BRITISH BLUES ARCHIVE

Eyewitness

 

Paul Soper - Part 4

Paul Soper in action

Biography:

Born in Pimlico in 1948 Paul was ideally placed to experience the 'Blues Boom' of the early 1960's, he played guitar in a number of school bands including 'TCP' withn Tony Cohu and Carlos Ordonez - a very early acoustic blues trio. Studying business at college he eventually qualified as an accountant in 1973, went on to specialise in Taxation and is today a lecturer/consultant, produces regular podcasts (for others as well as himself) at www.taxationpodcasts.com and writes an irregular 'humerous' blog at www.taxationpodcastmusings.wordpress.com .  During the 70's and 80's was a regular provider of financial advice for various phone-ins, starting with Robbie Vincent at Radio London, but also with a large number of later hosts, including Tony Blackburn, and regular spots with Johnnie Walker, Diane Luke, the late great Tommy Vance and a friend I miss dearly Mike Sparrow.  TV appearances included the first three series of Moneyspinner on Channel 4 and the BBC accountants' TV network.  Never forgetting the blues entirely Paul started to experience it live again at the Weavers Arms blues jam in Newington Green, hosted by Earl Green and Todd Sharpville, decided that really guitars ought to have 4 strings and sound an octave lower and hasn't looked back - bands since then include 'Blue Juice' with regular Coach and Horses Jammers Clive Nash and of course 'is lordship... Lord Carvell of Acne, followed by an 11 year stint as a Bluesdragon with Jimmy C and more recently as a Fork Handle with Jessie Pie.  Always looking for opportunities to play he has a band which appears at a Picnic in the Park, set up to encourage young bands, where Tim Hill, Clive Nash and Eddie Angel form the backbone of the Enate Blues Band - it's a Crouch End thing.

Paul Soper FCCA Tax Lecturer, consultant, broadcaster (and Bass player)

 

Part 4 - Jamming - a rebirth of sorts

In earlier instalments I told of my memories of the 1960's blues scene in London and the fantastic blues education I received between 1963 and 1965 with a host of blues legends playing in local clubs and pubs. So, I hear you ask, what happened next - did you join a blues band?

The answer is - not for a very long while, and this, dear reader is how it came to pass.

I suppose I could have pursued a career in music but a decent guitar (I hadn't discovered bass at that stage) was beyond me. I was offered, and almost bought, a Gibson Melodymaker for £30 from a friend who was upgrading but I couldn't afford an amplifier as well so stuck with an acoustic approach to the blues. My very first guitar had been purchased from Bells in Sutton, Surrey and they produced a sumptuous catalogue of guitars, mainly German and Italian as American guitars only started to appear in the very late 1950's because of trade restrictions on imports. American instruments did find their way to our shores but usually brought over by seamen rather than directly imported. This was changing rapidly though and we would go to the Charing Cross Road area, then, as now, a centre for guitar shops and drool. My first guitar, a Martin Colletti met a tragic end as I was returning early one morning from a party, crossing the road at Shepherds Bush I stumbled, the guitar fell to the ground and was damaged beyond repair.

I still have a photograph of it, leaning at an angle against my bedroom wall, I think my fingers still bear the scars where the strings, more like cheesecutters, would make my fingers bleed at regular intervals, oh, what memories that photo invokes!

Passing 'O' Levels was the next priority, my parents were both dead by now and my elder brother, who I then lived with in West Hampstead, hence the forays to Klooks Kleek, was persuaded that if my results were good enough I could have a new guitar - acoustic of course. This time it was to Ivor Mairants shop, which I think then was where it still is today in Rathbone Place, to buy, after much deliberation, a Hoyer Dreadnought. I still have this guitar and wonder, sometimes, should I resurrect it? It hangs in the hall, a reminder of great fun, acting as a marker towards my office, the lair at the back of the house where many of my current instruments live.

It sounded great when it was new and improved the sound of my school folk-blues trio enormously and it came with a hard shell case, really a very long cardboard suitcase, that has long gone. As I mentioned before, when A levels loomed for Tony and Carlos and I got my 'O' levels (at the second attempt) and went off to different colleges, architecture at Regent Street Poly for them and West London College for business studies for me, the band broke up, I met the young lady who is, even today, 47 years on, my wife and playing music began to take a back seat.

