Community Jam

One of the best things I’ve done lately is join in a weekly jam session held at my local music studio. The fact that we have a local music studio is amazing. The fact that I can just drop in, join a bunch of strangers, smash out some tunes and blether about music for a few hours, all for free, is incredible.

I live in a medium-sized town – by Scottish standards – around 15,000 people, but one with very few amenities. All over the country, local services and facilities are being cut or forced to close. Places like this – not just music studios, but libraries, community centres and cafes are so valuable. Places where people can gather for a particular purpose, or none. Places run by people who know the community want to make it better. Erskine Arts offers music lessons to kids and adults, various projects for young people, drop in soup & chat sessions as well as the jam sessions. It’s run by a great group of guys who are always looking for ways to contribute to the community and to get the community involved in what they are doing. My older child went there for guitar lessons for a while and I loved going there, seeing what they were up to and secretly (ok sometimes not to secretly) wished I could jump on the drum kit and have a play.

I took up drums again a few years ago, well twice, I wrote about it here and here. The second time I did end up joining with some others to form a wee band, playing covers. Unfortunately that petered out, then the pandemic happened. I continued to practice a bit at home, sadly my acoustic kit had to be relegated to the attic when I needed more space in my bedroom for home working, but I have a cheap electronic kit that is fine for a bashabout. Not having lessons or band practice meant I lacked any focus or motivation, plus there’s always something else to do with the kids, work, house, etc drumming just got lower in the priority list. Then I started to get a weird thing happen to my foot, then leg then whole left side (it’s being investigated by neurology but so far there’s been a lot of ruling things out and not much agreement on what it actually is) so that was scary and I stopped playing at all for over a year for fear that I wouldn’t be able to or that it would show up exactly how much function I had lost.

Then started the adult jam sessions. I didn’t go immediately, but eventually made tentative enquiries, told them about my weird foot/leg/arm thing but was encouraged to come along and just watch or join in if I felt like it. I was reminded that everyone brings something, maybe they have just started learning to play their instrument, have physical or mental health issues, or just lack confidence playing in front of others. It’s on a Friday afternoon, which luckily is the 1 day I don’t usually work. It’s usually me and a bunch of older men. The demographic of the group definitely influences the song choices – we’ve done Eric Clapton, Elvis, Cat Stephens, Kenny Rogers, Chuck Berry and a load of blues numbers that I don’t really know but that doesn’t matter. Someone suggests a song, gets cajoled into taking the mic, gives a quick rundown of the chords and we give it a whirl. People join in with what they can, whether it’s simple strumming along or contributing a lead solo. We are good at starting, the middle bits sound great we’re usually not so hot on endings, but nobody cares, it’s all good fun.

Jam session in progress, that’s me on drums! – photo by Erskine Arts

I’ve written before that improvising was never part of my learning before, I was taught technical skills but not anything about interpreting a song. That combined with never having access to a kit to play about on meant that now I struggle with adding my own elements into playing. I can play along to most song with a basic beat but am still reticent about adding fills or variations. At the moment it’s mainly confidence, but as each week goes by I get more comfortable behind the kit, more familiar with the songs and more aware of how I need to adapt my playing to suit my wonky arm and foot. The guys are nothing but supportive, to me and to each other. It’s great to see everyone helping each other out and encouraging them to have a go of singing or improvising a solo.

Continuing the theme of my last post, we’re lucky to have this facility in our town. I most likely wouldn’t go if this was in Renfrew or Paisley. Practically, it’s only a 5 minute drive away, but more than that it feels like something that is for me because it’s here just down the road. Almost like it would be rude not to get involved with something so amazing, friendly and welcoming for my community, for all of us, for me.

Lucky Just To Be Here

Lately I’ve been trying to find the positive in things. Sometimes good things come through effort, other times through luck.

I had bought tickets to a couple of gigs over the past year but ended up selling them on due to either difficulties with the logistics of getting there or a reluctance to be in large crowds. I’ve not even really listened to much music lately, I’ve been struggling to find anything to really get into. Also music = emotion and I’ve had quite enough of those without inducing any more. Music = opening myself up and I’ve been doing the opposite for a while. Saying that, I have BBC 6Music on in the car and on longer journeys I’ve been giving my kids a musical education with playlists from the 60s, 70s, 80s and a Beatles only special, cos, The Beatles. They like the 60s best so far, although I’m excited to make the 90s playlist next despite them objecting when I sing along. I’m lucky that they both have an interest in music and that I can share this with them. Anyway, when We Are Scientists announce a new album and tour, then you know I’m going to be there no matter what.

