Drummer | Educator | Writer | Programmer | Clinician
Various thoughts, articles and words
Going back to my roots......YEAH !!!
So, in the early 2000’s, I used to live in the lovely (then sleepy) town of Godalming in Surrey. I wasn’t a pro musician, I worked at a few companies in and around the surrey area doing various jobs, whatever it took to pay the bills. Each of them used to let me take my kit in and play after work, from greenkeepers shed’s to garages! They all knew it was my dream to become a professional player and although I never thought I would or could, I treated my playing as a serious hobby as that’s all I thought it would ever be.
At this stage in my life, I didn’t really have a gig apart from a couple of times a month playing in a 60’s band that I used to play working men’s clubs and pubs in and around Eltham and the surrounding areas. I’d been promised the earth and as always with the industry, always got let down so was starting to lose faith. I didn’t really have the confidence to put myself “out there” so found it difficult. One day, I got home from a break away and a guy (who was living across the street from me) called. He’d been seeing me load my kit in and out the car and asked me if I could do a gig that night playing lots of shuffles and rock n roll stuff, he was called Mike Windus, a bit of a local “name” within the community playing with the brilliant Jackie Lynton and Cryin out Loud, he is/was well known and connected around the area and very respected. As I said previously I didn't really have the confidence to put my name “out there” so didn't really know anyone in the local music scene and was afraid to just rock up at a Jam night. We got on great and still do to this day, I later went on to be his lodger, it was only supposed to be for a few weeks and ended up being two years!
Over that time together, Mike and me used to play together a LOT. He was one of the first guys (along with King King) to introduce me to shuffles, Johnny Cash and the likes. As a guy that grew up on progressive music, this was a real eye opener for me. We used to go to Jam nights together and I’d pick up deps in and around the local area just filling in for drummers that couldn't make it.
He also introduced me to the local pub “The three lions” or as its known, “Scratchers” A pub that puts on gigs every weekend and is known as a cracking little venue on the scene and a real hang out for musicians around the area. I used to go in there a lot. I got on really well with Neale the landlord and the locals and it became my local haunt. I started playing down there every few months with a guy called Tony Stone. He always had a cracking 4 piece band that just turned up, and just played song after song and always “eyes” for the endings, it was never rehearsed...As life changed and my career progressed I left the area but always went back when I could and played with the guys. The last time was about 5 years ago and it was an absolute blast. Touring and recording has since got in the way of being able to be available but I’ll always have a HUGE place in my heart for the people who gave me a gig, a chance and the opportunity this music community gave me to play in front of people as a hobbyist muso trying to get better and follow my dreams.
The last time I saw Mike was at the Hammersmith Apollo show when I was out with Steven Wilson. Every time we get together we always say how much fun it would be to play together again with no pressure, back how it used to be, but sadly the diary often puts pay to that but we keep trying to sort something. This month, as I’ve said on this blog, I’ve taken time out from traveling and gigging to record, teach and do a few things before July ramps up and I get stuff ready for a couple of tours for the next 18 months or so. I've depped a few things out this month, there was no way I was going to gig this month, but, after Mike nagging (lots) we found a date that we could all get together (Finally!!!), It had to be moved a few times but I’m delighted that I’m going to go back to Scratchers (Meadrow, Godalming) this Friday and have some fun with the boys again after all these years, it will be a bit of a trip down memory lane and absolutely brilliant to see everyone again..
So, if you want to see me up close having fun with my old friends and winging it as I go then do come down. Its free, it’ll be a laugh and you can get to see out of my depth with not a clue what’s going on, Some thing’s never change…I'll never forget my friends that helped me in the early days, although I don't get back much, Its no coincidence that they are still my friends, they are one in a million...
If you are in and around Surrey and at a loose end this friday evening (16th June) I hope you can come down and join us..
Two years of Steven Wilson - How, Why and Why?!
The weeks and months seem to be absolutely flying at the moment, work wise I’m extremely thankful to be doing a LOT or recording at my studio for people from various parts of the world and concentrating on my own stuff, my own playing, getting fitter and taking downtime when I feel I need it. A memory popped up on a feed this morning and as I was sat having a cup of tea and preparing the studio for another day working on Niko’s album. It showed that this month, two years ago was the first time I walked out on stage in Chile with Steven, Adam, Nick and Dave. I still remember how I felt that night, nervous, excited, scared and completely out of my depth. Fast-forward 2 years from that month in 2015 (where I’m a lot more relaxed this morning!) I thought it would be a nice time to reflect and put a few things into words and as always gain some perspective. I’ve done various interviews about the whole thing but I’ve never actually but it all into my own words. If you do have 5 minutes, I’d be honoured if you’d have a read.
It was the end of 2015. I’d had a pretty stable and solid year work wise with clinics, teaching and playing some great people. Although I’d played the genre since I was a kid, I wasn’t really known for being a “progressive” musician, nor was I a mainstream pop player with all the big guns in that genre; I just kind of floated around playing different styles of music either on the stage or in the studio. I knew my limitations but had a hunger to get better. I always wanted to be a “Drummer’s Drummer” and had no interest going on TV to mime sat behind a singer or girl/boy band,. I had a few encounters with the mainstream after my 2008-audition debacle for a certain pop princess made me question my career and subsequently everything. I played on Baptises Number one album a few years back. We went and did a show in Monaco in some huge Arena. There were thousands or screaming teens outside the hotel/gig etc. We did the gig, I hated it and I knew that this wasn't the genre I wanted to be in, taking nothing away from those that do. Everything could have been on track that night and not a single person out of the 40,000 would have known. It just wasn't me…
I’d slogged it around the circuit for years in pub and cover bands, which I’d never change as a semi pro and hobbyist. It helped me learn my craft and quickly I found out that I’d find myself with a challenge that I needed to work harder for because I wasn't good enough, that has always been the case and I’m very open and honest in saying it still is. I digress..
I received a text from my friend John Mitchell saying that Steven Wilson is looking for a drummer and am I interested. I’d listened to PT for years. Gavin was a regular in all the drum magazines I used to buy and he scared me how good he was/is, and Steven’s current drummer Marco, well, I was just a fanboy. We’d appeared on a few drum clinicy type things together and I used to just watch him work and it was a whole new level of pro. The truth was, Steven in my mind has had some of the world’s greatest talent, I knew I wasn't in that league but thought what have I got to lose, so I said yes to john for the introduction and set up a Skype chat with Steven. I remember being and absolute bag of S**t the morning of the call and promised myself I wouldn’t go all fanboy….
We spoke briefly, I was very calm and relaxed but made it clear 100% what he expects from a drummer and why he only likes the few he does. It was terrifying. We arranged a place to audition a week or so later and that was all I could think about over the Christmas. You get promised so many things as a muso so I’ve learned to take it all with a pinch of salt but this was the one artist that I’ve genuinely watched grow and go his own way without conforming to silly music industry blah and I had a huge amount of respect for him and his music. He asked me to keep it under my hat and we set the date. Little did I know at that time that he’d spoke to Gavin H and got his opinion who told him I was a "Crazy Bastard" to which I'm taking and will always take as a huge compliment! Steven had also been online, looked at all my social media, looked at what I post, how I play and how I conduct myself, the phone call was the 2nd audition, the playing was the third…
The day of the audition came around and I’d done nothing but play HCE and Three years older solidly for two weeks, I’d learnt it note for note the best I could. Steven turned up to the studio, I was very nervous, and deep down as I’ve gone on record saying many times before I was riddled with self-doubt
I remember playing the two tracks while he paced up and down in my eye line in the control room, it was once again, truly terrifying! He stopped me, and I’ll NEVER forget this. He came in and said, yeah its good and there was a “but”….now I’ve learnt this now when Steven says “but” its coming..!! he said, “are you trying to be Marco?” the truth is, Yes. I was. I was tying to play and replicate his parts, I couldn't, there is and rightly so only one MM and anything else is just a poor imitation. I thought that was the audition in the bin but he then went on to ask if I could just be “me” as that’s what he wanted to hear. I relaxed a little, played a little bit better and we went for lunch. It was weird, I felt like Alan Partridge asking Tony Hayers for a 2nd series in that classic “smell my cheese” sketch (Google it!!!!!!) but Steven then said he’d like me to fill in for Marco for 10 weeks as he was with Satriani and could I do it? I tried to remain calm but I had the biggest smile from ear to ear. Now I immediately said yes but sadly I had to let a few people down, which I’ve never done in all my years as a player and it still doesn't sit well with me. I found a few deps, wrote parts for them, trained them up and are now subsequently and thankfully absolutely killing their respective gigs better than I did but it was a little fraught and a logistical nightmare to sort but it was an opportunity just too good to miss. I will always be massively grateful to those people.