This was also, mid 60's, the era of flower power, psychedelia, musical horizons opened up and with it any ambition I might have had to play music was overtaken by enjoyment of music in many different forms, from the Clancy Brothers with Tommy Maken at the Royal Albert Hall, to lying on the grass at the dell in Hyde Park listening to Pink Floyd and Roy Harper, to seeing Tony Bennett with Buddy Rich at the Festival Hall, Joni Mitchell's first UK concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the audience giving her a genuine standing ovation at the end, there was so much to see, so much to take in, the blues were still a part of it, but only that.

So you settle down, get the business qualification, go on to become an accountant, get married, specialise in Taxation, have children, buy your first hose, move to another... the Hoyer is still there, by now in the lounge, I still play along to records, probably few days pass without trying out a chord or two until - disaster. Like Gibsons the neck of the Hoyer was mahogany, one day the guitar just slipped down the wall and the headstock broke off. With the help of a friend with an electric drill it received a repair which still holds together today, courtesy of two frankenstein-like bolts which now hold the headstock to the neck. Subsequently I got to hanker after a slightly fuller sound and fitted two more machine heads, there wasn't room for three, so it became the world's first 8 string guitar. Not as many as the nine strings of Big Joe Williams 9-string National, emulated by John Mayall on one of his guitars, but an interesting sound and I drilled out the bridge to add three string holes - this enable me to have a double course on the top 'E', the 'B' or indeed the 'D' strings although not all three at once. Interesting new sounds emanated from it. Subsequently, attempting to emulate the slide sounds of John Fahey a new nut and a raised bridge would be fitted, lap steel heaven (of a sort), although my cheapo lap steel is infinitely better - learning 'Sleepwalk' but I don't think Martin Fieber has anything to worry about!

Then, about 20 years ago, I was talking to a friend, an architect who qualified at Regent Street Poly, as it then was, whose children went to the same school as mine - realising that we friends in common - Tony and Carlos of trio TCP - he suggested I join him at a jam session. Now I will freely confess that I had never heard of jam sessions in the UK (yes one is aware of jazz jams but the story, as I understood it, was that this would occur between jazz musicians at a club late at night, etc, etc). So here was new experience, checked with the wife, who didn't mind (Oh if she only new what was to follow, but she is also partly to blame!) and so one Monday evening I found myself in the Weavers Arms in Newington Green experiencing my first blues jam.

If you ever went to the Weavers you will remember that the jam was hosted by Earl Green and Todd Sharpville. The house band did change from week to week but regulars included Roger 'Mad Dog' Cohen and JK - John Keathner on left-handed bass. I still play today with Roger at jams, the Archway Tavern and Moors Bar, and JK is good mate, although as a fellow bass player we've never jammed together. Harmonica was in the hands of Lee Sankey at that time and drums rotated between Maurice McElroy (now of Spikedrivers fame), and others over the years including Pete Myers, Daniel Strichmatter, Joachim Greve and Sam Kelly. Other bass players in the house band included Alex Dmochowski and Dave Hadley Ray. Now remember this was just the house band, and indeed great they were.

Next came the jamming part, now it may be that everyone who reads this will have been to jam session and knows what happens - I didn't. I found out the musicians who wanted to play put their name on a list at the door and then got called up by Earl and Todd in randomish combinations, the singer deciding what got played. Of the jammers that evening I remember John Hobson most clearly, more of John in a minute (RIP) and his wife, the lovely Gini who guarded the door and could also be persuaded to sing too. But what fascinated me was the bass - especially JK. If you've ever watched another musician play to work out what they are doing it is easiest if they have the opposite handed-ness to you, because then it is like watching yourself in a mirror, and JK was a left-handed bass player. Even today I can watch JK all night - he has a particular ability to produce a chromatic run, say from low E up to G, and although his bass is fretted it sounds as smooth as if it were fretless - still haven't worked out that one!

I had already tentatively started to play guitar again in public for my wife, as a teacher and one who taught at Sunday school I would get roped in to play for the kids. By now I had treated myself to an electric guitar - a pink Stratocaster copy and a very small amplifier - and she asked me if I could visit a school year group and explain the nature of guitars to them. I still had the Hoyer and the Pink Lady, I also had acquired a rather nice Aria classical guitar and asked my local music shop in Muswell Hill if I could borrow a bass to better explain and demonstrate the different types of guitar.

