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Blue Flamingo, Drummer, Interview, Jazz, Musicians

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Interview with Drummer Daoud Merchant

Tell us about how you got into the drums…

Whether it makes me lucky or unlucky, I’ve always wanted to play drums. I have a very early memory of putting a metal watering can on the patio in the garden and pulling up a chair, ripping two sticks off a tree and beating the living daylights out of it.  My first (and only I’m proud to say) complaint from the neighbours.  Then, at junior school, I was always a table tapper, to the point where my teacher warned my parents that either they should give me drum lessons or she would refuse to teach me.  So they gave in and started me on snare drum, and it gradually went from there.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever learnt about the drums?

Hmmm… I suppose I was a bit shocked the first time I heard someone ‘screeching’ on their cymbals with the tip of the stick. To be honest, I haven’t gone too far down the ‘extended technique’ path (yet).

Sticking with the drum theme….give us a career history to date!

Well, as I mentioned, I began on snare drum, because a practise pad and pair of sticks was much more merciful on my parents’ ears and wallets than a full blown kit. I still tell parents it sorts the men from the boys: if your child wants to play drums and is still getting a kick out of playing a practise pad or practise kit into week 2, the bad news is it’s time to start thinking about the real thing.  Anyway, snare drum led to timpani and tuned percussion in local ensembles, and then I joined the Junior Classical course at the RAM for a few years at 15.  It was a really fantastic course, and the surrounding activities to the instrumental lessons were invaluable for my musicianship.  At 18 I joined the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and I’m now a ‘professional’ musician, (meaning the usual mix of performances and teaching).  

Influences?

When I began listening to jazz, I started with the Wynton and Branford Marsalis groups, so Jeff Watts blew me away (of course).  I was lucky enough to have an older brother to keep me on the straight and narrow, so I was listening to Elvin Jones and Tony Williams pretty early in my jazz explorations.  Of course, when you hit music college, your tastes explode, but I remember Brian Blade and Jack DeJohnette standing out as real inspirations.  In a more general sense, Wayne Shorter has been a real symbol for the essence of jazz performance and composition for me (as he has been for many people).  There’s always something from his 50-year output to suit my mood at any point.

Got any lasting Blue Flamingo memories?

Playing for a series of graduation ceremonies will be a lasting memory.  Although it was a lot of fun, the ceremonies were running in quick succession throughout 5 days, and it was a bit of a test of stamina: not just on the bandstand, but in having the willpower to resist the never ending supply of mini cupcakes…

Best gig you’ve ever played/worst?

Wow. This is tough. I’ll always remember a function I did with a good friend for a millionaire’s private Halloween party in Surrey.  As well as it being great fun musically, we had to come in fancy dress, and chose the theme of the Wizard of Oz.  I was the lion, the bassist the tin man, the pianist the scarecrow and the saxophonist (bravely) went as Dorothy.  There are worse ways to spend an interval than watching a hoard of zombies creep through a garden to ‘Thriller’.

Give us a weird/bizarre fact not many people know about you

Er… My brothers and I talk in a pretty weird gobbledygook language, it really freaks out anyone who overhears us

Tea or Coffee?

Coffee, no contest.  I’ve given it up now because I was getting far too reliant (think how much is too much coffee to have in the mornings and then double it), and although I miss the buzz and the hit of ‘happy’, it’s great to be able to get up in the morning and just get on with the day without needing to jumpstart it.  It always felt like coffee removed tiredness, rather than gave energy.

Anything else you would like to add?

I’d like to spend this moment dispelling a myth.  Star Trek isn’t just for nerds, the modern versions (TNG, DS9, Voyager) feature fantastic ensemble casts and a real range of plots.  One episode might be a comedy, another a didactic moral dilemma, another a courtroom drama, another a romance.  It’s slightly pulpy, but really good fun. Remember people, ‘sci fi’ is a setting, not a genre.

Want to read more?  Check out Daoud’s Tips From the Travelling Merchant here.

First Published Oct 25th 2011

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First Published Oct 11th 2011