The Great Escape: `The best band I've ever been in is the one with me and my singing teacher'
Monday 07 February 2005
Having music lessons is yet one more thing I've completely changed my mind about. I was pretty sceptical about music lessons until recently; I've long had a snotty disregard for musical academia. You do have to be careful with these things. I was completely mugged by The Guide to Better Lyric Writing. It was a real bully, that book. It slayed me, I mean it slew me. After an afternoon dipping around in it, I couldn't write anything for weeks. When I applied the better writing principles, I had to cross everything out. It was stifling. I didn't want to find out I was a crap singer too, and be struck dumb. Maybe I was scared of how little I knew.
The singing teacher's number was in a little pamphlet that came through the door. It was between someone who does curtain alterations and a fitness trainer. I called them both as well, but singing is better than curtains and it's much better than being thin. It's even better than karaoke. You get to do all the high bits again, plus my teacher says things like "Can you try that bit a bit louder" as he tinkles along on the piano.
I've enjoyed singing so much, that when word got round about a drum teacher I thought, what the hell? I'm supposed to be a musician after all. The drum teacher comes to your house. That does say something about the different mindsets of singers and drummers. There would be no question of a singing teacher coming to you. Singers, to a man, like the world to revolve around them. Successful drummers tend to be basically willing, nice blokes.
The world isn't really fair on drummers. As any record producer will tell you: the most important ingredient of a pop record is the drums - what they used to call "a good beat" in the Sixties. Drummers very rarely get songwriting royalties, though. It doesn't make sense. Still, if you can get the hang of rhythm you can make records.
Bashing things together and screaming and shouting are linked together at a very primal level. It's no coincidence that screaming and bashing are our baby's two favourite activities. Music is a primal language, and singing and drums are the purest aspects of it. Musical instruments are a bit more complex and arbitrary. The best way to make a guitar primal is to play it very, very loud.
My love for music lessons started with Mrs Swann, the piano teacher. At the beginning, it was just a passing fancy. It's now become an evangelical obsession. If I saw a tuba I know I wouldn't be able to help myself: in fact I'll admit I have been making enquiries about tubas. But it all started with Mrs Swann. We had a chat in her immaculate sitting-room. I explained to her that somehow or other I'd been a musician all my life, but I'd always assumed that one day the bubble would burst and everyone would realise that I've been winging it. Since starting to learn music formally, I realise that winging it is really what it's all about. Mrs Swann is a lady. She teaches the local headmaster and other dignitaries. She's got me down as a "could do better", definitely. I forget my book, I always seem to be late and I never feel so scruffy as I do when I'm in that house. I'm still doing "Jingle Bells" in February. My wife Claire is already on "When the Saints Go Marching In". I want to be on that number.
Tra la la.
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