What are we thinking when we play?

Craig BlundellNews

On my clinic tour just gone by I told a story, I’d like to share with it you all, It may help you the way it’s helped me, but its taken some time…

Rewinding back about four years, I was three weeks in on the Steven Wilson tour, I don’t want to go over it all again, but as I’ve talked about in the past, I was under prepared, I wasn’t good enough, but I was SW’s choice at very short notice. I knew a few things. The gig was going to be fairly life changing, even though at the time I was only there for 8 weeks, I knew I had to practice my ass off, harder than I’d ever done, for two reasons, to get better at my job and ultimately keep it.

I feel very secure talking about these things now, not enough pro’s do, and I think if I’d have read these words I’m about to tell you, ultimately it would have helped me so much. Being told you’re not up to the mark at any level is a tough pill to swallow but when you pride yourself on being a pro it’s pretty horrid. We know the long line of Drummer’s SW has chosen and what I learned fairly rapid is that there’s working pro’s and then there’s world class working pros at the top of their game on the world stage, anyway, I digress

It was week three and we’d arrived in the USA after two weeks in South America on the “Hand Cannot Erase tour”. I was starting to play the set better and my daily meeting’s with SW were getting less in terms of duration. As our chemistry grew I think he wanted me to succeed. We’ve since spoke about it, I was VERY close to being fired for not being up to his standard he expects. I understood and respected his thoughts daily but wasn’t prepared to let this gig disappear through my fingers through not being good enough.

So, the USA, I was growing in confidence on stage, obviously my nerves and other pressures were still through the roof and something I’d blog more about in the future as I think its extremely important to share that most go through it and not enough talk about it at pro level.

I walked out onto the stage feeling pretty confident that I had three weeks of shows down and I could really feel the improvement in my playing. Although I was comfortable, I was still pretty beat up inside. Yes, I’ve toured and been a working musician, but nothing prepared me for a fanbase like SW’s, they notice everything, they’ve been there the whole ride and are very, very passionate.

As I was playing “Routine” (I think it was about the third or fourth song in the set) I then started to look up. It took a while for me to look up and look out, it freaked me out immensely getting eye contact or looking at people looking at me. When I did, most it’s a sea of SW/PT/Prog shirts and on my side, Drumming shirts, because drummers tend to go to gigs or concerts with a drumming brand on their T-Shirt to tell everyone they are a drummer, I’ve done it, I get it!!

Most of us have been there, we’re playing in a pub and that one guy walks in with a “drumming” or instrument branded shirt on that relates to you and our heart sinks! We watch him all over the club and look for approval, all the time they are just watching you play, emotionless and you look for that approval and they stay there stony faced and inside it’s like hell! Well this is me in night one in the USA, the guy was wearing a Tama T-shirt, I’ll never forget the feeling or his face. He wasn’t interested in SW, he just looked at me, nothing I played changed his face, it was like the days when I first to do drum clinics and I used to think a hole audience were sat there with clipboards with their marks out of 10 !!

So, this guy, I’ll call him Barry, didn’t show one emotion throughout the whole of the first set, until we got to ancestral. Humans, we are funny creatures in the arts. There could be 10,000 people in a room and if everyone is going nuts and 1 person isn’t, the 9,999 people who are pale into insignificance. Ancestral….I made a mistake, a BIG one, the band kept it together, I looked up and he was laughing…(at me? Of course) So head down I went and go through the rest of the set, I made another mistake, my playing was changing, my technique was leaving my hands, I was trying to be busy to impress, I was being a busy fool, I looked up, he was laughing, I laughed with him, I nodded, he nodded. Barry in the USA and I have never met, I was not aware what he was thinking be we had a very strange chemistry being formed, essentially over my mistakes so I felt a little inferior.

The gig passed, and I was first out the venue and on my way to the bus aided by security (a man mountain). Barry was right by the door of the bus and in my head, I thought well there are two ways this is going…He called my name and I went over to him, he held out his arms and gave my THE strongest hug behind watery eyes telling me what a huge lifelong fan he was of SW and how much he loved the show. I duly went on to explain how he’d put me through hell !!!!!!!!!!!

The moral of this very long story is this, and something I’ve been working on and continue to work on over four years later…

When you sit down to play, you can never please everyone, you don’t have to try, it’s a gig you’ll never always win but take the majority not minority. You can also not second guess everyone’s thoughts or emotions, we all show our happiness and sadness very differently. When the people that come to see you actually “come to see you” they are doing it for a reason and its not to see you trip up, it’s to see you play and inspire them. When you sit down to play, do it with the biggest smile and everyone will smile with you. Don’t waste time trying to “overplay” to the straight-faced drum guys, they could be the fans of the simplest stuff that ticks their box…What I’m really saying is NEVER CHANGE, mistakes happen, we’ve all been there, its all part of the process. Be the absolute best YOU you can be, not a poor imitation of someone that has gone before, they are taken. Play every gig at 100%, show your enjoyment and appease the boss, your band mates and yourself, if the audience want to pick up that 4, 5 or 6 guys are having an absolute blast on stage, they will be along for the ride and THAT is the best feeling ever at any level.

Every gig will have a Barry and despite what you think, they are probably having a blast….