‘When in Doubt, Roll!’ is now up at Foruli Classics, paperback at £ ($25), and signed hardback in an edition of only 50 copies at £ Bill Bruford: When In Doubt Roll! (Drums, Bill Bruford, Hal Leonard, Books, , HLE) en-GB. When In Doubt, Roll! by Bill Bruford, , available at Book Depository with free delivery worldwide.
I heard that Bill Bruford had retired from public performance a few months after the event – Barbara and I were in Japan in March playing some gigs beuford our host Tom Ohsawa who had arranged several tours for Bill told me the news, adding with typical Japanese understatement “The fans were very surprised”. So was I – Bill just didn’t seem the retiring type.
On returning home I called him and as is my wont gave him the dubious benefit of some unasked-for advice, suggesting that he could always “do an Alex Ferguson” and arbitrarily cancel his retirement any time he felt like it.
Though Bill took this in good humour and gave several logical reasons for his decision, I still came away feeling puzzled why he, or indeed anyone, would voluntarily retire from a pursuit which can bring so much pleasure and satisfaction. But having read my former colleague’s autobiography and had time to reflect on it, I now understand his reasons. Critics from the keep-rock-dumb school would probably say Bill Bruford is too clever by half an exaggeration – Bruford claims the figure is closer to Personally I find intelligence an attractive quality, and this book oozes it.
As well as being an excellent and entertaining read, it’s a terrific analytical work which gives great insight into the psychology of performing, recording, band membership and band-leading. Amongst its many spot-on pieces of musical analysis is this description of s English progressive rock: This would wind its often tortured way through a number of extensions, second subjects, and codicils before a return, probably whem a different metre or with a different orchestration, of the overtly masculine bravura main theme.
Doubbt accuracy of the reporting takes a sharp dip in this description of a certain keyboardist’s equipment: There’s No Business Like.
Gratifyingly for those of us who like a laugh, there’s a lot of humour in this book – the following description of the hoops bandleaders have to douubt through to get their group booked at trendy festivals made me guffaw out loud: If your group can count among its number John The Baptist on nose-flute, ex-President Clinton on tenor saxophone, a bll of tabla players, and a rock guy on guitar, preferably Andy Summers from The Police, you will do well on the festival circuit that summer.
I fondly remember his response delivered as we partied, somewhat improbably, on a Los Angeles studio-owner’s boat to a tipsy fellow guest’s innocent query: The commentary is underpinned by a relentless, ongoing critique of the horrid quagmire that is or was the music business.
Dreams are dashed at every turn: Maybe it’s just the cold-water-in-the-face reality of showbiz, but the focus on how much is disfunctional and dodgy in the industry makes you wonder how anyone could possibly enjoy a successful career.
One welcome departure from the general gloom is an account of an improvised piano-and-drums concert with Michiel Borstlap at the Purcell Room, a storming gig in which Bill manages to throw off his demons and enjoy himself. The sense of relief for the reader is enormous, as it must have been for Bill himself that night. But the downside is never more than a page turn away. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Drummer While all of the book interested me, the part that affected me most was where the author talks about the psychological difficulties that affected the last few years of his performing career and ultimately caused him to quit.
Such problems were not in evidence when I started working with him brudord – indeed, he was one of the most confident musicians I had ever met, appeared supremely at ease with his playing and seemed to know exactly what he wanted to do professionally.
Later I came to understand some of the pressure he was under, much of it self-imposed. Bill is a responsible fellow and admits that walking the wobbling tightrope between domesticity and touring was very hard for him. Though he found the sex and drugs part of the rock’n’roll package easy to resist, the separation from his wife and children was a constant strain, the more so because the enforced absence is non-negotiable – performing musicians have to go out and play, and if the gigs bruforr to be in the USA where Bill whwn best known you might not see your family for a month.
If the overdubber was feeling particularly sensitive and there are few organisms as thin-skinned as an improvising brufordd in a recording studioBill’s gentle reminders might be mistaken for the sound of a whip cracking, and that occasionally caused friction. This pressure impacted equally on Bill himself: Studio tensions contributed to Bill hankering bruord a simpler life in which a band plays a concert, somebody records it and bingo!
But that approach places more emphasis on finding the right gigs at the right time, never easy in the jazz world where players tend to fill up their diaries by playing in several different bands.
Bruford’s “When In Doubt, Roll!”
Another general problem as Bill explains is that the contraction of the industry in the ’90s meant that luxuries like booking agents, managers, record companies and publicists had to be dispensed with if they hadn’t dispensed with us first.
To carry on recording and gigging, musicians had to set up their own production companies, deal with record distributors, find their own gigs and promote themselves to the wider world, all time-consuming chores when all you really want to do is play. More pressure, more obligations, less time to snatch a bit of musical enjoyment. Big Bang Theory To digress a little, if I had the luxury of being able to plan a career trajectory in advance, I wouldn’t choose to start off with a great and conspicuous success – that peak would be better placed somewhere near the middle, giving your legs plenty of time to adjust to the climb up and equally strenuous clamber down.
