NBS Blues Jam Protocol
It's a BLUES JAM folks - not an open-mic night. If you're a budding singer-songwriter looking for a platform to showcase your latest collection of power-ballads, you've come to the wrong place. We play the blues.
1Arrive as early as you can
We kick off at 8:30pm. Things can quickly get busy, so the later you arrive, the slimmer your chances of getting a turn onstage.
2The Sign-in sheet
There’s a clip-board which you need to fill in if you want to play. It’s self explanatory, just write your name and tick the relevant boxes and add your email address, which will go on our mailing list to keep you informed where and when the next NBS Blues Jam will be. It would help if you wrote down your full name, not just ‘John’ or ‘Mike P’. This isn't compulsory, but it avoids confusion when calling people up to the stage - you wouldn't believe how many Johns, Mikes and Steves we've got! Besides, we like to give everyone a proper name-check on our website.
From the sign-in sheet, we put together random groupings of players. Half the fun of the NBS Blues Jam is that you never know who you're going to end up on stage with or when your name will be called out. Each set normally consists of two numbers. This gives the players a nice rotation and opportunity to play with other people. On the other hand, if by some happy coincidence you turn out to be the only bass player in the house, be prepared to have a busy night! Lucky you!
Always bring your own instrument, and tuner. In an emergency, a fellow player might well consider lending you their gear, but you should never just turn up and expect to borrow stuff. Keyboard players and drummers can relax though...
As soon as you've got yourself a drink, make it your first duty to get tuned up, check all your gear and be ready to roll. Arriving onstage unprepared and then spending the next 10 minutes tuning up and fiddling with cables is a real pain in the neck for everyone else. It's disrespectful to the audience and it robs your fellow jammers of precious playing time - a guaranteed way to make yourself VERY unpopular.
5You're a band-member, not a one-man show
On nearly every jam set, you'll find that the band is led by an experienced player/singer who will choose the songs and appoint the solos. They'll always try to make sure that every player who wants to play a solo gets at least one opportunity per number. When that opportunity comes your way, go for it!
The rest of the time - no matter how impressive your chops might be - revert to being a member of the rhythm section, unless your fellow jammer wants you to get involved in a ‘call answer’ duo, where he plays a lick and you ‘answer’ with another, but be prepared to step back and let him finish his solo whenever he wants. ‘Sit in the pocket’ and give your fellow jammers room to breathe; squash that urge to fill every spare moment with a note or riff; don't splurge all over someone else's solo or let your rhythm-playing drown out their lead.
Above all, keep eye contact with your fellow players and watch the band leader for signals, stops and tempo cues.
6Advice for new singers / band-leaders
When choosing songs, stick to material that falls into the kind of 'core' blues repertoire your fellow jammers will be most comfortable with. If the 'band' is confident and comfortable with the number, you'll get better backing from them and your whole set will sound better. A jam set is not the place to break in new, obscure or quirky numbers. You don't want no train crash going on behind you! Likewise, don't expect anyone to be able to read sheet music or charts.
As band-leader, it's your responsibility to call the songs clearly so that everyone onstage knows what kind of number to expect. If it's a well-known blues standard, by all means give the title, but don't assume that everyone will know how it goes. Describe it. "Easy-going shuffle in 'A' - quick changes - watch me for the stops etc." - that's the kind of information your fellow musicians need.
Whatever the song, don't let yourself be a slave to the particular version you're familiar with. It doesn't matter how many verses/solos the original recording had, you have to ensure that all of your fellow jammers get a chance to play a solo if they want one. When handing out solos, make it very clear who it's being offered to, and make sure they've got the message. Big, definite gestures are better than a subtle nod or a vague waft of your hand.
Important notice about solo lengths: Time-wise, soloists are always given "twice round the block" - i.e. two complete 12-bar progressions. Any shorter than that and they won't have time to develop what they're doing, and both the musician and the audience will feel cheated. Also, think of the other jammers sitting waiting to be up next and try not to extend your numbers too much by continually rotating solos. Time is precious.
7Harp amps welcome!
Although we have a full backline, harp-players are welcome to bring along their own (preferably small) amp and we'll always do our best to accommodate it. Stage-space is limited, though, so if more than one harp-player arrives with an amp, they usually agree amongst themselves to use just the one for the whole night. It saves a lot of rigging/de-rigging of gear - and that avoids wasting our most precious resource: TIME.
8Volume...I said VOLUME!!
Don't worry: we'll let you know if you're not loud enough - and we'll let you know if you're too loud. Keep it sensible. Remember, it's the back room of a pub, not Wembley Stadium! The Blues is a subtle genre, full of dynamic highs and lows. If you start out at ear-bleeding level, you'll have no dynamics to play with - and, very quickly, no audience to play to. They'll all have buggered off into the bar!
9Relax - it's only a Blues Jam
It's your first time with us. You don't know anybody (yet). You've summoned up the courage to put your name down on that sign-in sheet - well done! - but now you're nursing a drink and feeling a bit nervous: worried that when it comes to it, you'll lose your way in the middle of a number, make a fool of yourself and "let everybody down"...
Relax! This isn't the X-Factor! Nobody's here to judge you, least of all your fellow jammers, 'cos we've all been there and we know what it feels like. At every NBS Blues Jam, players at every level of talent and experience, from complete newcomers to seasoned pro's, get up onstage together with one simple aim: To have fun playing the music we love. And y'know what? It works!