As well as the folk set I’d rehearsed with Martin, I was invited to play along with the main band, Razzberry Jam, at last night’s St Patrick’s night gig. The only problem was that I had no idea what songs they were going to play or, when the tunes started (mainly well known stuff like Whiskey in the Jar and Molly Malone for that set) what key there were in. The Irish Rover in Bb? There’s a first time for everything! This morning it turns out I had been send a set list but it only arrived between me turning off the computer to have dinner and setting off.
Even worse, between the earplugs I was wearing, the overall volume and where I was standing, I couldn’t really hear myself but I was concerned that, if I let rip, the audience would pick up the random noises. What’s a boy supposed to do? Smile and jig about was one thing and a fair degree of pretending to play. Even better, I could draw on what James Hill and Anne Davison sang about as The New York Strum: loosely resting the fretting hand to mute the strings and playing for percussive effect. It’s a bit of a cheat but is a way of contributing something to the ensemble without risk of derailing it.
Later on I realised I could hear myself a little bit, when I stopped a muted picking pattern I was using and realised that it was me, not the guitarist across the other side of the stage contributing the extra sound I was hearing so, towards the end of that set, I picked up a little more confidence. I didn’t get any bad looks suggesting I was getting in the way so I just got on – often enjoyment contributes as much as finely crafted note choices in a gig of that ilk.
So, mandolinists, ukists and other stringed, fretted instrumentists, if you find you can’t hear yourself too well, don’t sulk in the corner but try the New York Strum.