Ever since I can remember, I’ve been an inveterate finger tapper and knife-and-fork drummer. Way back in my schooldays, I was in the school’s Combined Cadet Force (CCF) marching band and played a side drum in the front row as we marched through the streets of Grantham in battledress blouse, knife-edge-creased trousers, blancoed belt and gaiters, spoon-polished boots, and a very shiny Royal Lincolnshire Regiment hat badge fronting our regulation black berets. I enjoyed the pomp, the circumstance and, most of all, the rhythm we beat out to the accompaniment of the shrill tunes blared out by the buglers marching behind us. That love of the rhythm never left me and these days I beat out marching rhythms with my fingers on any surface that will reflect the sound back to my ears—a tabletop, the leather arm of a settee, any old cardboard box lying around (always very tempting), a biscuit tin, a hardback book—anything hard and handy. I usually start with a da-da-da-da with the four fingers of my right hand starting with the pinkie and backed up by the same sequence with my left-hand fingers—the basic galloping horse sequence as I call it. Then begins the variations—the basic da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da, da-da; a missing tap to create the illusion of syncopation; a rapid da-da-da-da followed by a pause followed by a slower and heavier index and middle finger da-da to mimic the background beat of a marching band while the troops are entering the parade ground; an occasional heavier tap of a thumb to provide an emphatic change; a continuous roll tapping as fast as I can; and so on. The variations and tweaks are endless and I have favourite rhythms I’ve worked on over the years.
But, give me an eating knife and fork or, preferably, two knives, and an array of plates, cups, condiments, glasses, bottles of sauce, jars of chutneys or pickle, candle holder, and the odd saucepan or two on the dinner table, and I’m away in Ginger Baker/Buddy Rich/Gene Krupa land. The knives fly as I get a feel for the frequency and tone of the notes I generate. I explore subtle changes caused by where exactly I hit the object of my attention, and the angle of the strike. I syncopate as I riff away. I even try a little trick I used to do with my CCF drumsticks—the three-stick-clicks sequence of drumstick body to body, taper to taper, body to body again: difficult to do with knives; easier with metal or plastic chopsticks.
It’s all great fun and my eyes light up when I approach a well-furnished dinner table buckling under the weight of strikeable objects but the beautiful music I make drives everyone else in my family mad so my drumming talents are not often displayed! My exuberance to ‘play the table’ is swiftly capped the minute I start to pick up a knife so be warned: the urge to riff is not to the liking of others. You are better off tap dancing in slippers.