Stumbling into jazz

It’s been a long time since I “discovered” something that just plain outright changed my life.
If you had asked me what I thought of jazz music 6 months ago, I would have shrugged, made a face and said, “yeah, I don’t really get it….”
Despite being a life-long music fan, who can, in all honesty, say that I have an eclectic taste and have listened to, watched, played and enjoyed everything from classical to traditional Scottish to country music, I have never really got a handle on jazz.  The free-form nature of it, the noodling, the way the performers always look like they’re having more fun than the audience.  I just wrote it off as not for me, not something I understood or frankly made any attempt to understand.
I played the trumpet when I was younger, from the ages of about 10 to 15.  I had 1-1 lessons and played in brass bands, wind bands and orchestras. During that period don’t recall being exposed to much jazz music.  Certainly, improvisation wasn’t encouraged.  Lessons were structured around workbooks.  Band rehearsals involved copious sheet music.  On one memorable day, I was invited to participate in a jazz workshop with some guest musicians.  Initially, I was intrigued.  But, to my utter horror, it was an improvisation session.  I was petrified. I had never done anything like that before, had no idea where to begin and was terrified of doing it wrong. We had to take turns improvising on a given theme. After a seemingly endless rabbit-in-headlights moment, I remembered my music theory, spewed out some notes related to the key we were playing in and hoped I hadn’t embarrassed myself or my teachers. The encouraging words I received afterwards were recognisable in their tone as the kind of thing people say when someone is crap, but gave it a bash.  I beat myself up about it, but looking back, nothing in my musical education had ever encouraged improvisation, imagination or straying from the sheet music.  But that awful day stuck with me and this fleeting encounter with jazz was enough to make me give the whole genre a wide berth from then on.
I also played drums back then and my drum teacher was a jazz drummer.  A lot of kit-based lessons involved brushes and swing rhythms but drum kit was only a small part of the percussion curriculum so I never got to develop it much. And not having access to my own kit meant that opportunities to play around and improvise myself were few and far between.
My cousin plays piano, for a while as a semi-professional, and I was vaguely aware that he sometimes played with others but, to my shame, I never saw him play so I never really knew what kind of music they were into.  His band did play at his own wedding, and he joined them for a couple of numbers. Turns out they were a jazz group.  I thought the music was alright, good background for the reception.  I discovered at this time that my brother was also a bit of a jazz fan, but he was once into Meatloaf so clearly his tastes aren’t to be trusted.
But a few months ago several things came together to push me in the direction of jazz and I have rarely felt such excitement at finding something new (to me).  It has led me to experience some kind of revelation and changed my whole outlook on music and possibly life.
So how did this come about? Well, several things coincided.
I started playing drums again.  Jazz drumming was coming up in conversations, in articles I was reading, in the backgrounds of teachers at the studio where I take lessons, in demonstrations and talks at events I was going to.  I seemed unavoidable.  If I was going to take drumming seriously, I was going to have to get familiar with the story of jazz drumming and some of the great names associated with it.
I read Jack Kerouac.  He is always banging on about going to clubs and watching bebop performers.  His writing made me want to explore that world, to put a soundtrack to the scenes he created.
I got moved into a shared office at work.  I used to have the radio on at work, but sometimes even that is too much and I need straightforward music with no talking that mingles with the chat in the office and forms too much of a distraction.  I tried listening to classical music but it wasn’t right.  I wasn’t keeping me focused and motivated.
I was getting bored of listening to indie/rock music.  I just suddenly couldn’t find anything I wanted to listen to. Nothing was interesting anymore.  Or rather rock music wasn’t fulfilling an emotional need I had at the time.  Or rather I realised that I was listening to too much loud rock music to block out emotions that I really should have been paying attention to and dealing with.  I tried branching out into pop/electronic and listened to the likes of Chvrches and Years and Years.  They are both good.  I got diverted into a Bon Iver phase when he(they?) released a new album.  It is astounding.
But I needed something else.
I spent a while browsing around Spotify looking for some inspiration and a few jazz tracks popped up.  They struck just the right balance and made for decent background music while working.  But now and again I found myself stopping, my ear caught by a particular phrase, section or piece.  What had previously been an indecipherable jumble of notes in an incoherent pattern was suddenly making sense to me.  To be honest, I freaked me out. I don’t do jazz! It’s just not my thing! Except suddenly it was.  I didn’t know who I was any more.  All those lazy metaphors about doors opening, light dawning and worlds opening can be inserted here.
I turned to my jazz piano-playing cousin for help.  He very kindly made up a playlist to get me started exploring the world of jazz.  I put it on while doing housework one day.  I really can’t explain it other than to say that IT ALL MADE SENSE. I had to stop cleaning to sit and take it all in.  It wasn’t just making sense, it was making me emotional.  Some of the pieces I found deeply moving.   I didn’t know what was happening to me.
I had already requested that he avoid anything too “big band” and anything too “easy listening”.  I reported back that I preferred the tracks at the start of the playlist, and was less keen on ones at the end.  Unbeknownst to me, the playlist had been in chronological order. So it turns out I prefer older, more traditional jazz.   He sent me some links to recordings that he and his band had made a few years ago.  Hard-bop standards. So Jack and I have the same taste.  I prefer instrumental stuff, although am not averse to vocals.  I’m struggling a bit with the more progressive / fusion styles, although perhaps I have to evolve with the music and in time I will come to understand and love these too.
It occurred to me that one of the reasons it all clicked with me is that I was now listening from a drumming perspective, not a trumpeters perspective.  Trying to follow a melody line left me dizzy. The drum part gives more of an overall impression of the piece, with a clearer route through the sections and the variations in texture and feeling.
And Oh. My. God. Jazz drumming is just ART.
Any old idiot can bash out a rock drum part. It takes proper skills, technique and musical understanding to execute jazz drumming. Every so often I am just blown away by the sheer artistry of the drumming.
So I have explored a bit more, I have sought out some radio programmes that offer not only the music but a bit of info and background too.  Last weekend the BBC did a pop-up jazz station, so I have caught up with a few programmes from that.  One surprise presenter was Colin Murray, whose Radio1 late-night show I used to listen to back in the day.  It transpires he is also a relatively recent convert to the genre and it was good to hear him talk so enthusiastically about his journey, as I am making mine.
One thing Colin Murray spoke about was when he “made public” his interest in jazz, that it is something he had to “admit” to. I feel the same.  I am reluctant to mention it to people, aware that it elicits a certain perception or judgement from people. Hell, 6 months ago, I was one of those judging people!
I am aware that I now need to experience jazz music live.  I have no idea what may be on offer in Glasgow but it is now my mission to find out.  Unfortunately, I have few friends who are interested in going to “normal” gigs with me, so I reckon my chances of finding folk to go to see jazz with me are small to non-existent.  However, I will not let that deter me and I hope to report back here on some jazz gigs in the new year.
So I am excited to explore this new (old) world of music.  Weird keys and odd time-signatures no longer frighten me, they excite me.  I have stopped trying to figure out what the artist is trying to do/say/mean, and have spent time figuring out what the music means to me.  I know I have a lot to learn and discover and I can’t wait.