I think, I’m pretty sure that this was We Are Scientists gig number 20 for me. I tried to count them all (I’ve written about most on this blog but not all) and I reckon I’m at 20. I’m lucky to have seen them that many times, even luckier to have done so in about 8 towns and cities across 3 countries.

Their album, “Lobes“, came out last month. Initially I popped it on in the car and didn’t really think much of what I heard. Bit too much disco-pop all at once. Then I realised that I wasn’t properly paying attention (due to the driving) and that I had put it on shuffle by accident. I started it again, in order from the start and paid attention (also to the road, I got there safely). Unexpectedly, I got a bit tearful. Those guys. I suddenly remembered all the good music, good gigs, good people that I’ve met through this band and the good times we’ve had. I’m lucky to have that in my life.

The album is great. It’s probably the only We Are Scientists album where comparisons to other bands have sprung to mind (all good ones). It is another highly produced album, which I’m not usually a fan of. I don’t like when bells and whistles get in the way of the essence of good melody, rhythm, hooks and lyrics. Fortunately in this case the not-quite-literal-but-almost bells and whistles only enhance and complement those core elements which are as strong as ever. It’s a more consistent album than previous ones, no big surprises like Headlights, KIT, or Bought Myself a Grave. Parachute maybe comes closest but anyone familiar with the band’s acoustic work won’t find it straying too far from their wheelhouse. Actually perhaps Turn it Up is the outlier of the group. Perhaps I’m also changing my mind about this album’s consistency, there are indeed a couple of nice surprises in there… I’m lucky that my favourite band keep making music that I genuinely enjoy and keep finding new depths in.

So to gig night. I haven’t been to a gig since…well the last gig was also We Are Scientists, unless you count the Strictly Live Tour… I made the necessary arrangements for the kids and puppy and ventured into the West End to Oran Mor. I got there in the middle of the support set, a band called Bleach Lab. They were good. More confident and polished than some support bands I’ve seen. They had a solid, atmospheric sound and the singer had a great voice.

Bleach Lab

My usual gig compadres couldn’t make it so I was considering just losing myself inconspicuously in the middle of the crowd, but then the inevitable Tall Ones appeared all around, so I slinked forward, eyeing up a free space on the barrier, hoping that it wasn’t reserved for someone at the bar/loo when I luckily found people I had met at previous gigs. I secured my favoured spot and wasn’t a lonely loser.

The guys set up their own equipment, so we saw them busy about the stage then go off for a quick costume change and pause for dramatic effect. I kinda miss the days of coordinated outfits or matching smart suits but they all looked great, despite both Keith and Chris wearing dad jeans. Carne was channelling 1970s George Harrison (the hottest Beatle, obvs). They kicked off with Lucky Just To Be Here which is a bold move considering it features Keith singing with minimal accompaniment for a long stretch but it’s a great song that builds in energy and vitality. It’s my favourite song on the new record. Most days. I have trouble picking absolute favourites. Keith’s vocals are powerful and captivating enough that he could easily hold the attention of the crowd that was still warming up. By the end of the number we were thoroughly warmed and ready for more.

We got a generous helping of Lobes, the catchiest tunes from Huffy and a nice mix of older stuff. Kudos to the person who requested Return the Favor, that was an unexpected bonus inclusion in the setlist. I was not at all sorry that It’s a Hit has been ditched to make room for newer/better songs. The additional sounds of the new record sounded more funky than disco-ey live, with most of the elements being added by Carne’s Amazing Magical Effects Gizmo, that he masterfully played in addition to the usual percussion. Despite having a gazillion things to hit all at once, he still amazingly looks like he’s just having a chilled fun bash about, always under control, energetic but never frenetic. I do love that amongst all the trigger pads, loops and effects, a single orange maraca was wielded to the greatest effect. Keith had busy time of it too. With each album comes a signature guitar sound, by now after album number eight, his pedal board must have expanded exponentially and he was as frantic with his feet as he was with his fingers, and the small matter of lead vocals as well, obviously. Chris was as cool as ever. The basslines on Lobes are particularly outstanding and Chris delivered them with aplomb. We are lucky that the band love Glasgow and keep coming back here.

Afterwards I joined the merch queue to see what was on offer, unfortunately the guys themselves weren’t manning it so it was left to a poor fella who had to contend with piles of shirts overflowing on a too-small table, trip-hazard boxes all around his feet and a payment system that seemed to require manual typed entries each time, making for very slow progress indeed. He persevered bravely and eventually got through the long line of people. I picked up a deck of the tarot cards cos they have cool artwork and I really don’t need any more WAS t-shirts. Many thanks to the Oran Mor staff who luckily helped me out the locked door after they let me stay and chat after chucking out time.

