Makarelle

Interview with Martin Doyle

Taiko drummer and co-founder of Tsuchigumo Daiko

Martin Doyle
has been drumming for 28 years, first as a kit drummer in various Metal and Rock bands and has been playing Taiko for 11 years. He discovered Taiko in 2010, whilst undertaking an Honours Degree in Popular Music Performance. After graduating with First Class Honours, he became a full-time member of Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers, touring and performing professionally with the group for five years. In January 2016, he co-founded Tsuchigumo Daiko to explore new creative horizons with Taiko, through which he expresses his love of music, drumming, martial arts, and physical fitness.

Tsuchigumo Daiko
was founded in January 2016 by Martin Doyle and Shonagh Walker, with an ethos focused on sharing the benefits and joy of Taiko, fostering community, inclusivity, and personal development.

By drawing on a broad spectrum of musical and artistic influences, and with due respect to the history and traditions of Taiko, the group seeks to push the boundaries of Taiko, and create its own signature sound, punctuated by an exciting, creative, and highly energetic physical performance style.

Makarelle:

Hi Martin, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for Makarelle. Can you explain a bit about Taiko and how you came to learn this art form?


Martin Doyle/Tsuchigumo:

Taiko is a form of drumming that originally comes from Japan, but which is now played in many countries across the world. The roots of Taiko can be traced through Asia, with influences coming from India, China, and Korea before the first documented evidence of Taiko in Japan during the Kofun period (circa 6 AD).

The Taiko have had various functions in Japanese culture throughout history, being used in Japanese classical music, in religious ceremonies, to direct troops during battle, and as the focus of many traditional folk festivals and rituals.

The modern performing art known as Kumi Daiko or Wadaiko, was created by a Jazz drummer named Daihachi Oguchi in 1951, who made the Taiko a centrepiece of his performance, with various shapes, sizes, and timbres of drums and metal percussion playing in combination.

I was told about taiko by my lecturer at University, when studying world percussion as part of my degree. He showed me videos of Kodo and Ondekoza, and I was immediately struck by the powerful synergy of drumming and physicality, and the almost Martial approach to technique, stance, and discipline. There was a palpable sense of reverence in how the drum was approached and played, and it tapped into everything I enjoyed: drumming, physical fitness, martial arts, and Japanese culture.

I was given contact details for a Taiko group just outside Glasgow and decided to sign up for one of their weekend workshops. The workshop cemented the idea in my head that this was what I wanted to do with my life, so I dedicated my time to learning, practicing, and playing as much as I could. Still doing so!

Shonagh Walker
began playing Taiko in an extra-curricular school group at Cleveden Secondary School in Glasgow.  After leaving school, she joined the Mugen Taiko Dojo and was a member there for over eleven years, during which time she became a lead player, instructor, and workshop leader. Shonagh co-founded Tsuchigumo Daiko in 2016, and now balances her love of Taiko with her professional life as a scientist.

Makarelle:
What gave you the idea to turn this into a business?


Martin Doyle/Tsuchigumo:

My goal in going back to university was to become a professional musician of some description, whether as a session player, or tutor. I had an idea to live in Japan and start a career over there, but after finding Taiko, the plans quickly changed. After touring and performing for five years with Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers I decided I needed a new challenge. I wanted to re-assess and rebuild my playing from the ground up, applying methodologies and techniques from other disciplines and teachers I’d been working on in the background. There were no other groups within easy travel distance, so Shonagh and I decided to create our own, where we could explore new ideas and breathe fresh life into our Taiko playing. We also wished to establish a significant connection to the Taiko community in the UK and Europe.

Makarelle:
How did the Covid Pandemic affect your various business/art projects?


Martin Doyle/Tsuchigumo:

We had several concerts, festival appearances, teaching engagements, study trips, and conferences planned for 2020 and 2021, but sadly, all of them had to be cancelled. There were a few promising collaborations on the horizon, too, which were never fully realised. Our local classes and rehearsals were also halted, so we’ve lost a huge amount of potential income over the course of this pandemic. Perhaps the only blessing was that we don’t have a standing business or premises to look after and pay for, and I am the only one employed by our company. I was eventually able to apply for furlough to cover a portion of my income, but the business took a major hit in the intervening period.


