Monday, 18 October 2010

Jammin' at Cafe Crema

One of my favourite nights out is the piano jam at Cafe Crema New Cross ( I first went there for a lovely veggie lunch, and discovered that it's open occasionally at night, showing films on Thursdays and hosting a monthly jam. It's a cosy place, painted a warm red, and filled with odds and ends of furniture.

I've been a regular jammer for some time now, although my attendance has slipped of late due to the voice problems I mentioned in my last post. This Saturday, I went along with my friend Mia. Neither of us intended to sing, merely to shake and bang the various percussion instruments that Mia brings along.

The piano at the cafe has seen better days, but it is in tune, and gives that honky tonk sound so evocative of New Orleans jazz. Anyone can get up and sing or play, but there's a group of regular musicians who get the party started. The guy who co runs the cafe plays piano, accordion, guitar and harmonica. He has a band called The Reverend Jim Casey, with a mate of his who's also a regular guitar player at the jam, they have a kind of rockabilly thing going on. Usually in attendance is a white haired, bespectacled saxophonist, whose instrument has a "For Sale" sign wonkily sellotaped across it. There's another regular who plays guitar, bongos and kazoo, occasionally all at the same time. He does a wicked version of Sit down (by James). I don't really know anyone's name who goes, nor do they know mine, but that's fine. It's not about making friends, it's about making music.

There's a host of songs the regulars all know, this weekend the selection included Bankrobber, Message to you Rudy, and a song about a holey bucket that I'm told is by the Alabama 3. This has a rousing chorus that is so simple, even the most musically illiterate person could pick it up straight away. The surprise ingredients are provided by different folks who come along each time. You never know what you'll be privileged to hear. This week there were a couple of talented pianists, and a young guitarist who came in near the end, asking if he had time to nip home for his banjo and his fiddle.

Every time I go to the jam, I fully intend to leave on the last train, at five past midnight. But once the music gets going, I don't want to be anywhere else. Closing time seems to vary according to how lively it is, this week the last of us stumbled out at around 1.30 am. And I did sing... Around midnight one of my favourite musicians turned up and took the piano for a spin. He plays by ear and can play pretty much anything. He seems to like my voice, so we muddled our way through Natural Woman, Second that Emotion (of which I know about one word in four), and The First Cut is the Deepest. The other musicians joined in, with percussion, sax, guitars, voices, you name it. Being at the centre of this musical storm is exhilarating; I jigged around like a woman possessed.

Communal music making can be a spiritual experience, it's uplifting. Human beings have gathered together to create in this way since the earliest days of our species. It's the deepest kind of sharing with each other (or just a fun thing to do when pissed, however you want to take it). Wouldn't it be great if, instead of watching the X factor, people got together, and made music themselves? At home, in the pub, knocking back a few ales and belting out the classics.

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