It’s been tough times for us all over the past few years. We all need a little bit of luck now and again to help us on our way. All of us who secured tickets to this gig had some luck. We saw a great band have a great time playing some great songs. We were all lucky just to be there.

Pure ragin’

I wrote in my last post about avoiding certain interactions because of a reluctance to engage emotionally with people. To some extent that is still the case, but I’ve come to realise that as well as being emotionally guarded, I’ve also been existing in a state that can best be described as pure ragin’ (Scottish term not necessarily denoting actual rage, but more like anger, frustration and annoyance)

I would like to think of myself as a calm, collected person, but in reality I have very little patience and a wee bit of a temper. Saying that, I’m generally inclined to seeing the positive side of things. Lately in my life and in the world in general there is very little to be positive about.

The trigger for this latest self-realisation was a segment on BBC Breakfast one day last week. The did a piece on the current “Cost of Living Crisis” and included the now usual tips from experts and the public about how to save money – things like batch cooking and turning down the thermostat. There was reference to a BBC website where info could be found, I missed the actual link but it could be this or this. It was the latest in a long series of similar pieces all over the media, who seem to miss the novelty and buzz of the pandemic and death of the queen and are revelling in having another crisis to cover. There was an almost gleeful “we’re all in this together” attitude, the presenters marvelling at ideas like meal planning and utilising leftovers or keeping blankets on the couch rather than turning the heating up as revelatory, not something that many of us have been doing for years out of necessity. The evocation of early covid-times which in turn were heavily “blitz spirit” influenced just made me pure ragin’. Making out that this is just the latest event passively and unfortunately happening to us, that will ultimately bring out the best in everyone and bind us closer together is bullshit. I don’t want to hear about how communities are rallying together to create “warm banks”. I want to see the government held to account for their part in if not creating this crisis, then at least perpetuating it and not doing enough to mitigate or alleviate it. (See also their covid response) I want to see the BBC asking the hard questions and demanding answers. I want to see a government minister, most of whom are literal millionaires it seems, stand up and say that it is a scandal that in their country in 2023 people are hungry and cold in their own homes and that they are going to dedicate all their efforts to ending it.

I’m ragin’ at the Tories.

I’m ragin’ that I was referred to a specialist in January last year, didn’t get an appointment until 9 months later, got an MRI scan 2 months after that but won’t get the results until my follow up appointment in March. A full 15 months from referral to possible results. 15 months of not knowing what the hell might be wrong with me. I’m ragin’ at the state of the NHS, the years of neglect and lack of investment.

I’m ragin’ at the Tories

I’m ragin’ that my daughter has been waiting 3 years for an assessment and if any diagnosis is forthcoming it’s unlikely there will be any actual follow-up or ongoing support. I’m ragin’ that child mental health and disability services are so underfunded that 3 years is a perfectly normal waiting time for an assessment. 3 years in a child’s life – in our case from the age of 10 to 13 – is a massive proportion and at a critical time in their development. I’m ragin’ that this is not seen as a priority.

I’m ragin’ at the Tories

I’m ragin’ that I have to be careful when out walking my dog, planning routes with good light and people around. I’m ragin’ that I have to be cautious of every man I meet. I’m ragin’ that every few days the news reports a woman / woman and her children killed by a man. Every. Few. Days.

I’m ragin’ that this Twitter user is speaking the truth:

I’m ragin’ that I’m fearful of starting to date again because there is an unacceptably high possibility that anyone I meet is not interested in romance, love or companionship but rape and murder.

I’m ragin’ at the little things – that the council didn’t sweep away the autumn leaves, so they froze, thawed and refroze over again resulting in a perma-mulch over all the pavements. (I’m blaming this on Council cut-backs so ultimately it’s the Tories fault again) I’m ragin’ that people don’t pick up their dog poo. (Give me a minute and I’ll link this to the Tories too…)

I’m ragin’ at myself, for letting friendships slip. For avoiding things rather than facing up to them. For letting fear hold me back.

All this ragin’ isn’t healthy. In a way it was a relief to think of myself not as depressed, just mightily pissed off and hiding from the shitshow that is the world just now. I’m not the kind of person to start a gratitude journal – if I had the time for that I’d have less need for it – but I need to start channelling these feelings into something more positive. I need to reconnect with my friends and have long chats about everything that’s wrong and what we’d do if we were in charge. I need to figure out how to get more actively involved in politics with no time, money or mental bandwidth available. I need to stop fearing the worst and hit some drums, even if my left foot and hand aren’t quite as strong as they used to be. I need to look for new opportunities, positive interactions and people who make my rage disappear.

