gordy Marshall Signature Sticks. So playing with someone else's sticks is like driving someone else's car in a race and getting used to the clutch.

So from practicing Mamma Mia on a Roland TD20 kit with Regal Tip sticks in my studio, I am leaving the house in about 45 minutes to play an ergonomically different kit, which is acoustic, and will be using someone else's sticks. However, my sticks are bigger than his. So there!

It's now 5 weeks and 3 days until I fly to Chicago for the start of the Moody Blues summer tour, and I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it. Although I love playing different types of music (it keeps me at the top of my game) there is nothing quite like sitting behind my DW kit on stage with the Moody's. When I walk on stage with the Moody Blues, it's as comfortable as walking into my front room, knowing there is a crowd of really good friends there delighted to see you and it's the start of a party. What a gig!

The last time I played in Mamma Mia, I went into the theatre early and down to the drum room under the stage, I didn't see anyone in the interval as I was sorting the parts out for the second half. By the time I had finished and put all my stuff away and went to leave, everyone had gone! I didn't see or speak to a sole from the moment I walked in the building to the time I left. I could have done the show naked and no-one would have known........... Hey? now there's a thought!!!

I will report back on how I did in the "hot seat" later.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Playing Drums in Mamma Mia

Well, here is a usual situation: In-between touring I have been depping (as I have explained previously, this means standing in for the incumbent musician when he/she wants to take a show off) in some west end musicals. Recently I have been playing in Thriller Live! At the Lyric Theatre on Shaftsbury Ave. Firstly going in on Perc and keys 3 which is a combined chair. This basically means you play congas on some tunes, stick percussion on others and keyboard parts on others, sometimes two, or even three instruments at the same time. And yes on occasions one hand on the keyboard and the other holding a stick playing off-beat sampled hand-claps with the other. All quite complicated, but hugely enjoyable once you know what you’re doing. I also play this show in drum kit, and it’s a great play, the musicians are wonderful, and the arrangements are perfect. They have a Roland TD20 in the show, the same as my kit in the studio.

Anyway, I called up the drummer who plays in Mamma Mia a while ago and asked if he needed a “dep”, which coincidentally he did so I went down to see him play the show from the orchestra pit. This is the first port of call when “depping” as you need to see what you are letting yourself in for.

Let me explain a little bit about depping in the west end (incidentally it’s called subbing in the US). As a dep you have to go along to watch a musician play a show, and work out if it’s something you can feasibly do. After which you will usually be given a copy of the parts (the musical notation) and a recording of the music from the show. This will be the ‘mix’ that the drummer will hear in his head set, so you will hear the click tracks too. If you want to know about click tracks, see my youtube lesson.

After you have a copy of the mix and parts you go home and begin to practice. Here comes the work, as you literally have to play the show as close to the regular musicians interpretation as possible. And in the cases of long running shows he/she will know the show inside out, as they will have been playing 8 shows a week 52 weeks a year for the most part. Now get this; there are NO rehearsals, and NO sound checks. Simply NO way of trying out a whole show before being put in the hot seat.

It is, quite simply put the most terrifying musical experience one could think of. Some of these shows are hugely popular with packed audiences; the regular musicians are some of the best in the country (a west end show is well paid, and is pretty much the last bastion of the weekly cheque for professional musicians). And you have to go in there and play it first time to a professional performance level.

I have found out that it doesn’t matter how much you have practiced, how prepared you are, or how confident you feel. In those few moments before the Musical Director (MD) waves his hands and the overture begins, really tells you something about your physiological make up. A slight leaning towards masochism appears to be a virtue around now.

So, there I was watching Mamma Mia in the “drum booth”. The drummer is Frosty Beadle, who in my opinion is simply fantastic! The rest of the band play like a record is being made, the precision and accuracy is unbelievable, and comes from not only being at the top of their game, but playing thousands of shows over ten years, they know the thing backwards.

The drum room is actually under the stage away from the rest of the band (the band are in the orchestra pit), so the drums and the drummer are completely isolated. This is done for reasons of room and sound, as it is an acoustic kit. The kit has ten microphones around it, the MD has a camera pointing at him in the pit, so you get the musical direction from him, fed to a small black and white screen in front of the kit. In the top right hand corner of the room there are two further screens, one with a camera pointing at the percussionist in the pit and the other on the balcony of the house, so you can see the show on stage.

To the left of the kit is the music stand with the parts on it, beneath that is a “Boss 202, Dr Rhythm drum machine”, which is the responsibility of the drummer to start and stop on cue from the MD. Slightly behind the drums is a 16 channel mixing desk with a fader for every instrument in the band, some in stereo, also the vocals, and the click track from the drum machine. You can alter the volume, pan and e.q. of every part from there……… Confused? You should be, I haven’t even started yet! It’s like being in a flight simulator, and in a minute you have to fly this beast!