I was scheduled to take over from May to June. January came and went and feb and march was largely teaching. I hadn’t really set up my studio how I liked sound wise so didn’t offer my services out to play on people material so I was keeping busy in education. Steven asked me and Dave to come to the studios in March and watch production rehearsals. Now I’d been a musician all of my life, amateur, hobbyint, pro, back to semi pro so on and so forth. Id seen a lot of things. Id never seen a studio that you can drive your car, a truck even a ******* aeroplane into!!! It was huge! I’d never seen or been to production rehearsals so I was just taking it all in. Marc came over and said hi, showed me his rig and how the tech works and I watched them perform the whole of the concert right the way through. They we’re leaving for tour the next day so these were the final run throughs. It’s was good, it was scarily good. In fact it was hands down the best concert I’d ever seen, even though it was just to the crew! I pretty much sat there with my jaw on the floor trying to play it cool but in my mind it really hit me, this was a band that had chemistry (a big thing for Steven) this was a band of musicians at the very top of their game. I just didn't fit in. That night I went home and over the course of that week, it was announced that me and Dave would take over on the south and north American tours, I made the brutal mistake of looking at the “comments’ and really wished I hadn’t, it was fairly brutal. There was some nice things but on the whole, it wasn't that great. I was getting a bit of a kicking before I played a note. I’d never been in a band with such a wide fanbase and it was hard to take in. I felt flat the next few weeks as I’ve documented and I started to question everything but thought, I’ve got one opportunity I absolutely need to be as ready as I can. I then got a call to cover for Chad Wackerman on the Jenifer Batten and Stu Hamm power trio tour, which was a HUGE honour so it really helped relax me a little and I could concentrate on making music with these two maestros.
I was watching the HCE tour everyday on the net, seeing where they were and counting down the time that me and Dave would join them for rehearsals. I got of the Batten/Hamm tour and had one day at home to play through the whole set before rehearsals. Meanwhile, while Steven was on tour, he was sending me the desk mix of the show and how it was evolving. The better I got at my own rehearsal, the better the guys were getting so I thought I was going pretty good then I’d hear a recording and It would be back to square one again!
Rehearsals came, we only had a two day window to do it. By my own standards, it was “ok” a bit seat of the pants but we had a show and I was in, it was a weird feeling. These guys had already been on tour for two months and I felt like I was upsetting the party and taking them backwards. We flew to Chile and going back to the first part of this blog, I remember being really scared and feeling tremendously inadequate. We got through the first week of shows in South American and certain things we’re starting to go in, but, I knew I absolutely needed to ramp up my practice routine and general ability/chops and groove, so back to the pad it was and I practiced my ass off day after day on the downtime. Steven records the show every night and has a listen so it was tough listening to take when the next morning the boss has a meeting, but gradually the meetings got less and less and I was determined not to get fired. It took a while but I was playing better near the end of the tour but it was soon to be done. It was a GREAT ride. I’d met some really wonderful people that I’ll never forget but it was soon to be back to reality. Until a week before the leg ended and he asked me if I could stay on a little while longer. I never thought I’d be doing the Royal Albert hall show but I stayed on that long! During this time he hinted that he’d like to take advantage of my programming and tech side of things on a track which I still listen back too with fond memories “Vermillioncore” I was still taking things pretty personal by the fans who couldn't take to me and I was having a tough time dealing with it, I spoke to a very few of my friends that I could confide in at the time (if they read this, you know who you are and how grateful I’ll always be..) and gradually I just took the time into getting better at “me and my instrument”
At the end of 2015 the tour was in full flow and I was starting to feel better, 2016 is where everything ramped up to another level and I was starting to play how I felt I could play. It hot home when I got the front cover of Rhythm magazine (a childhood dream) and I was getting asked to play for people a lot which was extremely humbling. Steven kept extending my time with him. The chemistry on and off the stage was pretty special. I hope you could see how much fun we had trying to make each other laugh and push the musicality to the max. It was a great feeling being with these lot! The last part of the HCE will always be something that I will remember for a very long time, India to India with a months worth of travelling around the world in between. It was totally exhausting but the memories were precious. On that tour, Steven was sending me what’s now named “to the bone” to learn for the recording which comes out in August on the new label etc etc and I was getting prepared to wind down after the best part of two years touring, the most I’d ever done was 5 weeks. It was like saying goodbye to a family. Yes we’re all in touch but it’s not the same as making music together. Man what a two years. What an absolute rollercoaster it was….
So there you have it...Two years on, I’d like to thank you ALL so much for the incredible support you showed me. You will have no idea how nervous or how difficult I found the pressures of playing with SW and for the fans! To the trolls that thought they’d put me down constantly, I’d like to give you a HUGE thank you for turning my playing around so much, I never thought I’d be half the player I am now two years on, it was your negativity that turned it into a huge positive for me so thank you. SW and the boys really helped put my name out there significantly more than it ever was and they took my musicianship onto the next level personally speaking. I'm stronger now, I don't melt when I play with my heroes and more importantly, with my feel firmly on the floor, I believe in myself as a musician. I have so much to thank them and you all for genuinely, but right now I'm content with the regular abusive messages of SW he sends me! It keeps me on my toes ;)
All SW activity is really ramping up. I do get a LOT of messages regarding SW activity. I’m aware there is speculation everywhere regarding the tour and line ups etc and obviously his brilliant forthcoming new album at the moment, but I can’t be drawn into it, he will announce all things SW when its time. He’s written a masterpiece and I hope it gets the worldwide acclaim it so richly deserves
Right, back into the studio I go, smiling as I do. I’ve learnt so much over the last two years, but most importantly its taught me never give up dreams, goals and ambition no matter who tells you that you can’t achieve it or you’re not good enough. Work as hard as you can and when you think you’ve done that, work harder. Be the best “YOU” you can be because irrespective wherever you are or see yourself in the chain, there is only one “you” and you just never know who’s watching
Thank you for your fantastic support, have a fantastic week x
The pressures of success and the pitfalls of pressure
Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written a blog and I do miss it if I’m being honest. Sometimes other things just get in the way and there are simply not enough hours in the day to sit and write. After the SW tour finished at the back end of the 2016 I thought things would slow down into this year but they continued to be full on, which is an absolute blessing and I thank my lucky stars but I wanted to change a few things this year.
Now, Its taken five months but ‘temporarily’ I’ve taken a bit of a step back from the real hardcore travelling I was doing and I’ve been saying “no” to a lot of gigs I’ve been asked to play on and depping them out to some great players I know, completely through choice. Yes there are a few exceptions but I know in just a few months the travelling is going to significantly ramp up with playing commitments and I’m going to be away a LOT again. I’ve consciously decided to concentrate on a few things of my own for the next few months, namely, my own playing, my album, my book, my teaching and the various recording commitments from my studio which I’ve been asked to play on. To get an message asking “can you play on this” and being able to say yes without any red tape, travel arrangements, killer commutes and politics is a dream, I’m doing a lot more of that and although it maybe pretty boring for the people that follow me right now, I’m really enjoying it, especially being on one time zone for a while.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been teaching a bit more and I’m hoping to do more over the next few months. I’ve seen my regular students and quite a lot of new people, from different countries and different backgrounds. This time around it’s been slightly different with the subject matter for a lot of the guys I teach regarding confidence and the pressures of playing live, social media, being seen and getting work and I’d like to share some of it with you.
Its no secret, there’s been some dramatic changes in the industry these last few years from retail to performing, some good, some bad. I’ve seen a lot of changes from my side. As I’ve said many times, I don’t confess to playing mainstream pop music, I have no real interest in that, but from the Pro’s and Semi Pros I teach, there’s been a LOT of hire and fire and lots of questions about security on certain gigs that were once “nailed on”. I know from my own experience that absolutely nothing is forever and when you get on a gig, get a back up and another back up and another etc just incase all those eggs in one basket suddenly fall out. I’ve been bitten by it many times over the years.
