Jam Nights and the Unexpected Challenges

Have you ever turned up at a jam night with a plan and had to throw the plan out the window?

Although I don’t have much interest in Astrology, what I do know is I’ll never marry a Leo woman and also that being born a Virgo I’m supposedly extremely organised. This organisation thing forces me to do things like  take spare strings, extra plectrums and batteries and have all sorts of contingency plans in place ready to go into action at any given moment…… well normally.

Last night I decided to go out to a jam night, here’s why. Tonight I’ve got a rehearsal and tomorrow night I’m sitting in with a group that does vocal harmonies and only has one acoustic guitar, also I might do a solo set if the planets line up. Based on the above, I thought I’d go to a local jam night just to get my bugs out, make sure my voice is working ok and to iron out any issues relating to one of my acoustics that I have only ever used once or twice in a live situation.

So anyhow …….. a sign went up in the main street of the town where I live, I noticed that the people runningi it were musicians I knew and have played with and each had about 30 to 40 years experience as musicians, and I thought ‘ok’, this should be fine. I turned up with my acoustic, a pre-amp and my bundle of Virgo things which I have already mentioned. When I walked in I noticed the drum kit, keyboard, bass stack, a few guitar amps, PA and assorted electrical objects, things were getting louder just looking around the room at the equipment, not to mention the punters knocking back beers like there was going to be some sort of alcohol restriction starting within the next 3 minutes. Amongst my (I don’t believe in the stars) Virgo list of things I had a set-list in my head, it was one that could easily change, the list had quite a few possible variables, depending on who went on before me, I could always change the opening tune to one in a different key, style or tempo accordingly.

After the first five acts went on, I seemed to notice the pile of amps gradually getting taller and even though the distortion boxes were very sweetly used, the intensity of the sound got fatter and the idea of playing a well thought out acoustic set with lots of musical nuances and subtlety, slipped into the distance; as each half hour went by as the sun went behind the mountain to the west, so did my feeling for playing what I consider to be music of value. Sensitivity is something that I often find lacking in many musical environments and being an over-sensitive-bean-sprout-eating-went-through-the-seventies-burnt lots of incense type of guitar player, I was totally challenged by the moment and even considered taking may marbles and heading home.

BRAINWAVE……At a particular point I remembered why I went out to play; the underlying idea behind all my crazy agendas was to play music, not because I want to, more because I need to. So I brushed aside my acoustic desires and decided to borrow an electric guitar and amp; I always like the challenge of using a cheap electric guitar, this challenge was realised and the invisible genii of endless wishes delivered, someone was kind enough to lend me a little valve amp which had enough personality to turn anything at all that was plugged into it, into a usable sound to front a five piece band if crunched up to a particular volume, I probably could have run a line out from a jaffle maker into the little valve amp and still sounded ok. Playing to a half plastered audience is always interesting and not one that I usually go much on, but I know that what is required is to play in time, in tune (at least for the bands sake) and with a little more thump than I would normally prefer, but that’s the thing about being a musician, playing what is appropriate at the right time is something that intelligent humans do, and I don’t mean musical theoritical intelligence or academic intelligence, I mean common sense to get a win-win musical situation e.g. you get something from it, I get something from it. I’ve seen many great players play the wrong thing at a venue and they have payed the price in various ways, they often end uninspired, lose confidence and have a crazy idea of trying to convert an audience to what they think is best.

I wasn’t a hundred percent happy with the way I played but it’s always great to be onstage and although we often feel ‘we’re only as good as our last gig’, this is in no way true because music comes and goes at different times and although we can always play well, we can’t always guarantee that REAL music will be on tap exactly when we want. But I did play ok; it was musical, louder than I like but still had value.

Yesterday morning I had no plans of re-entering the electric music scene but oddly enough next week I’ll be back, armed with distortion pedal and other tools of the electric trade and now I recognise this venue is not the best environment to play the music I love best, but it is a venue to play music that is beneficial to me as a player and the audience. My criteria for measuring the value of it is the fact that it makes we want to play music and express an aspect of music within myself which I hadn’t even considered, and that’s the beauty of the musical journey that we are on, never knowing what’s around the corner but being open enough to follow where it leads us.

Tony Hogan

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1 Comment

Filed under Acoustic Guitar, Jam Nights

One response to “Jam Nights and the Unexpected Challenges

  1. Jeff L

    Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together? I think you definitely brought up a good subject. What I really dig and want my audience to dig may not be what they want to hear. No matter how good you are it is more important to be flexible and sensitive to your audiences needs. We as musicians are inherently sensitive people and can easily take criticisms personally when we shouldn’t. If we can learn to be more sensitive to our audience and give ’em what they want to hear. We will not only grow as musicians, by challenging ourselves to play out of our comfort zones. But also as performers in tune with the audience.

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