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A Canterbury cocktail bar changed my life

by James Taylor

You can easily walk down Orange Street and not even notice it. Until the summer of 2015, I didn’t know it existed – and I’ve lived in Canterbury for most of my life.

And yet, just a stone’s throw away from the Marlowe Theatre, you’ll find a hidden gem and a veritable hub of great local music: Bramley’s Bar.

I discovered the joys of the Bramley’s Jam nights through my brother. Having tried and failed to launch a lucrative musical career, I was happy just to fade into the background and play cocktail piano gigs for a bit of pocket money, while focusing largely on my day job (I’m a freelance translator) and writing ambitions. So when he told me about the fortnightly Jazz Jams, I was lukewarm at best.

Yet along I went, somewhat reluctantly – and I’ve been going regularly ever since. Playing at the Bramley’s Jams – Blues as well as Jazz – has been a revelation for me.

Perhaps the most eye-opening discovery is just how much outstanding musical talent there is in Kent. Singers – not least the excellent Dulcie May Moreno, who hosts the Jazz Jams – and a rich variety of instrumentalists converge every Tuesday to produce an exceptionally high standard of music.

Some of it is as good as anything you’ll hear anywhere in the country, including London.

In a way, that’s quite a sobering discovery. I listen to some of the people I’ve played with and think: ‘You really deserve a wider audience than this’. That’s how good they are.

Still, the world’s loss is Canterbury’s gain, I suppose.

Yet, despite the high levels of talent on display, there’s generally a refreshing lack of ego or clique mentality among the regular Bramley’s jazz and blues musicians. I’ve played at jams in the past where, if you weren’t basically a pro or of equivalent standard, it was pretty obvious you weren’t welcome. ‘How dare you presume to be our equal!’

Thankfully, the house bands and regular players at Bramley’s are nothing like that. Although a certain level of basic competence is generally expected if you actually want to sing or play, both the players and the audience are quite encouraging and sympathetic.

You certainly don’t have to be a pro, and you won’t get booed for playing a bum note or forgetting lyrics!

But here’s the bit that really changed my life. There’s something about jamming – as opposed to going to open mic nights, for instance – which really enables you to connect with other musicians. It also opens up opportunities for starting bands and other musical collaborations, deputising for each other and – last but not least – making new friends.

For someone whose working life is spent entirely alone and at home (that’s the nature of freelance translating), the Bramley’s Jams have been a real blessing. Long may they continue!

The Bramley’s Jams take place every Tuesday evening, finishing at 11 pm. They alternate between jazz and blues: the next Jazz Jam is on 26th February, and the next Blues Jam is on 5th March.

James Taylor is a Canterbury-based freelance translator, writer and semi-professional musician. He plays regularly throughout the East Kent area, thanks largely to Bramley’s.

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