Felixstowe: And the beat goes on for Taiko drummers

As titles go, Jiuchi base rhythm comandante is impressive; Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers co-founder Neil Mackie just calls himself the old man of the group.

“I started playing Taiko 20 years ago this year,” laughs the 51-year-old, who trained in Japan with Masaaki Kurumaya Sensei.

“I came across this drumming there and thought this is amazing, like nothing I’ve ever seen. I found someone who agreed to teach me, but he was very serious about it; I couldn’t just have a go if you like so I ended up staying for two years.”

Neil, a former a kit drummer who played everything from rock and punk to reggae and soul with various bands in his hometown of Bristol and London, formed the group with Miyuki Williams.

“She came along to translate for me at the lessons because I couldn’t speak Japanese when I first went there; she liked it so much she took it up as well.

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“When we came back to the UK the two of us would go out and perform, busk on the streets, play at schools and things like that.”

The Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers are the UK’s first and only professional touring Taiko group.

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Staging more than 100 concerts a year, they have appeared on countless TV and radio programmes worldwide, performed at Glastonbury and even featured in a Bollywood film.

The drums were originally played by priests and monks at religious ceremonies, using them to call the gods with certain rhythms signifying the call for a good harvest or rain.

Mugenkyo’s latest show sounds a feast for the eyes and ears with lots of jumping around, post-apocalyptic costumes, special effects, big beats, big rhythms and very big drums.

“One of them is about the size of a small car,” laughs Neil. “If you think about a Mini up on a stand and playing it, you kind of get the size. You don’t see any other drumming like this.”

“People expect a group of drummers sat in a circle playing. We get so many people at our shows, brought along by a friend who’d seen us before, and they say ‘we didn’t think we’d be able to stick two hours of drumming but we were amazed at how diverse it is’.”

This tour also sees the return of special guest Nobuko Miyazaki, the New York based flautist and shinobue player.

The Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers come to Felixstowe’s Spa Pavilion on May 24.

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