Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Teaching drums

Yesterday I had my first foray into teaching drums (well, my first since Rocktech back in 2002 at least), when I was asked in as a special guest at a local school to show young children the basics of African drumming, as part of their African month. I haven't been this unsure about something in years - I am no teacher, I mumble, I probably don't listen as much as I should do, I'm a little impatient. But it was lovely, largely because of the way the primary school was run, there was a proper teacher there, and throughout the four lessons Grace was also in the class to teach the children dance and theatrics to my rhythms. The wide-eyed fascination in their faces at seeing a full drum kit (and percussion) set up for the first time was inspiring, and in every lesson we had a hell of a groove going with the whole class involved. This generally started with me playing an Afrobeat - and then a third of the class replicating my bass drum, another third playing my hi-hat groove, and another third playing my snare rhythm. They all had homemade drums, a majority of them got the hang of it really quickly, there's certainly a few future drummers in there. And it was nice to spend the day with Grace too - a remarkably talented and alive actress (and also a very kind young lady), just like our meeting in Bristol a couple months back much discussion was had about future projects and we're both a bit excited about what can be achieved. What was achieved in the school hall yesterday was something really nice I think, I hope it goes beyond a novelty of seeing a drummer show off a bit, I hope at least a couple of them will want to carry on playing funky grooves as they grow up. It wasn't a day without it's minor glitches (cutting up the school bus in the car park/accidentally ending up in their assembly and feeling very awkward) but I feel a new sense of energy after what was an exhausting day, and I'll treasure the generous drawings of thanks I was given as a present for a long time.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Gig report: Backwood Cam @ Rees Guitar Hut, Cambridge

Band: Backwood Cam
Venue: Rees Guitar Hut, Cambridge
Date: 27/11/11
Audience: Friendly, intimate
Set: Black Magic Woman, Walk On By, Fragile, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Love Me Like A Man, Waiting In The Wings, Whiskey In The Jar
Notes: This is what I love about being a musician sometimes - the randomness. Rees Guitars are pretty established now for the accomplished musician wanting a six-string that has been custom made, and as a result a new workshop/showroom has been built in a hut in Cambridge. For it's launch, a party/gig was organised, and I was drafted in to join in the fun as Clive Rees - the man behind all the instruments, is the father of Izzy Nicolson (a good friend of mine and a regular actress in my productions). I played percussion for Clive's band, Backwood Cam, just a few slightly unrehearsed but largely enjoyable covers, and we all had a jolly time - the vibe was lovely, with good food, chat and further jamming later on, I ended up staying for hours because I was enjoying it so much. Big credit to my old chum Mark Allum too - he turned up to try out a few electric guitars and ended up playing bass for the band at the very last minute, he did so brilliantly.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Gig report: Trevor Jones Band @ The Missing Sock, Stow Cum-Quy

Band: Trevor Jones Band (full band acoustic)
Venue: The Missing Sock, Stow-Cum-Quy
Date: 25/11/11
Audience: Jolly
Set: Not sure - full TJB set, plus four songs (one of them a cover) I'd never played before
Notes: Back at The Missing Sock and as always felt very welcome. Seemed a lot busier than normal, and those who were watching were pretty responsive considering they were waiting to have dinner. Played well - the acoustic version of 'Alive' was remarkably tight and always a pleasure to perform, the new material (or very old, as Trevor wrote them a while back) was naturally a little hesitant rhythmically but nobody would have noticed. We didn't have a setlist, so accidentally played 'Badman' twice (at the beginning and end of the set) but it's a good tune all the same, and we realised later we forgot to play 'All I Am', which is usually one of the staple songs in the set. The Missing Sock staff were lovely to us and so grateful that we performed, they gave us each a fancy beer glass as a thank you and once again cooked us lovely food - this time it was ostrich for dinner as well as drinks. Great stuff, a decent evening with good company.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Gig report: Eureka Stockade @ HCRFM, Huntingdon

