The ‘not so little’ drummer boy of suburbia

A glass of wine, rocking legend Graham Ward, renowned filmmaker Marlida Ferreira, a starry-eyed journalist and a beautiful sunset over the oceans of Cape Town.

In a luxury apartment overlooking the whole of Sea-Point, I share a glass of wine with Marlida, Graham’s partner, as he is “probably still busy with his hair”. She wants to go usher him on as “you don’t keep the press waiting...”, but I would rather see the musical giant, in his full glory-hair and all.

When Graham strides in (also with wine in hand), I am initially shocked for a brief moment, and not because of his wicked locks. Imagining the artist, who banged the drums for Tom Jones, Led Zeppelin, the Bee Gee’s, Ray Charles, Donna Summer and the amazing Paul Mc Cartney, I seemed to have created a picture of a tattooed, skinny jean wearing, pierced rock star. Instead, Graham appears shockingly normal-looking.

From the moment I meet Graham, the only question that burns at the back of my throat, is why he retired from drumming. He was at the top of his game by his retirement, from playing for the gods of rock to opera sensation Kiri de Kanawa to West End musicals. As I finally scoop up enough courage to ask my “key question”, Graham casually answers and I realise he must have done this speech a number of times before...

“I was more of a hired gun”, he explains. He wasn’t necessarily ‘part’ of the band, rather more like an accessory. He has also been playing professionally since he was about eleven years old, “you could say I was a regular wünderkind”. Graham’s father was a trumpeter for orchestras, so music had been part of his life ever since can remember.

Graham mentions that by the time he was 18, he had been around the world at least two times. As he describes the countries he visited from Asia to Australia to Europe, I shyly think of my own personal dreams to ‘one day’ see the world. Graham accomplished everything he dreamed about, by the time he turned 20. I’m 21, and I haven’t even started on my aspirations yet. I feel increasingly inspired yet intimidated by his story.

I think Graham notices my shock and awe, as he mentions that touring around the globe isn’t the idyllic adventure it’s cut out to be. “Contractually, you are hammered down”, which means no skiing, tennis, horse riding or even tenpin bowling while on tour-imagine cancelling a show for 50 000 fans, because the drummer bruised his knee. I sense a bit of drumming pride as he explains that a drummer is the only person in the band who has to use his whole body (arms and legs) for playing. Has Graham jumped out of any aeroplanes since his freedom arrived in the form of retirement? He laughs shyly, as he admits no; however, he did at least stroke a horse today, which is more adventure he needs for the time coming.

Even though Graham is formally ‘retired’ from drumming, he is in truth more involved in music than ever before. He recently opened up a music studio in Cape Town, where he is in the process of producing music for artists such as the up-and-coming local band, “Nuthouse Poets”. He even wrote a few of the songs on their album such as “Debbie, the milf” and “Ward G”. Graham gets increasingly excited as he describes his new work environment, fidgeting his with his wine glass in hand, not even able to take a moment’s break for a sip.

Graham and Marlida met about a year ago, just as Graham settled in to South Africa. Marlida needed music for her film, “Black Cadillacs” (which was screened at Cannes film-festival). Ever since then, Graham is responsible for composing all of Marlida’s music for her films, and she in return, directs the music videos for his bands.

“I think it’s lovely to be able to bring your work home”, Marlida explains their relationship. As they are both artists, who work predominantly with other artists, they both understand the work-related problems each of them deal with everyday, especially regarding getting useful material from drama queen starlets.

The American production house HBO also recently approached the couple to write a new series for them about “the highlife of rock royalty”. They plan for the story to revolve around a rock band set in the 80’s, where the drummer is an undercover CIA operative, fighting terrorists while on a world tour with the band.

A retired drummer, writing a story about a drumming action hero? Sounds a bit autobiographical or childhood-dreamish doesn’t it? Graham delicately talks around the question as he describes how most the characters are actually people he knew. Apparently, it wasn’t odd for musicians to work for the CIA or British Intelligence. He tells me a story of a trumpeter friend of his, who was a renowned hit man. “At concerts he would play trumpet, while searching the crowd for any danger, you won’t guess it but he was actually full of guns”.

As the interview draws to a close, I realise the sun is set long ago and about three hours have passed (even though it feels like a mere ten minutes). I convince Graham and Marlida for a quick ‘photo session’ around the candlelit room. I take out my little digital camera with its weak flash and hope for the best.

Surprisingly, Marlida and Graham seem just as awkward in front of the camera as I feel behind it. For a musician, filmmaker and media student, we make an interesting trio-squinty eyes, crooked smiles, blurred focus. However, I think it’s mostly me being a very ill developed photographer. In the end, I decide to press the button as quick as I can, for as many times possible hoping to catch at least one spontaneously beautiful image of my subject matter.

After my dismal attempt at photography, Marlida, Graham and I spend about another thirty minutes discussing topics ranging from Elton John to Graham’s 20-year old daughter. I thank them for the about hundredth time for granting me an evening I’ll remember for a long time to come before closing the heavy, wooden door behind me.

Walking back to my car I feel somehow enriched by this experience. I see possibilities for my future I would have never thought of before. In truth, I suddenly feel extremely excited about life. All thanks to a new drummer and filmmaker friend of mine I had the pleasure to ‘interview’.

Cape Town – Vancouver