Monday share and tell time, and the theme is movement. We are delighted to share the article drummer extraordinaire Tom Morley wrote for the first edition of Goldie Magazine, about how technology pinched his job. Much had to be literally and metaphorically thrown at the wall before he re-discovered his rhythm, but he re-emerged and continued with a lust for life we could all do with embracing a little more of.
When it’s time to throw a lot of stuff
at the wall
￼￼Drummer Tom Morley tells how he had to lose his love for music to rediscover his rhythm.
Technology nicked my job.
It’s happening to a lot of people these days, but first happened to me 35 years ago. I was a drummer in the late 70s and early 80s when drum machines first appeared on the scene. At first, no drummer was threatened because these boxes didn’t sound like real drums and nobody knew how to use them. I’m photographed with one of the first ones here, the Roland CR78. In fact it’s the very machine that eventually nicked my job. I say eventually because I hung on as long as possible by being the only one in the band who could programme it: that kept me going for a year. More sophisticated machines were then invented, Linn drums, sounding like real drums, but still nobody could programme them. Except for a few of us who got a foot in early and weren’t scared by buttons, inputs and outputs. We kept our jobs for a further year. Then I thought, time’s up. No one wants drummers any more but everyone still wants singers. I’d better write some songs.
I was the drummer in Scritti Politti, formed in Leeds in 1976 by Green Gartside, Nial Jinks and me. I could hold a tune, had some things to say and I couldn’t be surpassed image wise – a white man in slick suits with dreadlocks. They were long dreadlocks that took years to grow and picture editors loved me.
Then along came technology with hair extensions. Aspiring musicians looking for an image woke up with short hair in the morning, got dreaded up in the afternoon and booked their photo shoots that evening. When technology nicks your job half of your friends will say one thing, half the other.
The people who valued me for my expertise said; “Why don’t you join another band who still want a real drummer, or become a session drummer and play with lots of people. You could do session work with drum machines too. You’re a name in the business”.
The other half, who valued me for my values, imagination and sense of adventure had different advice. They weren’t worried about redundant skills, they were concerned about how I could stay politically active in the world.
What do I mean by that?
Scritti Politti were pioneers in DIY music and helped a lot of new bands get started. They just used to come and knock on the door and talk to us. Something else we did that no band has done before or since, is that we used to make up half our songs on stage. It was risky but became popular with our audience, who rather than shout out for a favourite song would shout out; “Make one up!”
This second half were worried I didn’t have a platform for social change. A friend, Simon Emmerson, who now leads Afro Celt Sound System, understood my predicament. He knew I’d done much of the artwork for Scritti Politti and said: “Just throw a lot of stuff at the wall Tom, and see what sticks”. It was good advice. As you throw stuff at the wall not only do you find out what sticks but you find out what you hope will stick.
For instance, in the year I did drum machine programming for other groups, I learned a lot about song structure but also learned I’m not interested in 95% of songs. The lyrics aren’t interesting and I found the personalities of the singers dull in comparison to Green, a real philosopher. I didn’t want to be in a band, I wanted to be in a band.
Here are some other things I threw at the wall:
I lived in New York where I was a furniture designer.
I was a bodyguard for a prostitute in the Chelsea Hotel.
I did some life modelling for various art classes.
I became an ITEC qualified masseuse and Reiki healer.
I designed and project managed the building of a tree house for a millionaire.
I set up a corporate team building company, focusing on The Arts.
I did the first-ever corporate drum circle in the Empire State Building.
I ran Peace Flash mobs in Trafalgar Square.
I financed the building of houses for poor families in South Africa.
I organised the digging of a well and installation of a water pump at an orphanage in Kenya.
But, as politicians say, let me be absolutely clear. None of the good deeds in this list would have been possible without having a nervous breakdown followed by a year-long depression.
When I left the music business I had to lose everything, even my love of music. There was time I couldn’t listen to anything at all. Bereft and confused I ended up looking for complete silence at a remote spiritual retreat in France.
“The scenery might change but you’ll find your heart remains the
same and life stays interesting.”
I was on my knees in complete surrender when the groove found me. At 6am, I stumbled over an African djembe drum outside our Native American sweat lodge. I closed my eyes and tried to play. When I opened my eyes, I was surrounded by naked dancing people who’d come out of the lodge to dance in the light of this new dawn. I realised at that moment that rhythm is all about spirit and connection. and freedom. For the second time I became an overnight success!
In conclusion, when technology nicks your job, it’s best to get creative in the service of your purpose. The scenery might change but you’ll find your heart remains the same and life stays interesting. It might even get more interesting, mine did.
When I got back to London I bought 100 drums and now travel the world doing a corporate version of what we did outside that sweat lodge. Mainly we drum and sing fully clothed and I’m happy with business casual. For now.
So look, technology can nick my job as many times as it wants. I know I’ll just keep walking the talk. My purpose is to support peace, imagination, and justice. There’s plenty to do in this crazy world.
Editors note:- Tom brings people together like a drumming Pied Piper through his workshops. His next article for our print magazine titled: “Permission Impossible” tells a beautifully illustrated story of the benefits that can come from letting go.