The last time I played with a band was in 1989, when I lived in Leeds. I went to a studio to audition for an unsigned band called Greenhouse. I’d already met a couple of the guys, and been given a tape to familiarise myself. To be honest, it wasn’t really my thing. It was a bit too jingly-jangly-Johnny-Marr for me. Still, I thought they might like my sonic-terror-Thurston-Moore interpretation of it. Of course, I was completely wrong (though I think the bass player enjoyed it). I probably still have the tape somewhere — I’m sure it’s worth at least £3.80 now.
I’d tried to form a band in Leeds for a couple of years, but I just wasn’t making the contacts. To be frank, my heart wasn’t really in it. This failed audition helped me realise that my musical ambitions just weren’t compatible with the other stuff in my life, and the guitars began to collect dust.
In the 00s, I tried my hand at electronic music. Once I’d completed a CD of tunes under the name Yammer, my subconscious decided that progress had been far too slow, and it was all too much like hard work. I’d geared up for live performance, but, again, I found it impossible to find anyone foolhardy enough to join me. So I sold the gear, and went back to ignoring the guitars.
Over the years, I tried to jump-start the guitar playing by buying another cheap second-hand electric guitar and an effects box (to replace the long-since-deceased Noisewarp). But the initial enthusiasm always seemed to die away after a few weeks.
During the long hot summer of 2018, I heard about a group called Tuned In starting up locally, in Stockport. I’d already come across Men in Sheds — an organisation which aims to unite socially-isolated men in a common purpose — and this musical group was a collaboration involving Jah Wobble (of Public Image Ltd and Invaders of the Heart fame). Intrigued, I popped along to the first session.
Arriving late, I opened the door to be confronted by the man himself, who thrust out his hand, introduced himself, and asked what instrument I played. Somewhat taken aback, I said I was just going to listen for a bit, and made small talk while I sussed out what the hell was happening. It turns out that Mr Wobble has been a Stockport resident for 20 years. Who knew!
After chats with the other organisers, I’d plucked up enough courage to take the stage. Someone dropped a Gibson SG around my neck, and I joined in the jam. There was a professional musician running the jam, which was a little bit Rock School, but, considering I hadn’t really played much in 30 years, was just about my level. Playing in front of Jah Wobble wasn’t exactly how I predicted my first session in decades would pan out.
30 minutes later, I was getting cocky, and improvised a riff which had a bit more balls. I was starting to get the hang of it. My ego was gently massaged when Jah Wobble complimented my unconsciously-Levene-flavoured contribution. We posed for a group photograph before he left, and we continued to play until chucking-out time.
I couldn’t attend the next few sessions, and the project ran out of money a few weeks later. I was gutted — that was the most fun I’d had in ages. So I was pleased to learn a few months later that Men in Sheds was going to give it another shot, alone, with the new name Music in Sheds, based in Heaton Moor, Stockport.
I missed the planning meeting, but I was there for the first session in January 2019. There were four of us, if I remember correctly: two bass players and two guitarists. It must have been a success, because we’re still meeting every week, almost a year later.
It turns out that all you need to get you picking up the guitar again is an excuse to do it. If you know you’re going to be playing with a group every week, you have to learn and practice. And that is what it takes to rekindle the interest and enthusiasm to play and improve.