This leads me perfectly on to the subject of this blog, so….“What is success and why are we under pressure?”
Musicians are a strange bunch. Now apart from the people that are made of stone, we are notoriously difficult to live with, we are over sensitive, we crave praise for our work and most are the masters of insecurity (no-one more than me) when it comes to our ability. If 100 people are in the audience and one didn't like it, the gig is ruined, If we make a mistake in a song, we tend to dwell on it more than we should, that’s the nature of the human musician beast. Music can be a rollercoaster of emotion, on and off the stage and this is before you factor an online presence, where those factors can be magnified 10000%. Suddenly you find yourself in a bizarre debate with a stranger where you are trying to justify why you played a bar differently than the record on the 19th song in the set,. This can be completely draining if that someone doesn't want lo listen or they wanted the “old drummer” there and doesn't like change. Thankfully, I’ve left most of that stuff behind now and don’t entertain it, but to a lot of people, when you are trying to build your brand or “online presence” a few negative comments or digs can put you back a bit and make you question things. I was speaking to another one of my students tonight that came off a long hiatus from playing and has started up some tribute style shows, he heard a comment by two guys mocking his playing as it wasn't Nick Mason and he’s still beating himself up over it a year on.
It's a funny old world online. People can say you’re “shit” and just log off not thinking of implications where they wouldn't dream of coming up to you after the gig and saying it, the more an more profile grows the more people come through the door, the more opinions are aired, you have to be pretty thick skinned nowadays. So why do we do it? Why do we “go online”? It’s a great question and something I’ve asked myself many times. Personally going back 8-10 years (and I don’t mind being open about it) for me and probably for many, it was a vanity project. I wanted people to see me do my thing and go “wow”, everyone likes to be liked right? But when they didn't, I used to feel flat and start to question everything. It's a ridiculous existence looking online for “likes” and “praise” which I know many do, it just makes the insecurities and emotional roller coaster of thoughts more volatile and gets in the way of what really matters, enjoying the music and your time playing and reliving it
Only a few years back I changed the way I did things online and went about it all in a different way. Now I must say, I’m not an expert, I’m far from perfect but I got bored of seeing (and doing) the same old things. I’d made a lot of mistakes over my career and wanted to share a few things I’d done in the hope that others didn't go down that same path, I also decided that I was going to start using social media more professionally and courteously and use it as an extended CV. The Steven Wilson tour taught me a LOT. Yes I will always interact with people when I can, I pride myself on being just a normal guy and I’m extremely grateful for the support I have, but I won’t get to heavy debates and arguments and get tied up on forums and letting off steam! that's not for a keyboard especially as I’ve said previously, you just NEVER know who is watching.
I’ve learnt now that I/me/you cant please everyone and if I’m playing a show and someone doesn't like it, I tried my best and if someone goes online to tell you they didn’t, I’m not going to waste energy justifying my passion when I can share it with the people that do like it. Before SW I can’t remember the last time I had a proper audition. I know 2 or 3 guys that have been looking for musicians this year, and once they get a name, they look on social media and what they are like as a player and the content they post, its instant and rightly or wrongly, you can build a picture of how people are on social media, especially with today’s current political state of the world, I choose to stay out of it and carry on doing what people follow me for, my drums, not being a 3rd rate MP that rants daily and knows better than everyone else. 4 of my last bigger commitments have been off social media, namey Facebook, how times change, It has been a huge learning curve for me over the years, be careful what you post. If you have an artist page, not every employer wants to see how well you can swear, your political views or how good the pictures of your dinner are J
Everyone will have his or her own benchmark to what success is. Speaking as a drummer it absolutely doesn't matter what you do in music or otherwise. I remember a few years back there used to be that stigma of guys that played in covers bands or wedding bands, that they are only doing it because they can’t get a “proper” gig, which is absolute and utter nonsense! I did it for nearly 15 years and wouldn't have changed a thing. I was the butt of quite a few snarls from so called“pros” when I first appeared in a magazine or on a bill at a drum festival to back in the day, I was doing covers/pub gigs at the weekends and weddings when I could, It’s gone full circle now, not wishing to sound catty, but a lot of those guys would kill for a function gig. The truth is, in this day and age, any gig, regular or otherwise is a huge success, if it's a pub gig, teaching at a school, teching, wedding band, whatever you do, I doff my cap to you for being out there and doing it and you’re not one of the guys trapped in a bedroom with caps lock on scouring the internet putting other drummers down because you don’t have a gig….The grass with mostly always be greener when you’re looking to move on to the next rung of the ladder but while you’re there, enjoy it, you just never know who is watching and for the one of you/us that’s on that gig, there are thousands that genuinely would love to be there so no matter what it is, savour it and enjoy it to the max.
There are huge trends in drumming and indeed music, from gospel chops to overplaying a cover to youtube drummers, etc , now I’m sorry if this offends anyone but I have absolutely zero interest in viewing or following a trend. Trends come, trends go. For the most part its only a phase its then onto the next one. You can log on to the net and see a foetus in china rinsing over a rock track or a robot playing Slayer, that stuff used to drive me nuts, and before you know it, 5 hours has gone by and you’re deflated as a broken balloon. I know a lot of guys that have changed their playing and their own outlook to jump on the bandwagon, it doesn't always work. Some people spend hours copying the drummer to become a clone of him, now its absolutely OK to nick a few chops and grooves here and there and I think its a great thing to have influences and favourite players but when it comes down to spending hours trying to replicate, those hours could have been spent trying to innovate, its absolutely better that way. I was speaking to a student of mine today (who is a great player) he went into a drum store and watched a guy play then wanted to play but couldn’t because suddenly the self doubt was there and lost all confidence. There’s a an element of a competition mindset amongst a minority and its just not worth wasting your energy on
Its always going to be hard playing in front of other players but this is the classic case of believing in yourself and concentrating on YOU. We have all been along the road of ability, some are further along it than others, it truly doesn't matter where you are as long as you enjoy it, those that mock or see it as a competition aren’t musicians worthy of the title. If you get the chance to get up and play, get up and enjoy it as much as you can, because that’s why we started. You aren't in competition with anyone and there is no finish line, just enjoy the music and give it your all
I will close this blog by saying, there is only one you, no one else can be that you, concentrate on the best YOU you can be and not a poor copy of a copy. Long term, no-one really always wants that, and when you’re on that gig tonight, tomorrow or the day after, THAT is already a huge success.
When your government loves the music and looks after the musicians that make it
I'm not sure what's going on at the moment but the days and weeks are absolutely flying by, is it a sign of old age?! I really hope not...
Anyway, I digress. Last Sunday/Monday I had an overnight flight from Tampa to London. After the joys of the British roads I was home around 2:30pm. There wasn't a lot of time to do much relaxing, it was unpacking +30 degrees clothes and repacking for Finland. I managed to get through to about 8am Monday evening then I crashed as I had a 4am alarm call for a 7:30 flight to Helsinki. This was the 2nd leg of my mini jaunts over to Scandinavia, I love Finland, I played there with SW and i remember what a beautiful landscape it was.
The first night was really well attended at the beautifully named "Gloria" venue and I was happy how I played. I have to say, the level of professionalism at the venue from all staff concerned was incredible and their need to all work together for a successful event was fantastic. My Roland Finland guy was Ari, a true gentleman who I've known from many meets at Frankfurt music messe for probably 10 years but we'd never worked together! After the clinic Ari went home and I had one of the best nights sleep I'd had in months!
The next morning we left for a 2 hour trip to #TurkuRockAcademy
I remember seeing so many beautiful things along the E18 to Turku including people sat on the frozen lakes, cutting small holes in the ice and fishing. Snow is just something that happens up there and life absolutely goes on regardless, it's fascinating.
We arrived at Turku Rick academy around 2pm and we were greeted by Mark, a larger than life character that oozes enthusiasm for this incredible academy and all they do and it quickly became evident why.....
