Improvizone

No-Man rehearsing parts 2, 3 and 4

Andrew Booker 2011-10-13 22:26:38

Tomorrow, Friday 14 Oct 2011, No-Man play their first gig in three years, at the Leamington Assembly. The lineup will be

We'll be playing for about 45-50 minutes, maybe more, for which we have rehearsed for four days, though only two with the full lineup. I recounted the first rehearsal recently. The other three began last weekend, and I kept a few notes about how we got on. In case you're reading this and are going to the gig, I've reduced the song titles to their initials to try not to spoil the surprise, though if you're a long time No-Man fan you'll probably guess them anyway.

Saturday
We drift in and slowly set up. Mike arrives having spent the morning assembling, stepping back in complete surprise, a pedal board. Thanks to a cancellation we are in the same room as three years ago, an airy high-ceilinged chamber with windows all the way along one side. I set up enough of the kit for today and begin my eight-hour fruit and nut intake. By the time we are all ready to play, a kiddie band has begun blasting through their material directly behind me in the vocal booth. It is oppressive, even for a drummer. I ask if anyone happens to have a spare piece of double glazing on them. We begin with BBL, a piece we built up from next to nothing in Norwich, and labour over it for the next hour. The youngsters are still walloping away next door. I exit the building for some much needed silence.

We start on MROS. We had a bit of difficulty with this in Norwich and ended up with a version that was half speed throughout. I has compared Mike's rehearsal recording with the original and felt depressed, so this time I put back the fast four-on-the-floor, still playing the snare in half time. A couple of Yee-haw Dublin!s out of the way and we all seem comfortable with reinstating the original pace, and the quieter final chorus is sounding good again.

L was a highlight of the set three years ago, but was unimpressive in Norwich. Tim was worried about the loudness of the drums during the opening vocal sections. I try to assure him this will be rectified by my use of thin hotrods, which are bunches of thin dowel rather than sticks of solid wood. It works, Tim is much happier, and so is the song generally. In the second run-through, Steve The Maestro Bingham loops his 7-note cyclical phrase. The drums are only stabbing on the downbeat here, and his loop does a great job of keeping this section time. Until the rest of the band back in, of course, after which we're all over the place.

So far, three songs that were either completely new to us last time, or did not go well. M did not fare well either, but we handle it much better this time round. Although not playing to a click, I check my metronome before and after and we're near as matters, which is pleasing considering this one is a dead-slow 47bpm. We then try a couple that actually went well in Norwich, TTIT and PG. Turns out they weren't a fluke, as we have no problems with those, not today at least. They clearly benefit from acoustic drums.

On to ATBC, another 2008 highlight found recently to be troubled. This time around I actually listened carefully to the percussion on the orginal, and am trying at least to recreate the cymbal pattern. I put my metronome headphones in for the first time today, at exactly 60bpm, as this one has a tendancy to run away with itself. I tried to do that in 2008, but the electronic drums soon got lost in the noise, whereupon everything sped up, and all I could do was follow. The acoustic drums have much more clout, so I've been trying to clamp the speed down on this one. That may be one reason it's suffering. We all quietly hope that the addition of SW will cure it.

We didn't even try TC in Norwich, but it goes surprisingly well the first time round, give or take a few ambiguous transistions, and keeps getting better. When we played it in Shepherds Bush back in 2008, original No-Man violinist Ben Coleman, who was guesting that night, had learned his original solo exactly. I had not, so I had to count the exact number of bars before bringing the section to a close. With Binksy we have no such constraints, and do what we like for as long as we like. I love improvisation.

Finally, something else we hadn't thought of doing in Norwich, WTIL from the Schoolyard Ghosts album. I forget that I played on this in the 2008 shows, assume this is a tacet number for me, take a few pictures and sit on the floor while the others try out the opening bars. Tim eventually wonders when I'm going to go back to the kit. Turns out I had the tempo written in my notebook, so I must have played it. Memory equals seive.

Back round BBL, now sounding convincing. Whether or not it survives the Wilson treatment is a question for tomorrow.

