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Something Called Success

Bill Bruford (FH 62-67) is a retired drummer, percussionist, songwriter, producer, and record label owner who first gained prominence as the original drummer of the rock band Yes from 1968 to 1972...

Bill Bruford (FH 62-67) is a retired drummer, percussionist, songwriter, producer, and record label owner who first gained prominence as the original drummer of the rock band Yes from 1968 to 1972. After his departure from Yes, Bruford spent the rest of the 1970s playing in King Crimson, touring with Genesis and U.K., and forming his own group, Earthworks.

Bruford's prodigious career has earned him a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Modern Dummer Hall of Fame, and a top-twenty ranking in Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time. Since retiring from public performance, Bruford has released his autobiography, and earned a PhD in Music at the University of Surrey, all whilst operating his record labels, Summerfold and Winterfold Records.

Bill refllects on his time at musical Ferox Hall, performing with the school's military band, life 'on the road', and the joys of later-life scholarship. 

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My Early Interest Drumming
I wasn’t aware that music was likely to become a major interest in my life until about 14. I developed an interest in drums and drumming at Ferox Hall under the sway of the house’s very competent jazz quartet. Added to that was the benevolence of Richard Bradley, our long-suffering housemaster, who let us practice in a little-used private dining room that happened to boast an acceptable baby-grand piano. The school band-master, the admirable George Cooper, flautist by inclination, taught me to sight read rhythms and assigned me to the Corps of Drums in the school’s military band.

The Call of the Drums
Pitted against these well-wishing enablers was the lone voice of a gravely disappointed Dr Allan Bunney, the Head of Music, for whom the drum had yet to acquire the status of musical instrument. By way of accommodation, I practiced the vibraphone, at length, in the practice room directly above his Music School office. Following a brief sojourn at Leeds University in 1968, reading economics, the pull of the endless opportunities to play professionally eventually became insurmountable, and I succumbed to a peripatetic life on the road. Fortune smiled, and as my stock rose internationally, something called ‘success’ appeared - broadly defined as being able to play what you want, where you want, when you want and with whom you want.

My Career for Forty One Years
For about twenty years it was easy and I knew everything. Around half time, doubt set in, and it occurred to me I might not know it all. Performance became progressively more difficult over the subsequent twenty years as the realisation dawned that, in the sphere of music, I knew rather less than I thought. Having managed to avoid the worst calamities associated with the profession, I was mostly happy to have ‘got away with it’ for 41 years and called it a day at age 60 in 2009. Why did I stop performing? Because I could no longer hear what came next.

Academic Fulfilment
So I put down the drum and picked up a pen. Having long harboured a secret desire to complete something of academic interest to myself, and more importantly, to others, it has been a recent privilege to step back out of life as a practising musician to undertake doctoral research at the University of Surrey in the area of creative music performance. Within the popular music tradition, what the drummer does and why s/he does it remains something of a mystery. Is there anything creative about it, and if so, how might that inform practice? I can report that expert drummers have a highly nuanced perception of creativity, but don’t worry, expansion on that is for another place and time. For now, I commend a little later-life scholarship for retiring OTs in search of some robust intellectual stimulation, if only to confirm what Tonbridge School staff surely already know: the young are alarmingly bright and appear to be getting brighter!

My Relationship with Music Today 
My interest now is recorder and piano; I haven’t touched a drum kit for years. My sole engagement is an annual performance on snare drum of the National Anthem at our village Remembrance Sunday, which gives me profound pleasure. Any modest contribution that I might make lies now with the pen rather than the drum. An academic volume on the topic of creative music performance is in Press.

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