Twin Atlantic, The Hydro, Glasgow, 9th May 2015

A few years ago I came across a wee band from near Glasgow called Twin Atlantic.  They were among a new wave of young Scottish bands that were emerging at the time – Admiral Fallow, The Twighlight Sad etc. There was even a documentary about a group of Scottish artists trying to “make it” at South by South West in 2011.  It was an interesting time in Scottish music, following the rise of Frightened Rabbit. I liked what they were all doing but as is the case with this kind of thing they all sounded kinda the same and there was nothing that stood out to make me want to pursue any of them much further. I thought Twin Atlantic were the best of the bunch and listened to them a fair amount but never got round to seeing them live.

Fast forward 3 years or so and they are all over the radio with “Heart and Soul”. Hey, I remember them! I resolve to look them up properly but never really do.  They release “Brothers and Sisters” and it is stuck in my head for literally a month.  I find them on Facebook, Twitter, etc and watch the videos for “Oceans” and “Hold On” and realise that this wee band have come quite far in those few years.  They announce a tour. Right, I should go and see them.  At the Hydro? What? The Hydro is huge! Rod Stewart plays there. I felt nervous for them. They’ll never fill that! The tickets went on sale on Christmas Eve.  By the time I get through the standing area has sold out. Again, What? Ok, what do I do? Sod it, I’ll buy a seated ticket. Can’t believe this is even happening so don’t dwell on it too much.

