LEARNING the ancient Japanese art of Taiko drumming is more a kin to karate than your typical music lesson.
Neil Mackie recalls how he saw the performers on a trip to the Far East 20 years ago and, instantly hooked, threw himself into mastering the discipline.
“I was blown away when I saw the drummers,” says the 51-year-old. “I spoke to this Japanese tutor who offered to teach me and I ended up spending two years out there.
“It’s a very strict discipline and in many ways it is similar to learning a martial art.
“I had to jump through a lot of hoops - going on 10km runs three or four times a week, playing outside in all weathers and learning how to sit in some pretty uncomfortable positions.”
Upon returning to the UK, Neil and friend Miyuki Williams brought the art to British audiences and set up the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers.
“We decided we wanted to make it more of a group and went about recruiting more people.
“We found an old farmhouse in the Scottish countryside where we set up a dojo to train people.
“The drums take up a lot of space and are pretty loud, but here only the sheep can hear us.”
Bristol-born Neil said that people were persuaded to pick up the sticks and play for lots of different reasons.
“I had never really heard of it before I went to Japan. At the time I had been involved in rock bands.
“And suddenly here was something when I was at the front of the stage, not just sat at the back behind lots of other people!”
The drums were originally used by monks for religious ceremonies, with the modern art taking off in the 1950s.
In size and sound, the instruments vary a great deal - with the largest as big as a Mini.
But surely spending such a lot of time sat in the middle of the beat can do damage to a different kind of drum - in the ear?
“Pardon,” Neil laughs. “I’m only joking, we’ve not quite gone deaf yet. Actually the sound isn’t the banging people think. It’s more of a reverberation through your body which is quite pleasant.
“In Japanese legend, the drum has a spirit and hitting it wakes that spirit. Whether or not that’s true, it’s certainly a beautiful sound.”
Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers play Solihull Arts Complex on May 21. Tickets on 0121 704 6962.