The temperature is somewhere in the 30s. The air conditioning unit must be on, because it’s making a noise, but it’s making no appreciative difference to the scent and smoke and sweat of this North London cellar. A man called Steve is blowing Summertime on his harp – chromatic, but we forgive him, because he’s storming it – and Lee Sankey is sitting on a sofa waiting to burn our ears with some blues.
Last time I was in this basement room in the Torriano about 15 harp players were here to swop tips and learn an ensemble piece. Tonight, on London Harmonicas Performance Night, it’s impossible to get to the stairs which lead up to the bar and to fresh air without stepping on someone. The twin benefits of getting here early and of having an ankle fresh out of plaster mean that I can sit next to Tom on the comfy sofa without feeling obliged to give someone else a turn. And this in turn means that I am close enough to the music to see Will‘s ribcage bounce with every breath of his amazing Amazing Grace.
I have been playing about a year now, and can hold my own with some simple blues for Mojo Triangle. Watching the talent that casually steps up, throws out a song or a solo or a fox chase and sits down again reminds me that I have a long, long way to go on this journey. But – mainly thanks to the compere with flair, MuzHunter – tonight never felt like them vs us. The invitation was to do what you could – which for me was mainly applauding, but music needs an audience as well as players – and to enjoy doing it. I might be stuck in the foothills at the moment, but I’m good enough to stab some rhythm into a team rendition of High Heel Sneakers, which means that I can now say that I’ve played with Lee Sankey. And if I’d been quicker I’d have got a solo as well.