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.