The academy was set up in 2011 after Mark and Tomy spent a LOT of time pitching it to the various councils and government as there was something missing between the youths in music (which in Finland are 13-29) and the working pros
I could talk for hours about what good they do for music in Finland but I'll keep it brief. The academy hold a 'bandstand' each year, where bands irrespective of age and ability are invited to play in front of the academy professionals. There is merch printed and all the bands taking part are featured on flyers tshirts and posters. There are nearly 5 #rockacademyfinland academies in Finland with another 7 coming soon. On each bandstand 4/6 bands are selected to go into a two year program that gives them all regular studio time, photoshoots, videoshoots and basically how to work their brand, it's incredible to see. They have a masterclass every two weeks and get rehearsal time and equipment hire which is completely FREE thanks to the government and city support. They also take on 10 bands into the support program which includes everything listed just to a slightly lesser extent. Did I mention that the whole two years is absolutely free....also the whole environment and end game is about the music and support and not about some 'competition' where you're left out in the cold if you don't perform on tv for your two minutes of fame. It's all set in a 'true' music industry environment
When the bands are nearing the end of their two years the mentors try their very best to get them in front of the A&R guys as they work with them closely and they are providing a finished product, there have been a LOT of success stories
If the band doesn't get signed, the academy doesn't just close the doers behind them, it carries in giving support, rehearsal time equipment and advice when needed
In all my years I've never seen anything like it, thank you to two visionaries, and a government that sees music as hugely positive thing in a city, the music scene in Turku in particular in my brief time there is alive and well, and I genuinely can't wait to go back there again and work with the academy again. The added bonus that evening was getting to play with Douglas Blair Lucek from W.A.S.P
I got back late Thursday and met up with my friends at Sennheiser on Friday for a meeting about future projects which is extremely exciting. More on that soon..
I will close this little blog by simply saying, Have a look at all of these incredibly talented people that go through their academy on their YouTube channel, it's absolutely brilliant.....
Its been an incredibly busy few months, in fact its been an incredibly busy year, of which i'm deeply thankful. The Steven Wilson album drums wise is taking shape and hopefully either this week or early January the drums will be all done. So many people have been asking me Q's about it, out of my huge respect for the boss, I will and must stay zipped. I have a huge amount of respect for Steven as a lot of you know and it went up a few notches this past week working with him in the studio, he's a musical machine, he knows what he wants yet he's open to suggestions, the first four days in the studio were long, but they were a lot of fun and from my personal perspective, I was delighted I raised my own game in preparation to deliver parts on an album to be proud of in years to come.
Social media has changed so many things over the years, some for the better, some for worse, I got my last four gigs/sessions/tours off Facebook so I'm not complaining. Naturally I'm very upbeat and have time for everyone but sometimes things do get to me as they do everyone. This gig is an extremely privileged drum chair and with it comes a lot pf pressure, trust me, I've really felt it and still do. Now I'm not about to have a "Michael Douglas" moment in the film "Falling Down" I'm way more thick skinned than I used to be, you kind of have to be with progressive music rightly or wrongly, but some people absolutely baffle me. This morning I woke up to a load of alerts on my phone that I was "tagged" in. Steven had posted some pics from the album sessions, and social media explodes across different pages, as it does every time when Steven posts! It was back to the "He's no Gavin or Marco or the ongoing where's MM posts. Now firstly I absolutely LOVE Marco's playing, I'm a huge fan, I have been for years and he's been so supportive to me, as have a LOT of the SW fans which blows my mind, but people tagging me in this stuff, I'm not quite sure what they want to achieve or what you want me to say? Yes I know I'm not Marco or Gavin, I'm me, this is what I do, I pride myself on being pro and being me, I'm fully aware I wasn't in their league when I got the call, I was inexperienced at this level, and a bit out of my depth, but, i've worked dammed hard every day, pushed myself harder than ever before and now I've been brought in to do a job a certain way that the boss wants and that's what I'm doing. People are totally entitled to their opinion, I know I'll never appease all but PLEASE don't tag me in this stuff or ask me what is happening, Its absolutely NONE of my business....I have some genuinely great, supportive and friendly people on my social media, I'd really love to keep it that way....
In the break between tour and the album I had a days masterclass at Kidderminster college, little bit of time to get over to Denmark for some TD50 clinics and to do a small clinic tour over here in the UK, both of which were a huge success so more dates have been added and I'm back out to Scandinavia in Feb/March an another possible UK tour in the early summer. The turnout for the UK tour was fantastic in the end so thank you all for coming out.
The Rush album came out that we all played on and that absolutely still blows my mind that I played on a track off 2112, it was the absolute soundtrack to my youth. Next year is filling up nicely thankfully but there's still a few more days yet before I can take a break. I was delighted to finish in Rhythm magazines top list of progressive drummers again this year and still extremely flattered that I made the list of 5 for the Modern Drummer readers poll, which i've watched littered with my heroes for years. Thank you to everyone who voted for me, If I finish 5th I'll still be absolutely over the moon!
As I put on my Facebook, yesterday and today. I filmed a series of videos for Mapex at Gear4Music recently. Part of which I was asked to do a couple of performances
I was in the Korg warehouse yesterday filming some videos for Mapex for Namm and dealers and it has to go down as one of the funniest shoots ever, I can't wait for you to see it!!
And that's where I'm spending today, mixing the videos! To all the people that have supported me, thank you, it means the world x
When the nerves hit...Smile - Oct 2016
Its been well documented this past year that I struggle with Anxiety, stage fright and crippling nerves in certain situations. Its something I've dealt with all my life and something I'm so glad I spoke about at the start of this year in Modern Drummer and the Take to your stage blog. I got a few mails off some of my absolute favourite drummers to say who refreshing the pieces were of which I was extremely flattered but more importantly for me personally, some of my heroes, real stalwarts and drumming icons still got extremely nervous and still had battles with self doubt and self confidence. I saw these people as "rocks" as people that are just out there constantly "doing it" and I soon realised that just like me and you, they were human. Everyone is different and boy have I learnt this this past 18 months touring with Steven Wilson. Its fairly common knowledge that on one of my first clinics, when I was being introduced I was still being sick in the toilets and on one of my first drum festivals about 12 years ago, I got so worked up sound checking in front of Billy Cobham and the likes, both my hands locked up and I couldn't breathe. Thankfully the insanely intense days are over but its still there manifesting at the back of my mind. It started to come back early last year when I first got the gig with SW. As a lot of you may know, I got a bit of a tough time on line before I played a note and that was a real tough pill to swallow. We're not all made of stone and in human nature, we all want to be liked so I felt on the backfoot from the first day. Even in a sea of positivity, most of us dwell on that one negative, crazy really but that's what the head can do. Walking out to an amazing audience in Chile was something I'll never forget for a few reasons, I was underprepared, I didn't feel ready, I saw lots of people looking at me, mainly with Drumming/Cymbal shirts and I simply knew I wasn't good enough for the gig at the time. I knew Marco,Chad and Gavin had gone before and I let that beat me up A LOT. It came to a point where I was close to throwing the towel in many times, I knew I was a pro, I took huge pride in myself on that, but this was a whole different level and something that I knew I had to work harder at. SW was incredible, as were all the guys and my friends and family, I didn't feel comfortable, I was still getting a few bits of grief online, that encompassed with huge self doubt it wasn't a nice place to be in.
