The summer solstice started like most Sunday's of the past year: we had a fairly lazy morning, ate brunch, Alison read a bit whilst I tinkered on the microsite. And then we pulled out our drumming gear and hopped onto a tube.
In the Before Times™ getting a train would have completely lacked noteworthiness, but in 2021 that marked only the second instance this year that we've used public transport. It's the first time since last autumn that we've assembled the knee pads, gloves, and other drumming paraphernalia to go to a practice session. The first time since February 2020 that I've done that familiar walk around the Barbican to the stage door and idly waited, catching up with friends until one of the leaders arrived to let us in. Honestly, it was a little surreal and, at times, overwhelming.
To be clear, this wasn't a complete reversion to pre-pandemic normalcy. For starters, we've never had a practice session on a weekend before. Nor would we normally be practising on the Barbican main stage 🤯 I've never even been to see a show at the Barbican, and now I've (extremely technically) performed there... albeit to an audience of one poor Barbican staffer who was trying to get some work done at the back, whilst effectively chaperoning our not-so-little group 😂
The plan to have a session on the main stage has been in the works for a while. I think the original date was early winter 2020, but the succession of subsequent lockdowns has continually pushed it back. But, with our normal practice space being far too small to adequately allow for social distancing – and with the Barbican unable to put on traditional performances – it was an opportunity too good to give up on, so rearranged it was (again, and again, and again). The stage is more than large enough to have multiple rows of drummers neatly spaced 2m apart in all directions, and with masks on throughout the risk was extremely minimal.
We spent a solid two hours running through old sets, re-learning how to hit a drum (the bounceback is impressively different to cardboard boxes and books 😄), and generally having a great time. All of the Drum Works leaders made an appearance, so we covered a pretty wide range of beats. Whilst the lack of in-person, large-scale practice did show in some of the more technical pieces, overall I thought it sounded pretty good – though it's admittedly hard for anything to sound bad in a space with those acoustics!
Our time up, we had a moment for one final piece of old-normal: getting the kit back to the stage door storage locker. A little surprisingly, even though we were literally at the stage, the simplest route out seemed to still be through the main building and around to the side, so we didn't get to explore the actual backstage area like I'd hoped. Still, even this banal task seemed somehow novel, and it provided a good opportunity to catch up with some more people.
Drum's stored, we took our leave whilst the others headed off for a traditional post-practice pub session (albeit not at the traditional post-practice pub, likely for space reasons). Whilst a cold IPA sounded absolutely ideal after the heat and exertion of drumming, it was getting a bit late in the day and the pub would have been an inside affair, something we (read: I) just don't quite feel up to yet. Hopefully next time we all meet up we'll be fully jabbed and ready to go 😉
Instead, Ali and I did something which has become part of our new normal and walked home. It was admittedly a stretch, particularly after marching with a low surdo strapped to our waste for the afternoon, but a (slightly absurd) break to grab some outdoor dining at the South Bank saw us able to push through. We arrived home just after midnight, grateful that the forecast downpour had held off, a little sore but otherwise in good spirits. What a wonderful way to spend a day and I'm so incredibly grateful to the team at Drum Works for organising it all and making it happen, despite the many setbacks along the way 👏🥁