An Evening With Bill Bruford

Venue : Jagz, Ascot
Date : Thursday 28 January 2010
Date of writing this review : 31 January 2010

Drum Wright presents An Evening With Bill Bruford, and before you start wondering, no, it sadly did not feature him playing, and he seems pretty adamant that it will stay that way, but it was a highly entertaining and informative evening full of his thoughts and comments, anecdotes, archive dvd footage and passages from his new book, The Autobiography – Yes, King Crimson, Earthworks And More.  I will try to give a flavour of what was said, which largely came under the heading Bill gave to his presentation – The Creative Musician In A Commercial World.

The evening was introduced by Chris Wright, the managing director of DrumWright, who told us that a number of noteable drummers were in the audience tonight, including Mark Mondesir, Ric Lee (from Ten Years After), Ross Elder (from Chicken Shack), Nigel Shipway, and Geoff Nichols and Chris Welch, who colaborated on the book, John Bonham – A Thunder Of Drums.  My apologies to any of them if I have placed incorrect links, or spelt their names wrong.  Chris has used the phrase ‘no reasonable offer refused’ as a tagline for one of the drummers, and now Bill introduced himself to us as “Bill ‘every reasonable offer refused’ Bruford – I wrote a book…’drummer can write’ shock !”, and told us that he wrote the book to answer the question often posed to him, ‘but what do you do in the daytime ?’  He felt that he should dedicate this evening to former Yes manager, Brian Lane, who thought that drummers just hit anything.  Bill takes a quick survey of the audience, which reveals a few more professional drummers than those already mentioned, a larger number of semi-professional/amateur drummers, and a number of people who are simply fans, like myself.  He tells us that in the dvd clips tonight we “will see your guest speaker in a variety of amusing trousers and amusing haircuts, but not nearly as amusing as the bass player’s trousers”.  He started with Yes, “at the top, and I have been sailing gently at 38 degrees downwards ever since”.

The first dvd clip is from the 1991 MTV Rockumentary of Yes, and includes a reference to them as ‘virtuoso’.  “We weren’t that virtuoso”, recalls Bill, and tells us of the time they played on the bill with Cream at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 26 November 1968 as a very young band and decided they would play something from West Side Story, which would involve a drum part from Bill, and when it came to it he played two notes and then dropped a stick – and time seemed to go into slow motion as it tumbled to the stage…”that got me going !”  He reads a passage from his book, which leads into consideration of the “gross undersupply of labour when I started to gross oversupply these days”.  There is a clip of an interview with him from the early days in Yes, and then a clip from Belgian television of a promotional video for Astral Traveller from the album Time And A Word in 1970, and when it ends he says, “Wow – so many notes !  There are more notes in that than in the last five U2 albums.”

He had “a feeling that I wanted to move on.  I made it known to Robert Fripp that I would not mind a change, and I joined King Crimson.  He plays part of a clip of Larks’ Tongues In Aspic which leads into a discussion of Jamie Muir.  His association with King Crimson “fell apart rapidly after a couple of years”.

He got talking with Phil Collins in 1976 after Peter Gabriel had left Genesis, and Phil said that he thought he could do a better job of the singing than the people they had auditioned, and so Bill joined Genesis and “played drums with them while Phil got used to the idea of being Genesis’ singer”.  He plays a clip of “me and Phil hammering along lustily in 7/8” and the audience cannot help but applaud as the clip ends.

“With success comes repetition, which I can’t do.  The guy in Coldplay, with the drum and the bell, whatever they pay him it is not enough”.  And he reads another passage from his book.  “What happened next for me was the electronic revolution in the 80s”, and this led into a discussion of what actually makes up ‘drumming’.  “Electronic drums attracted me – it all turned into a nightmare, of course, as these things do”.  He plays us a clip from the track Waiting Man, from a King Crimson concert playing with Roxy Music in Paris in 1982 with two drummers standing either side of a vertical row of 6 electronic drums.

“A quantum leap forward from Cinema Show”.  “In Yes we moved in ‘breathe time’, ‘orchestra time’, not in ‘clock time’, but producers love ‘clock time’ because they could measure it, and especially as computers came in”.  “The guy on stage with the laptop is probably doing the VAT returns”.  He reads another passage from his book, and then plays a clip from the drum solo he played with David Torn’s Group on 7 February 1987 at the Jazz Festival in Frankfurt, where the patches he is calling up are random.

“Electronic drums were brutal, it was rough work.”  “The only place to go from progressive rock is to jazz.  When I joined Yes nobody told me it wasn’t going to be a jazz group”.  He reads us a passage from his book on improvisation, and then plays a clip which shows entirely improvised music, with pianist Michiel Borstlap.  “I only met the guy hours earlier at the airport, and we launched ourselves into a Dutch festival”.

The evening then moved on to a question and answer session.

What is he going to do with himself now ?  Go for walks, talk to people, maybe some teaching, though he says he was never a very good teacher.  He did make a record (Skin & Wire) with Colin Riley last year.

Was he a participating writer in Yes and King Crimson ?  Everyone in the band contributed in King Crimson.  Half of his income is from song publishing.

Can he play any other instruments ?  “I can fake jazz on the piano”.
Does he still play drums ?  “Yes, at home”.  Continuing to play is good for the mind and the brain.

He got back to the ‘nightmare’ he mentioned with electronic drums.  He was due to play a duet with Alan White at Madison Square Gardens and it ended up with Bill on a hi hat and snare because all the electronic kit failed – “that was not a good night”.  Someone mentions that he said Union was a dishonest record.  “Did I say ‘dishonest’ ?”, he laughs.  “Union was not a very good record.  It was confused people leading confused musicians around confused bankers.  The best part was the very first day”.  There was no sheet music used in Yes because no-one could read sheet music apart from Rick.

He explained how he learnt to play, and how Jamie Muir then told him he was here to serve the music, not the other way round.  His influences would have been Max Roach, Joe Morello and Art Blakey.  He says seeing the next audience for jazz is difficult, unless jazz changes in some way.

If he was pushed at to which other band he would have liked to have been in, he would say Weather Report, if he thought he could actually add something to them.

He thinks he peaked on The Sound Of Surprise by Earthworks.

Steve Howe regularly updates him on the soap opera which is Yes.
Jon Anderson asked him to do something by email the other day.
He met up with Robert Fripp and the others from King Crimson at a recent preview they had for the 5.1 surround sound reissues.

And quite rightly, there was extended applause from the audience at the end of a fascinating and very well presented evening.  Bill then stayed on to sign copies of his book, and he was also king enough to sign my ticket and my copy of the reissue of King Crimson’s Red.  Hopefully we still have a lot to hear from Bill Bruford, even if he really has absolutely put down his sticks.

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