How an East End Bedroom Bass Guitarist Got To Play With a Drumming Legend

Humble Beginnings (Life Before Bass!)

My parents were not musicians and displayed no obvious signs of artistic talent, yet they managed to produce three prodigious young visual artists; my big sister, my brother and myself. Our two younger sisters excelled in other areas.

At home, the music we heard was eclectic. Like many Caribbean households of that era, we heard everything, ranging from the Mighty Sparrow, Charley Pride, Brook Benton, Johnny Nash, Jim Reeves, Elvis and Dolly Parton from our parents record player.

From the radio, we heard Beatles, Motown, Carpenters, Hendrix, Bowie, Elton John, Thin Lizzy, Suzi Quatro and some random stuff that we didn’t know the names of at the time like “Sylvia” by Focus, Fifth Dimension, Bacharach, Led Zeppelin and The Move.

 

No Such Thing As Coincidence

My Brother, Mark, who is a year older than me, started playing drums at his secondary school (that’s high school for you lovely folks from the US of A) at 12 years old, and I also started on drums at my primary school at 11…on the same day!

Spooky!

 

It’s Not About the Gear

Being raised in the impoverished working class East End of London in the 1970s meant that neither school had a full drum set. Mark learned to play Bass drum, snare and ride cymbal (no bass drum pedal…seriously, he hit the bass drum head on the “one” with the
stick in his left hand then pulled it up to hit the snare on the “three”. He was the only kid in the entire school of 400 who had the coordination to do it!), whereas I played ride, snare and hi-hat at my school.

 

“We Have To Draw The Line Somewhere!”


Mark played drums in school shows and assemblies and got very good. When I arrived at the same secondary school a year later (showing Mark how to use their newly acquired hi-hat…then, in 5 seconds, he ran with it!), I doubled with Mark on drums on a couple of shows, then the music teacher decided they only needed one drummer, so he “let me go”.

I loved the sound of drums but wasn’t driven to practice.To my credit, I did have other interests. At this point, family and friends  were convinced I’d be some kind of visual artist.
I even went to art college on weekends and took my final year Art exam two years early!
Mark took his sticks everywhere he went and was always practicing!

 

Introduction To A Legend


Years later, when Mark and I were 16 and 15, a friend told us about a drummer called Billy Cobham.

He told us Billy was the “best drummer in the world!” and had “arms like tree trunks!” (the sort of thing that sounds impressive to adolescent boys) and that we should check him out.

Mark found a copy of a magazine called “International Musician (and Recording World)” With Billy on the front.

He did have arms like tree trunks. And his drum kit was huge!

 

What Did He Sound Like?


We read the interview and he sounded like an intelligent, focused and expressive musician. He spoke a lot about the meaning of music.

Mark bought a live album of Billy’s called “Shabazz”.

I remember him shouting to me to come upstairs and hear the drum intro on the first track.

Neither of us had heard anything like it before or since!

From that point, Mark decided to get serious about drums and began learning everything he could from Billy (and later, whoever Billy listened to), and I decided to learn the Bass because it would get me to be near the sound of the drums in general and Billy in particular!

That was my silly adolescent dream.. I said, out of nowhere; “I play BASS! …with HIM! (Pointing to Billy on the record cover).

 

The First Meeting


A few months later, Billy came to play at the Hammersmith Odeon in London and we went to see him live for the first time.

Of course, we were blown away by his style, flair and dynamic range when he played (we’d never heard anyone who could play so intensely but also so quietly…keeping the intensity!). We went home that night determined to be musicians playing at that level.

This time, unlike my 11 year old drumming self, I did have the passion to practice the Bass Guitar.

To begin with, having no money, I didn’t have a Bass at home. Being broke made my family very resourceful so I mainly played “Air Bass” and “Mind Bass”,while looking at other players on TV and at gigs to get the fingerings.
(I got to play school shows on Bass with Mark at an all girl’s school during that period too…but that’s another story!).

 

Getting It Together


Over the years, we kept meeting Billy at his gigs so he got to know us very well.
Mark was gaining quite a reputation as a drummer, playing with an up and coming sax player called Courtney Pine (Now Courtney Pine, CBE, British Jazz legend).

I was cultivating a reputation as a bassist too…so a few people I played with turned out to be friends with Billy and a few of them mentioned me over time.

 

The Call


In 1993, Billy called me (I was still living at my Mum’s house at the time and there was only a landline…no mobile phones yet!) to say that he was recording an album in the UK at Realworld studios, owned by Peter Gabriel, and would I like to play Bass on a couple of tracks?

 

Would I???

My dream had come true!

 

The power of manifestation!

I recorded three tracks on his album “The Traveler” which was released in 1994.

In early 1995, he called again (by that time, I’d moved to my own flat and had a mobile phone!) to ask if I’d like to do a small tour of Europe with him.

Of course, I said YES!

Our association continues to this day, twenty one years later.