Plugging in the bass and starting to play was a revelation - without having practised it, all of a sudden bass riffs and runs, even a bit of a walking bass line stated to emerge and I realised something. What I could really remember well from the 60's was the bass players and what they played, Clapton, Richards, yes I remembered watching them and trying to work out what they did, but the soundtrack in my head was a bass one - standing on stage next to Bill Wyman at Studio 51 in '63, watching John McVie being delivered to the Scene Club by his parents later that same year, and earnestly playing bass lines from Chicago blues songs - I now know that he wasn't much older than me, and he stared at the fingerboard so intently because he might have learned the riff from John Mayall and the original record only a few days earlier.

I was also very aware of modern jazz bass as well - having heard Jaco Pastorius on Radio 3 on holiday in 1976, and having rushed out to find his eponymous solo album which is a constant even now on my virtual turntable. I had a client, also a very good friend, who had - still has - a recording studio, and at least once a year - when preparing his accounts and return we'd play together. I liked treating him to obscure records and when he heard Jaco for the first time was as amazed as I had been. We even wrote and recorded a single together - a punk rip off which included the immortal line "Johnny tells us Anarchy's the thing to do you ought to hear him tell it - I'd write it on the wall in spray paint if only I could spell it - I'm a punk, I'm a punk I hate reggae music soul and funk etc etc" - nothing happened, if only I could find a copy of the tape now.

So my mind was, to say the least, receptive and as I watched the bass-playing jammers I thought... "I can do that - gizza job!" Only problem, no bass.

Now my birthday was approaching and I got asked the usual question - so I thought now is the time - "I'd like a bass guitar" - and so a short while later I was the owner of a grey/silver Marlin - a precision copy with a decent action, reasonable pickup, for £100 - a bargain! On went the records, into my tiny Fender amp went the bass and, as long as I didn't turn up the volume the little speaker and the 15 watts of transistor power could make a rather nice smooth bass sound. I revisited tracks of old and started to listen to the bass lines as intently as I could and tried to play along, as I had for many years with regular guitar.

So, a couple of months later, now as a regular member of the audience, I brought along the bass, put my name down on the list and waited, nervously, for the call. As a newcomer to jamming seriously I was called up for the first or maybe the second jam and found myself on stage, fortunately with Roger who suggested a riff - and now I was on my own, or rather I wasn't, there was two guitars, drums and harmonica as well as a singer, I can't remember what we played, apart from Roger I can't remember who we played with but I did it! I got through the two allotted songs, didn't make too many mistakes, and as I left the stage with Todd making his usual announcement of who was in the band you'd just heard, the crowd continued to clap when my name was mentioned and there was a foaming lager waiting for my return.

Now I was hooked - this was like a drug - I had to get more. One thing I had noticed listening to other bass players at the jam was that they all tended to be shrinking violets, standing next to the drummer, not really looking like they enjoyed it and playing pretty much the same basic riff I - III - V - VI - that wasn't for me. I wanted to be more out front, not dominating proceedings but taking an active part - listening to what the others were trying to do and trying to enhance it. I aimed to play a different riff or at least a different feel for every song and, if you listen to enough records, there is a wealth of riffs to steal. I was probably a complete pain in the arse but I was having a good time and noticeably no longer getting called up at the beginning of jam, being kept up for several sets of jamming too. There were times when I would go up first, usually because there was a new guitarist and I suppose they figured if the drums and bass could hold it together not much else could go wrong!

One memorable night two young guitar slingers arrived - they had driven from the Oxford area to get to the jam - 40 odd miles and back again at the end of the evening - Matt Schofield and James Henderson. Anyway I'm delegated to play bass which I happily do and they start on a lengthy instrumental, which goes on, and on and on - my theory is that although they played some great stuff that evening they hadn't worked out how to finish, or at least how to indicate to the rest of the band that it had to finish - so the drummer and I sabotaged them in a friendly way to bring it to a close. Both Matt and James were great players, and of course Matt has gone on to be quite a name in the modern British Blues scene - I haven't seen James for many a long year but his brother Jonny, who also came down to the Weavers regularly, is the keyboard player in Matt's current trio.