Band: Eureka Stockade (well, Rob and I)
Venue: Huntingdon Community Radio FM, Huntingdon
Date: 18/11/11
Audience: No idea considering it was a radio slot, but definitely four other people in the building and Andy from the band listened in online at least
Set: All Alone, Resistance + interview
Notes: Not even sure if this qualifies as a 'gig' as such, more of a promotional appearance, but either way it was nice enough. With our new single 'All Alone' released this week we were invited over to HCRFM to play a song or two and promote it. Andy (Brown) has a heavy cold so sat this one out, so Rob and I popped in and played this as a duo. This is, without question, one of the most supportive and friendliest radio stations you could ever meet - I've been there a few times to chat about projects and my newspaper column, and it's just so nice. See - when you're promoting something as a band you instantly feel (naturally) grateful for any coverage, but with HCRFM the station themselves are so pleased you're there as a guest, the team running it seem really passionately into the music you're playing and it all leads to a very enjoyable session. Alongside playing the single and one other track (very stripped down - Rob on his acoustic, me playing my little Sonor sub-snare with my hands) we chatted briefly about the album, summer festivals, that kind of thing. A lovely way to spend an hour on a Friday night and also nice to briefly catch up with my old mate Gav, who was there to talk about films. Home by about half 9, a chance to finally chill out after a pretty intense week of theatrics.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Christmas script (part 2)

Well, after my little rant on Tuesday - which I still feel was entirely justified as I had wasted a majority of the day and thrown away the many pages of extensive notes which had taken many a spare moment to write, I decided to get a grip. Thing is; there was absolutely no way I was going to cancel the Christmas show because certain people (actors, mostly) are looking forward to it - for them alone I couldn't pull out, but I was feeling flat and bored of my own writing. Anyway, a good solid lunch hour of writing yesterday tipped things roughly back into shape - and then an intense writing session from 6.30pm - 12.30am finished the piece. It was one of those glorious moments where I just hit my stride and remembered why I am doing this. The key I think was that a) I had developed a better understanding of the characters (I'd consequently changed the lead of Sophie from being a shouty bitch to a misunderstood control freak) and b) I was actually starting to enjoy myself again. Christmas is amazing - and once I remembered that, courtesy of my 'It's Christmas Time' album there was no stopping me. During the course of that last minute, six hour writing session I drank 2 litres of Pepsi and ate 8 bars of Tescos mint chocolate thingys and a pizza. Today at lunch I tightened things up a bit, and this evening we had the first read through. Yes, that was how late I'd left things. Excitedly reading the script in the corner of The Tram Depot pub in Cambridge, my outstanding cast; Izzy, Kev, Elisa, Steve and 'Vaughan Claus' thrilled me by bringing these characters to life. The beautiful thing is, they want to be in this, they want it to work, and yet tonight the read-through was effortless, they just fell into the characters. The tempo of the piece felt spot on, it times roughly around 50 minutes leaving a nice gap for a live band, everyone likes each other, the cast chuckled as they heard the jokes for the first time and rehearsal dates are in the diary. 'Three Elves, A Snowman And A Funeral' -written in a day and a half, stressed me out a great deal, but is probably one of my best scripts yet.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Christmas script

Seriously, why do I bother. I confess I've just signed in to have a rant, but I'm annoyed with myself. Last year I said I'd only do a Christmas show this time around if it would be a step up, a real revolutionary idea perhaps, something that was a stark improvement on 2011's mediocre offering. Suddenly I've found myself in a position where the first rehearsal is this Thursday, I'd taken today off work (Tuesday) and, despite planning a script meticulously, I scrapped it at 1.30pm and started again. It's much better now, but lacks any form of depth. I've got about 20 minutes worth good material in there, but there isn't too much millage left in this plot, it could easily be wrapped up in five more pages. Even tagging a live band in for the 'death scene' (a tradition of mine) the show itself would be a flimsy 40 minutes. Have I gone downhill as a writer? Am I no longer festive? What's the fucking point?

