Meanderings

Cow Drums

THE RAG AND BONE DRUM.

Since I wrote this, my sister has moved house.

My sister lives in La Loge in an old farmhouse in the official middle of French Nowhere. It's very peaceful there. Hardly a car passes by all day. So how the cat managed to get itself run over, I don't know. I suspect the baker may know something about it.

There are a number of upright pianos but no drum kit at La Loge.

We'd (me and Hill) arrived there that Summer in the VW bus with my broken four track studio that couldn’t bounce tracks. I also had my Takimine and Vantage guitars plus the mandolin, a dodgy banjo and a bass guitar.

The bass guitar still had only three strings after the G had snapped at a gig about 4 years earlier. I had substituted the broken string with a piece of white twine. From a distance it did resemble a guitar string. Unwitting musicians often borrowed the bass to sit in for a song at Blues Night at Gallagher's. Their focused expressions would change to sudden bewilderment as they discovered they were trying to slap bass a piece of twine in front of a live audience. Most musicians saw the funny side but some were down right insulted and furious. One walked off stage in mid song. I guess I should have forked out the money and bought a new string. But hey, that was good drinking money. Still, it kept me laughing.

Also with me at La Loge, I had a few broken harmonicas and a cobweb filled didgery doo. Some months earlier when we finally departed Regensburg in the VW bus, I had crammed this whole assembly of musical implements into the overhead storage compartment. We drove around for months with most of this equipment completely unused. Through Austria, Italy and Slovenia till one evening in Annecy, France, we parked at the edge of the old town and went for a wander. On returning we discovered that our car had been plundered. Everything was gone: all the music stuff plus all our packs. Desparue. Peter J. was hanging out with us at that time.

I remember thinking perhaps it had just happened a minute before we returned. Maybe the thief hadn't gotten far. I figured he must have made more than one trip. So I looked around and concluded there was only one possible escape route carrying that amount of gear. Behind the parking area there was a sloping field with some trees and some little used unlit pathways. I called Peter to grab a torch and follow me, and then I ran up the hill. Sure enough as I entered the darkness below the trees, I saw a figure kneeling over our packs. He got a shock as my shadow fell across him and he took off like a rabbit. Peter came up with the torch and we examined our scattered possessions. It was all there. We had been very lucky.

So from Annecy, Peter went back to Freiburg while me and Hil went off to visit my sister in La Loge. We stayed in the Granny flat next door to her rustic farmhouse. It was high summer and there was an air of lazy stupor about the place. I decided to set up my 4 track and try get some ideas recorded. 

 I tackled "Rag and Bone". This was an old song I'd written hitching through Switzerland years before.

On track one; I recorded the vocals with harmonica and rhythm guitar. On track two, I added some bass. On track three I stuck on some lead.

The studio was a bit old and hissy and was no longer able to bounce multiple tracks down to one track. I'd bought it second hand years ago. It was probably an early Roman model. This inability to mix multiple tracks down to one single track was a severe hindrance but the studio was still useful for getting basic ideas down.

So with 3 tracks accounted for, that left only one track for drums. But as we all know by now, La Loge has no drum kit. I’d always pictured that song as having a colossal drum beat, more of a boom boom boom Godzilla stomp than a beat. It's never a great idea to record drums as the last track on a project. This is because all kinds of tiny out of time moments tend to appear like hiccups that cannot be disguised. But I had no drums, so this wasn't a problem. I was however toying with the idea of some random percussion but I hadn't anything percussive either.

 I was stumped. Stumped for a stomp. So I went out into the backyard for a break. The sun was blinding. I rolled a cigarette and sat on the time worn step drinking a beer. A heat haze shimmered across the cow field, blurring the fly swatting cows as they munched their way anti clockwise around the field's single tree. My eye settled idly upon the old cow trough at the bottom of the garden. It was a huge round grey metal thing, 2 feet deep and bigger than a back tractor wheel.

It hadn't always been there. My sister and Hil and the kids had found it half buried in some far distant brambles. They'd rolled it like a giant hamster wheel all the way across fields and walls and ditches and cow pats and electric fences all the way back to la loge. They'd cleaned it up and used it as a paddling pool. Today, no one was paddling, though I'm sure the cows would have loved a dip and a sip. Every one had gone off somewhere except Hil who was sitting across the garden at the picnic table, reading a book. I walked over and sat down across from her. It wasn’t a chatty time of day. Lizards flickered in and out of cracks in the crumbling garden wall. Feeling fidgety, I went for an aimless stroll around the premises and chanced to end up stopped beside the trough. I tapped it with my foot like someone buying a used car.

 It sounded like a cavernous metallic gurgling belly. Well that was all it took. A minute later I was tipping out the water and dragging it across the garden towards the steps at the picnic table. Hil looked up. “What are you doing,” she asked as I struggled past? “Nothing”, I replied guiltily. She shook her head and went back to her book: the very picture of an experienced musician's girlfriend's non chalance. I hauled the giant trough up the stairs through the gap in the crumbling wall and across towards the piggery till finally it rested on the grass just outside my recording room I turned it upside down and went in search of two stout twigs and a pair of socks. I wrapped a sock around the end of each stick and taped them on. They looked like toffee apples. I bashed one against the upside down cow trough and smiled with smug satisfaction. Yup. I'd found my Godzilla drum for the Rag and Bone song. Hil looked up blandly as she turned a page.

But now I discovered that the trough was too big to get indoors to record. I fetched the mic but it didn’t reach all the way outside. The lead was too short. This was a problem. Some shuffling of furniture ensued. I moved the studio unit nearer the door: Then I moved the reverb unit, plus the table and a few other things. When finally this was all done and I was ready for the first practice takes, an hour had elapsed. Still though the head phones didn’t reach. They were just 6 inches too short. Short of moving the house, I couldn't do anything else so I was forced to lean backwards into the room at my back and tilt my head skyward.

In the end the track was recorded. The trough gave off a huge sound. I added reverb and the recording was complete…. rubbish.

 A few days later a farmer came striding purposefully over the hill. ”Bonjour”, he said, “that trough is mine.” He took it away and it was never seen again.

Somewhere along the road, that recording got lost. It wasn't very good but looking back now, I wish I had a copy just to laugh at my futile attempts at recording at La Loge. Maybe I have it somewhere. I don't know. Bad recording or not, it must have contained some of the essence of La Loge that I enjoyed so much. I guess a bad photo is better than no photo. It was a blast. Like I said before about art, "Sometimes the chase is better than the catch."

 I wonder how a cow trough washtub bass would sound?