I have been a sucker for drums since I heard Listen For the Noise, a Sheffield samba band, at a street festival in North Shields in the 1980s. When I was growing up, I was the unmusical one. On the family piano, I could do the tinkly bits with my right hand or the dong bong dong bong base rhythm with my left hand but not both at the same time. It took a change of country and a change of family (I made up my own) to realise that I could pick out Peggy Gordon or Suo Gân on the tin-whistle. Maybe a change of instrument helped? That Tyneside afternoon, L4TiN and their drums and bells and whistles were just too compelling to leave, and I stood there with my mouth open, eyes glazed and foot tappin’ all afternoon.
Bill Bryson, who grew up in a one-horse midwestern town where he never
quite fit in, tells how he opened a National Geographic one day, saw a
picture of a boy in leather pants looking across an Alpine meadow, and
realised this is me. As soon as he was able, he left the US and became a European.
A similar epiphany came to me watching Ben Hur, when Ben (C.Heston) is chained to his oar and the Tribune (J.Hawkins) puts the galley and its slave-engine through some sea trials. I was the bloke beating out the ever-increasing rhythm with two mallets on a block of wood, while Charlton Heston gritted his teeth and tightened his tendons and weaker slaves fainted away on either side only to be lashed back to consciousness.
Sensei on the TaiChi circuit. Niall had seemingly brought more drums than there were hands to play and there was no sign saying CHILDREN ONLY so I stood around and watched a truly amazing performance. It’s all a bit of a blur because I dropped in on several of his workshops during the day and each one was different. I remember him dancing like Elastic Man as his new-trained backing group bopped out the rhythm. I remember seeing two small boys, probably brothers, locked shoulder-to-shoulder in some inner-outer world of rhythmic concentration and community. I remember ushering a small girl from standing all shy at the door to a seat in the circle and seeing her tentatively work out what was going on and with increasing confidence take up the beat.
And with the ROAR, the windows rattled and the floor shook and everyone pounded as hard and loud as their little palms could take. And then the lion <bop> continued <bop> on <bop> through the forest …..and I tell you, Niall was the lion.
My daughters, then very young, spent the whole day doing stories and games in the garden. They had a whale of a time. But I think I noticed a twinge of envy, when that night, using the edge of the kitchen table, I told them the story <bop> of a lion <bop> walking <bop> through the jungle ….