And we all need to vote the Tories out / Scottish independence in.

Sharing is caring?

Over the past few months I’ve been taking a bit of a step back from social media use. I haven’t quit altogether, but I’ve been quieter. If you follow me, you may have noticed. In all likelihood you haven’t noticed at all. I am not offended. That’s how it goes. We scroll, press like and move on without really engaging, noticing or absorbing.

I think my retreat has been partly due to my viewing being dictated too much by the algorithms and advertisers, but it is mainly because life events have led me to turn inwards and engaging with the outside world, even friends and family, has felt too daunting and draining.

I have….stuff going on. Stuff with me and my health and stuff with my older child. Together it is a lot of stuff. In a way it’s been going on for years but it is sort of coming to a head now.

So what do you do when you have something big going on in your life but you are kind of a private person? What do you do when your main form of interaction with people apart from family and close friends is via social media?

It’s not like an announcement such as “hey I have a new job!” or “aww, my goldfish died 😦 ” it’s more that whole new dimensions have been added into my life now, that affects all aspects of my life, likely for the rest of my life.

I’m part of that generation (not sure if we have a name – after Gen X but before Millennials?) we are comfortable using technology, the internet, social media etc having used it most of our adult lives but we didn’t grow up with it. I’m old enough that it feels weird to make personal public disclosures about sort of private matters on those kind of platforms. Particularly when some of the stuff concerns my child. I’m still reluctant to put stuff out there like that. It sort of feels too big and too small at the same time.

I want to tell everyone, because it impacts everything. I can’t answer a simple “how’s things?” without thinking, “well…do you really want to know?” I might be a private person, but I’m an open one, I hope an honest one. Yet I’m not sure I’m ready to have those inevitable conversations, deal with the questions, the sympathy. That would make it real and perhaps I’m somewhat in denial. Perhaps I’m not prepared to deal with the emotions that would bring out.

Sharing personal updates on social media can be a valuable exercise. It can put you in touch with others who have been through the same experience. It can also have a downside of feeding you false, misleading or biased information. When it comes to medical matters that’s something to be extremely wary of.

There have been many times over the years that my current stuff has been active where I’ve wanted to put some feelers out there to say, “hey I’m going through this… anyone else?” I’m sure that if I had done so, many people would have responded with helpful and probably some unhelpful advice. We never want to feel like we are going through anything alone. If my immediate friends and family aren’t in the same position as me it’s quite likely that our wider network will have someone who has trodden this path before and can be of some solace and guidance.

I have found myself drafting, redrafting and discarding several posts, ultimately deciding against pressing send because either a) it would take too long to explain or b) I would end up being cryptic and not really saying anything.

Generally I think social media is a really useful tool I use Facebook primarily to keep in touch with people whose emails and phone numbers I no longer have. It allows me to share photographs and updates with friends and family all over the world. Most of my kids’ activities have closed parents groups on Facebook for news, updates and info. I was later to the party with Instagram but I enjoy sharing the odd photograph and I find it a generally more relaxed place to be, although I have fewer contacts there than anywhere else. Twitter – well everyone’s talking about Twitter these days. I started using it many moons ago to chat with people from the music scene, especially other fans of the smaller bands that I liked. I was able to connect with like minded fans and band members themselves from time to time. For a long time for me, it was a place to chat to a small group of people, most of whom I hadn’t met (although over the years I have met up with quite a few) in quite a closed circle. Over time it evolved to be a place where I would connect with people I knew in real life and people I met along the way. As the circle expanded it became less like a place for conversation and more like, well Facebook, with status updates and likes rather than real connections. Through Twitter I have been able to have exchanges with not only members of bands that I follow but a few random celebs as well who have noticed or responded to my tweets. I loved that democratising, accessible aspect of it. When I changed careers about 3 or 4 years ago, I shifted to using it primarily as a work tool. It has proven to be a fantastic networking platform. It has provided me with great contacts, networking, research findings and sharing of good practice for my work and beyond. Recently I put out a request for info on an essay topic I was considering and was overwhelmed with the amount of responses I received, including suggestions of papers to read, academics to follow, and offers to chat and discuss. These days, well who knows, along with many others I’m reconsidering my usage of the platform thanks to the bizarre actions of Elon Musk but for now I’m hanging in there although I set up an account on Mastodon just in case… I decided a while ago that I was too old for other platforms, so I’ve never touched Snapchat, Tiktok or anything of that ilk.

