Saturday, 19 February 2011


Many jokes have been told about drummers [what do you call someone who hangs out with musicians? A drummer. Why did that drummer just laugh at that joke? He thinks he's a 'percussionist'. And so on] most of which are very unfair. But there is something that has dogged modern drumming - and I'm talking about pop culture here - for the past half century or so. What the hell can a rock drummer do during a slow number?

Where better to start than with the Beatles? In Hey Jude, Ringo Starr handles the suitcases with all the subtlety and imagination of a Gatwick baggage-handler. I say this and I like Ringo; though did not John Lennon once say, when asked if Ringo was 'the best drummer in the world': "Ringo isn't even the best drummer in the Beatles". Wilson Pickett's cover is better; the drummer there was Roger Hawkins who backed many 60s soul acts and was part of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.

The record where drumming in a 'slowie' really comes to pieces for me is Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale. On the original recording the drummer was session man Bill Eyden who, maybe determined to 'shine', filled in with what I call 'ba-diddley-diddley-tish' licks at the end of each line. This meretricious, intrusive, and irritating nonsense soon became a cliche in drumming. I suppose we have to forgive him, because in slowies being à la batterie gives you a lot of time on your hands...

But it doesn't have to be that way. When Jimi Hendrix formed his Experience the sound was bound to have some sparseness, as the band was conceived as a trio in order to bring Jimi's guitar to the fore. Mitch Mitchell needed to have the confidence to add ornamentation to regular rhythm, and he rose to this. I have chosen this live video of The Wind Cries Mary for the simple reason that whoever was on the mixing desk has gone for a balance in which Jimi's guitar and Noel Redding's bass are lower in the mix than maybe they ought to be. The result is that Mitch's drumming is very noticeable, as is the way that he fits into the music, complimenting the guitar-work and vocals, and hardly a 'ba-diddley-diddley-tish' in sight. Kudos.

(By the way, Ringo slips one in at 5'55" on Hey Jude.)

If any more modern outfit succeeds where Mitch Mitchell also succeeded but Bill Eyden failed it is the band Little Barrie - listen to their Free Salute. I think that's Wayne Fulwood on the drums; he looks like someone you wouldn't let your daughter marry, but certainly has the right touch for LB's garage-R&B-indie sound.

You may well ask what do I know about music, however...

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