Exit Stage Left

After thirty-one years’ playing and around 500 gigs with various bands, I took the decision on Saturday to ‘hang up my drumsticks’ indefinitely. I will be playing as drummer for the Ministry of Beaver until the end of June (unless the band can find a replacement before then) and then my drums will be stored away indefinitely.

Ironically, the main reason for this decision has been that the covers band for whom I play, Ministry Of Beaver, is just too busy for a man in my situation. Following recent family bereavements, and the passing of other people I’ve admired in the public eye, notably the sad death of Christopher Hitchens, I have taken a more philosophical look at life and come to the decision that I need to free up as much of my free time as possible for family – notably at weekends.

I believe that we have one life and that there is no before or after-life. We have one existence on this planet and we’d damn well better make the most of it! I’m completely happy with that concept too.

The band’s success has meant that many weekends of the year have to be reserved for gigs. This means that time we could otherwise do things as a family has been lost. This is of course what a band should be doing, and don’t get me wrong – it has been great… it’s just time for me to re-assess my priorities.

We have three children, the oldest of whom is 14 this month. I am very aware how quickly the years pass. We are now in a situation where we have a caravan, and some of my happiest childhood memories are holiday times spent away around this country – nothing grand – just great times with family. I am determined to furnish my kids with those kind of memories and am all too aware that time is ticking away.

Given that we are now in the enviable position of being able to take a quick decision to spend a couple of nights away in our caravan, show the kids around this wonderful country, and to build some of those memories, it’s a shame not to exploit that possibility.

Unfortunately, in my case, the thing that is standing in the way of us being able to do this, is the band.

Just by way of an explanation to those who may not appreciate what the average band does when playing a gig, this is how it works for the Ministry Of Beaver…

A gig usually means an early evening start on the night of the gig. The equipment has to be collected from storage and then the band makes its way to the venue. Sometimes, this is just down the road, but more often than not, it is between half an hour and an hour away from where our equipment is stored. We generally arrive at a venue between 18:30-19:00 and then the laborious process of setting up the equipment and sound-checking happens. This generally takes between an hour and an hour and a half. We are always self-sufficient, bringing along our own full P.A. and lights.

Once set up and sound-checked, we are in the position of waiting until around 21:30, which is about standard for a start time. We play between two and two and a half hours’ music and then pack everything away again, drive back to where the equipment is stored, and then finally head home. More often than not, I’m back home between 01:30 and 02:00; sometimes, as was the case on Saturday, closer to 02:30. This means a late start the following morning, and all of a sudden, the following morning is gone.

The actual buzz of playing a gig is fantastic, especially when an audience is really into it. There’s a reciprocal meeting of minds between band and audience, and the more the audience is into it, the better the band performs and plays up to it.

Playing to a lifeless crowd is not much fun, but it just happens sometimes, and it’s pretty random. The important thing is that you don’t let it bring you down and you definitely don’t take it personally. We can all expect to play a number of ‘paid rehearsals’ over time.

Fortunately, Ministry Of Beaver has always had a great level of musicianship. All the members I’ve had the pleasure of playing alongside have been great musicians and brought a lot to the band. It’s rare that you get that kind of chemistry in a band… and that level of musicianship. That may sound conceited, but I write as I find. I hear enough other bands in rehearsal rooms to know when I’ve been on to a good thing!

More importantly than that even, we all get along famously. There are no big egos or work-shy members in the band. Everyone has always turned up to rehearsals having learnt their individual parts, so we’re in the great position of being able to rehearse the song as a band, rather than run through it so that one member can figure out their part in the band’s time.

But, following years of the gig routine, I have grown weary of the peripheral work around playing – the set-up and break-down and the travelling home in the early hours of the morning, and this is ever more encroaching on the enjoyment of the actual performance, which is still actually very enjoyable. I’ve often said that I’d almost be tempted to forgo my performance fee to just turn up, play, and go home, but we’re not in that kind of league and that still wouldn’t solve the issue of freeing up time for family.

A third reason for my decision is probably surprising to many, in that I’m not overly keen on the material we play. I enjoy actually playing it all, but it’s not the kind of stuff I listen to (with some exceptions). Nevertheless, this is a relatively minor issue. I knew what I was joining and did it precisely because I knew the drum parts would be more involved and demanding than those I’d played in previous bands, so I have always appreciated that challenging aspect to the material, and just because I’m not keen, doesn’t mean the audience doesn’t love it! I staggers me how well some songs which I actually almost loathe are loved by people – and vice-versa – some stuff which I really rate as strong material can occasionally fall on deaf ears. You never know what you’re going to get. I’ve played a wide range of material with the band and there have been only a couple of songs I’ve got to in a set and thought, ‘oh no – not that one’ and only one which I couldn’t even learn, because I just loathed it from the outset and my brain just rejected it outright!

But what do I know! The Beaver is the first band I’ve played for which has a relatively regular base of ‘fans’ which come along to gig after gig to offer their support, and they’re all a great bunch of people. They love the stuff we play, so I have to thank them for making the effort to spend their time supporting us. It is very much appreciated.

My final reasoning revolved around logistics, and since my car has just died, that has thrown a further spanner in the works, merely compounding the situation. The timing of the car’s demise is truly appropriate, although it would have been better if it had waited until the end of June!

Informing the other guys in the band of my departure hasn’t been easy, and I ended up writing them a longish email on Saturday to announce my departure and explain my reasons. I had supportive responses back from all of them, which says a great deal about their friendship.

I hope that band can find a replacement who will get on with them and value them as the people and musicians they are as much as I have. I hope to support the band when I can from the sidelines. They’re a great band and a fine bunch of people.

So, my last words are addressed to my fellow Beavers, past and present… Gents – it’s been a pleasure, and I hope to enjoy a few more great gigs with the Beaver before I finally exit stage left.

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