Sunday, 13 November 2011

'To The Brink' at The ADC/Recording with Laura/A decent weekend

This was always going to be a bit of a manic weekend, but I've actually had a really good time. On Friday evening my old chum Rob came over for beers - the man's a legend and not in the country enough, we drank too much till the early hours and I think I've offended my landlady because our late night banter was perhaps a little too loud and unsociable. It's not like I do this every week though...

On Saturday and Sunday I had the pleasure of spending time in the studio with Laura Tapp as she continues work on her debut album with producer Marto Randle. It's sounding great - my drum parts were done last time, but it was nice just to hang out there anyway and watch it all come together, some of it is genuinely spine tingling stuff. Laura writes brilliant songs, Marto has brilliant ideas, I'm thrilled to be associated with it. 'Aching' is an extraordinary song, completely and utterly heartbreaking, but in a way that I'm glad it exists, this material deserves to be heard. Due to other commitments I couldn't stay till the end on either day, but Laura's just text to say it's virtually done and is now in the mixing, can't wait to release this album.

Saturday evening was the Eureka Stockade gig in London, but I went on about that in the post below so will leave it there except to say I really do enjoy the company of these people. With all these projects at the moment I'm lucky to be continually working with some of the nicest and genuine people you can ever meet. Yes, that's cheesy, but yes, I'm tired, okay?

After another day in the studio today I then popped over to Cambridge where my very latest play, 'To The Brink' was being performed by WriteOn at the ADC Theatre bar. I'd be the first to admit I had strong doubts about this - you know how a couple weeks back my new material evening just died really badly because the scripts felt underdeveloped? I felt this evening could easily go that way too. But it didn't, because Julia directed it brilliantly with some fantastic ideas (this, after I had real concerns after last week's rehearsal - I'm more than happy to take these concerns back though). The cast were awesome too - it's a real wordy piece, even by my standards, but they stuck with it and never drifted, and so did about 90% of the audience I think. Some very nice things were said at the end about the play, and one or two constructive statements (Robert Jezek - an actor friend, talks a lot of sense, I'm don't always take in feedback but when he says something I tend to believe him, he really enjoyed it which made me happy, apart from the slightly weak conclusion). I still don't think it's a particularly good piece of writing, and was expecting it to be slaughtered tonight, but the vibe was nice, I feel like a good writer again.

It's been a good weekend, my double life as a drummer and playwright not clashing too much despite plenty of activity. Next up - writing the Christmas show. I've left it VERY late this year, but the first rehearsal of 'Four Elves And A Funeral' is Thursday evening. Feel sad that I've not got some of my regular cast this year (first Christmas show without Heather for example), but I have put an awesome team together and I have a sneaky suspicion this will be our best festive show ever. See, one good weekend and I turn into an arrogant little bugger.

Currently listening to: Slow Club (both albums and the Christmas EP), David Ford - Live In New York, KT Tunstall - Have Yourself A Very KT Christmas, Elvis Costello - Mighty Like A Rose
Currently reading: Rob Brydon - Small Man In A Book
Currently watching: Him & Her (series 2 on TV), Family Guy (TV), early Only Fools And Horses episodes (DVD)
Currently drinking: Nothing that is good for me, be it beer or caffeine
Currently eating: Pizza, mostly

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Gig report: Eureka Stockade @ Retro, London