After I had watched Frosty play the show from memory, and nailing every note with a combination of flair, panache, style, draw dropping chops, and of course a few serious lashings of talent, I knew I had my work cut out for me. There I was at the age of 50 with my own illustrious career behind me, having played on every major stage in the world, in front of millions of people. I have played live, on the Jay Leno show with the Moody Blues, I have played at the Royal Albert hall, I have played with some of the greatest session musicians in the world with the War Of The Worlds, playing at the 02 arena, I have done complicated recording sessions for huge international stars.

Half way through watching Frosty play Mamma Mia, I was like a goat looking at lightening.

It took me about 2 months of work on Mamma Mia to feel confident at going in to do a show. On the major shows, the incumbent musician has to “baby sit” you, which means Frosty would be there on hand were I to decide that visiting the bathroom became more important than the overture. This is paradoxically both comforting and unnerving at the same time.

The most difficult thing about playing Mamma Mia for me is starting and stopping the drum machine. This little machine sends a metronome beat to all the musicians in the pit, and guarantees the tempos of each song. This is of great importance to the actors and singers on stage. In most shows this is automated, and you don’t have to think about it, you just get a click in your ear with a count in and you begin to play. However, in Mamma Mia the drummer has to find the correct song/tempo on the drum machine, and press the play button at the same time as playing the drums.

As the musical director is also playing “keys 1” he often has both hands on the keyboard ready to play, so the cue is a nod of the head. So imagine the scene; your left hand, hovering over the drums machine holding a drum stick, with a finger sticking out resting delicately on the “play” button. Your right hand resting on the Hi Hat, and your head (now not looking at the music on the stand) is looking at the little black and white screen in front of you waiting for the MD’s head to fall forward, which indicates the push of the “play” button.

Inside your head your are trying to think of the exact tempo, because as you press the play button, you have to simultaneously begin to play the drums. There is no count-in; it’s what’s referred to in the business as “on the nose”.

If you have, in the heat of battle inadvertently dialled in the wrong tempo on the drum machine, or miss the “play” button with your finger (you have to start this machine without looking at it), or get the cue wrong from the MD, the show will quite possibly er, stop! No pressure there then.

In all my years of playing music this has to be the most frightening experience I have ever encountered. I have done three shows in Mamma Mia so far, and there is still no tick of approval next to my name, due in part to the fact that although there were no “train cashes” when I played the show, the sound levels of the kit were different in comparison to Frosty. So there is a possibility that I will not be asked back. It appears I may not have done a good enough job.

Maybe I am not as good as my illustrious c.v. claims I am? Welcome to the world of the professional musician.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

May 2nd 2010

Well these blogs are quite a way apart in terms of time, I'm going to have to do something about that! Today is Sunday 2nd May 2010, and I have not only finished the Moody Blues US/Canadian tour in 2009, but I've done another one since then in March just gone! It was also fantastic with one exception; Paul, my very good friend and keyboard player with the Moody Blues for the best part of 20 years was not on it! He has 'moved on' which was very disappointing for me, as I have played every single concert I have ever done with the Moody's, with Paul. However, he is very busy with his new business Bliss Media Works which creates video content for websites. Also, as he has written some of my favourite songs ever and is writing again, I think it won't belong before he's back in the charts with his own material.

The day I met Paul was day one of a six week rehearsal period at Bray Studios for the Moody Blues. I was setting up my kit, and he was discussing with the keyboard tech where all his gear would go on stage. He played the riff from a song which had become my favourite song of that year, Murphy's Law from the High Crime album by Al Jarrreau. When he played it, it was clear he knew it, as it had that unmistakable groove exactly like the album. I was standing next to him nodding my head in-time with an approving look, and I said something like "oh, man...that's one of my favourite songs of all time" and Paul replied, "oh good.... I did really well out of that song". I looked at him quizzically, and uttered something like "er, why is that then?". "Because I wrote it" was his deadpan reply! You could have knocked me down with a feather, I was a fan and didn't even know it was him. We've been best mates ever since.

Since getting off that tour I have been depping (which is slang for deputising "standing in for the regular guy when he has a day off") on Thriller for the percussionist and also the drummer. This is a fabulous show to play, and I'm using the amazing Roland TD20 on that gig, exactly the same kit that I have in my studio at home. Which makes it really easy to practice! All I did was take a copy of all the kits from the TD20 from the Thriller show, and load them onto the one in my studio, and well, "Bob's your Auntie".

Then when I want to do any work on The War Of The Worlds later in the year, I just load in the TWOTW sounds from that show and off you go. Amazing piece of kit. The new TD20....check this out!!

This is my dream kit, and when I can afford one (!) I am going to buy one. Roland is becoming more of a candy store than the Apple Store at the moment.

Back later.........

Anthony Burgess

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Hello everybody, I’m sitting in my hotel room in Milwaukee, Wisconsin one third of the way through the Moody Blues US/Canadian tour. I had every intention of being a little more prolific with my blog once I got on the road, after I had finished recording the website. However, since then things have been busy, and I have been twittering most days, so this blog has been slow to get off the ground.

Since my last blog I have started and finished the War of the worlds UK/European tour, which was simply fantastic. By the end of the tour I had had thousands of hits on my website, and collected my first batch of students which is fantastic.

