Tom Newnham: Putting Creativity Before Disability

October 7, 2013 2:44 pm

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Talent isn’t something to be taken for granted. It’s amazing what can be uncovered about someone or even oneself, once you accept you’re under construction and still making progress. Combined with personality and character it stays with you, as long as you hold on to it. Not to sound arrogant, but I consider myself to be talented. Words are my only reason to keep going!

A childhood friend, who’s definitely earned his position as a professional in the music industry is Tom Newnham. After 20 years we reconnected via Facebook. It was then I discovered he was doing pretty well for himself and as he should be.  A professional drummer with 15+ years musical experience and exploration solidly behind him and a music degree to his name has helped him form a foundation to build on within the music industry.

On top of the fact the creative industry is one of the most competitive, we are both facing on-going challenges and struggles that come with Cerebral Palsy (CP) and being disabled professionals.

“Disabled musicians aren’t very common, I suppose. The inevitability of surprising people as they watch me work becomes tedious night after night. This is definitely my biggest challenge.” He says.

His talent in my opinion is very much underestimated. Ask yourself, who’s to blame? Personally, I’d point the finger at society and its perception of disability and capability, something that maybe unfamiliar territory to some, something we both have in common.

Tom uses his disability to his advantage, challenging sceptics, in the same way I would. “…I’m happy to talk about my disability in relation to drumming but having people make the same observations and come to the same realisations grates a little as you sit and smile sweetly, nodding politely. ‘Inspiring’ is a word that gets used a lot.  I understand the meaning and appreciate the sentiment but the implication takes away from my performance, focusing on my limitations…I’d much prefer someone say “Dude!…Your back-beat took my face off! Gimmie a lesson!”

 

This kind of determination is a ‘must have’ for disabled people.

Tom Newnham

Photograph by Amanda Taylor

There’s a lesson to be learnt here. If you can grasp this mentality, you’re more likely to go further in life. Tom is without a doubt a prime example of this. He doesn’t settle for anything less! He’s a perfectionist at heart. Newnham has without a doubt, gained reputation for his creative streak.

In many ways, growing up in a musical family seems to be what paved the way for Tom to become a drummer. It was an advantage for him, the backbone to his career. Maybe it wasn’t the only reason. It helped him find his voice. Not everyone in his family was a musician. Yet, there was an overall passion and appreciation for music. Newnham’s love for music was established from a very young age. His first encounter with drums arose during his childhood, hitting pots and pans, sitting in his family kitchen.

“You could sit on the steps in my house and hear rock, jazz, metal, orchestral music and dance music coming from different rooms.  I just soaked it up.  So, I would say that my family was a big influence on me.  The drums just kind of came naturally, I suppose.  Every child does it, hits things randomly but with me it sort of stuck.  After a while, my family realized it wasn’t a phase and bought me a drum-set.” He says.

Growing up in a house oozing with musical atmosphere meant all types of genres came together. Obviously, this was very beneficial for him. His exposure to all genres of music has provided him particularly extra comfort when sitting behind the drums. So much in fact, Newnham is able to make the transition between genres without breaking a sweat, playing with bands that have strong roots in Americana, jazz, blues and rock. He also has experience playing progressive rock, funk and cartoon music, all while reading the sheet music.

Today, he collaborates with The MiNGUS E l a s t I C BAND. A five-piece blues band, who perform and record their own material and cover songs. This talented quintet brings you Americana with a delightful mix of foot stomping blues and four part harmonies. The MiNGUS E l a s t I C BAND take centre stage in pubs, clubs, and festivals around London, up and down the UK. I’ve seen these guys perform. Their material alone is enough to suggest just how much the band exemplifies quality, creativity and status. With catchy songs, they sure know how to get the crowd on their feet.

It’s focus and determination that helps one develop comfort and ease when playing more than one genre. “As a professional musician, you can’t really limit yourself to playing one genre. You can have styles and concepts you specialize in but limiting yourself to that extent is similar to an artist only painting with one colour.” It doesn’t matter which creative profession you find yourself in. Every once in a while, think outside the box, and step outside your comfort zone. “I grew up listening to metal but at the same time I was playing jazz on the drums while my gran played piano.” He says.

He goes on to explain other advantages to expanding your knowledge with music genre. “There’s some really bad music out there but even that’s just a subjective personal preference…{it} has its uses.  It gives you an idea of what you don’t want to sound like.”

When you’re in the creative industry, expect the unexpected. Everyone has one or more moments they’re proud to be associated with. One of Tom’s memorable moments came, when he was centre stage in the Royal Albert Hall a little over 19 years ago.

Newnham maintains his skill with teaching. He uses this as a strategy to stay in the game. The two combined offers strong focus. His love for drums and dedication to teaching has opened the doors to more career prospects. He’s preparing his very own workbook, where he aims to provide endless opportunities for aspiring drummers, as he once was. With several students, Tom created a teaching strategy based on how he was taught in the early days. He expresses the importance of being able to adapt and increase your skill-base encouraging artists to showcase their talent with the combination of other attributes.  “I’m really enjoying being a teacher. I’ve come to really appreciate the skill involved in conveying information as succinctly as possible.”

For him, it’s not about getting noticed so much. It’s more to do with building success with the tools you currently have, and using it to your full advantage.

Tom NewnhamI believe talent develops through years of practice and experience. These experiences are what prepare you for the cruel world. The world we, as kids spent years looking through rose tinted glasses at. When you were a kid, every single person disguised the world to be a problem free zone.

When asked to describe his best moment he begins by expressing the joy, the buzz, and the pride he feels when he’s behind the drums.  “Drummers are the ones that make people dance.  If you’re doing your job right, people should be moving to your beat, even without realising it.  Seeing a bunch of people sway and nod their heads, knowing that you’re the cause of it is very satisfying.”

Being ambitious is one thing, making sure you’re walking the path you’ve chosen for the right reasons is another. Take pride in what you do. Your career can make you, but at the same time it can break you. An overwhelming truth begins to surface. “Don’t try and ‘make it’ searching for that elusive record deal. It’s unlikely to happen, especially given the state of the record industry at the moment.  Adapt and change and have as many strings to your musical bow as possible.” Don’t reach too high. You might strain your arm and back doing so. Only reach as far as you can for now. Expand your horizons, go on a musical adventure and try something new. “Listen to as much as you can and try and play with other musicians as much as possible. Knowledge is power. Go to music school.  It will set you up to be a professional musician and give you an idea of your weaknesses and strengths.” Here’s a musician putting his creativity before his disability whilst everyone else stares in amazement!

Tom’s Links:

https://en-gb.facebook.com/minguselasticband

SoundCloud: MiNGUS E l a s t I C BAND https://soundcloud.com/minguselasticband

Tom Newnham: https://soundcloud.com/timmy462

 

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