We Need To Talk About The Drummers…

Drummers! Drummers have always played a massively important role in my music. Almost entirely by their absence. The conversation around what I do – perhaps not surprisingly, but still with some level of irritation – almost always gravitates towards ‘I’d love to hear what you do with a drummer!’. It’s kind of the curse of being a bassist. We’re seen as half of the rhythm section. It’s an instrument that was INVENTED for loud rhythm sections. Its voice was deeply integral to the development of rock and roll, pop, hard rock, prog, funk, soul, R’n’B… It is the sound of pop music. Bass and drums, that’s what makes it not-folk or not-chamber-music. As a voice outside of that, it’s still woefully under-explored…

So my decision to mostly avoid drummers, certainly in the context of my solo work (the decision to see all ‘band’ work as collaborative and never ‘my band’ is a huge part of this) is one that puts what I do apart from what most bass players do. It works as a USP, but has also been a very very useful set of limitations for exploring a new vocabulary for the instrument. I’m not the first to do this, by a long shot, though the degree to which it has dominated my work is unusual.

I’ve always commented – somewhat flippantly – that there’s nothing worse in music than a bad drummer, and nothing better than a great one. Which is probably why over the last couple of years I’ve finally found room to work with a few. Over the years, drummers have crept into my collaborative world – most notably with Roy Dodds (in Lawson/Dodds/Wood and the still-ongoing trio with he and Mark Kelly) and with Seb Rochford (in a fun improv trio/quartet in Brighton with Tess Garroway, and for a recycle collective gig with Andy Hamill on double bass).

But in the last couple of years, drums have featured WAY more than before. Firstly, the remarkable experience of the Fingerpainting project with Daniel Berkman. Daniel plays pretty much everything, but his mastery of the Roland Handsonic (and now his exploration of – and role in the development of – the Jambé) brought an entirely new aesthetic to that project, compared to anything I’d done before. We got to explore grooves and textures, to stretch time, to break time, to be mechanical and then organic… He completely shook up my relationship with rhythm, to a similar degree to hearing Voodoo by D’Angelo a decade or so earlier…

Then closer to home, striking up a musical partnership with Andy Edwards took that all a stage further, and much deeper into rock territory. Andy and I share a love of Miles Davis’ 70s work – a side of Andy’s taste and musicality that he hadn’t had much chance to explore (his area of greatest success has been in heavily-written prog rock settings). So we got to explore that together, and crucially to play together in a number of settings – with trombonist Murphy McCaleb, bass genius Julie Slick, guitar experimenter Phi Yaan-Zek, cinematic trumpeter Brian Corbett and keyboards/Stick/progness legend Jem Godfrey. As well as in a duo context. I’ve grown so much through the collaborations with Andy, learned so much from him, and perhaps most importantly, discovered what it feels like to properly trust a drummer to make the right call about whether what I’m doing is worth following… Andy’s amazing at choosing to play across my broken-up time ideas, or to follow the breaks, whether to pull me back in and groove, or use multiple pulses and time centres to create new textures. He’s properly remarkable.

Into 2015, I’ve had two more new amazing experiences with drummers – definitely in that latter category of ‘the best that music has to offer’. Firstly was being part of Beardyman’s Dream Team gig – with both Beardyman himself beatboxing (though far less than people expected) and electronica legend Andy Gangadeen on kit. Two astonishing rhythmic forces to be onstage with (and Gary Lucas providing guitar magic! what an insane band!) – that was a lesson from two absolute masters of contemporary electronica. Hip-hop grooves, Drum n Bass, Techno, avant garde weirdness… we explored so many textures and I can’t wait to hear the recordings.

And then secondly, a new trio with Jon Thorne and Rob Turner from GoGo Penguin. Jon, as you know, I played with at last year’s London Bass Guitar Show, and that was so good it came out as an album. He’s an astonishing double bassist, again with a remarkable legacy in dance music, but also acoustic music and ECM-ish jazz… Rob I’d not met til the day of the gig, but I was familiar with GoGo Penguin, and knew some of what he was capable of. But again, it was the experience of being listened to, reacted to, being the guide and being guided, that deep listening that allowed us to explore everything from 80s thrash to super-sparse country ballads, that made the gig so special.

So drummers, I’m back on your team. I’m still exploring what’s possible solo, still enjoying that adventure, but am deeply grateful for what these percussive geniuses are bringing into my life, and for the opportunity to take some of that broader palette of ideas that has developed precisely because I avoided a drum-focus for so long, into those settings.

Lucky me!

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