The highlight of that tour had to be the two nights at the O2 Arena in London, completely sold out and the complete joy to play. There were other notable places on that tour, which were most enjoyable including Amsterdam, Brighton and a very enjoyable evening with most of the members of the band around the piano in the hotel bar in Dusseldorf airport on the very last night in Germany. I’m convinced the bar staff wanted throw us out somewhere around 3 AM, but with a string of brilliant pianists sitting down at the piano and amazing the last stragglers, I don’t think they knew what to do with us. It would have been interesting to have a video camera there to see if the performances were as good as I actually remember them. In any case, good time had by all!

After a short two-week break, which passed in the blinking of an eye, I found myself on a flight to Los Angeles where rehearsals with the Moody Blues began. At this point, life was beginning to seem very whirlwind, with me getting used to living out of a suitcase on a seemingly permanent basis. Driving along Sunset Boulevard to and from the hotel to rehearsals also felt like a highlight, although in reality I suppose I was only commuting.

The Moody Blues tour so far has been fabulous, with the response from the audience being both enthusiastic and appreciative, it really is a blessing being a musician. A flip through the itinerary makes me realise we still have so far to go with concerts in Cleveland, Boston, Toronto and New York coming up in the next week or so. Justin, John and Graeme, decided to include some songs off the Octave album on this tour, and it’s really changed the dynamic of the set. It’s great to play new stuff, and although these songs were written quite a while ago they are new to me, and indeed new to the band to play live.

Over the coming days I am making available lessons 1 and 17 from the drum tuition website completely free. A lot of people that have visited the website and liked the idea, but would like to see me teach first. So the website is going to be changed a little so that when somebody logs on, they have the ability to be able to download these two lessons for nothing and see what they are buying.

I have been using Skype a lot recently to communicate with the outside world, to the point where, when I was in a hotel the other day and the Internet went down, I couldn’t work out how to use the hotel phone for an international number. How weird is that?! Technology is moving forward so quickly I can see it being the only potential saviour of the economy in the long run.

I hope everybody is well, and please feel free to leave any comments. Good, bad or indifferent!

Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.

George Hermann

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Good morning! 8 AM on 28 May 2009 and I am sitting in Paul's studio. I am about to start day four of the War Of The Worlds rehearsals, and they are going great, although tiring. Yesterday we played the show through about three times, and then I came back to Paul's house to continue editing the website. I left Paul still working at midnight to go to bed. Some of you may know that Paul Bliss plays keyboards in the Moody Blues with me, however he also owns his own media company, Bliss Media Works and he has filmed, and edited the entire first series Watching him work is amazing and he is nothing short of a genius. Film editing is a constantly cutting edge science and there are new devices, plug-ins, and software appearing on the market almost daily. Paul manages to stay on top of this completely.

The drum tuition website is of course a brand new undertaking for me, and I really want it to be of benefit to the people that use it. An awful lot of work has gone into the preparation, and as I am now experiencing the filming process for the first time, the work that goes into that is simply immense. I have a new respect for people that prepare content for video.

Music is a very important part of my life, I play it for a living, I study it, I practise it, I teach it and I listen to it for recreation. Being able to physically play a musical instrument at any level I believe, is a huge benefit to the person engaged in the playing. It focuses the mind and body like no other activity, and drums in particular covers not only left and right brain, but also every limb.

Earning my living as a professional rock drummer is a dream come true, and any information or education I can pass on to people wanting to do something similar is the least I can do.

This blog will probably become a little more frequent when the rehearsals finish, and the site goes live. I will be updating it as I tour this summer. We start in Ireland in 10 days, then onto the UK and Europe, and then over to the States in July. the first tour is with the War Of The Worlds, and the American section is with the Moody Blues. I will probably be back home in my studio sometime in September.

"How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal and you have to be willing to work for it."

Jim Valvano

In life, the first thing you must do is decide what you really want. Weigh the costs and the results. Are the results worthy of the costs? Then make up your mind completely and go after your goal with all your might.

Alfred A. Montapert

In life, the first thing you must do is decide what you really want. Weigh the costs and the results. Are completely and go after your goal with all your might.
Alfred A. Montapert

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Hello and welcome. This is my very first blog written from my studio at home (actually at the bottom of the garden) in Wimbledon. I'm really excited about mapping out the coming months as they are going to be very exciting. I start rehearsals for the War Of The Worlds tour at Elstree Studios on Monday, the famous British film studios. We have two weeks of rehearsals, and the first concert is in Dublin on 7 June. We play all the major venues in the UK, before going to Amsterdam and then ending in Germany in July. Shortly after that I fly to California to start the Moody Blues summer tour in the US and Canada. In tandem with all this I am very excited that my new drum tutorial website will be launched just as I start touring. So for the drum students that want to stay in touch with me whilst learning, you will be able to keep track of where I am and stay in touch with me. Also, as I am a fan of inspirational quotes I'm going to finish off each blog with a little ditty, and today it is: "The best things in life arn't things" Art Buchwald.

The best things in life aren't things.

Art Buchwald

The best things in life aren't things.

Art Buchwald

The best things in life aren't things.

Art Buchwald

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