After a while Todd decided to start an acoustic jam at the Weavers on a Tuesday in conjunction with John Hobson as I remember, and one evening yours truly has turned up to listen, not intending to play, but there isn't a bass player, but Todd has brought an acoustic Epiphone El Capitan so - it gets plugged in and I become bass player for the night. A young man enters with an acoustic and asks if he can play - these acoustic nights were not popular, there were perhaps 4 or 5 people watching that night and very few jammers. So he's dragged onto the stage and for the next hour jams away - my first introduction to Ian Seigal, newly arrived from Nottingham, but again to become a future fixture of the British Blues Scene. Todd and I were blown away by Ian's voice, which even then had the quality of Howling Wolf, and his guitar playing as well. This took me straight back to school days and a repertoire that I knew very well. The next morning I awoke with a sharp pain in my chest - oh my god, what could it be? - the answer, of course, was bruising - there are no comfort contours on an acoustic bass the size of an El Capitan and I had leaned in hard to keep up with Todd and Ian. The bruise faded but the joyful memory of that evening never will.

Now jamming is great and I'll try to remember some more shortly but next comes the first foray into playing with a band. This opportunity arrives courtesy of the living legend that is Lord Carvell of 'Acne - Ian himself, who has got a gig in Hackney, where else, and needs a bass player - on drums he had recruited a good friend of us both, Clive Nash, and other miscreants - only problem, I've got a bass - by now I had traded up to a Fender Precision Lyte, an 1990's Japanese made bass which despite the name Precision fused a Jazz bass neck with a Stratocaster body and two all-active pickups in a Jazz, Precision format - the Jazz pickup towards the neck, the Precision pickup towards the bridge BUT... no amplifier. I was still practicing at home through the little Fender guitar amp - that couldn't keep up with a band. I'll do it I said, if you've got an amp - "no problem" says Ian. He told me the wrong time too, so I arrived mid-way through the first set to discover that 'is lordship had borrowed a guitar amp - certainly louder than mine but it couldn't handle the bass. I'm not sure the punters noticed but I certainly did. So for our next outing we had to find a name, and a line-up (and a venue but hope springs eternal) so I had to find an amp. Now, being a bit stingy I prefer gear which is second-hand and found in my friendly Muswell Hill North London Guitar Imporium (I think that might have almost been the name) a rather battered looking Roland Bass Cube - 60 watts and a 12" speaker - this would do the trick and for a good while it did. It was a lurid orange colour and wasn't square at all - but the old Bass Cubes were a great little amplifier.

Ian, Clive and me were joined in the band, which Ian decided should be called 'Blue Juice' by Andy Dempster and Tony Freeman on guitars, and also harmonica in Tony's case, and Adam Jones on keyboard. I'm sure Adam won't mind me saying that he got a little happy on the blue juice towards the end of most evenings but he was and still is a great keyboard player. I saw him a couple of months ago at O'Neills in Muswell Hill playing with Damian McCabe - and a great sound they made. I'm pleased to say I still know the members of the band even though Andy now lives in Portugal and Tony has moved to the Midlands, some day Blue Juice will rise again. I still have the demo tape we recorded live at the Norfolk Arms, with the judicious addition applause from a live LP and an intro added by yours truly I think it still sounds alright. Although I have been offered 50p by one of the band members not to publicise it I think it's worth more than that so on my Soundcloud account you will find Blue Juice live... http://soundcloud.com/search?q[fulltext]=paul+soper.

We found gigs through George McFall who took a percentage, and he put us into a rather funky late night pub in Fulham which had a DJ - we played a set, the DJ played a set, this must have been 1997 because Chumbawamba has a massive hit with Tubthumping. Clive couldn't play that night so we had American drummer Frankie Natale with us - Frankie moved to East Germany for a while and can still be seen on the UK scene and has played some gigs with my current band, the Blues Dragons, again, more of that later. We decided that anything Chumbawamba did was cool enough to join in with so we started playing along with the record and so achieved a smooth transition into the band's set. I don't think Ian approved but the crowd seemed to like it.

Blue Juice managed a gig every month or so, sometimes less often, and we were determined not to practice. I have been in several 'bands' where the other members were happy to rehearse without having any gigs in prospect at all. Our repertoire was stuff we all knew well and the slightly ramshackle air suited the ethos of the band - Blue Juice concentrated on the Juice and it usually came in handy pint glasses...