May comes round and I head off to the Hydro.  I have only ever been there once before, for the rhythmic gymnastics at the Commonwealth Games.  Part of the reason I bought a ticket was because I wanted to see what it was like as a music venue.

It is exactly like the Commonwealth Games.  Security everywhere. Corporate. Stupidly expensive food and drink.  Can’t find the ladies toilets anywhere but pass 3 lots of gents’. More security. Can’t find my seat even though I go in the allocated Section L. Fuck this, I want to be back in a dingy club seeing a band that no-one has ever heard of with like-minded people. Instead I am surrounded by teenage girls, beards, people who don’t normally go to gigs and more teenage girls.  The toilets (when I eventually find them) are full of girls in party dresses with massive hair doing their make-up. I’m sorry, am I in the wrong place, isn’t this a ROCK CONCERT?

I find my seat. This is bloody weird. I expect to see gymnasts coming in, not bands. It is so far removed from any gig I have ever been to.  I have only been to 2 big concerts before – REM which was in marquee in Glasgow Green cos they had double booked the SECC (yeah) and U2 which was hastily re-arranged due to Bono’s father’s death and was in a small hall in the SECC. So no arenas. I couldn’t compute.

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The place was, however, packed. I don’t know if it was a sell out but it must certainly have been close.

There were 2 support acts – Lonely The Brave and Eliza and the Bear. Both were good, but to be honest my head still wasn’t in the right place to enjoy them properly.

Bang on schedule at 9.15pm the lights dimmed and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” came over the PA. After a mass audience sing-along, that music from 2001 A Space Odyssey came on. I was filled with trepidation. They’ve gotten too big and are going to be all full of themselves. I’ve made a terrible mistake.

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I was wrong.  They were appreciative, humble, excited and just happy to be there. And most importantly they rocked.  They abso-fucking-lutely rocked.  I wasn’t familiar with all the songs but I was pleased to hear plenty that I remembered from when I first came across them years ago, in fact those songs benefited from the years of experience and were much more polished and better arranged.  And of course all the ones that are now familiar from the radio. It finally dawned on me just how big a deal Twin Atlantic had become.

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The whole floor was jumping. Not just the usual curve of enthusiasts at the front, the WHOLE floor. It was like a sea of pink anemones as the whole of Glasgow raised their arms and sang along with gusto. I felt a pang of regret that I wasn’t down on the floor. Then some idots started charging round and chucking suspiciously full beer cups around and I was glad of my old lady seat.

There was a string quartet, a solo cellist and lead singer Sam had the whole place captive for a few slower ballads.

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Sam said he was nervous and emotional, but it didn’t affect his voice, which was strong and clear throughout.  I was impressed by Craig on drums, he even got a drum solo at the start of the encore.

It is testament to the band that they turned the venue from a soulless corporate arena into what felt like Glasgow’s biggest house party.  The atmosphere was one of pure joy and celebration, as they welcomed the band home.  There were cannons down the front that fired out glitter and streamers, and at the end giant balloons were released from the ceiling.

20150509_230004 They had completely turned me from a grumpy sceptic to a full-on dancing, cheering and singing fan.  I was so lost in the music and party atmosphere that when Sam said the name of their band I was brought back to reality. Yes, that is Twin Atlantic up there, that wee band from a few years ago. I still couldn’t believe it.

Sam himself admitted they weren’t a great band, just a lucky one, but they hit the spot with me becuase this is just my kind of music. Proper rock music but not too rock that it veers into shouty screamy metal.  Kind of indie, but not taking itself too seriously. Just lots of guitars, drums and good tunes. What more can you ask for?

Also, it is so nice to be able to sing along in my own accent! Well not quite, it’s a lot more Glaswegian than I am, but there’s something very comforting about being able to sing “more” as “mo-ar” rather than “moh” and “fear” as “fee-ur” rather then “fee-ah”. Love it!

They were due to finish at 10.30pm but there was no stopping this party, it must have been around 11pm by the time they finished, giving us almost 2 hours of non-stop entertainment.

I left with the biggest grin on my face, glad that this wee band had made it so far and done themselves so proud, rocking the roof off the massive Hydro.

