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Saturday, 28 June 2014

Who's your favourite drummer?

The Wellgreen. Stu Kidd and Marco Rea. 
Years ago, on a writing job in Vienna, I found myself chatting in a dimly-lit bar with the classical music correspondent of The Herald, Michael Tumelty, a man whose writing I'd always admired for its fluency and erudition. 

In person, Tumelty turned out to be an old-school newspaper man, with cast-iron confidence and some scorn for upstarts who had sneaked in the back door, without serving their time on the news desk. So when I asked how long he took to write 1000 words for publication, his answer was intended less to inform than to illustrate the gulf between us. 

"Ten minutes," he told me, knocking back his tenth schnapps of the evening. "Give or take a minute or two."

I pondered this later and decided that even allowing for male bravado, a factor of thirty slower than Tumelty - I was delivering 200 words an hour at the time - needed attention. One improvement I found was to let particularly interesting people speak for themselves, rather than trying to interpret their words. 

So I started using emails and audio recorders to capture what they told me. Which is why I can assure you that this week's post is accurate reporting, rather than being embellished slightly for humorous effect, which is what you get here most weekends.

So I wandered down recently to Kelvingrove Park from Glasgow University, as I'd heard The Wellgreen were playing there and I'd never seen them live, despite their drummer Stu Kidd having come up several times in chats with my son, the artist and amateur philosopher. 

I get to the spot just in time for the start of their gig, sit on slightly damp grass and am immediately entranced by sixties-style songs, sweet three-part harmonies and Stu's effortlessly inventive drumming. He comes over to chat to me afterwards and I take the chance to learn from an expert again. 

"I think I heard Beatles, Bacharach and Wings in there, plus a wholly original Killearn creativity," I say. "Who's your favourite drummer Stu, and why?"

"I think you get two kinds of drummer - two kinds of musician," he says. "Those who serve themselves and those who serve the song. I love Keith Moon. Energetic and full of expression, he's a guy who seemed to hit everything in a ten yard radius but never dropped a beat. He never grooved but he didn't need to."

I'm struck immediately by the difference between Stu's response to questions on his craft and the reporter's 20 years earlier. Same air of assurance but this time accompanied by warmth and a willingness to share. Maybe it's the difference between a musician and a critic. Or maybe it's just that my son is a really good guy and so are his friends. 

"There is nothing more satisfying than letting your limbs and heart run free around a set of drums," Stu continues. "Slowly. It's harder than it looks. Each drummer is unique in terms of feel and expression. At the height of Beatlemania, Ringo's job was to hold down the four and don't bother with the toms, as you can't hear them through a sixties PA system in an 80,000 capacity stadium. He nailed it every time. 

"On records he opened up his hats and gave such a swing to some of their great songs, like All My Lovin' and A Hard Day's Night. Those hats. They're going straight, accompanying a straight song, but he swings it slightly. Side to side. Just a wee bit."

Stu smiles widely in the summer sunshine. "When someone asks me who my favourite drummer is, Ringo will always be the answer," he says. 

"Nobody grooves like Ringo."

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