I drive home with an aching right knee, as ever.

Sunday
My knee still hurts and the car exhaust has a hole in it. On arrival at the rehearsal room in Cambridge, I have plenty of time to take the car to be fixed, as SW is not expected until 1pm. We spend more time on BBLand MROS. Only the work on one turns out to be worthwhile.

SW arrives and we go through every track. Three years ago this was a slow meticulous process. This time around, a lot more has fallen into place, and some of the tracks require only one or two runs through before we work on the set in order tomorrow. A couple of quiet sections are lifted back up to principal volume at Tim's expense, for example the end of MROS, which now has the drums dropping down a bit, otherwise pretty much the same. We try this first of all, and I break a stick before we get to the end. ATBC finally requires me to step out of the pattern I had worked carefully to reproduce, and play loudly like normal indie kids. I have very little idea what to do. L is fine, although the middle arpegiated bits speed up as before. I use a click until the big blast. M, TC, WTIL and PG are all fine, except for a couple of minor adjustments to the bassline to improve funkiness. TTIT is also fine, except we lose one of the two near-identical solo jams to avoid repetition.

That leaves the one flying spoiler of ointments, BBL. We have formed it and rehearsed it extensively as a six-piece, we have neglected to leave any space for Steven. He complains the drums are too happy jazzy for such a downbeat theme, the section with the ascending bassline is boring and overall the whole thing is too long. We discard hours of sunk rehearsal time and ditch the entire second section, and cut back the drums to a sombre funereal pulse with soft mallets. It is saved from being dropped completely, and we call it a day with a running order ready for tomorrow.

I stay behind and mend my snare, which has been getting looser with every hit. I'm feeling very comfortable with the acoustic drums, more than I have in a very long time. Shame I don't know the arrangements yet. I'm getting better with playing the kit through the different sections, with cymbal rolls and damping, swapping sticks, but there are 24 hours left before I stop being able to get away with fluffs and flunked playing. The holiday is nearly over.

Monday
I drive via Harlow, stopping for some splurgitive shopping. Two new cymbal stands (the others rattle when I do a roll with soft mallets), new heads for the toms and the snare, some spare light hotrods (the ones I have are looking frayed and they are a vital tool in this gig), and to pick up the front head that I asked them to put a hole in. I arrive early at the studio, but I warm up while no-one's around rather than change heads or stands. Gear adjustments can wait for when people are brewing tea.

The knee seems to be adapting, although I'm scared of pushing the right foot too hard. No matter, a lot of this music is slow enough that the left foot can do the work instead. Obviously I can't play nearly as well, but it's only a rehearsal, right. We run through the whole set, without stopping between tracks for analysis. The aim is to work on transitions and find out which ones need a gap in which Tim can tell a joke. By now we've pretty much got it, though minor adjustments are made here and there.

On the second runthrough I try backing vocals on MROS, TTIT, ATBC and TC. Some simplification, or complete dumbing-down, of the drum part is necessary. Shame I can't superimpose vocals over my TTIT pattern, which I really like. Maybe a bit of practice will do it. I'm so annoyed with the buzz on my rack tom I take the head off after the second runthrough. I find a small hexagonal nut loose inside. Bastard thing's probably been there a year.

The knee gets better, and I'm feeling more comfortable with the kit than at any time since Pulse Engine, and I realise it's a result of having basically spent the last year practicing. I can play slowly to a metronome. I can get an even four on the floor with either foot without thinking about it - I've only just realised this has been causing me no trouble at all, whereas in the past it would be the kind of simple thing I would fall down over. That said, accuracy diminishes over the course of the day. We do a runthrough of TC and I realise I have to count the bars after all. Naturally I miscount them. Sometimes I think music with no repetition would be much easier to remember.

I stay behind at the end and replace the bass drum front head and the snare head. I decide to stick with the tom heads as they seem to be behaving for now. As I drive home with a headache that has been building since this morning, I realise I have no idea whether we did three complete runthroughs or only two. Memory equals seive.

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