The Airborne Toxic Event, The Garage Glasgow, 18th April 2015

I love The Airborne Toxic Event. No-one else even seems to have heard of them, even among my music friends, so I rarely get the chance to celebrate this.  Luckily, they tour fairly often and Glasgow is always on their schedule. Thanks guys!

It was at the Garage again. Last time, I got there lateish and wasn’t familiar with the venue so ended up perched on the only raised section I could find, which turned out to be the steps to the male toilets. Oh my actual god, the stench was atrocious. But I suffered it to get a view of the band.  But to say it spoiled the occasion would be putting it mildly.

So this time I arrived in plenty time, handily the gig fell on Record Store Day so I was in town already. (See previous post). By the time I got in, deposited my bag in the cloakroom an went to the loo, there were a few people on the barrier.  I went up, but found all of them were saving spaces for friends. So poor all alone me had to hang back and hope I could squeeze in somewhere.  As it later turned out, the lady I was stood behind had a photo pass, which she apparently hadn’t known about, so she scooted off, leaving me in prime position. Yay!

No stinky toilets for me today!
No stinky toilets for me today!

The support band came on pretty quickly, they were Dead Man Fall, a local band.  At first they sounded like a bog standard rock band, competent but kinda predictable.  Then they brought on a brass section.  I didn’t predict that. They veered into tropical rhythms, the singer wielding maracas (one of which flew out of his hand in his enthusiasm and whacked a fellow barrier-stander in the face – he survived and the singer apologised profusely) So that was more interesting. I liked them.

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Dead Man Fall

A fairly quick turnaround and we were welcoming TATE to the stage. I was extremely glad of my barrier spot – the Garage is a smaller venue than the Arches, where I was also on the barrier, so here I got a much closer experience.

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Without any introduction they bashed on with the tunes. In fact there was very little interruption to the wall-to-wall tunes for about an hour.  I didn’t want it to end, but I was exhausted after the hour.  They played  a few songs from the newer albums at the beginning, but later in the set they reverted to their first 2 albums.

I was interested to hear how the latest album would play out live – it has more electronic influences in it, and I feared a laptop, pre-programmed, soulless element, but it turned out to be largely Anna playing those elements on the keyboard, and the rest of the guitar-based sound still remained.

At first Mikel seemed annoyed at some sound engineering problem, but it either got fixed or he let it go and relaxed into playing.  He also seemed to be playing and singing more aggressively than I remember from before.  If I was new to the band this would definitely have put me off.  Not sure if he was pissed of or just getting into the mood of the songs.  Steven Chen is the coolest – most of the time he stands stock still when he’s playing, looking down, concentrating on his guitar, looking all tense as if he’s terrified of making a mistake, then he bursts into full-on rock guitarist, jumping off the monitors, posing like he is in an extreme air guitar contest.

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I can’t figure out TATE’s audience. I was about the youngest person I saw, which NEVER happens at gigs now. There were particularly a lot of “older” women, which also never happens.  People who don’t look like they normally go to gigs. For me, TATE sit comfortably in my field of indie-rock bands that I like and go and see.  I get used to the kind of crowd at these gigs, but TATE gigs look completely different.  I don’t know who a TATE fan is.  I don’t know where we cross over, who else they like or go and see. It’s good, and a refreshing change, don’t get me wrong.  It’s a relief not to be amongs kids discussing their exams. Or be more akin to their mums who are chaperoning them. And it was a more diverse audience. I met people from Spain, Italy and some Chinese (maybe, sorry if wrong) Canadians. People had travelled from far and wide to see the band, taking in several UK/European shows.

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The crowd obviously gave the biggest reception to the 2 older albums, but I felt really uncomfortable when Sometime Around Midnight started and got a massive cheer. That song (watch video here) should be met with revered silence, not a raucous rabble “yeah, I know all the words to this one!”, then appropriate appreciation at the end, once we are all reduced to tears and shaken to our cores as we share in this man’s intense grief and pain.  But it wasn’t to be.  I’m just glad I wasn’t at the back where undoubtedly people would have been STILL TALKING throughout.  I would not have been responsible for my actions.

I almost lost it when a phone was rammed in the back of my head for the hundredth time as people held them up behind me constantly trying to get a good shot/video. I took a few, but as I was right at the front I could keep my phone quite low and not disturb anyone. A few shots and it was away in my pocket again. I looked behind me and saw not faces, but a wall of phones. I’d be happy if they were banned.

