Q&A with Manchester Photographer Chris Payne & Bren O’Callaghan

Last year we hosted an exhibition by North West photographer Chris Payne  – Flash Bang Wallop– which  imagined and recreated the early memories and self-perceptions of drummers in a series of portraits featuring some of the most iconic players of the past 50 years.

Some of the Flash Bang Wallop drummers have been creating short exercises, demonstrations of drum beats and styles in response to the current lockdown – all are in the spirit of the project, and the idea that drumming is a natural instinct and accessible for all.

Curator Bren O’Callaghan caught up with Chris to chat about this exciting new aspect of the exhibition.

Bren: Flash Bang Wallop continued to expand during the exhibition at HOME, with you adding new photographs during the run of the show. Has anyone else joined the ranks since we last caught up?

Chris: I seem to have become hooked. I enjoyed the project so much, and realised I had so many other great drummers still to meet and photograph, that I started interviews almost as soon as the exhibition was finished. I’ve already interviewed David from Slow Readers Club and Ralph Rolle (Nile Rodgers and Chic) for the next stage and have lined up interviews with drummers from The Fall, Simply Red, A Certain Ratio, Shed Seven, Adam & The Ants/Bow Wow Wow, to name a few. I interviewed Rick Buckler (The Jam) for the first exhibition, but we couldn’t make the photoshoot work in time – he’s first on my list for the next stage.

A man lies on his back on the gras surrounded by drumming equipment

Bren: I know your young son is a keen amateur drummer, with his own portrait featuring amongst the esteemed line-up (and looking pretty cool!) Has he been keeping up his practice during lockdown, and is there a drum kit in the house?

Chris: Gabe has an electronic kit in his room and has been bashing away. He’s just been accepted into the Junior RNCM to study guitar and percussion, so his music-making won’t be stopping any time soon. When I was his age, I was tapping away on table tops, my knees, you name it – and he’s just the same. I can’t say I was disappointed when he said he wanted a drum kit…

Bren: You’ve begun posting short video clips on your YouTube channel of drummers from the series, offering advice, practice tips and short exercises, suitable even for those of us with no experience or kit… margarine tubs and spatulas are put to ingenious use! How did this come about?

Chris: The whole ethos of Flash Bang Wallop was that drumming is a natural instinct, the musical equivalent of “jumpers for goalposts”. I was in the process of applying for Arts Council funding for the next stage of the project so when the lockdown started, I wanted to do something which could be accessible both for beginners and advanced drummers, but using whatever they had to hand. I’ve only released a few videos so far, but the improvised drum kits involve jam jars, knees, boxes, you name it. I can’t wait to see what the next bunch of drummers send me – I’ve pretty much left it up to them, really.

Bren: What is it about drumming in particular that you feel deserves encouragement with both musicians and also those who might feel they have no musical talent or natural rhythm?

Chris: I think both musical talent and natural rhythm can be overrated, especially if tunefulness and rhythmic prowess are a measure for how much enjoyment you get from doing it. If you look at Tom Bancroft’s video, he takes us on a musical tour of his kitchen, using pens, bottles, cans, you name it. Now, it helps that he is a world class musician but at heart he is interested in the mundane sounds we all take for granted and finds beauty in them all. Percussion doesn’t necessarily have to have a fixed rhythm. It can be what you want it to be.

A man drumming on the beach next to a fire at dusk.

Image: Chris Payne, Tom Bancroft, 2019

I found an old piece of piping in my shed the other day and smacked an end of it with the palm of my hand. It made the most satisfying “BOING” sound and had a beautiful note to it. Was it in tune with my piano? Probably not. Was it in time? In time to what? It was enjoyable for that brief moment, and if we all fill our days with those moments then we’ll do alright. Drag a stick along a fence, kick a bucket, syncopate your footsteps with your breath. If you get joy from those moments then that’s the whole point. If you get them in time and can start actually drumming rhythmically, then that’s great too – but not the be-all and end-all. Just enjoy it.

Bren: Do you know of any further contributors lined up for the next clip/s?

Chris: Jim Molyneux was a finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year a few years back and is one of those annoying individuals who can play just about every instrument he picks up. He’s a lovely fella, though – so I can’t really get too annoyed with him. Andy Paresi played on Morrissey’s first couple of albums and was the first drummer I wanted to get on board with the project initially. I’m looking forward to seeing his video. Mark Pusey is a freelance drummer who’s played with just about everybody. I photographed him in Baker Street tube station last year for the exhibition and I know his video will be a treat. I’m still in the process of contacting drummers, so the contributors will continue, I’m sure.

Bren: Lastly, as a regular gig photographer, what do you miss most – or look forward to  – once social distancing rules relax?

Chris: I miss the buzz of shooting a gig. You usually have only the first three songs to get your shots, and that really concentrates the mind, and keeps you on your game. I can’t wait to properly get back to the project, interviewing amazing drummers and capturing their stories in a portrait. And I look forward to a good beer garden…

You can follow Chris’s updates and mini drumming crash courses at the Flash Bang Wallop website.