They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Drum Kit…
July 18, 2013
But when I started to play? Well, truth be told, it was all a long time ago now. And I don’t rightly remember exactly how it all went down.
This was in my former life as a rockstar of course. Back when I was just finishing up my last year as a humanities student at the University of Sussex and all the world seemed bright.
I belonged to a band from the channel island of Jersey, whom had just relocated to sunny Brighton a year before. My housemate at the time, being a Jersey lad, found himself a spot as their new lead guitarist. And when their old drummer suddenly left it was all pretty much decided. I was to be the new man behind the kit.
That all sounded pretty rosy to a prim 22-year-old yearning for adventure. I was going to get the chance to play to 8,000 people at the 2008 summer festival Jersey Live. We were going to get flown over from England for free. And, we would have full backstage access while bands like The Prodigy, The Zutons and The Foals did their thing.
What wasn’t to like about that?
Inevitably that summer I learned a lot. Not just about myself, the faltering musician, but also about life and the strange journeys it puts you on.
And, what’s more, is that even when the experience turned out to be nothing more than one big blur, I can still look back and tell myself this. Rocking out that day? Definitely one of the scariest, yet biggest, accomplishments I’ve ever achieved.
But now let’s get back to what trying to be a rockstar helped to teach me.
A Drummer Was Born
Picking up my first pair of sticks, back in school, aged fourteen, was where it all started. Even then, as I went about telling people I was going to take it up, I distinctly remember one important lesson.
It came out of the reaction of one of my friends. Who, having argued that he’d laid claim to wanting to learn drums first, responded to the whole “me learning an instrument” business fairly negatively. Because of that something huge dawned on me. The importance of taking action.
So while my friend only went around simply talking about playing the drums, I, on the other hand, actually went home and sequestered my parents into giving me a little money that would enable me to actually do so. And then I began taking lessons.
It’s important to point out said friend wasn’t any more economically impoverished than I was. Nor were his parents any less supportive. All it was? A simple case of me recognizing the urgency to actually do things in life that I actually cared to do.
Smashing hell out of drum skins, in break times and after school clubs? That was one such thing.
My First Kit
Eventually I graduated to finally owning my first kit. I remember saving up my money from my jobs working at supermarkets and clothes stores to do so.
Although the kit was shitty (a $300 low-grade model), it was perfectly ample enough in teaching me the main rudiments (and actual rudiments) of drumming and was robust enough to withstand a beating in times of frustration.
At this time in my career I was getting decent enough to play with other musicians. And that’s when the second lesson came. That the whole mastering your art business requires a tremendous about of time and practice.
I found this out when I roped in school friends to come over to my house at weekends and the holidays in an attempt to jam out. Gathering in my room, my parents usually out, we then went to work butchering cover songs and even attempting to write our own. In once incidence I recalled one friend, a tall experienced guitarist, berating another (who to be fair had no musical experience and was attempting to sing) that his lyrics were plain awful and his song downright garbage.
Needless to say, we all pretty quickly learned a bunch of things from that era. Namely? Patience, discipline and individual competency. All pretty crucial components of any successful endeavour.
The Sixth Form Years
After school I found myself drifting in and out of a few different groups and playing a few live gigs. It was at this time that I began to recognise, when comparing myself with other college drummers, that my chops were pretty fucking horrendous.
Around the same time – and out of frustration I suppose, I started to pick up the guitar and learn to strike a few chords.
That taught me, after the whole horrible comparing thing, another valuable lesson. And one that was no doubt beneficial.
That getting really good requires persistence.
Flitting to the guitar I noticed the amount of practice hours I spent drumming decreased a fair amount. Stricken by my own lack of self confidence I suddenly wondered what I was doing trying to start from scratch learning another instrument. Especially when I already knew a hundred people in sixth form college were already leaps and bounds ahead.
Had I stuck at any one thing solidly? Who knows where’d I be today.
Definitely not in One Direction…
The University Years
Still I stuck with drums somewhat throughout the years despite my incessant dabbling. And when I got to university I still maintained a vague interest.
It was there that I fell in and out of a few bands yet nothing too serious ever stuck. What with study and everything else, and then discovering I had a whole other set of things to feel self-conscious about, I guess the sudden realisation that I’d never make it as a rockstar slowly began to take hold.
But then I never totally gave up. And despite lacking super slick skills, I was too stubborn, seeing how far I’d come, to ever retire from them completely.
Curiously, it was then, at that point in my life, that the ultimate opportunity came. My housemate asked me to join his very decent, very upwardly mobile band.
As for the fourth lesson? Sometimes it just takes a bit of luck (and being in the right place at the right time) to make good things happen.
Consider Daniel Curtis (the friend in question) the Strongbow-swigging lucky leprechaun that I needed.
Playing to 8,000 People
So to go back to the opening of this piece then, what happened, finally, when I sat down at the drum kit on that infamous Saturday afternoon?
The short answer is, after a month of rehearsing with “The Valentines”, that I played.
Nothing more. Nothing less. I just played.
Yet I remember that feeling of sheer terror. The feeling I felt beforehand as I approached that stage and first heard the sound of those booming drums amplified up and carrying for miles. Or the anxiety I felt, looking at all those people standing and watching me on that one rainy day in a field halfway between France and England.
A lot of fucking concerns.
And it was with them I knew, after a deep resounding sigh in my heart, that being a rockstar just wasn’t for me.
The buzz of a massive live performance? Nothing, just worry. The euphoria of ripping through the set? Only relief.
It was, in essence, the final lesson. The culmination of several years trying.
The reason I had so much trepidation?
I wasn’t confident enough in my own abilities.
And the reason I didn’t have enough confidence?
Because I’d never truly loved the drums enough.
Not in the sense where I’d wanted to master them (as I showed in flitting between instruments and never fully committing) anyway.
It was with all that then that I realised the ultimate lesson.
That to be a true rockstar? You have to really love what you do.
Love what you do, and cherish every step of the path that takes you there.
And so while nobody laughed when I sat down at the drums on that one fateful day, I never made anyone cry with joy either.
But my god did I give it a shot.
This piece was influenced by the amazing profile of ex-Nirvana and Soundgarden guitarist Jason Everman that featured recently in the New York Times. Without reading Jason’s remarkable story I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to mention the fact that I too once shared a brief moment on the stage of greatness.
P.S. That wasn’t the last time I played drums either