Mike, Os, Nick and I will be back at the Plough for the next Improvizone gig on Wednesday 01 July 2009. Since the last Improvizone gig I've been back at the Plough twice with Skylinerz. This is a new band co-founded by Improvizone regular Simon Laffy (the Laffsta). These were our first ever gigs, and we did them as warm-ups for our evening slot at this year's Chingford Festival on Saturday 27 June 2009.
Skylinerz is an acoustic kit job for me. Playing acoustic drums in the Plough is like trying to take all the swearing out of your conversation. Possible. But on the stage of the spacious Chingford Assembly Hall, competing with kilowatts of PA without a snare drum mic, I had the chance to really wallop them. That was nice. I had the same opportunity to really wallop them earlier in the afternoon with Aimless Mules, featuring Mike Bearpark on guitar. That was also nice. Not great to be doing these gigs without any real soundchecks or any vocal monitoring, but having rehearsed acoustic drums with two bands over the last few months, I was feeling very slightly more on top of them than I normally do on the rare occasions I haul them out of whatever attic they've been boxed up in and pretend I still know how to set them up.
In fact I realised I had so missed playing the acoustics that I drove out on Saturday morning to spend approximately one hundred pounds of my easily-earned money on new heads for them all. Or skins, as people in the business think they are called. I clocked up a few sublime moments of sun tan in the back garden as I leisurely unscrewed the roto-tom and re-assembled it, wishing I had a reason to do this more often than once every ten years.
Therefore, for next week's Improvizone gig at the Plough on Wednesday 01 July 2009, I'm going to take acoustic drums. Shock! I thought you only ever played e-drums at Improvizone? Surprise! I thought you said the e-drums were what made Improvizone possible at all, and that it could not work with acoustic drums? Self-contradiction, duplicity and hypocrisy! Erm, well I may have said something along those lines to members of our tiny following with whom I have chatted after the gig. But there are other factors.
First, playing acoustic drums in the Plough means, ideally, playing quietly. Coaxing interesting sounds out of acoustic drums in ambient chillout music absolutely depends on playing quietly. Yes, I enjoyed some hearty skin-smacking in Chingford at the weekend, but I also have a small collection of nasty cymbals that sound shit if you hit them hard, but fairly interesting if you stroke them gently with brushes or roll them up to boil with soft mallets. Or maybe drop them on the floor and stamp on them.
Secondly, back in 2006 when Improvizone was still an idea keeping me awake at night, I did picture the acoustic drums on a (bigger) stage (than the Plough). When Nick Cottam and I weren't doing grand souped-up bass and acoustic drums art/prog with Pulse Engine, we were indulging in much gentler new age ambient musings with the same instrumentation. We could have made a whole album out of it.
Finally, my golden rule in improvising, and therefore making music in general, is keep each other interested. One way to do that is to bring new stuff to the stage each time. That is why our Improvizone gigs are, time-consumingly, never the same to wire up twice. This time I'll have at least three mics over the drums. I might have a snare mic, except I'll probably be trying not to do too much snare playing.
After next Wednesday I have nothing planned for six weeks or so. Beyond then, various Skylinerz are interested in a regular slot at the Plough. Plus, more Improvizone gigs will need organising later in the year. I'll probably get most of the way through writing a long essay about the importance of finding a new venue, and my continued if sparse and irregular efforts to do so. And then flake out and book them all at the Plough.