Nineteen years ago I walked out of a music shop in Southsea with a shiny new Rikter bass guitar slung over my shoulder, the light gleaming off its pristine sunburst body as we walked together to our future as global rock stars. Somehow though the band formed with my university housemate on guitar, a wobbleboard player in lieu of a drummer and a vocalist who didn’t show up for a single practice never scaled the heights of musical immortality that seemed pre-ordained back then, and the bass spent the subsequent years gathering dust in a corner of my bedroom along with any long forgotten rock & roll dreams.
Fast forward to 2020, and the time has finally come for my four-stringed companion to emerge from the shadows thanks to DIY Space for London‘s laudable First Timers Fest – a five month long series of workshops and events dedicated to getting new people into music, culminating in a two-day festival at which every act is making their debut. We’ve come across a number of First Timers alumni over the years: Big Joanie, Charmpit, Primetime and Breakup Haircut all cut their teeth at previous editions, and this year seemed like the right time to attempt to follow in their footsteps (in no way related to any mid-life crisis prompted by my upcoming 40th birthday) .
So it was that I blew the cobwebs from the Rikter and made my way to the South East London industrial estate that houses DIY Space for ‘Jam On Your Hands‘, the first event of this year’s festival. First Timers has a stated aim of addressing the lack of diversity in the DIY music scene and particularly encourages people who are disabled (visible or non-visible), LGBTQIA+ folk, people of colour and women to participate, and as I join the nervous buzz of future musicians milling around DIY Space’s lounge area there’s also a reassuring age range, from school-age teens to ladies and gentlemen of more advanced years such as myself. It’s a mixed bunch in terms of musical experience too, from a professional singer wanting to add new strings to his musical bow to a girl who has never picked up an instrument outside of a school music lesson.
We’re given a quick introduction to First Timers from organiser Sian Pain, then it’s straight off on a whistlestop tour of the key instuments of a DIY punk band. We’re whisked around ten minute introductions to each by tutors from former First Timers bands including Break Up Haircut, Cheerbleederz, Happy Accidents and Halaca, and given the chance to try out guitar, bass, vocals, drums and keys for ourselves. The sessions are friendly, straightforward and non-judgemental – being surrounded by other aspiring musicians who are in the same boat definitely helps and a supportive atmosphere quickly builds up amongst our group as we fumble our chords and jumble our beats with smiles on our faces. A few fragments of muscle memory carry me through the bass and guitar sessions with some degree of respectability but when it comes to the drums, my arms and legs stubbornly refuse to co-operate – it’s great fun nonetheless.
Having been given a quick taste of each instrument, we’re asked to select one to focus on for the remainder of the afternoon. I join the group of budding bassists to be put through our paces by Breakup Haircut’s Ripley, and before long we’re bashing out a passable interpretation of Blondie’s ‘One Way Or Another’, with simplified versions available for those who are new to the instrument and a few trickier passages for those who are feeling more confident.
Fully prepped it’s time to put everything together as we’re joined in the main venue space by the other groups for a full-on mega-band rendition of today’s tune, and though the odd bum note is hit and the tempo occasionally goes a little wobbly it’s a beautiful thing to be part of a group of more than thirty first timers making music together. As we finish the room errupts in smiles, applause, the odd nervous laugh and even a couple of tears as a wave of relief washes over the room. We came here to make music, and making music is what we have done. Now it’s time for the next step…
First Timers workshops run from January to April at DIY Space for London – see below for a full list and visit their Facebook page to sign up. First Timers Fest takes place on 4th and 5th May – sign ups are open now!
Article by Paul Maps
Photographs provided by First Timers Fest LDN