On Being The Upright Man
Around 18 months ago I decided that, after 20 years of in theory being able to play that guitar, it was time to put some work into the craft and actually get a bit better at it. One of the best ways I know to improve your skill on an instrument is to join a band and have a gig commitment hanging over your head.
But, being 38 at the time, there was no way I was going to join a band. Instead I searched the internet for the chords and lyrics for 6 or 7 songs and began trying to learn how to play them. Upon hearing of this, my good friend Bill promptly announced that I would be the opening act for the next Rambling Bones gig, so I better get my act together.
3 weeks later, when I realised that, just because in theory I knew how all the chords fit together didn’t mean my muscle memory was going to allow them to stay, it was too late. Posters had been made and press releases sent out. I continued to practice.
None the less, that 1st gig was a nightmare. So much so that I on the spot asked another good friend, Marc, to play with me in the future. Clearly I wasn’t so bad that I wasn’t determined to continue! Marc is a far more experienced guitar player and a real old hand when it comes to being on stage. Thus The Upright Man was born proper.
In the intervening 18 months or so, I have played more guitar than ever in my life. And now I am pleased to say that I can actually play the instrument. I may not have put in Gladwell’s 10 000 hours, but the principle is becoming apparent enough for me to buy into it. Why didn’t I just do this when I first picked up a guitar aged 12? Man, how good would I be now?
Interesting questions but you see, back then, while it sounded like a cool idea to know how to play guitar, it just wasn’t enough of a priority for me to put in the time. So I didn’t. In many ways I could kick myself now, but its OK, I am catching up, aged 40! In another decade or so, I may approach mastery on the thing.
We played what may well be the last ever gig of The Upright Man in its current format At Wolves in Illovo, Johannesburg last night. It was a great show which I thoroughly enjoyed. The opener was Rhys Johnstone. Originally from Durban Rhys was in Underground Press back in the 80’s and later, Scooters Union. Marc and Rhys last shared a stage 22 year ago. The other act was Doris, fronted by Rob McLennan of No friends of Harry. NFOH are one of the reasons I play music at all, and the first time I shared a stage with Rob was in 1991!
Sometimes we forget that, just because our industry is small, niched and sometimes seems forgotten, it doesn’t mean that there is no legacy, no history. In many ways last night was a historic event. It had none of that feeling at the time. We are all just doing what we like to do because we like to do it. But between just us 4 individuals falls two decades of original SA rock. And we were playing in a tiny club to a small crowd for whatever money the audience chose to put in a big jar. No groupies, no press, no-one really who knew who we were or what we had done.
What a refreshing night. And one that really reinforced why I have gone back to gigging and music performance. It just feels good and I love it. I like to sing more than play guitar still, as the singing definitely comes easier, but that’s ok, I am still working hard on the guitar. I have this notion that either The Upright Man will come back with some original material in the New Year, or I will come out with a set of my own. Either way I don’t intend stopping playing and the challenge of song writing is something I am relishing getting into.
But until then, its rest time for The Upright Man and a few more turns through my ever expanding repertoire of covers as I keep my fingers and music brain sharp!