Back to the jam... The Weavers Arms was a pub in Newington Green, North London, which had relatively little passing trade, it wasn't on a main road, there weren't any shops next to it, or even many opposite it but it acquired a great reputation as a music venue, like many such pubs it is easier to get a crowd on a Thursday, or at the weekend but on a Monday or a Tuesday? Not so easy hence the jams. The jam was held in the back of the pub where there was a hall and a stage and it had been, we believed, a music hall, a venue in other words, since 1873. Quite big acts played the weekend trade but Monday was jam night. The front of the pub was essentially separate from the back hall and so a small entry desk was there where subs could be collected on the night. Entry was £3 unless you were a musician when you were supposed to pay £2, if my memory serves me correctly.

However lots of jammers preferred to get in for nothing, claiming poverty, and Gini Hobson, who was usually on the door, had a soft spot for musicians who usually got in for free. Now there was a problem here because the band got nothing from the venue. The only money that got into the band's hands was what was collected on the door and if it wasn't a busy night there would be very little to share out. Earl quite often used to return to South London where he lives empty-handed. Now I must confess I don't understand the thinking behind those who prefer not to pay - the house band have put their precious amplification and drums at your disposal, they have physically brought it to the venue, and they will physically take it back home again, late at night, and you pay them nothing for their trouble? On occasions Gini couldn't be at the Weavers and on those evenings I'd become regular enough to take over the desk and I'd squeeze the requisite pittance out of all of them. Even today, as at the Coach and Horses, I pay to get in as a punter not at the reduced rate for a musician, it's a very very small sum for the listening pleasure I get and I know just how little the house band gets from this type of jam.

Can you persuade landlords to pay a reasonable sum for a jam? In an ideal world maybe, and if you are lucky enough to come across a landlord who has a budget from the brewery that he has to spend I suppose it could happen but in truth it doesn't happen - the landlord then has to justify the amount he pays out of increased takings. Now whilst on this subject let me add another complaint. Some jammers deliberately arrive at a jam after the house band have played and leave as soon as they have played, not exactly in the spirit of the thing. I often can't get to the Coach and Horses early enough and do miss the house band but I'm there for as long as I can be once I'm there. Part of the thing of jamming as a musician in my opinion is listening to what other people are doing, stealing riffs, asking yourself how you'd approach a particular song or singer and, let's face it, next week you could up there playing that same stuff. The jammers who come and go often have another equally irritating habit - they slyly bring in a water bottle with them , purchased for a couple of pence from a local shop, or maybe even brought from home. They buy nothing in the pub - if we all did this how long would the average jam last? I suppose the answer is about as long as the average jam does last, jams like the one at the Weavers and the Coach and Horses survive because the crowd do buy enough drinks to justify keeping it open. So don't be a meanie - buy a drink, even if it is a mineral water, there is nothing wrong with that (but just think what the fish do in it), buy a beer, maybe even two if you're not driving.

For those who have never been to a typical jam and want to try one, please do, but what will you get from the evening. In particular if you think you might like to join in and jam what should you think about doing?

As mentioned before there will usually be a list, if you intend to play put down your name and instrument clearly enough so that the host can read your name and what you play - there is nothing worse, having also hosted a jam or two in my time, in being unable to read someone's scrawl. As host I have to call you up, decide who to put you with, and if you can't make life easy for me I don't think you'll play, except by luck. If you are going to play and think because you know the people running the jam you'll get called anyway, so don't bother to put your name on this list, well you too might not get the set you think you deserve.

If you are there early enough to hear the house band you will probably get about 30 to 45 minutes of music from them. At the Weavers it was always supposed to be 30 minutes but sometimes over-ran and usually because of the slow blues. Earl would usually call three to four numbers one of which would always be a slow blues and most evenings it lasted 15 minutes by itself. How do I know? I used to bring a minidisc with me, meaning to listen back to my set but as there was enough time I'd also record the house band and most evenings when I did (and I still have the minidiscs to prove it) the slow blues took 15 minutes. The jam at the Coach and Horses takes a completely different approach by having a special guest every week and so the house band gets to back them and a very varied programme of songs results. If you can do it I think it's a better approach because sometimes the houseband will get a bit lazy and you'll hear the same songs every week. The house band will usually finish the evening as well so if you did miss them at the beginning do stay on to the end.

