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A Load of Claptrap
Give the band the clap they so richly deserve
© 2002 Duncan Fry
Remember the Syn-Drum? Whenever I hear that "Deeoouu" sound now that starts high and ends low, it just screams 70's/80's to me. It was an interesting effect for the first couple of hundred times, I guess, but the sound rapidly became a musical cliché.
Eventually every cabaret band from here to breakfast had them, mounted above their ordinary toms, forever dropping Syn-Drum fills in ad nauseam. Instead of synthesizers that could sound like drums, we now had a drum that could sound like a synthesizer. Nobody, it seems, ever asked "Why?"
And what about Simmons, who as far as I can remember made one of the first sets of electronic drums. Band after band in the 80's would have some guy standing (never sitting) down the back of the stage, dressed in his New Romantic finest, perfectly coiffed mullet hair, silently flailing away on these things while the poor sound engineer tried to erase the hum that threatened to overtake the rest of the band.
Electronic drums of all kinds were a staple of New Wave/New Age bands, and just about the only thing they had in common was that they would all hum as soon as you plugged them into the system. If bass amps hum because they don't know the words, what excuse does a drum kit have?
Anyway, one day back in the distant past we got hold of another little gadget made by Simmons, called a ClapTrap Handclap Synthesizer. Talk about simple - it was just a box that went "Clap" every time you pressed the button on the front panel. Something that every drum machine has had ever since, but to us then it was a great novelty. You could trigger it from an external source, or set it to clap all by itself, a bit like a phat metronome I suppose. There was also a button marked 'Humanizer' on the front that randomized the timing slightly, just like real handclapping, but it was the 'Manual Trigger' button that was the easy way to do it.
Like the drums it only had an unbalanced output, and its owner wanted a balanced XLR out fitted so it might stand a better chance of plugging into the system without humming.
Col performed the necessary work, and when we checked it out it seemed to connect quite silently to the mixer, but just to be on the safe side he said, "Aren't you working with the Flames tonight? Why don't you take it with you on the gig and give it a bit of a go?"
So, I put it in the drawer of the effects rack with a spare set of patch leads, and headed off down to Avalon, where the Flames had a gig at the Air Force base.
The Flames were a cover band led by a singer called Craig. I think even he would admit that he wasn't the world's best singer, but he was a charismatic front man who wisely had a female singer alongside him to (a) give the audience something better than him to look at, and (b) handle the high notes.
Coupled with the obligatory pair of popstar guitarists, they were an easy band to work for as long as you didn't take them too seriously (taking themselves seriously was their job!). They played a mixture of last year's hits, old covers, and even older covers. I mean, jeez, if they played songs that I used to play in bands, then they were extremely old covers.
You know what it's like when you get a new toy for the system. You can't wait to use it on anything you possibly can. I was itching to use the ClapTrap, and had it plugged into a spare channel ready to go, but as the night progressed I couldn't find any song that it might remotely fit into.
Then the band started up an old song by The Vibrants - There's Something About You Baby.
Bullseye. After I heard the intro 'Dada dada dada da da - clap clap clap' I knew I had the right song.
"Come on everybody," encouraged Craig "I want you all to clap along with me."
A few half hearted claps could be heard from the audience, and then the band was into the song. I missed the first lot of claps at the start, but I was ready and waiting for them in the middle. As soon as I heard the 'Dada dada dada da da' riff again, I jabbed the button on the front panel three times.
'CLAP CLAP CLAP!' Three enormous claps with maximum reverb resounded around the room. Oops - maybe the channel level was just a tad high.
It was a long room, and sadly the claps were about half a second late by the time they bounced back and hit the band.
Chaos reigned. The band dribbled to a halt, stunned, all looking and pointing at each other.
"What the fuck was that?" asked Craig, to no-one in particular.
I waved sheepishly from the mixing desk. He glared at me, and then counted the band back into the song.
"OK, we'll try it again," he yelled, and then glared at me once more - "And this time we'll do it on our own!"
Searching the Internet for a photo of the unit (I neglected to take one at the time!) came up with this MusicAid ClapTrap. MusicAid went on to become Simmons, and this appears to have been the forerunner of the Simmons ClapTrap.
Photo from Andy's Synth Pages, http://www.synth.clara.net/claptrap.htm
This story first appeared in Connections magazine