Voltarol - related music

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

I'll give it a bash

Since arthritis stopped me playing guitar to an acceptable level I have fallen back on my percussion skills for my main musical outlet. In fact, to tell the truth, I am a better percussionist than ever I was a guitarist but I was always drawn to the guitar even though I have never been very dexterous. My sense of rhythm has always been good and my first musical efforts were in fact percussive. A guitar playing friend (Paul - see various references to his father's tape recorder in previous postings) also owned some bongo drums and I would often pick these up and bash along whilst he strummed the guitar and sang Leadbelly songs. Somewhere along the way we spent one afternoon with another young would-be musician who at that time was learning to play the guitar. As far as I know I may well have been the first drummer that Roger Glover ever worked with.

I had got to grips with the guitar, faffed around the folk scene and ended up co-founding the Jugular Vein with three other people, one of whom, The Rev. B. Sprules 'Muff' Murfet played the jug and the other two of whom - 'Fingers' Bartram and Fred Kettle (or Max Emmons, to give him his real name) were considerably better guitarists than me. We made it a golden rule never to have more than two guitars playing together on any given song and so, as the repertoire was developed and arrangements were worked out, I found myself learning to play other instruments, not the least of which was the washboard. As our career developed we frequently played jazz clubs as well as folk clubs, and I became a regular washboard 'sitter-inner', often playing with Mike Messenger's Jazz Band,sometimes with Steve Lane's Southern Stompers and a couple of times with the legendary Ken Colyer.

The next percussive influence was a big one. I have already talked about my discovery of Sivuca (see Accordion Crimes). One of the tracks featured the triangle being played in the Brazilian manner and the moment I heard it I was hooked. I had to learn how to do that so I bought a triangle and a beater and took to the woodshed (metaphorically speaking) for six months, practicing obsessively until I could play like that. (I searched long and hard on YouTube for a good example of triangle playing but unfortunately this example was the best I could find. Still, it gives you a rough idea of what it's about). I would play my triangle at every opportunity, and although there weren't many Brazilian-style bands around at that time, funk was beginning to edge its way on to the scene and Latin percussion worked well with it. Soon I was expanding my arsenal of 'toys' (as hand-percussion devices were somewhat disparagingly known), and began to take percussion kit with me on gigs.

In the meantime I was beginning to take notice of the percussion credits on albums. Paulinho da Costa was an early favourite. Next up was Airto Moreira, whose 1971 album 'Seeds on the Ground' was an absolute revelation to me when I first heard it. I immediately longed to add the berimbau to my percussion skills but it was to be 1994 before that happened (but that's another story). That album also introduced me to Hermeto Pascoal and was another link in my journey towards Brazilian music. By the time that I heard Naná Vasconcelos with Egberto Gismonti on the album 'Danca das Cabeças' I was totally hooked on both percussion and the music of Brazil.

Around about 1979 I was asked to join a band called Zarjazz as percussionist. Most of the members were from Wooburn Green, near High Wycombe, and the unit had been formed by a group of friends with an enthusiasm for jazz funk. They had recruited a keyboard player who was a friend of mine, by the name of Stewart Edmiston. Unfortunately the drummer in the band wasn't the greatest player in the world, and Stewart had suggested that I be brought in to reinforce the time keeping. I stayed with that band until it self-destructed a year later, although not before such luminaries as bassist John McCartney (see Accordion Crimes), drummer Hossam Ramzy and saxophonist Andy Sheppard had passed through its ranks. I'll tell more of the doings of Zarjazz in another posting, but for the moment I'll just add that this was where I really paid my dues as a percussionist, learning that you needed stamina as much as you needed rhythmic sense and musicality.

Since then I have travelled extensively in Brazil, playing whenever the opportunity arises, as well as playing with various bands in England, but these days mostly I just listen and write. Mind you, I do have a habit of typing in time with whatever music I'm listening to. Unfortunately the result is generally gibberish...but you knew that already.