Then mine host - usually Earl for the first set of jammers, and Todd subsequently, called up the musicians who would comprise the first jam, Todd would then call for 'a hand for the band as it now stands' - so you'd get some applause before you'd play, whether you got it after was up to you. Todd or Earl would then introduce each player again as they left the stage before calling up the next group of jammers. This is common courtesy, I don't like it when people are summoned and then dismissed without this formality. Acting as a jam host I always make the necessary introductions and if you get the chance so should you. It helps the audience realise what is happening. Talk to an audience at a jam where the introduction process doesn't happen and they will often not realise it is a jam - they'll carry on talking and laughing and... well maybe sometimes it is a better thing that they don't realise what is happening.

So you get the call, carry your instrument on stage, plug in and get ready to play but wait... the guitarist isn't in tune and asks for someone to give him a 'E', usually he's not very good at tuning it either. Even 20 years ago you could get a tuner, today they cost peanuts. The little ones that clip on the guitar headstock are great - if you are going to get up then get tuned first. It is not rocket science is it? The person who hasn't tuned is wasting the time of the jammers that will follow. Maurice McElroy, as houseband drummer at the Weavers often found that he had to accompany several of the sets, drummers are sometimes in very short supply, so he had a T-shirt which made it perfectly clear - 'Tune Up Or Die' - I think I might get one made up for myself.

The singer is supposed to be the one that calls the songs, tells the band the tempo and the key to play it in. If you are going to volunteer to sing why not decide what you might do first - there is nothing worse for the audience than a singer who gets up and says to the band - 'what shall we do?'. Actually there is something worse, the singer that says 'play something and I'll improvise to it'. This is usually a recipe for disaster. Another irritation, albeit minor, is the singer who tells you the tempo and the key signature but refuses to tell you what they are going to sing. I might have heard it, I might not but certain songs do have distinctive turnarounds, phrases or riffs and if they can be added everyone's performance will improve.

What sort of songs to call can be tricky, if a singer is not also a musician they may not appreciate that there are technical problems with the song they want to sing. Too many unfamiliar chord changes don't help and sometimes, knowing that other band members won't cope I've had to refuse to play a particular song because it could be a recipe for disaster. I'll fake it with the best of them and often find myself jamming on a song I'm not familiar with. Billy Jenkins, brilliant jazz/blues guitarist expressed it well - the blues, he said, is jazz with a safety net, the one will always come around again. I'd agree with that sentiment but I can think of one particular evening at the Weavers when that didn't happen.

There was one particular American guitarist, I won't name him, who had been coming to the jam on a regular basis. He really believed he was Stevie Ray Vaughan and he was, it has to be said, a really good technical guitarist but... I didn't like him. Why not? One evening, not the one I'm about to describe, he decided to take an extended solo. This one solo he stretched to 30 minutes, the solo went on, and on, and on, and as it kept on going on those of us who were waiting and had not yet played began to realise that the time was getting later and it became clear that we weren't going to get to play at all. I don't mind if there are too many people, or I've come late, especially if I've come late, I don't have a right to play at any jam - but when some other player is so self-centred that they do something like this...

So on this particular night I was called with him and Todd, can't remember who was drumming, anyway this guitarist calls a slow blues - fair enough, in 'E' (yawn), and then commences to 'bring it in' which consisted of a 5 minute blistering solo from this yankie plank spanker which had no discernable rhythmic content, I'm sure to him it sounded great but when did we come in? Anyway he turned and glared and we guessed that we were supposed to be playing, and we did, but, where was the one? For a couple of verses we made a stab at it, I looked at Todd, he shrugged, he was no more clear where the one was than any of us but our yank (or a word that rhymes with it) turned round and, to my mind committed the cardinal sin, he stopped playing, not a rhythmic stop, he just stopped and turned and glared at his backing band, in particular me, so, knowing what a prat he really was I just kept on playing, joined by Todd and the drummer, we emphasised the groove that we were playing and made it quite clear that we were waiting for him to resume playing. He did, brought the song to a speedy end and stormed off the stage. He still plays, sometimes in Spain, I just checked his website and he still thinks he is SRV.