I’m on most tracks on Billy’s current album “Tales From The Skeleton Coast”.

And the rest is not history at all!

 

 

 

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Leave A Reply (10 comments so far)


  1. Nikki Yeoh
    3 years ago

    Such an inspiring story Mike, what an amazing journey so far! Xx


    • Mike
      3 years ago

      Thanks, Nikki.
      I’m waiting on your site to come online.
      Aside from your own playing/writing, there’s now plenty of evidence of your great teaching methods… players like Jack Stevens (Simply Red), Marcus Bonfanti, Pete Fraser, Alexis Nuñez, Peter Edwards…so many more that came through your courses and they’re all out there kicking it now.:-)


  2. Ana Banana
    3 years ago

    What a wonderful, touching and inspiring story. Thank you for sharing, Michael. The power of passion changes the world <3


    • Mike
      3 years ago

      Thanks, Ana. You’re right. We must first believe in ourselves.
      I’ll be clear, I do not speak of “talent show” style delusion,
      believing they’re super talented because their Mum or their
      friends in the local pub told them so 😉

      It’s important to approach things with “creative confidence”
      (the energy and drive to do the necessary work to reach a
      high standard at what you do) as opposed to
      “competitive confidence” (I don’t need to learn anything,
      I’m the finished article, learning theory/harmony/reading
      will harm my playing, etc).

      Burning desire plus working on the right things will get us all to where we want to go.
      All the best on your journey, Ana. 🙂


  3. Phil Dawson guitar
    2 years ago

    Great story Mike, my students will love this, best, Phil D


    • Mike
      2 years ago

      My pleasure, Phil!

      Just had a look at your site.
      Seems we have some mutual connections.
      Haven’t seen the amazing Shinghai since she was an unknown backing
      singer in a band I was in with (now!) Mercury Nominated Eska Mtungwazi…maybe 15 years ago.
      It’s a big world if you have to clean it! 🙂

      Take care,

      Mike


  4. Trevor Grenon
    2 years ago

    Hi Mike, I only just discovered you and am really enjoying what I’m hearing. I really love your back story too. My brother and I built our first guitar from something we found at the dump. It had a rotten pine body and we built the pickups from 6 hearing aid earphones we got hold of – it worked (just). Eventually, we saved enough money to buy third shares in a $29 guitar. I’ve started bassing again in recent years after an 18 year break. If you feel like a laugh check out my band The Smoking Decibels playing On My Knees. I’m going to check out this blog from beginning to end. Keep up the great vibes.


    • Mike
      2 years ago

      Thanks, Trevor!
      Good story re you and your brother!
      Hope this post helps in your return to “bassing”.

      Let me know how you progress on bass!

      All the best,

      Mike


  5. Phillip Harper
    1 year ago

    Such a good heartfelt genuine story.. Its always good to dream as it is where you are trying to get to in life.


    • Mike
      11 months ago

      Thanks, Phillip! Indeed, the dream is the thing!:-)

About

MICHAEL MONDESIR

Michael is a freelance Bass Guitar player, who studied at the much lauded

Bedroom School Of Music.
(just means he's self-taught, don't panic!)

He began his professional music career in 1983, playing Bass Guitar with his brother, drummer Mark Mondesir
(John McLaughlin, Jethro Tull,
Glenn Hughes),
forming a trio with guitarist

Hawi Gondwe
(Amy Winehouse/
George Michael).

Since then he has performed with
artists as diverse as;
Jeff Beck, Billy Cobham, Ginger Baker, Eddie Harris, Jack DeJohnette, John McLaughlin, Oumou Sangare, Usher, Whitney Houston, Imogen Heap, Sir George Martin, State of Bengal, Hermeto Pascoal, David Garibaldi, Jan Hammer, Ty, Zoe Rahman, Jim Mullen, Ronnie Wood, John Serry, Andy Summers, Django Bates, Gary Husband, Chante Moore, Lulu, Nitin Sawhney, Lenny White, Chad Smith, Courtney Pine, Jocelyn Brown, Jason Rebello, Brice Wassy, Neneh Cherry, Nikki Yeoh, Bernard Purdie, Iain Ballamy, Bill Bruford, Julian Joseph, Leni Stern, Mory Kante, Keith More, Trilok Gurtu, Aster Aweke, S-Club 7, Talvin Singh and Pee Wee Ellis.

Michael entered the Pop, R&B, Funk and Dance music world, composing tracks on albums by funk trombone legend Fred Wesley and singer/songwriter, Lewis Taylor.

In September 2009, Michael joined the
Thriller Live world tour.
He is currently part of the visiting faculty of various education establishments including the Royal Academy of Music, Rhythmic Conservatory of Copenhagen and British Academy of New Music as well as teaching privately at home
(schedule permitting).

Michael Mondesir uses:
Yamaha Basses, Costalab Pedals and Elixir Strings.