Thursday, 26 May 2011

Are you any good?

You get strange reactions sometimes when people find out that you play guitar. "Are you any good?" is a common one; how are you supposed to answer that?  I used to get flustered and start saying, "Well, not really, I'm not too bad" and so on, until a friend told me that I should always say, "Absolutely fantastic!"  So I tried that, but it tends to bring conversations to a juddering halt. 

Playing in the Mason's Arms with Rich Simcock.
On one occasion when I was playing in a pub session and was the only guitarist among the musicians, a young lad said to me, "You're not very good, are you?"  So I held out my guitar and asked him to show me how it's done.  "I can't play!" he replied.  On another occasion, a woman told me that I wasn't as good as her son.  "Where can I see him play?" I asked.  "Oh, he only plays in his bedroom, but he's very good", she answered.  I have a vision of a long-haired youth sitting on his bed playing scales and solos with 100 notes per minute, but never actually getting a band together and going out and doing it.

Playing to an audience is what it's about.  I've known many singers and guitarists over the years, and I have noticed that the ones who don't perform in public, who only play for themselves at home, tend not to keep it up in the long run.  Sometimes they have been better than me, but it's not a question of skill.  By "play in public", I don't necessarily mean paid bookings; there are open mike nights, pub sessions, singarounds and folk clubs where people can play, or even just playing to your mates.  If you're serious about wanting to play, at some point you have to leave the comfort zone of your bedroom or kitchen.

I don't let people like that young lad or the doting mum bother me; it would be easy to be offended, but what's the point?  At Whitby folk week, I once arrived at a pub early for a singaround and the juke box was still on.  I lifted my guitar out, noticed there was a really simple three-chord boy band song playing and strummed along to it.  In hushed tones the people at the next table said, "Look, he's playing along to the song on the juke box!"  At least, it made up for the critics!


  1. I think ANYONE who has the nerve to play in front of a real audience is a fantastic player!

    I've been learning guitar for nearly three years and I get flustered if a friend asks me to play something.

    Keep it up and ignore the ignorant rude people - you are ace!

  2. A baronial endorsement! Thanks very much.

  3. You are very welcome serf ;)


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