Earl and Todd also had the ability to put off time-wasters who really weren't good enough to play and encourage them not to return until they had improved. This helps to keep a jam at a high standard but it can be off-putting for a novice who wants to try, so if you are a novice let the person running the jam know so you can be put together with players who are supportive. Is there a secret to playing at a jam? Sam Kelly explained it well years ago when he said "listen" - that really is the secret - listen to what everyone else around you is playing and try to find a way to make it sound better. I could, but I won't, name a few guitar players (it is usually guitar players but sometimes it can be a harp player who -just-won't-shut-up] who are technically proficient, play nice solos, but take no notice whatsoever of what is being sung, how it is being sung, what everyone else is doing - so if you get up - remember the words of Sam - "LISTEN"...

One of my favourite singers at the jam was the late, great John Hobson. John was Englishman with a broad Australian accent, born in Watford, his parents had moved to Oz when he was a kid and he had since returned home, but couldn't shake off his aussie accent, and indeed why should he? He had a powerful voice, a taste for Howling Wolf and Buddy Guy songs and that suited me down to the ground.

In addition to singing at the Weavers he also played guitar, left-handed, but reserved this for his own band - 58 Deluxe - who hosted various jams in other parts of London. Unfortunately for me 58 Deluxe had a great bass-player of their own, Tony Mottram, a very good photographer, and if I joined the band 58 Deluxe would no longer apply - 48 Deluxe would have been more like it. John's jams were less structured than Earl's but great fun, and the jam moved around in venues such as Tufnell Park, Royal College Street, somewhere in Hackney by the canal, the Sports Bar in Mornington Crescent, a pub called the Red Eye behind Caledonian Road. These jams attracted some other great players, notably Dave Dix, a great singer and harp player. Like Adam mentioned above he hails from West London so it was a real treat to get to jam with him again at Moors Bar in Crouch End a couple of weeks ago.

John's wife Gini also sang and started up a band with Clare Free, then known as Miss Demeanour, on guitar, Constance Redgrave on bass and Maurice McElroy on drums. Gini was a great little singer, also Australian and a very talented illustrator as well. Unfortunately Gini's mum was ill and so they took the decision to move to Australia to look after Mum - it was with great sadness we all said goodbye. It was with even greater sadness that a short while after we learned that John had had a massive heart-attack and died. Anyone who knew John will, I'm sure, miss him as much as I do, we all do, a great talent cut down in his prime.

Jams can be a great place to make friends because you have the music in common and most people I have played with over the years I still see from time to time. The Weavers Arms jam came to an end in the mid 1990's, a block of flats had been built at the rear and the back wall touched the Weavers back wall - complaints about noise ensued - volume levels had to be lowered and then - an offer came in to the landlord, the aggravation was too much, and the Weavers closed to reopen as a Gastro-pub. You will remember that this was a pub without passing trade and so you can guess how successful a gastro-pub it would become. Some years ago the landlord in succession had the idea of music again, even arranged for a jam of sorts, we turned up and saw to our horror that the backroom was no more, the stage area had become a kitchen and we were expected to set up at the front of the pub, on the floor. What a sad end to a great venue that had existed since 1873!

My daughter Amy took some photos of the jam in (1996 we think) and Maurice McElroy took an amusing series of mugshots too - they are still to be found on Facebook at the site Weavers Arms Jam RIP - http://www.facebook.com/groups/237600797389/?ref=ts

The photo collection is a fantastic record of the jam, both at the Weavers and when it moved to the Worlds End pub - just look at Maurice's mugshots though - what a galaxy of young stars are there! You do have to log in to Facebook to see them at the moment. There are also a number of sketchs and pictures created by Greg Derham, another jam regular and great artist.

The jam was dead but... long live the jam - a new home was found at the Worlds End pub in Finsbury Park. Todd and Lee had left some years earlier and by now the house band was Earl, vocals and mine host, Roger on guitar, sometimes JK, sometimes Alex Dmochowski, sometimes Constance Redgrave on bass, usually Maurice McElroy on drums but others would sit in from time to time when Maurice was playing out - Sam Kelly was always a treat and the man who made me take my first bass solo. I'm not a jazzer and I don't really believe in bass solos - the records I learned from, the songs we were trying to play didn't have bass solos, James Jamerson never took a solo on a Motown record, although he came close on Marvin Gaye's 'What's going on?' - Sam made me solo. Tim Hill had also joined the house band, replacing Lee Sankey, and Tim is very special harp player and singer who is always a joy to play with, he's a valued member of my occasional band Enate along with Clive Nash and the wonderful Eddie Angel - another regular at the Weavers who is going on to great things.