Now, I don't want to go into the deep reasons how how/what/why, that's on the various blogs, I just want to talk about one thing that's really got me through these past few months when more eyes have been watching me more than I could possibly imagine a couple of years ago, which in itself is always hard to take in. The nerves and anxiety has never gone away but I can control them now so much better. Yes I still get the odd "moment" but I've learnt to deal with a sea of Paiste, Mapex, Tama t-shirts in front of me with their arms folded! In my mind I always used to look around always asking questions while I'm playing, "What do you think of my playing? Hope you like this fill" then rapidly it would go to, "oh no, they didn't move, they didn't move a muscle, they're hating it"!! Looking back now at some pictures you could see the fear in my face on some of the earlier shows and some of the bigger ones too, Its all insecure crap that has taken absolutely years to overcome. I'd never felt this much pressure on a gig and I've certainly never been challenged this much, its not an easy play especially when there are a LOT of drummers in attendance, I respect the boss and the boys immensely and I know its a drummers drumming gig, that in itself comes with oodles of pressure. Ironically, I love doing clinics and drum festivals, its incredible that I do them all over the world now and i'm always deeply, deeply humbled that people want to see little old me but a few minutes before I go on stage, i'm mostly a wreck, you'll probably see me walking around the audience or taking a stroll outside a few minutes before I go on, its the only calming mechanism that seems to work before I sit down to play
Why am I telling you all this? well, I know some people feel nervous, more than actually admit it. Last year I felt finally I was playing to how I wanted to be playing, finally! its taken some time but it improved in my mind, there's always room for improvement but its a marathon not a sprint. I did a show in Germany and there were two guys in front of the stage right in my in my eye line, one of them was wearing a DW T-Shirt. The lights trussing was low so I couldn't see much of the crowd, this guy caught my eye purely because wearing a "drumming" T-Shirt. I'd played the whole of the first set going out there feeling really great and coming off feeling intimidated, under pressure and I could feel the nerves coming back, he showed not ONE emotion throughout the set. A few years earlier I sought help to deal with the nerves and my councillor at the time spoke about human body language and how to deal with certain scenarios that I found myself in, they were simple plan Bs really but they would be effective
So, the second half I went out, I sat on the kit and started playing. I looked at this guy and I smiled, he smiled back. Throughout the set, I didn't hide my facial expressions and in turn, neither did he, we laughed a lot. I shared 80 minutes of the last set kinda laughing, gurning and smiling with a stranger and the boundaries and insecurities were broken. He waited by the bus to tell me its the best show he'd ever been too and loved every minute. I'd got it so wrong, my mind went into overdrive because of a ******** TShirt! I vowed NEVER to do this again, the job is hard enough. Now, I've been saying this a Lot recently on my travels, not all drummers like playing in front of other drummers, It can be a lonely place up there when you're on stage and you feel like the whole audience is watching your every move. The BEST way I've learned to deal with all these nerves in more recent times, is to sit down, and when someone catches your eye, just SMILE! Its ridiculously infectious and when that turn guy in the drumming T-shirt smiles back you know that you're both on the same side and its the BEST feeling
Simple really but boy has it helped me. Its music, it should be fun, i'm not into that ego "too cool" serious bullshit that some players put across. Yes I'm going to be nervous on these next run of shows, but I'm enjoying my playing, I'm really enjoying the music and for once I can show it......and boy is it helping
Next time you sit down at your kit, in a pub, club, bar, arena, Smile! music provokes emotions and its ridiculously infectious and breaks boundries if you can share it with people you've never met..I'm sharing this picture from Drum Festival Switzerland....For one reason, I never see myself smiling on stage, I remember looking at the audience and seeing everyone doing the same back and it felt incredible, I relaxed, I played better and I took time to enjoy the music.....and now its back to more drum tracking. Just remember, nerves are totally ok and normal and if they are under control they can be a positive. I hope this maybe helps a few of you as it did me...have a great day
A tough one....
Out of all the interviews I’ve ever done, this was by far the hardest one of them all and one I’d be honoured if you’d take a few minutes of your day to look at the link below. The subject matter was something I’ve felt very passionate about over the years and something that’s still very much a taboo subject, anxiety, depression and dealing with self confidence issues. As I said in another interview yesterday, being a musician or any role in arts and entertainment can really tug hard on the heartstrings and the emotions, I'm not different to others, we all have our own stories and history. My road has been bumpy and I'd like to share it with you. This amazing web-blog followed me on Twitter and I thought it was a truly great thing that they were trying to do. There’s absolutely not enough awareness in the industry when it comes to mental health and felt I could contribute to a guest blog talking about my past.
Its taken me a few weeks to reply to the questions, delving back into a place that I’d closed the door on a long time ago was extremely hard but I’m sharing it now in the hope that it will raise some awareness, that its ok to feel a bit down and talking about it openly is nothing to be afraid of. I’ve not gone into full details of my personal life at the time as its irrelevant, we all have our own battles, but I’ve kept it to how it affected the musical side of me. I’m not doing it for sympathy, I’m not doing it for hits, I’m talking openly about self doubting and self confidence issues and that its ok to be open rather than bury your head in the sand and let things get out of control like they did with me. I suffered in silence for many years and outside my close family and a couple of friends this has never surfaced. As I said to the interviewer when it went live, I was extremely nervous about sharing this but whole-heartedly stand by every word, not everyone is invincible and made of concrete. I can’t change my past but I could have prevented a lot of the dark times if I’d have been able to talk
Please pass on or share with someone if you think it will benefit them in a small way, If it only helps one person today then it was completely worth it…
Thank you for reading x
Read the whole interviewHERE
The Rock and Roll lifestyle and heroes that really matter
A two part blog - Part 1
Thrust into a dream land...
I can see how some people love get caught up in the rock star life style and soon become disconnected with reality, they thrive on having hoards of girls waiting for them outside the hotels, they wear sunglasses indoors at any given opportunity, they suddenly see themselves above everyone else and egos suddenly soar, being flown and chauffeured from county to country, having fans waiting everywhere and playing sell out venues all over the world. I've seen it with my own eyes playing alongside 'names' at festivals last year. I was chatting to an elevator operator at a venue in the USA and he was saying an artist who shall remain nameless as part of his rider told all crew and venue staff that they can't look them in the eye or address them, which got me thinking a lot as I do. Over this past year, I've gone on record saying that while my career has changed path dramatically and I'm eternally grateful for this incredible opportunity that I currently find myself on, my lifestyle and outlook hasn't one bit, in fact it's made me open my eyes much further. The beauty of having and wonderful upbringing from a special mum and dad that taught me that everyone matters and there's no pecking order, which is so true.
The tour manager recently called me the most un Rock and Roll person he's ever seen and worked with in over 30 years! The fact is, it's absolutely true. Some might see me as quite complex but really I'm quite a simple character, on the stage I give it 1000000% and everyday I try that little bit harder to be better than I was yesterday. Off the stage away from the limelight, I'm quite shy outside my friends network, I live in shorts and trainers, I love gardening, spending time with family, cooking, playing golf, flying kites and many other day normalities. I tried to grow my hair to 'fit in' once but it's not me, I felt like a dick!! A dear friend said I look like a prep boy and they're absolutely true, the truth is, I like it that way. As soon as I checked into my hotels in Chile and Mexico I went out to the supermarket and bought all my provisions for my stay, I emptied the mini bar onto the TV cabinet and replaced it with milk, butter, fruit, bread etc. That's the only emptying I'll ever do of a mini bar and the closest ill come to moving a TV let alone throwing it out of a window!!!
Having fans wait outside the hotels and airports with pictures of me absolutely blows my mind. I'll always take time for people when it's a quiet environment more preferably a one to one. Some will sign for hours, but I'm afraid I'm pretty much the elusive one who mostly waves and runs when the big crowds appear. I can be a deep thinker, I've suffered with anxiety, stage fright and horrendous nerves (I still do occasionally) at the point of my body cramping up which I'm going to be talking about in a guest blog this week of which I'll post links to. But all that said, I pride myself on being normal amongst a fantasy dream world that a lot get caught up in, I know its never permanent and reality is there if you look up and see the bigger picture, my philosophy is you're only and good as your last gig so weather it's tonight in Brazil or down my local pub I'm absolutely gonna make it count and give it my all, as this is all I know. At the end of the day, I'm just a drummer, there's no 'best' there's no 'worst' and all that ego, pretentious nonsense I'm a rock star crap is exactly what it is....
Doing my job is easy
I remember sitting backstage in Germany and my tech Phil Howey wanting to spend some time with me. Looking at the Mapex catalogue
Part numbers, clamps, down to every last wing nut replicating my spec. It took hours! but slowly but surely he figured it all out. On this tour when I arrive at the venue and walk on to the stage that's fully rigged, the kit is there, set up amongst the production, It might me a different colour it might have different hardware, but everything is just perfect. Phil has communicated with Mapex and promoters all over the world and replicated my set up for every single show. I've learned not to ask any questions anymore, I just get in the way!