On the first song of the encore (I’m sorry, I have completely forgotten what it was. It was a bouncy one.) Mikel jumped off the stage, on to the barrier. He was over to the left of me, then suddenly he was right in front of me. I mean RIGHT in front of me. I got a face full of sweaty t-shirt. I got shoved from behind and had to (yes, I HAD TO!) put a hand up to hold on to him to stop myself suffocating. Although that wouldn’t have been a bad way to go. He was encouraging us all to jump, so I was pogoing along as it would have been rude not to. Also I was clinging to him for dear life. I was mildly sweaty beforehand and extremely sweaty afterwards. He leapt back on to the stage and I could breathe again.

A few songs more and it was all over. It had been intense. Back-to-back songs, lots of jumping, singing along, shouting out the expected chants, “Gasoline!” and apparently we even got a world exclusive of “Poor Isaac” from their recently released Acoustic album “Songs of God and Whiskey”.

Mikel threw all his picks into the crowd and personally handed his setlist to the Canadian guy 2 along from me.  I was just turning to go when drummer Daren came forward and started handing/throwing drumsticks.  Setlist guy grabbed one, but I protested at his double haul (in fact he had gathered some picks too) so I got the stick. Woo! On closer inspection they have been properly used, and signed by the man himself. Double woo!

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Due to the early start, it was all over by about 10pm, so I headed round the back to see if I could catch any of the band.  After a short wait with some of the people I had met last time I was stalking them, I met Steven (again – he’s so cool) and Daren.  I thanked him for the stick and told him I was a drummer, he was pleased and I told him I’d definitely try to use it.  Canadian guy was there and was bummed that I had it, but relieved I wasn’t going to sell it on eBay. Daren was really nice and chatty too.

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Me and Daren. And drumstick.
Me and Steven Chen. He's so cool.
Me and Steven Chen. He’s so cool.

I met new bass-player guy Adrian Rodriguez too, but I look hideous in the photo, so that’s not going up anywhere. They all signed my ticket. Daren told us it was unlikely that Mikel or Anna would be coming out, so we headed off.

A great night, after a great music-filled day.

Record Store Day 2015 / Finn LeMarinel

I have mixed feelings about Record Store Day. I like music. I like anything that supports music. But I don’t tend to buy music in physical formats anymore, far less actual vinyl records.  I don’t even own a record player.  I’ve only gone to 1 RSD event before, when Frightened Rabbit did an in-store performance in Mono in Glasgow a couple of years ago.  I didn’t buy any records.

I only remembered about it this year when We Are Scientists announced they were going to release an acoustic LP for RSD 2015. So I thought I might plan a wee afternoon checking out some of the shops in Glasgow to see if I could pick it up.  Handily, I had found out (via a response from their label via Twitter) that there would be a download code included, as is the way these days, so no record player required.  However I later found out, via WAS themselves, that no shops in Glasgow would be stocking it. NO SHOPS IN GLASGOW! Outraged. Oh well.  However, it was forecast to be a nice day, so I decided to stick with my plan and see what else I could find.

It was a gorgeous day, so I quite happily wandered child free around the West End then on to the City Centre.  I landed in Love Music in town just as Finn LeMarinel (Ex-Trapped In Kansas) was doing a set.  Actually I caught the end of the previous set, who apparently was C Duncan. He/they were good. In between I rummaged through some of the RSD stock.  I have to admit, leafing through racks of vinyl is a whole lot more satisfying than doing so with CDs or cassettes.  I began to have visions of a beautiful record player with shelves of old vinyls of classic artists. Maybe one day.

However, Finn was on, he said he was unusually nervous, perhaps it was the strange situation of playing in the corner of a record shop while hoards of teenage fans waited outside, for someone else.  Apparently Frank Iero, off of My Chemical Romance, was up next. Most of us inside couldn’t care less about him, and all of those outside couldn’t care less about poor Finn. He ploughed on regardless.