Maybe that was one of the special characteristics of the Weavers - people started bands and careers there - I've already mentioned Matt Schofield and Ian Siegal, John Hobson went on with Dave Hadley Ray (Philly Dave) to start a band called the Phenomenal Pound Puppies - a modern swing band. Earl and Todd already had established careers, but would go on to greater success and even me... well in a very small way. Ben Tyzack played at the Weavers with Maurice and Constance and then rejigged his band Spikedrivers with a new rhythm section - still together now after 15 odd years...

When the Weavers relocated to the Worlds End a new jammer put in an appearance - a smiling Canadian who clearly owed a debt to the blues greats, especially T-Bone Walker, but who always played with a smile - did people take him seriously, probably not, by now we have arrived at the new millennium, I'm past 50 and still enjoying jamming, Blue Juice is in the past but who knows what else might turn up?

I'd appeared at a jam at the Fountain in Tottenham, ran by Aaron Curtis and met a drummer called Stevie Bray - originally in Toyah's band in the late 70's he'd left them, formed other bands, and then had stopped playing for a while. He gave me his card. A week later Jimmy C, Canadian singer/guitarist of Greek extraction, yes that smiling Canadian at the Worlds End jam asked me if I could play bass for him at a gig in Camden Town - and did I know a drummer? Well I knew several but I'd really enjoyed playing with Stevie and so gave Jimmy his number. We played the gig, and then another, and then we were joined by Antonio, a saxophone player we'd met at a jam and then Jimmy announced that we would henceforth be known as the Bluesdragons.

In 2001 our sound was very different to the usual Chicago based guitar harmonica bands - we lent a track from our first CD to the second Ain't Nothing But Blues Bar compilation CD - listening now every band is harmonica led except Jimmy C and the Bluesdragons. Over the next year we played over 100 gigs - how Stevie and I combined this with a day-time job I'm not really sure - but we created a sound and a style of playing which was our own. Sure we did covers, but we did them as the Bluesdragons, and Jimmy contributed his own material - steeped in the blues and I doubt that audiences realised that 40 to 50% of what we played, and still play, is original. 11 years on the band has expanded, Jimmy wants to play 3 to 4 nights a week, 7 if he can get them, and most people can't do that, day jobs and families, both in my case. Stevie and I played through the first couple of years as the number of gigs expanded, but you can't do it forever so a Bluesdragon gig varied depending on where you heard us, it could be me on bass, it could be Lakis, it could be Max, it could be Alex, it could be Terry Duggan, on drums it might be Stevie, but it might be Derek Smith, Sam Kelly, Joachim Greve, Mick Parker or Phil Overhead. Each line-up is different, we have never rehearsed, all arrangements of both old, and new material is developed on the fly but the secret of it, as with the secret of successful jamming is... LISTEN - as Sam Kelly said. That's what it takes - always listen to what everyone else is playing and try to make it sound good. That's just what the American referred to above didn't do - his ego was so large we were just an appendage. If you listen you won't go wrong. Jimmy can be a bit frightening to play with because he doesn't have a set list, he might hint at what is to come, but we just have to listen. From the audience point of view they can't believe it, here is a band playing one number right after another, no breaks, none of the 'what shall we do now?' that is so typical of many bands but there is no set list. "Will you play..." they ask, one number or another, if we know it we might, if we don't we might too, we don't know what is coming next!

We go into the areas that some people regard as beyond the pale - we play Mustang Sally - damn right we do because any audience loves it, we play Born To Be Wild because that's what happened to the Blues when it reached Canada, God help us, in some venues we have played Smoke on the Water and the crowd have gone wild! Jimmy wants to entertain - is there anything wrong with that? John Lee Hooker (we nicked some from him too) was asked to play 'In The Mood' the Glenn Miller hit and obliged with his own version, sounded nothing like Glenn Miller but it kept the crowd happy. The Blues Greats played to entertain, and that is what jamming should be too - entertainment.

If you are jamming, think of your audience, play to them, make them smile, their happy coins across the counter keep your jam going. You might not be paid but you should approach the jam as though you were. Above all LISTEN... see you can't go wrong, so tune up and get up there - a jam near you needs you!

 

 

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