I've lugged my gear around in and out of venues, slogging it up and down motorways, being the first in at a wedding setting my gear up to driving through the night and getting home at dawn after a holiday camp gig for nearly 25 years, having a top class tech is very new to me and I still can't get my head around it. I love putting my gear up, If I try to help, once again i'm just in the way so I let him go about his business. Phil Parties hard and plays hard. I had one night out with him in Portland and my liver is still paying the price. What he is though is world class at getting things right. Him and the crew are the guys first in the venue and last out day after day, they are what makes this gig happen when everyone says amazing things about the band, we are just a piece of the pie
When drummers thank their drum company, fans, etc etc the first person on my list is this fella, every night you'll see me get up from my stool after the final track turn around and say thank you to my right hand man who sits behind me night after night.he's the unsung hero that makes going to work completely stress free and goes the extra mile to make sure I can do my job to keep everyone happy
To surmise this months blog, I think the whole Rock and Roll thing is total and utter bullshit and Phil, you're truly one in a million....
Blog #3 21st Jan 2016 The lows and lows of being trolled
Before anyone reads this and thinks it’s a blog to get people to say ‘it’s for people to say you’re a great drummer etc’ IT’S NOT. This is written completely for anyone that’s been trolled or struggled dealing with negativity and isn't blessed with thick skin to say F*** Y**! Someone that has had a bit of a knock and can’t fully get back to being themselves for fear of failing. This is for the people that have struggled with people’s irrational point of view, the faceless keyboard warriors and why they should and will never win…
As some of you may know, a couple of days ago, on my Facebook I got someone that went out of their busy lifestyle to tell me how shit I was on the Frankfurt concert, They also went into great detail why and how disappointed they were when the drummer they came to see walked out and it wasn’t him. They we’re also (by their own admission) a devout SW fan but obviously failed to see the updates from Steven talking about the band line-up changes and the difference in the landscape over the past 8 months, a silly mistake which any devout fan could make I’m sure, I digress...
What motivates people to put down others anyway in life? It’s normally fuelled by many things, the first being the green eyed monster. Jealousy is an extremely ugly trait and can rear its head in many ways, of which none of them are pretty. Insecurities are normally a big factor too. It can send people into a whole irrational way of thinking. I remember doing Drumfest in 2006 and before I was introduced on stage I was being sick in the toilets with nerves and riddled with insecurities. I spent the day watching my heroes sound checking (Marco being one, and still is) and felt extremely uncomfortable. I did feel completely envious of these guys but the way it manifested with me was in nerves and insecurities, I was in no position to be envious, I just hadn’t worked hard enough on ‘me’ and as I’ve said many times, I just wasn’t good enough in that situation, a situation I’ve found with every challenge along the way. The jealously with maturity turned to huge respect in time and kicked me up the backside to push myself harder. Sadly some people aren’t as rational and will take to venting frustration in other ways. There are a whole host of other emotions that could provoke someone to take to their keyboard and vent feelings, angerness, bitterness etc but this blog would turn into a novel
Last year was pretty weird. I had huge highs and huge lows on the road and if I’m being completely honest and upfront there were many times I thought about giving it all up because I just simply couldn’t handle it. 'It' being the negativity from a minority I must say that weren't prepared to give me a chance. I was texting my old friend Steve White yesterday about it, He said, they’ve always been there, they just have an outlet now on social media and how true that is. I don’t think I’d of carried on last year if it wasn’t for Nick Beggs, I used to chew his ear off most nights, he’s the king of rational thinking, I was so close to giving it all up, a dream gig that nearly ended because of keyboard warriors, what a mad world we live in. The truth is, we all want praise, at whatever level we’re at. If you have 100 people in a room and one person hates it, that’s the stuff that will keep most of us awake, its human nature, people want to be liked in whatever field you find yourself in. The reality is that you will NEVER please anyone and that’s ok, its how you deal with it, what you choose to digest and read that can make or break you, I've learnt this a LOT in recent times. The more you climb a ladder, the more you're visible, it can be a good thing if dealt with in the right way
The trolling thing hit me hard a couple of years ago when one of my young student’s parents put a video online of her playing to share with family in Australia. They didn’t make the video private so was out there for the world to see. She’s a cracking kid and was making really good steps until Someone that I won’t highlight as a musician because they’re not and don’t deserve that title waded in and decided just like my troll did in Frankfurt to tell her just how shit she was and was doing everything wrong, to an 8 year old girl…
I’m a strong believer in if you have nothing good to say, don’t say it. The implications of pressing ‘return’ and posting your thoughts can be catastrophic, in this incident, it wasn’t nice. Is the parent in the wrong for posting the video? Should they expect this level of abuse? NO…but the fact is, we now live in times where people have an opinion and don’t give a toss who is gonna hear it. Bringing it back home now to my field, these people aren’t drummers, the drumming community has always been an extremely tight community that prides itself on no ego and helping others irrespective of ability, it’s still very much that way but sadly that landmark has changed a little with a minority responsible for changing it, a minority it still is but it affects us all. The community spirit is still there on forums that I lurk about from time to time but it only takes one person to upset the applecart which they usually do and all hell breaks loose. People very easily forget that we ALL started exactly the same way in picking up a pair of sticks for the first time. There is no such thing as someone being 'Shit' we are all at different stages of our journey, that is the learning process that people easily forget
I used to read EVERYTHING and reply to EVERYTHING but I’ve learnt this past few months that they only have a voice if you engage and entertain, their are silence is deafening if you ignore and move on. I’m way more thick skinned than I was last year but others aren’t. They want to cause and upset, they want a reaction and they want to be heard…Why? Because they are not YOU. If you’re reading this now, it doesn’t matter what level you’re at. If you’ve been at the end of a wave of negativity the truth is, for the most part, they’d kill to be in your position, weather it playing mustang sally in the pub, selling out an arena, teaching in a school or working in a drum store, the reality is, they are sat at home with a phone covered in dust that will never ring and with shoulders so heavy full of chips they can’t stand up, they would kill to be in your position no matter what you think it is. If you are doing something with drums and you enjoy it, you're the success, don't waste any energy on looking at derogatory comments, because they want to engage, don't give them that voice. As a good friend said to me, remember the penguins of Madagascar, 'Smile and Wave' .
To surmise, YOU win, YOU are the one out there doing it, and YOU are the one surrounded by drums. Remember, next time you get a bit of negativity, for every one person that say’s it, there are huge majority that feel the complete opposite and THEY are the only ones that matter
Have a fab day x
Blog#2 January 13th 2016
When you think ‘I can’t’
It’s crazy where time flies, exactly one year ago today I was setting up my drums to audition for Steven Wilson. I got a call while on holiday and flew home to prepare
I remember sitting in a studio shaking with nerves feeling extremely under prepared and thinking about the drummers that had been in the frame and the geniuses that Steven had worked with in recent times including Minnemann, Wackermann and Harrison. I don’t remember much about the audition apart from looking up and seeing Steven walking up and down in front of me through the large studio windows. I managed to get through ‘Three years older’ and ‘Hand cannot erase’ and then we went for lunch, it was then he told me that he’d like me to cover Marco on the Americas tour in May/June, I was ecstatic but kept it cool, I think!
I received the material a couple of days later and sitting in my kitchen with my head in my hands thinking that I was completely out of my depth. I’ve always quietly gone about my work and proudly been pretty comfortable in my own ability but this was the next level and it was a hard realisation to accept. The next day I went into my studio with all the charts I’d written and sat at my kit. About 20 minutes into the play through of the set I stood up, left the room and went for a long walk. I was a bit of a mess that day, I couldn’t do it, I wasn’t good enough and I was out of my depth, pure and simple. I know some of you will disagree etc which is very flattering but I pride myself on being honest and upfront. A lot of Pro’s don’t admit to struggling with certain things in this Genre, I'm not sure if its ego, the territory the nature of the music that dictates it, but that's the way it is. The music can be extremely difficult and challenging but they’ll never tell you the preparation and struggles they’ve probably had before you saw the end product in the arena in front of the fans. I was about to call Steven’s management and pull out of the tour but thought I’d look at it on a fresh head the next day and make a judgement on it. I wasn’t about to let the band down, but on the flip side I didn’t want to be flying by the seat of my pants every night and just about getting through it, that’s not what I do, but this, this was a whole new world, a whole new level
The second wave of doubting couldn’t have come at a worse time that day, when it was announced I was going to be taking over on the tour on social media. It didn’t go down that well outside my amazing supporters over the years that have stuck by me. In Steven’s circles it’s very much ‘Craig who’ and a lot of the fans were unhappy, and probably rightly so. No-one had heard of me. I was on the receiving end of some pretty crappy comments and posts, even going back to what I was wearing and the looks on my face, it got pretty low and for me, that day was a bit of a disaster.
