I had been in London a full week before I decided to involve myself in its music scene. The Lawrence London Centre is a fantastic opportunity for students. The offered classes are interesting and provide weekly trips into the city. However, there was something lacking that the Appleton campus possesses: lots and lots of music. I knew that before I left to go abroad, but it became a lot more real after a week in London. What I really missed about music in Appleton was the opportunity to constantly jam and play with other musicians.
The Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues Bar is a little joint that I discovered last Sunday. The bar is in Soho (just a ten-minute walk from my flat). It has weekly jams on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and Monday evenings. Sunday afternoon came, and I packed up my guitar and headed down to Soho to see what was up. The bar was crowded. Not the no-place-to-sit type of crowded, but the no-place-to-sit-or-stand type of crowded. It was absolutely packed. Guitar cases were shoved everywhere. Blues posters and vinyls covered the shabby brick walls. The atmosphere was noisy; people attempted to have conversations over music, laughing and clapping after a particularly good guitar or harmonica solo. I talked to a particularly friendly couple who stayed an extra thirty minutes longer just to watch me play my two songs.
The jam was structured in an organized manner. It started out with a house band, led by the man who was in charge of the jam, Barry Jackson. In the house band was a bassist, harmonica player and lead guitar player. They played four classic blues tunes and then started referring to “the list.” When you sign up on the list, you write your name and what instruments you wish to play. Barry came up and announced the lineup. The singer would always call the tune, and it would be expected that you knew it. Oftentimes they were just simple blues numbers, but sometimes there would be a twist or two thrown in.
What was most refreshing about this atmosphere was that it was a gateway to the blues scene in London. Later that night, I was pointed toward another blues jam at a place called “The Blues Kitchen.” When I went to the Blues Kitchen, I saw a couple of people that I had recognized from the Ain’t Nothin’ jam earlier that day. In addition, I saw a bassist from the Blues Kitchen jam at the Monday night Ain’t Nothin’ jam. Every single person there said, when I asked them how often they’re here, “Oh, me? I’m here every day, man!” The musicians practically live there in a close-knit community with one another. No one possessed an ego; instead they see the jam as an opportunity to play and have a little fun. More on this coming in two weeks!