Band: Eureka Stockade
Venue: Retro, London
Date: 12/11/11
Audience: A couple tables worth, mostly nice enough
Set: Caught In A Fire, I've Been There Before, Violence, Without You, All Alone, Through Every Darkness, Heroes Fall
Notes: For a London gig, this was remarkably easy to play. Rob kindly picked me up at 3.30pm, and by 5.15pm we had arrived at the venue - it seemed in a nice enough area, and there was parking directly outside. Nice performance space, very friendly place - a bit empty (especially for a Saturday evening) but we felt welcome. After a quick takeaway, we soundchecked and I actually felt incredibly relaxed about this one - the sound was good, the house drum kit - albeit a very cheap one, was tuned well and we never felt rushed which was nice. Another gig and another slightly different Eureka Stockade line-up, with us three regulars (Rob, Andy and myself) joined again by the ever brilliant Dave Greeves and tonight, for the first time, Claudia McKenzie on bass. I used to play with Claudia in a band years and years ago (from 2001-2003, this makes me feel very old) and she is an outstanding bassist - big grooves, fills the sound, she seems to feel every note and plays with jaw-dropping confidence. From a drummers point of view this is fantastic - so easy to lock in, it gives me the space to open up my playing a little and let go, and because we're both completely comfortable with each others playing (we've had a few other one-off sessions over the years, recording etc) it was easy to be a tight rhythm section despite only having the one rehearsal of these songs earlier this week. The billing was a mixed-bag, one band older than us, another much younger, and we were second on out of three. Wasn't much of an audience, but those who were there seemed to be into it, apart from one idiot who kept annoying Andy. In response, during the quiet bit of 'Without You', Andy told him to "go fuck yourself." I'm glad he did this (Andy retaliating, that is) because some people just need to be told - it was a free entry gig tonight, we sweat our arses off on stage, and one person shouldn't ruin that - if this stranger didn't like it, he didn't have to be there. The mood changed slightly perhaps at this stage, but that doesn't take away the fact it was a lovely gig; we sound great as a band at the moment, I think we have been for a few gigs now, and I'm feeling a renewed sense of enthusiasm for this project. Home by 11pm, that's pretty much unheard of for an out-of-town gig, I've enjoyed myself - had a few beers with my Eureka chums and a bit of a catchup, played a very satisfying set, all in all a nice way to spend an evening.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

New material night

We tried out some new material last night. Was a bit of a strange one, it was co-organised by a comedian friend who pulled out during the week, the venue got changed at a week's notice due to a double booking and we also lost an actress for the show during the week due to a sickness bug. Still, a handful of friends kindly turned up to watch Vaughan, Kev, Izzy and Heather bash through my work - I'm grateful for those who did make it, although concerned that for friends such as Audrey, Michael and Olivia especially this was their first time watching a Paul Richards play it was by far one of the worst things I've ever done, hope they come back to a more polished effort. It was a long night, I didn't realise I'd written so much - we tried out five plays, four new, and a re-write of one of my favourite older pieces. They were 'shorts', but boy did they drag... 'Toxic Tornado' - the first piece, did work, if we can get the timing right on that and add a punchline I can do more with this one. 'What Will You Have Me Do?' - the second piece, was long and didn't go anywhere, I felt sorry for everyone in the room - just because it's named after a David Ford song it doesn't mean it's any good. 'My Life In C Minor' bounced along nicely - it was only about five minutes long, but got all the laughs - Heather was outstanding in this, I think this could end up being a short film. We then tried a re-write of my favourite and arguably most successful piece, 'Letters To Sparkle', which I've had for a few years now. I put this in because I wanted to try out a few ideas for it, and also because I was worried about the new material so wanted to throw something in that I knew would work - it did, it was by far the strongest piece of the night, as predicted. 'When Jimmy Became James' - an idea I've had for years about a nervous boxer, dragged, although the romantic ending (aided by a Randy Newman song) saved it, and I really like the punchline - that play didn't work on the night, but can do with a bit of cutting/tweaking.

Wasn't a total disaster then, but a really long show, I even mouthed 'sorry' at one person in the audience who seemed to be drifting. The actors were, as always, fantastic, I appreciate them a lot and am keen to reward them with a really strong Christmas production. My mate Alan reckoned it had a "60% hit rate", he was too kind. Still, it's healthy to keep the brain active - I've effectively written four plays in 9 days, but must learn that sometimes things should be left to mature rather than going public with them straight away. I should have learnt this years ago, really.

After the theatre my friend Rohan Leach performed a beautiful piece on the Bawu which everyone (including myself - I was on experimental percussion for him) loved, a quality end to a mediocre evening.