Makarelle:

Do you feel that your creativity has helped you through the mental health challenges of this pandemic?

I’m always looking for new ways of doing things, whether it be playing technique, listening skills, or physical exercises that will help with playing in

some way. I enjoy being creative with drills and my songwriting, so that process has helped keep my mind occupied whilst being locked down. Over the last year, I’ve been working on skills I had been meaning to sharpen or develop, so in some respects not having a full timetable has been helpful in allowing a little space to re-evaluate where I am as a Taiko player and instructor, and which aspects of my playing and teaching needed work.


Makarelle:

Do you have any tips for others who might feel like they are coming unravelled at the moment?


Martin Doyle/Tsuchigumo:

The thing that has kept my mind largely positive is actually quite simple: that this is a finite problem which will be resolved at some point. Of course, It has taken much longer than we all expected, and it’s been tough to deal with the setbacks along the way, but it won’t last forever. Thankfully, it looks as though we are over the worst in this country and might be approaching some semblance of normalcy.

Secondly, it’s been about reframing the layoff in my head, and using the time to catch up with or explore things I might not have had the time to before; even if it’s simply catching up with any books, TV shows, games, or films. A related coping strategy I use has been to compile a list of things to do each day, many of which are mundane or not hugely important. However, the process of completing each task, no matter how insignificant, gives my day a sense of purpose and something external to focus on. I believe the mind is a goal-seeking machine that thrives on setting and completing short and long-term goals, so this daily process has been my way of continuing to tap into that.

Makarelle:
What kind of instruments do you use? 


Martin Doyle/Tsuchigumo:
We use a variety of drums in our ensemble, starting with the Nagado Daiko, which is a barrel-shaped drum with a roughly 45cm diameter head nailed in place. Next is the Shime Daiko, which is a smaller, high-pitched drum with two 35cm heads roped together over a wooden body. The Oke Daiko, or Okedo is another tied drum of varying size, but with a much longer barrel-type body. It can be played on a stand but is very commonly carried using a strap slung over the shoulder. In this configuration, it’s known as a Katsugi Oke. The biggest drum in any taiko ensemble is the O-Daiko, which is usually a centrepiece drum for any stage show. They can have either nailed on heads or tied heads, and range in size from around 60cm to over 3m in diameter. Ours is just under 1m in diameter.

We have several smaller hand drums, a range of wooden percussion, cajons, gongs, tambourines, hand-held bells (atarigane) you strike with a wooden mallet (shimoku), hand cymbals (chappa), and drum kit cymbals that we use for certain pieces or atmospheric effects.

Makarelle:
Is there a dream instrument you would love to be able to add to the list?


Martin Doyle/Tsuchigumo:

I suppose like every Taiko group, we’d love to have a huge Nagado-style Odaiko from one of the great drum makers of Japan; Asano, or Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten. They are incredibly expensive, though, and would require additional storage to house it. Maybe one day we’ll have a space to store one.


Makarelle:

What is your creative process (where do you find your inspiration – how do you plan and implement your projects)?


Martin Doyle/Tsuchigumo:

When it comes to planning exercises and crafting drills, I like to make sure that they don’t feel dull or uninspired, even down to choosing a fun or interesting name for them. There are usually multiple levels to the complete understanding of each drill, but not at the expense of the core principles or technique being taught. I like to get as much bang for my buck, so to speak, so that if we only have time for one or two drills, there’s plenty of stuff to get your teeth into, and players can concentrate on different facets depending on their level.

When it comes to composition of pieces or parts for collaboration, inspiration can come from a variety of places. In my own writing, it generally starts with either a physical movement tied to an idea I have visualised, or a rhythmical pattern I’ve heard or come up with on my own. From there, it’s a about developing a theme; the why of the pattern or the movement. At that point, I usually decide upon the tone and intention of the piece. Finally, I’ll decide on a structure, whether that be verse-chorus-bridge based, typical of western music; something more progressive in nature, or at times through composed. From there, it’s trial and error, plugging in various parts in different places to find the best overall flow, before adding finishing touches. That’s not to say it is complete at that point, but it’s ready to be aired in the studio, and from there the group will have input on what they think works or doesn’t.