I spent the next two days away from drums and social media and just tried to keep my head as fresh as possible and away from irrational judgement calls. I’ve always been challenged as a pro and thought I’d give this one last go, I owed it to my friends and family that were over the moon that I had this opportunity.
So I hatched a plan, tough track easy track, tough track easy track etc etc like when I was at school, hated maths at the start of a day but used to look forward to PE at the end of the day so the day never really felt that bad to start with as there was always something to look forward to. That’s the way I practice now, tough stuff followed by easy stuff, that way you can finish with a smile on my face. So I started on the tough track. I won’t say which, but it was there I spent the next THREE days on it until it was right and I could move on. Yes they were 16 or so hour days but the truth is, if I was really going to give this a go, this is what it had to take. I repeated this process for the next three months. Every day that phone call to the management got a little bit further away and I felt like I was getting better. It’s amazing what a fresh head, a plan and the willingness to succeed does
By this time, the band were on tour on the first leg and in full swing, 7 weeks before I would join them. I had a few off days where I’d stupidly looked at social media comments and it bit me on the ass but I was pretty much on track to start in South America, until steven sent me the desk tapes from Helsinki. The band were on fire, the arrangements had changed and I got that sinking feeling again, It was back to the start and realised that I need to work harder, pure and simple….
The first tour came and went, it was extremely tough at first, I had regular catch ups with Steven and the band, I suffered extremely hard with nerves and still do on some of the shows but they are more under control. The regular briefings with Steven became less frequent and to quote him now, he lets me get on with my ‘MC Hammer Shit’! It was when I got to Chicago I started to feel more comfortable, I’ve never been an extrovert as a player so to speak and hide behind my barrier of the kit, I’m comfortable there and that’s where I stay. The tour was coming to an end and Steven asked me to stay on of which I was delighted at considering I was only supposed to be doing two months. I felt my playing had changed irreversibly and was getting better daily. Half way through the last tour he asked if I would record with him which I absolutely did, I also did some programming for him on the album, of glitches and weirdness which you’ll hear on the 22nd when its released and then I was asked to play with him moving forward of where I find myself sat here one year on in my dressing room in Munich. We all have a LOT of fun together and there is a huge trust musically in each other. I can’t believe how much I’ve grown as a player surrounded by these geniuses of their art. I must say, the main body of the fans, of which there is a lot have been absolutely amazing. I'm fairly shy in that environment so apologies If you haven't seen me outside being on the stage
I look back on this past year with tremendous fondness of what’s happened, now on the cover of Rhythm magazine and appearing in all these polls and forthcoming publications, I don’t think I’ll ever get my head around that side of things. I remember listening to Iron Maiden on my paper round as a kid thinking one day I’d love to do that. When Steven called me when I was on holiday amongst other things I was listening to Porcupine Tree’s ‘In Absentia’ having been a fan for many years, but I was never doing to tell him on the phone and haven’t since, well not yet anyway… ;)
Why am I telling you all this? I had a real torrid start to last year behind the kit, a lot of us do at all levels, but I knew somewhere If dug deep enough I could do it, as I said previously, I owed it to my nearest and dearest and the people who put faith in me but more so I owed it to myself. If you truly want something you should NEVER give up, no matter how difficult the challenge is. Put the work in, no matter what level you ‘think’ you’re at and never think ‘I Can’t’
You absolutely CAN, you just have to dig a little deeper
Blog#1 January 2nd 2016
On this, the first of my blogs, I'd like to publish, something I posted on my Facebook page a month or so ago, It seemed to touch a nerve with a lot of people in a good way. I've always been very open about my ups and downs over the years on the road to trying to be a working pro so what better place to start..
Taken From Facebook in November 2015
The highs and lows of being a professional Drummer
Good morning all. My facebook page has gone up considerably over the past few months for whatever reason, I'm not sure. Some of you know most things about me, some of you know nothing, some of you are established pros, some of you are trying to "make it" and pay the bills. I could write a book on this stuff, but if you're looking for some inspiration, some reality, a bit of a laugh and maybe some guidance, here's 20 things you may or may not know about me, some things I've learned along the way that I'd like to share with you
1) I have been playing drums for 39 years, It still feels like yesterday
2) My parents couldn't afford a drum kit so I played on mums tupaware for years. My dad used to be a shop fitter for years. He used to work away a lot. Mum's washing machine broke down and she used to do the washing in the bath as they couldn't afford a new machine, dad worked really hard to save the money. Me and him went into Southport to get a new washing machine, we came back with a Drum Kit. I kinda knew then that dad was on my side. Mum came around eventually
3) I've turned pro 3 times on my journey as a player and have had to go back to the day job because I couldn't make it work and I couldn't sustain a living, some of the jobs have included working as a service adviser at for a car company, Selling commercial property, gardening, laboring, delivering fruit and veg, working in a supermarket. Basically, whatever it took to keep the roof over my families head when the gigs dried up. In the early days in the more troublesome times, I used to do a gig on a Friday or Saturday and sleep in my battered old car if it meant saving petrol and getting closer to the next gig, things were extremely tight. It wasn't the most glittering of glamour but I wanted to succeed. This is my 4th time as a pro now and I'd absolutely do whatever it took if everything dried up. My practice times were in my car at lunchtimes, looking back, it wasn't fun but I just wanted to be pro and couldn't get a break so tried everything I knew to get seen and be taken seriously, it was immensely frustrating.
4) I had an audition in 2008 for a very famous pop artist. I got the gig, gave notice at my work to be told a week later that they'd chosen a female band and it was no reflection on how I play and my details would be kept on file for the next big tour (which never happened). It was from that day I was only going to look into playing music which I liked 100% and that challenged me and was reliant on how I play not how I looked. I got offered a bit of "session" work miming on TV but turned it down to work at a garden centre, I was very disillusioned with the industry and knew my career was never going to be in mainstream pop, I'd rather drive 7.5 tonne lorries delivering stone statues than mine or play music I hated as a player living on false promises and not knowing when the next job was coming from
5) I'm extremely proud of my short time in Her Majesties Royal Marines Band Service and thrilled I still spend a bit of time working with them when I can. Its without doubt installed the drive in me to push myself to the very max everyday. When I appeared with them on the Festival of Remembrance three years or so ago, it was a huge high point in my life as a musician. I still go back to the school of music when I can and help them both in training and I've help out on the B1 course (promotion to SGT) pushing the established guys really hard. its always a huge honour without fail. The discipline and drive it gave me is something that has never gone away, even through the down days
6) Before I joined the Royal Marines I was a keen footballer, I played for Southport youth and age 16 got scouted for an apprenticeship at Bolton, my dad told me after I joined the marines! I was mortified!
7) I've never really believed in luck in this industry. I've always wanted to play music that is quite difficult, in turn, the people that have occupied the drum chair in my dream gigs were/are pioneers of the instrument which always made it difficult, but in that respect its pushed me to work harder to make my mark, whatever and whenever that maybe. I've never been the "lucky one" that's been in the right place at the right time apart from a couple of short lasting occasions I've had to work extremely hard (as a lot do) When people say "man you are so lucky" I look back at the sacrifices and stuff that all the family have been through. We lost a lot through false promises and silly decisions as I'm sure most do, but it was the music industry and I believed everyone when I was starting out!! Now, I just smile and think you really have no idea.