Finn LeMarinel
Finn LeMarinel

I have only seen him in person once, when Trapped in Kansas played a showcase of their label in the Captain’s Rest.  On his own it is a very different experience, but he still makes use of the trademark unconventional guitar technique, tapping and bashing it and playing more up the neck of it than down in the “normal” bit.  It was hypnotic and mesmerising.  I had a quick chance to say hi and thanks afterwards, before we all got chucked out and the hordes of MCR fans came in.

Hordes
Hordes

So I didn’t buy any records, but I did see some live music and had a lovely day out in an unusually sunny Glasgow.

BTW Here is a good article about RSD and it’s drawbacks.

I rounded off the day by meeting up with a friend then heading over to see The Airborne Toxic Event that night. (See next post). Good day all in.  Now I need to go and check out record players…

Sport vs Music

I’d been thinking about this for a while, triggered by watching the Olympics but a conversation with a friend today made me really want to get it out.

We’ve been following the Olympics religiously.  The fact that it is in our own country adds an element of extra interest, but I am interested every time, regardless of where it is held.

As we watched the various events, from gymnastics to weightlifting, I often remarked to my husband about how I had tried X sport, competed in Y sport and knew a fair about about Z sport.  It got me thinking to how lucky I had been to have the opportunity to try various sports but then I wondered why I had never pursued any to any significant level.

In Primary School I always enjoyed gym.  My friend and I came to a “keep fit” class in the evenings, a kind of 80s aerobics class.  Well it was the 80s so that isn’t an analogy.  Imagine a room full of people in fluorescent lycra and large sweatbands and you’ve got the picture.  The gym teacher started up a badminton club and a netball club.  I joined both.  But then I think I just liked joining things.  I also took up the recorder, then trumpet and joined the school band.  I even tried out for the school choir even though I’m a pretty terrible singer.  Despite our school being in the middle of a Dundee housing scheme, we had a debating team.  I joined that too.  Herein lies the root of my problem.  I have always been interested in everything, and had an insatiable thirst to try everything.

I stuck with the recorder and trumpet lessons, competed in a couple of debates, although always against Secondary Schools because no other Primary School in Dundee had a debate team. I don’t remember doing anything much with the badminton team, but the netball team was part of a city schools league, so every week we trooped out and were thrashed by school after school.  We were keen, but not very good.  I was a Goal Shooter because in the first practice session I scored 2 goals.  It stuck.  Looking back I don’t think our coach really had her heart in it.  A couple of times in the competitive matches I scored a goal (is that even the right term?  It’s been a long time.) and we celebrated like we’d won a championship.  We were bottom of the league every year.  But I enjoyed it, it was my first taste of the camaraderie of a team, the excitement before the match, I loved learning about tactics and stats.  I enjoyed practice and games, even when we lost.

On to secondary school and I continued to enjoy PE lessons. There were more clubs to join, I opted for gymnastics and volleyball.  I can’t remember what other options there were for girls, boys had football and rugby, there was definitely water polo but I could barely swim and that just sounded like torture.  I was rubbish at gymnastics.  I suffered from a terrible fear of things going wrong, so I held back and was reluctant to try the more advanced moves.  I did it for about a year though and enjoyed the training.  I think I enjoyed learning more about how the body works, how to have fine control of all your movements and about balance and poise.  The volleyball team was more my style, I took part in inter-school competitions, although bearing in mind it was a small school and a small club I don’t think there was much competition for places in the team.  We did ok as a team, and again I enjoyed the training and competitions, but began to lack enthusiasm for the actual sport.  I knew I was only doing volleyball because that was all that was on offer, but I would have much rather been doing something else.

I also carried on my musical interests to Secondary School, I continued the trumpet and took up drums and percussion.  No debate team here, but I did manage to sign up for the school show (Sweeny Todd), the Amnesty International group, the school newspaper and the student council at various points.  I just couldn’t stop joining things.