But it’s not real interaction, is it? It’s not having your family over for a meal and getting into the nitty gritty of your life. It’s not going out for a drink with your friends and venting about your kids/relationship/lack thereof and putting the world to rights. You never know who is going to see a post, what you miss if you don’t check it for a couple of days or whether someone is offended that you didn’t press like on their latest update. If I post about my stuff will people acknowledge, offer empathy then move on because it’s just another post in an endless succession of updates from people and companies? Will they forget as quickly as they scroll? Have I been guilty of doing that to others who I should have reached out to properly? Absolutely. I have a list in my mind of people that I mean to check in with, either because of something I’ve seen them post or just because it’s been way too long. I’m sure we all do, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok.

I fully realise that I’m being annoyingly cryptic in this post. If you know me for real, I’m actually more than happy to talk about it. Perhaps in future I’ll write about it, but for now privacy prevails…

On witnessing the change of monarch with my children

We watch the tv, aware that we are witnessing history. We feel….

We’re not sure. The news is sudden, but we are not surprised. It is sad, but not tragic. We watch and contemplate and feel a mixture of emotions and none.

We don’t believe in the principle of monarchy or the royal family. The idea that one person or family should be elevated above the rest of us based on the actions of their ancestors centuries ago is absurd. We agree that surely no-one devising a country’s system of governance these days would include a royal family, the idea is ludicrous. Yet we have them and they exist. Our preference would be for the monarchy to be phased out or abolished, but we don’t expect that to happen any time soon, possibly not in our lifetimes. We consider whether there is perhaps slightly more chance of an independent Scotland becoming a republic. We get side-tracked by constitutional questions and feel guilty that we have forgotten that the queen has died.

The queen has always been our queen, she’s always just been there. Through the entirety of my kids’ lives, the entirety of my life and the entirety of my mother’s life. We agree it’ll be strange without her. A king? That’s weird. Yeah.

We agree that getting a new monarch is a BIG DEAL, but wonder what will actually change. We think the feel of the monarchy will change with Charles but can’t see how our daily lives will change. It’s not like getting a new Prime Minister. We’ve seen plenty of them. We watch, removed, like when there’s new US President or a new Pope. Oh, interesting, but what does he have to do with me?

We talk about how we feel when someone we know, but don’t know, dies. The 13 year old recently found herself unexpectedly upset at the passing of a youtuber that she knew of. She felt it was silly or immature to feel sad because he was, essentially a stranger. We agreed it wasn’t and that we can be just as affected by the passing of those we don’t know personally as much as those we do. I still haven’t been able (willing?) to fully address my feelings on Taylor Hawkins‘ death, but have gone through shock, sadness and am sitting somewhere near anger. We don’t really feel sad about the queen but we feel sorry for the loss that her family have felt. She was a granny and a great-granny. We think about our grannies.

We talk about the Queen and her life. The 9 year old remembers learning a lot about the Queen during the Jubilee earlier this year. If not for that, she would have struggled to pick the queen out of a line-up. To her, kings and queens are from fairy tales or Disney movies and don’t relate to real life or real people in any tangible way. She is disappointed that normal princesses don’t wear ballgowns and tiaras every day and that the king wears a normal boring suit. The 13 year old is more aware, has a current fascination with Princess Diana and has high hopes that William will abdicate and end the whole ridiculous farce. She gave a lifetime of service. So do many people. She didn’t have much of a choice. We think about people who serve through choice. We think about people who have no choices. We don’t think we’d like to be born into the royal family.

We consider that the Queen was not just our head of state but that of The Commonwealth. Yes, like the Games. What’s that again? A collection of countries that we used to own. Countries that we invaded and took over. Whose culture and traditions we obliterated and replaced with our own. Whose rulers were replaced with our royal family, portraits of the Queen hanging in rooms all over the world as a reminder. Oh, that’s weird. Yeah.

We don’t really know how to navigate this time or what we should be doing. Should we be doing something? Should we not be doing stuff? Will the schools be closed? We note that companies feel compelled to preface marketing emails with condolences and adorn their websites with tributes while still trying to sell us stuff. Why? Respect. But…? Yeah.

We watch the proclamations, ceremonies, processions and corteges. We don’t quite understand the rituals, traditions or protocols but they are compelling viewing. We feel we should watch, witness, observe. We might not be royalists but we know history when we see it. We hear all the talk of how the queen loved Scotland, the importance of the union to the royal family and we get a bit annoyed. There is a lot of god and protection of religion and they lose us. Who is paying for all this? I’m not sure. Isn’t there a financial crisis happening? Well, yes.

We notice that the house over the back with the flagpole in the garden which flies a flag for every occasion is flying the union jack at half mast. We don’t remember seeing them fly the union jack ever before.