Makarelle:

Do you have any advice for other Taiko players who might want to become professionals?


Martin Doyle/Tsuchigumo:

Learn as much as you can from as many teachers as you can, and don’t limit yourself to one style or approach, unless your goal is to preserve a particular style. Don’t be afraid to experiment and look outside the Taiko world for influence, either. The art is very much from Japan, but it’s roots can be traced to many other cultures. Taiko is a living breathing artform that’s always expanding and evolving, and it’s up to you to find and cultivate your own unique voice, but with due respect to the history, traditions, and work of your forebears.


Makarelle:

Are there any mistakes you made in setting up your businesses that others can learn from?


Martin Doyle/Tsuchigumo:

My biggest issue is knowing what to charge people and making sure the payment is fair for all concerned, including myself. The goal of our group was never to make money. We think of it more as a social enterprise. We want to share the joy and benefits of Taiko with as many people as possible, and if that means charging less or doing something for free when’s there’s little or no budget, we will do that, rather than let the opportunity to expose new faces to Taiko pass by. The upshot is that our fee structure was incredibly erratic at first, and we really struggled to keep things on an even keel. We perhaps should have thought that part out a little better but have a much better grasp of those aspects now, and things have been progressing year on year. Until Covid-19 hit…


Makarelle:

Can you tell me about some milestones/proud moments/funny anecdotes in your Taiko journey?


Martin Doyle/Tsuchigumo:

There have been several memorable milestones and proud moments on our journey thus far; our first school workshop at Hollybrook Academy; our first Taiko Group and public workshop for Kaminari in Yorkshire; our first workshop and performance abroad at Taiko Zentrum Deutschland for our great friend Razz Purcell; our first weekly classes opening to the public; and hosting Kodo members Eiichi Saito and Eri Uchida as our first visiting teachers. As a consequence of that meeting, we were invited to Sado Island to live and train as the Kodo apprentices do, as part of the first “Roots of Kodo” residential program. To say it was a life-changing experience would be an understatement, and it’s something we will cherish and be thankful for forever.

Perhaps the most exciting milestone was the first delivery of new drums. We had been invited to the inaugural European Taiko Conference in Exeter hosted by Kagemusha Taiko and had been asked to perform a piece. It was also our first ever performance and “coming out party” so to speak.

The piece was pretty much composed and ready to play, but we had no drums to practice on. Thankfully, they arrived 2 weeks before the event, so we were able to get some much-needed drum time before the event.

The proudest moment so far was our producing our first-ever full-length concert, Kokoro. It was the culmination of many hours of hard work, studying, training, planning, teaching, and promoting, and felt incredibly satisfying to pull off. It felt like a crucible for us as a group; something we needed to face to test our limits. Could we take on this huge challenge and conquer it? Thankfully, we had amazing support from the local and wider taiko Community to spur us on, and were genuinely amazed and humbled when the show sold out. On the night, everything ran as smoothly as could be expected for a first attempt, and the reaction in the aftermath was extremely positive. There were stressful moments for sure, and plenty of things we could have done better, but seeing everyone pull together for a common goal, step up to the plate and knock it out of the park made all of the stress and sacrifices worthwhile.

Makarelle:

What are your future goals?


Martin Doyle/Tsuchigumo:

For the moment, we are just looking to get back on track with our weekly lessons and build from there. A few workshops and performing opportunities have presented themselves already, and a few of our cancelled projects look like they’ll be revived, so there’s plenty to be excited about. I suppose the main goal, for now, is to get the group standard back to pre-pandemic levels, and work towards our next full-length concert, hopefully with some new material under our belt.

As for the business, a purpose-built practice space is a dream which might never be realised, but something we always have in mind as a stretch target. Our long-held goals still hold true: to help start and maintain school groups, participate in outreach and collaboration in the community when possible, and share the joy and benefits of Taiko with as many people as possible on our journey.


Makarelle:
Thank you very much, Martin.
がんばろう

Photo credits: Vera-Cloe Zebrowska, all rights remain with the artists