Being a drummer means never having to say you heard what the guitarist asked you to do in rehearsal.
There, I’ve got a gag in early, seeing as us sticksmen are almost always the butt of the jokes. Like…
• What’s the difference between a drum machine and a drummer? You only have to punch the information into a drum machine once…
• How do you know when there’s a drummer at your front door? He knocks out of time and never knows when to come in.
• How can you tell when the drum riser is level? The drummer dribbles out of BOTH sides of his mouth.
There’s just a soupcon of what gets flung my way by muso’s and sound engineers alike – quite funny really, but it does strengthen our collective resolve as a species.
Which is why it’s the most natural thing to me that nearly 800 drummers congregated in Manchester’s Event City on Sunday to not only set a new World Record by playing the same simple beat all together at the same time, but also to raise thousands of pounds for multiple sclerosis research in the process.
I’d participated in the first event of its kind 3 years ago at the NIA in Brum, when just shy of 600 drummers succeeded in breaking the previous record – I was midway back on the floor of the arena, with the legendary Stuart Cable (RIP) right behind me. What a friendly chap he was, as was everyone that day in fact.
This time around, I was honoured to have been asked to actually host the event on behalf of the Stick It To MS charity (www.stickitoms.com) run by Rick & Karen Prince, a couple who’ve lived through what MS can do to a person for many years as Rick’s mum – who was there on the day in great spirits – has been a long-time sufferer.
The whole day has been months if not years in the planning. Rick and Karen were able to enlist the help along the way of Marshall Amps and Natal Drums as well as Remo Drumheads too – the added might of these companies ensured that the event would get the profile it deserved…and some long-haired plonker from talkSPORT did his best to plug it on the air as the event approached
But how was I going to perfect ‘crowd control’ in an aircraft hanger full of testosterone-fuelled percussionists with scant regard for their hearing or their neighbour’s hearing for that matter?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. It had been agreed at the meetings beforehand that one fun idea for the event would be to get all 800 players to jam along with some straightforward rock n roll songs, to be played by Marshall product demonstrator and electronic cigarette devotee Chris George on lead guitar…and muggins here on bass – the ‘instrument of ignorance’ as W.A.S.P. singer Blackie Lawless once pronounced it…on the day he hired a bassist (the gloriously named Jonny Rod – not his real name) to allow Blackie to switch to rhythm guitar. A tad strong there from the lad Lawless – perhaps all that raw meat munching had affected his brain.
Rehearsals 4 days before the event went very smoothly – Chris, myself and Marshall’s resident can-do drummer Simon Turner convened in the Marshall theatre in Milton Keynes and blasted through all 6 selected tunes with a minimum of fuss. Of course, we had no idea whether it would actually WORK with the best part of a thousand other players accompanying us…but as long as the 3 of us were tight, eh? And we were.
Roadies and staff then decamped to Manchester on the day before to set up the hall with staging, lighting trusses and goodness knows what else – oh yes, drum kits – whilst Paul Marshall (of the famed Marshall family) went routing thorugh skips outside the hall to locate enough sections of carpet for dozens of kits to sit on.
Meantime, I got to my hotel in nearby Cheadle, restrung my bass, watched Live & Let Die, didn’t dismantle my Corby trouser press (A-Haaaaa!!!) and then took in the Haye/Chisora fight later that evening on the big screen in the downstairs bar. Craig Glover from Natal Drums joined me – an old, dear friend from days working in Birmingham music shops who’s now the brains behind bringing the Natal name to the forefront of top-end drums. We sank a few and marvelled at how boxing was a sport absolutely made for super slo-mo cameras, as Chisora sank to the canvas in Round 5. Craig paid for the food and drinks, too…which was nice.
Arriving at Event City the next morning at 9am, fully 7 hours before the world record attempt was due to begin, I expected only one or two drummers to be unloading equipment and getting prime positions on the hall floor near to the stage. But as I walked from the main entrance, bass guitar in hand through one empty hall to reach ours (only about 10 passers by came out with the ‘wrong instrument mate’ line), a crescendo of noise began, quietly at first, in the distance – I honestly thought at first that it was just the venue’s air conditioning. 30 paces later, it was clear that no air conditioning I’d ever encountered used Zildjian cymbals – and as I turned the corner into the main room/hangar, there were over 100 players already in place and slamming away to their hearts content.
It was a beautiful, unholy racket – one that would only multiply in its ferocity and its abstract, random form as more drummers arrived to take their allotted places and tip-tap away in their own private soloing world. Earplugs duly shoved in, I made my way to the stage, checking out the weird and wonderful kit set ups of those assembled along the way.
The email sent out to all participants by Rick and Karen had stated that you only needed to bring a kit with bass drum, snare, a couple of tom-toms and a couple of cymbals – this was a) to make sure no-one took up too much space and b) because the pattern being played for the world record attempt only required minimal gear…it wasn’t as though we were playing something by Rush or ELP was it?