Examples of how not to do it include a friend’s school band whose year old “manager” had vill bright idea of booking them a headlining gig at Hammersmith Odeon 12 months in advance – douby a year to sell tickets they managed to fill the place with whooping supporters, so my pal’s career started as it were at the top, a place from which one can only descend.
Neither would I recommend the career graph of comedy double act Phil Cornwell and Rick Stone – according to Phil, “We started at the bottom, and worked our way along. The era of the Mahavishnu Orchestra-style instrumental supergroup was effectively over by the end of that decade, so unless our man followed Phil Collins’ journey from the drum stool to the spotlight at the front of the stage, there was effectively no way for him to rise higher. The belated realisation that your career has already peaked in the crude terms of the market at least at the age of 23 can’t be good for long-term morale.
Music lovers know the real value of an artist’s work has nothing to do with chart positions, financial reward or celebrity, but unfortunately this industry recognises only one unit of currency – an oversized, unwieldy coin called the gold disc. That continued for many years, leading to equipment endorsements and their unavoidable flipside, drum clinics.
Far from being specialist medical facilities where people are cured of a perverse desire to play the drums, these events are designed to do the opposite: As bizarre human rituals go, it’s up there on a par with ditch-swimming and the knobbly knees contest. It seems to me there are a lot of things wrong with drum clinics: It’s a lonely gig. Second, the drum world’s simple-minded obsession with technique makes all its members worry that their technique isn’t up to scratch, undermining the simple enjoyment musicians ought to get from playing their instrument.
Yet another problem is that drum clinic audiences, confronted with their hero at close quarters, become so nervous and tongue-tied that the drummer’s cheerful “any questions? Perhaps the worst thing about being famous for playing an instrument is that you feel obliged to play it famously at all times with all eyes on you as you do it.
‘When In Doubt, Roll!’ Drum Instructional Book, Signed by Bill Bruford! | eBay
That doesn’t sound like fun to me. At worst, it creates a separation between musician and musical context which can be downright damaging. In Bill’s case drum clinics became a source of increasing anxiety, and I must say that if I were in his position I’d have felt exactly the same. Outside The Music To return to the book: Being able to see yourself as others do is admirable, but the habit of self-observation can lead to painful self-consciousness; one can only sympathise with Bill’s predicament when he writes “My self-awareness at the drumset is reaching epic proportions.
I can see every beat I’m about to play, and in the nanosecond it takes for the stick to descend to the drum or cymbal, my conscious mind sticks its oar in and says something distinctly discouraging. No sequence of notes now seems playable without an agony of self-doubt and self-recrimination. This remark on recording his solo album Feels Good To Me is telling: So fascinated had I become with melody and harmony that the actual percussion on the album was scarcely given a second thought, and in fact, sounds all the more natural and relaxed for it.
Music lives inside you, an instinct, a feeling, an outpouring, and though tempered at times by intellectual calculation, it’s ultimately an elemental emotional force which you mess with at your peril. The irony is that you can’t make good music without first putting in mental effort, but if you continue to think about it too much it stops working. This is probably something to do with the forebrain interfering with the subconscious mind, but whatever the scientific explanation, it’s a fact that the most enjoyable musical moments do seem to happen when you’re not thinking.
As the ever-complaining British TV character Victor Meldrew said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just switch off your brain?
When In Doubt Roll (Signed)
When that happened, in the 90 minutes on stage when he was able to stop worrying about how he was perceived, Bill was a musical force of nature, capable of leaving a room full of musicians speechless at what they had just heard him whfn. Although it didn’t work for football boss Alex Ferguson who retired in and soon thought better of itthere’s something to be gruford for quitting while you’re ahead.
But the reason why people including myself found it hard to accept Bill’s retirement, even at the relatively advanced age of 60, is that he appears to have so much more in his locker. I long ago stopped thinking of him as merely a drummer – he was, and is a musical thinker, a composer and generator of ideas as well as a master of rhythm and percussion, and his experience, wisdom and distinctive style will be missed by the musical community.
If ‘Bill Bruford – The Autobiography’ eoubt like the story of a musician who has forgotten how to enjoy himself, it’s comforting to know that its author now at least has the time to play whenn piano purely for pleasure – the last time we spoke, he was happily engaged in working out the chord changes to that great Sex Pistols classic ‘A Foggy Day in London Town’. But in a sense it doesn’t matter: The simple truth is that when musicians concentrate on playing something they enjoy and don’t let other stuff get in the way, everything tends to works fine.
Whatever the public and critics may think, the only real obligation xoubt a musician is to play the music that iin them smile. In any case, I’m sure you will join me in wishing this master musician and fabulous drummer the best in his retirement – you’ve earned a break Bill, so doutb the time to go out, locate some fun, and make sure you have it.
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