When the time came for athletics season in PE I was really looking forward to it.  We hadn’t done anything like this at Primary School and I loved watching athletics on tv so I threw myself into running and jumping with all my might.  Unfortunately my short stature (I’m 5ft 3in now, probably less then) meant that I was never destined for a future in jumping, despite the best efforts of one PE teacher who repeatedly made me attempt a high jump with me protesting that I was only going to run into the damn thing and knock it over again and again. Yep, still rankles.  But somewhat to my surprise I was good at running.  Only short distances, mind, 100m was my thing, but I did well enough in my school to compete a couple of times at the Dundee Schools meets. I didn’t win any of those races, but then again we turned up and found people who had proper kit.  We felt like the hillbillies from way out yonder.  We found out that other schools had organised extra training and had done fundraising for spikes and starters blocks.  We just turned up in our regular t-shirts and short and ran.  But those events were thrilling occasions, the sight of all these people warming up, running and jumping hither and thither, all the different team colours and the sound of the starters gun.  I was invited to train with the local athletics club, the Hawkhill Harriers but my mum said no.  Not sure why, maybe because she was already ferrying me to various band/orchestra rehearsals, maybe she anticipated more cost, maybe she thought it was going to be a passing fad, she mentioned something about the fact that I had asthma would mean that I couldn’t compete in sports, but that may have just been an excuse. She also said I couldn’t take up karate, but I think that was more out of fear of me breaking a limb.  Anyway, I was disappointed, but it wasn’t like I didn’t have enough other activities to keep me occupied.

So by the time I was in 3rd year at school, aged 14-15, PE was no longer compulsory.  I was trying to focus more on studying and something had to give.  It came down to a choice between sport and music.  I felt I could continue with the school paper etc because that was something I was genuinely interested in as a career.  Much as I loved sport I loved music more.  The music department had become like a 2nd home to me, whereas the PE dept wasn’t interested if I wasn’t going to study it as a subject.  I had also experienced some bullying and intimidation in the volleyball team, but the bands and orchestras were where I found my group of friends.  Added to that my sports teams were all segregated, but the band was mixed, so as a 14 year old this was a big factor.  However by this time I knew I was never going to make it as a sportsperson.  It’s not that I lacked the ambition or dedication, I could just never decide what to dedicate myself to.  I dabbled in a wide range of sports and moved from one to the other, never settling. When I did find a slight talent for sprinting I wasn’t permitted to take it to the next level.

So I focussed on music.  I eventually gave up the trumpet, but continued with drums and percussion and a bit of keyboard.  I studied music to Standard Grade and Higher level.  Our band did well, we won competitions and performed at various city events.  I was still active, I walked a lot and cycled everywhere as a means of transport.  I watched Athletics events on TV with some knowledge of the activities which added to my enjoyment.  And I watched the Olympics.

When I started uni the first thing I checked was what clubs I could join. Old habits die hard.   To my delight there was a range of martial arts on offer.  No mother to stop me here, I signed up for Shorinji Kempo.  Following tradition I also joined the Student Paper and the Amnesty group.  Oh and I studied some politics too. I thought about seeking out a band to join, but lacking my own instruments was a bit of a hindrance, and I was having too much fun rediscovering my love of sport.  Albeit a non-traditional sport.

So after 10 years of training in Shorinji Kempo, and some recreational cycling, a break to have a baby followed by 3 years of walking as my only exercise I find myself sitting in front of the telly watching hours of Olympic coverage and reminiscing about my time as a netball player, badminton player, gymnast, volleyball player, runner and martial artist.  I like the added insight it gives me into the sports. I feel some kind of connection with the competitors even though my involvement was little more that just above the basic entry level. I will always be interested in sport and watching others compete.  I realise I would never have made it as a professional, but I’m glad I had the chance to try and explore what was out there.  I undoubtedly learned skills that benefited me in numerous ways even after I stopped training.

I would never have made it as a professional musician either, but at least that is something I can keep as a hobby and dabble in now and again.  You can’t exactly just dabble in running 100m as fast as you can or volleying a ball now and then. However the whole Olympics thing is making me restless.  I want to do something more active than walking again.  I have very little time in which to do this, between working and raising a small child. I don’t want to go back to Kempo.  I don’t want to do any of the sports I previously did.  My inherently restless nature is urging me to try something new.  I would dearly love to take up a team sport again but couldn’t commit the time and there are few clubs out there desperate for a 33 year old short stalky woman.  I could dust off my old bike and get cycling again.  Or I might try swimming.  I was never that keen when I was younger, and my eczema really does prevent me sometimes, but occasionally when I was injured and unable to train in Kempo I would swim to aid recovery and ended up enjoying it.  However I never continued once I had recovered.  No equipment required.  Relatively cheap.  Easily accessible.  Available all weathers.  Yes, I’m going to be a swimmer next!