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Music in Sheds

Can You Sing?

A year on, and Music in Sheds is still lacking a regular singer. A few people have had a stab at it, but no one claims to be any good at it. Besides, it’s difficult to sing and play an instrument at the same time. It can be a bit like patting your head and rubbing your belly.

Cloudburst 1982, Stage invasion

I’ve toyed with the idea of singing, on and off. It’s not like I haven’t done it before. Back in my Cloudburst days, I used to sing backing vocals. Backing vocals is easy. You generally can’t be heard above the main singer anyway.

I’ve only ever sung lead vocal twice: once when Cloudburst performed Hawkwind’s Spirit of the Age. [And if you’ve heard the song, you’ll know that it’s more of a monologue.] Not only did I sing lead, I played the keyboard at the same time. Well, I say “played” — I’d actually programmed the keyboard to arpeggio, all I had to do was hold down two chords. It sounded pretty awful.

Cloudburst, Christmas 1982: Spirit of the Age

The next time I braved the mic was 20 years later, when I was recording a song for The Moles’ Worm Pizza project. I’d reinterpreted We Are the Moles by Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, and it needed a vocal. As there was no one else to sing, I had to do it myself. I attacked the task with the attitude that I was going to sing in the style of Peter Murphy or David Bowie. I sounded nothing like them, but it was a passable vocal. Job done.

The thing is: it’s probably fair to say that most people can sing — a bit. We’ve all sung in the shower, in church, at the match, at a gig, etc. But that’s usually because no one can hear you. And, let’s face it, when was the last time someone complimented your lovely singing voice?

It’s true that some people can’t sing for toffee. In my experience, a small number of unfortunate souls are tone deaf, and the sound coming from their mouths is not what was intended, at least some of the time. I don’t know why this happens, but it’s a terrible curse. I like to think that they excel in some other respect, to compensate.

Hovis Malone singing

But, the main barrier to singing, at least in my case, is embarrassment. How do singers do it? I guess I have the same problem with public speaking too. I can do it, but I hate it. Once I get started, I can talk to a room full of people, after an initial rush of fear and adrenaline, and several hours of anxiety. I’d just rather not. It’s less stressful!

So when Munsif, Rick, Lee, Richard and James sang at Music in Sheds, I was full of respect. No one laughed, and it helped the flow of music tremendously. It didn’t look scary at all.

So, if you fancy having a bash at singing with Music in Sheds. Please, let me know!

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Music in Sheds

Back on the Horse

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.

MIDI keyboard/controller, bought for live use

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.

Richmond Telecaster Thinline, never really saw much action

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.

Tuned In - short-lived Stockport-based musical club

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.

Tuned In first session
Tuned In first session, Jah Wobble in the centre, Will (Sheds main man) in the sandals, and me clutching the SG tightly on the right.

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.