8) I was in a function band from 1993 to 2000. I learn't so much in my time. I became fairly proficient in a lot of styles to the point where I thought I could try and "make it" whatever that may be in London. One of the last gigs I had in the band was a slot on the Generation Game. We went down to London to pre record the audio. Ian Thomas was in on the session that same day recording the main parts for the show, I stood my the side of him and his Yammy 9000 and watched him work. I VERY quickly realised, I was out of my depth and needed to work and push myself incredibly hard. I quickly understood the difference between a working Drummer and a top class Pro, it was a little bit heartbreaking but a realisation that that's what it takes. It was a HUGE lesson that day, in my head I felt I was pretty good, the reality was a staggering awakening
9) I was working at a golf club in Surrey in the early 2000's and I used to have my kit set up in the green-keepers shed and play after work, including some electronics and an octapad. One day there was a knock at the door and this guy came in and asked me if I was free to do a session the next day, I'd recorded loads over the years but I'd never really done a pro session but thought I'd give it a go. I turned up with all my gear and it was for Mike Rutherford from Genesis, He was writing some stuff for Celine Dion. The session was a nightmare, I was nervous, I was young, I was trying to impress and got it so badly wrong, In fact I f*****d it up royally. I never got a call back. I have since seen Mr R and apologised
10) A lot of you always comment how much I interact on social media and at drum festivals and events. I can't always do it but I enjoy doing helping people when I can. Many years ago I was really let down by my one of my favourite drummers, at that time he was my idol, I'd queued for hours to get an autograph for a road/tour manager to say he will not be signing. I wrote to him a few times and always got a letter back saying he was too busy. Too busy for an autograph? I appreciate now that people are busy but I was heartbroken that my idol couldn't do this for me and more and more I saw the way he behaved in public was pretty shameful. I saw him in clinic twice and his attitude stunk, now, a bit older and a bit wiser I look back and think, you reap what you sow. I saw him not three years ago and shook his hand and he wasn't interested, just like I am in his playing nowadays. I like the fact a few look up to me for inspiration and guidance, I like to help, respect is a two way street. I never want to be that person. We are JUST drummers, we all need a bit of help from time to time. I have zero respect for "celebrity drummer" style status if its abused. We all had to start somewhere on our path, some don't see it that way...
11) Three years ago, I was invited to play on all the new Radio 2 jingles for the BBC, I was playing on about 90% of them with, yes, Ian Thomas playing on the others. It was a great session, 70 odd stabs in a day was hard going but when it went live it was a truly great feeling. Over 20 Million people listen to them daily. Here's the making of
12) I've written quite a lot of adverts for TV and radio in recent years. This all came by watching congo natty writing when I was working with him at the Alabama3 studios in Brixton and thinking, I can do that. I trained myself hard on software and other instruments and starting writing jingles and things for clinics. I them sent a mailshot to loads of companies, hardly any replied but a few did. One in particular was a company that do a lot of channel 5 stuff, I've since gone on to do three series of the gadget show. Last year I wrote and performed in the new Jaguar XE commercial, they found my name on the internet....You never know who is watching...
13) I've had a longstanding relationship with Roland since the early 2000's, the same thing happened, I wrote to them (first for stickers) and asked if I could be a demonstrator, It took a few years for the mud to stick, but genuinely think they got fed up of me badgering them, they gave me a chance! I was playing a simmons kit and was always fascinated with the electronic side of things. After a long working relationship wit h Roland in the UK I joined the R&D team in Japan in 2009 and have since gone on to design patches/sounds and have had input on the TD9, TD11,TD15, TD30, TD25, SPDS-x SPD-20 and TM2. Its always a real buzz when I'm online or at a store and someone is playing one of my patches around the world
14) I'm pretty sensitive and I'm an extremely private person, I never share my personal life on social media apart from the odd video with Lil man. I found it really difficult getting trolled over the years and struggle with negativity, I've since grown to get thicker skin and deal with it until this year. When Steven Wilson asked me to take over from Marco Minnemann this year I was beyond excited. A lot of fans destroyed me when it was announced and I nearly didn't do the gig because I couldn't handle playing in front of people that said I was never good enough, but, after a lot of thinking I felt I could silence the critics and just do my job and be nice. Its taken some time, I'm still here and I'm doing next year with Steven, Its working....I've grown as a person, Ive grown as a player, but its taken a long time. I have a completely indifferent view to the negative brigade now. They would kill to be on the gigs we're all on in whatever capacity or to be half the player that most of you are (don't forget that) but they're too busy stuck in their bedroom with a shoulder that's full of chips that's too heavy to move. Have faith in what you do and smile when you do it, its infectious
15) People always ask me why do I practice so much. I practice because I want to be comfortable, I don't ever want that feeling I had with Ian Thomas in the Studio or Mike Rutherford or many, many others when I feel out of my depth. I want to feel like when I leave the house to record with anyone that's going to push me hard, I'm prepared and I will make the project come alive. Its a nice feeling, even as a pro to have everything just feel "right" when I sit down to play. If you put it in, you will get it out, what ever your goals are
16) So many things have happened this year which have blown my mind, from getting the call to cover Chad Wackerman to getting the call to play for Steven Wilson and it now becoming a more permanent fixture. As a lot of you know, I was nominated this week as one of the prog drummers of 2015 in Rhythm Magazine. I know there is no best but it would be nice to get a few votes and to break up the usual suspects. If you have 5 seconds I'd really love you to vote for me among the giants, Its been pretty career affirming for sure. I don't expect to get anywhere near but If you'd be so kind, the link is here
17) One of the sides of my job I love more than most is teaching. I really enjoy helping people on their journey. We've all had different struggles along our drumming journey and I really enjoy pushing people hard and seeing my students out there doing it and playing their ass off because of a LOT of hard work and a little bit of guidance and direction, its immensely rewarding, I wish I could do it more. If you're looking at teaching, as with all things, make sure you have a plan, make sure you've done your homework and make sure you're prepared, It can be a tough place if you haven't put the preparation in. Challenge your students, make sure they enjoy what you teach them and they will soak it up and you will both get the just rewards
18) There is no golden ticket. I soon found that out!!! For some, they see being endorsed or being on TV as the key to touring the world and getting on the front of magazines, In reality, it isn't. You may find yourself on your dream gig and before you've even got the drums in the cases, its over in a flash. Have a back up plan, look at a portfolio career, look at playing all styles to an extremely high level, be different to all the others, because in the long term, people will listen to your message, you just have to be ready. I've learn't from many many disastrous sessions and live gigs where its gone so wrong. Push yourself so hard and find the hours in the day, so when you are asked, you are ready. My philosophy was just be different from most of the others, I'm not perfect but I live by that rule
19) I remember before my father passed away I was playing at Scottish drum day alongside Marco, Stanton, Akira and John Blackwell. I did the gig then drove through the day/night to get back into work for the next day. I remember getting in to the office and the first phone-call being shouted at by a woman who's house hadn't completed on the Friday. I did the day then went to see my dad in hospital back up the M1/M6 220 miles away and being so dreadfully unhappy. He was the guy that helped me hatch a plan and design my first little teaching studio. He'd been in a job all his life and told me that If I'm that unhappy I can change it, I have a solid plan B, my plan B was my talent and passion for music, I just never really saw it at the time, can't see the wood for the trees sort of thing. I genuinely haven't looked back since and will never forget our conversation. If you're stuck in a day job, think about what you have, what it could bring to the table and if its a viable option. If it is, go for it and give it your all.
20) I've had many great gigs over the years, some with my heroes, some with D list 90's tv personalities. The one thing that got me there was networking with other musicians. I used to go to SO many jam nights and a lot of gigs came from them, admittedly some were not that great but it was getting out, it was playing. It won't land on your doorstep. Social media is such a big thing now, how you behave, how you act, how you play, how you interact is literally one click away from your next gig. I cringe when I see some of my muso friends posting the stuff they do and they wonder why it a bit dry, people do watch, they really do. My last 3 serious jobs have all been through social media. My first interview for SW was him looking at my YouTube and FB, it can be a tremendously powerful tool if its used correctly but can be undone in an instant. Get a pro page and use it as a pro and use your personal page if you want to rant about 5p carrier bags and share pictures of your dinner. Honestly, It does work. I'm not into "internet sensations" at all and "likes" absolutely doesn't mean success, but Social media, if used correctly can be a great extension to what you do
20a) Finally, One of the best few things I ever had taught to me was "Be nice", it really really really helps! there is so much attitude in the music industry, the truth is, people don't want your ego, baggage and BS at the table. Leave the attitude at the door, no-one cares about name dropping, its stressful enough as it is!!!! The next time you go and play in front of two punters, 80,000 people, a record company or a social club..
Smile, no matter what you're going through,
be prepared, no matter how hard its been to get on stage
let your playing do the talking
Leave a long lasting impression...You never know who is watching
Thank you for reading, I hope it helps someone out there. have a wonderful day xx