Well, obviously one or two arrivals either couldn’t read or couldn’t help themselves but bring the full enormo-kit with them – I suspect the latter. And some brought their long-suffering wives/girlfriends along for the full 8 hours of punishment too. You can spot the ‘put-upon drummer spouse’ a mile off – a vacant look that’s trying to maintain (drum up?) some enthusiasm for what their life partner is doing in front of them at 100+db but not quite convincingly enough. I smiled at a few such ladies, and they smiled a knowing ‘rolling eyes’ smile back in recognition that I’d spotted their personal torment. Of course I have no real sympathy in the end – they knew the risks etc etc ;o)
Even better was seeing young boys and girls under 10 years old with kits set, ear defenders strapped to their bonce and giving it the full gun with parents looking far more fondly and less wistfully than the drum widow ladies mentioned above. And this was another brilliant aspect of the record attempt – the beat was one that players of all ages and abilities could learn and play to the required standard. And playing it for as long as they did in time with the giant visible metronome on the screens and all the other players around them can only have been beneficial to their technique and confidence. Heartening stuff.
Eventually 1pm rolled around which was the time to get activities rolling and get folk practising ‘the beat’ and also having fun. It wasn’t easy putting said fun ideas across through the PA system we’d been so kindly donated by Upstage for the day. Unfortunately it really wasn’t big enough to make oneself heard to the players from 10 rows back (and there were a LOT of rows) and so any attempt I made to get a bit of hush to make an announcement was akin to pushing treacle uphill.
But that’s a minor quibble – as I said, the PA was donated for free in the charitable spirit of the day, and the lads who set it up did their best to run it at full pelt whilst we did the song sections. I think it was half way through ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ when a young lady at the front of the stage calmly tried to draw my attention to the smoke billowing out of one of the speaker cabinets stage left. Oops. Rock and indeed roll.
My bass guitar strap also failed to survive a bit of impromptu jumping up and down during Teenage Kicks – slightly embarrassing, but being the trooper I am no notes were missed…mind you, there’s only 5 notes in the whole thing anyway – and not a roadie in sight to spare my blushes either. But when that whole band thing worked it was amazing – imagine everyone playing the We Will Rock You Beat, or the floor tom bit in 7 Nation Army. And when Darrin Mooney of Primal Scream jouned us on stage and suggested an impromptu version of ‘Rocks’ to Chris & I, we jumped at the chance - and it rocked. Big style – to those in the first 20 rows at least. Everyone behind
To combat the problem of the tiny PA, it was decided that for the major announcements, we would have to get all the drummers to come and walk to the front of the stage, so that everything could be heard crystal clear – whether it was post-event car parking arrangements, or the emotional moment when Simon & Sonya from the MS Society joined Rick & myself on the stage just prior to the official record attempt. With everyone present hanging on his every word, Simon made it known that £60,000 had already been raised by the assembled throng, and that was a conservative estimate (at the time of writing a week on, I believe the true figure to be nearer £80k).
That’s a staggering amount of money in anyone’s terms – an utterly bewildering amount, and with that information in their heads, we sent the drummers back to their kits to make their attempt at the record, whilst the great and the good of British drumming took their places behind the onstage kits to be part of it too, like Steve White, Robin Guy, Russell Gilbrook, Darrin Mooney, Steve Grantley…and Ian Danter.
Yes, I had a Natal kit set up for me to have a bash on for the record attempt – a huge 26” bass drum at the centre of it all. It would have sounded monstrous on its own, but as part of an ensemble of 798 drummers, it ALL sounded monstrous, frankly, as everyone locked in to the BOOM-FRACK-BOOMBOOM-FRACK; BOOM-FRACK-BOOMBOOM-FRACK; BOOM-FRACK, BOOM-BOOM, FRACK; FRAGGA-DAGGA, DAGGA-DUGGA, DUGGA-DOOGA, DOOGA-DOOGA, BOUJZZZZEEEE (repeat ad nauseam)
And then it was all over – drummers started the pack down, car boots were opened and slowly everyone drifted away from Event City to make their way home, certificates proudly being held aloft by each and every one to signify their record-breaking achievement. I’ve got to get mine framed pronto – there’s no other world records I’m going to be breaking anytime soon.
Unless I don’t get the solo album finished, that is. Def Leppard are shitting themselves that I’m going to spend longer in the recording studio than Hysteria took to get done. Well, let’s see, eh? Actually, for those who are vaguely interested in such things, pretty much all the instrumentation has now been recorded, save for a few guest guitar soloists that I have planned to come in a play for me here and there. Also, Shy, Jamaica Inn & Phenomena singer Lee Small (who also played some gigs with me in Dizzy Lizzy days a decade ago) is singing lead vocals on most of the 15 tracks, although yours truly is definitely going to have a warble on a couple of them. So you’ve been warned. It sounds awesome up to this point…but then you’d expect me to say that wouldn’t you?
But it is.