Ever Played an Instrument?
I was talking to someone recently and realised how long it’s been since I picked up my guitars. And I find this quite sad.
I’m sure many of you will have had uncomfortable forced piano lessons when young or had to join in with something at school, even if it was just banging a drum or hitting a triangle. That always seemed to be what I ended up with and don’t think I showed much prowess even at that.
I never had any great musical interest or skill but then something happened. I discovered the music that struck the proverbial chord with me (no pun intended). I was around 12 or 13 at this time. Up until then like most I’d been listening to the Top 40, watching Top of the Pops on the BBC and that was the limit of my musical knowledge.
Then a friend at school played me some stuff that he had. This included bands I’d barely heard of; Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Rainbow, AC/DC and even the magnificent track Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
And something clicked. Something hit me both in the heart and in the head. I can’t remember if it was the power and energy of the music, the depth and complexity or a fascination with the musicianship, keeping in mind that this was when the Disco music scene was happening.
I could relate to this, it felt good and I started saving up my pocket money to buy the albums by these bands and yes, it was just vinyl or cassette at this time.
I even went to my first gig which was Black Sabbath on the Heaven and Hell tour 1981 at the old Sophia Gardens Pavillion in Cardiff (about a year before it collapsed under a heavy snowfall and was demolished). An eventful and memorable evening as too many tickets had been sold (think they were £5) the hall filled up and there were still lots of people outside being held back by police, some even climbing onto the roof and trying to get in through windows.
I was near the front for the support band and recall being almost literally blown away by the lights and volume of the sound coming from the stacks rising high above our heads at the side of the stage. What an impression it made. And then there was a huge delay. Because of the problems outside there had been talks going on with the band and in order to avoid further problems there was an announcement that they were going to do two shows that evening.
I remember a few things about the show, being bored by an extremely long (or so it felt) guitar solo for one and being escorted away from the venue past those waiting for the second show but what an impact it made on me. The gigs I’ve seen since then, the bands I’ve met. While my musical tastes have expanded since, good, loud rock music is still at the heart of what I love.
I’ve found one photo from that specific show on the internet:My friend who introduced me to all this also had an electric guitar and amp and I loved playing around with this and managed to persuade my parents to get me one too. It was a cheap white Les Paul copy. Actually played fairly well and I loved it and started learning.
I had some lessons which helped, learned to read guitar tablature and played along to my record collection. A friend at school was also a decent player and I learned a lot from him and even had little band sessions in a bedroom, much to the annoyance of the neighbours.
As I learned more I upgraded to better and better guitars although felt I could never justify the costs of something like a real Gibson Les Paul or a PRS Custom which I’d love. Never really got on with Fender although no doubting they’re great instruments. It’s very true that different designs are suited to different people.
Even got a band together for a while and played some gigs. That was scary. First time we played was supposed to be as support but something went wrong and we were asked to headline. Had to pull together a list of every song we’d learned, even the ones we hadn’t practiced that much and just wing-it. Went surprisingly well. I even got over the panic of forgetting how to start the second song but ended up really enjoying it.
Currently I have these three:
We have (from left to right) an Epiphone Les Paul with a tobacco sunburst finish, an Epiphone Les Paul Slash signature model which is a lovely thing and then my most verstile one that I bought off a friend many years ago made by a company called Larrivée. Mostly known for acoustic guitars, they tried to broaden into the electric market for a while. It’s basically a lovely instrument but I had all the electrics upgraded a few years ago. Had a mix of Seymour Duncan pickups put in and the wiring altered to allow some interesting combinations of sounds. I can get everything from great crunchy rock to super clean single coil twang out of this. Love it.
And to go with these, what else could there be but an amp made by Marshall Amplification. Classic choice for the bands I’m into, and British, there’s nothing like it. Always wanted one and finally managed to get one with some redundancy money I received. Unfortunately hitting harder times I had to sell it and always regretted that but found a nice bargain replacement a little while ago and so have this:
Loud and superb. I’m going to try and not let this one out of my hands. Had a tour round the factory once too in Bletchley near Milton Keynes. They’re very open about allowing you to arrange that, contact them and ask if you have an interest. Amazing experience.
So who is my favourite guitarist? I admire so many for many different reasons but without doubt the one I can never tire of hearing and the one I feel has such a superb touch and ear for melodic playing is David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame. If you want to know why, watch this video of the track Fat Old Sun which has such a stunningly melodic solo when he switches to the Telecaster half way through. Sends shivers up my spine. He makes it looks so effortless it’s scary. The track Comfortably Numb off The Wall album is also probably one of the best guitar solos ever recorded, in my opinion:
Unfortunately other interests have taken over my time and after the band stopped I’ve gradually let the playing slip. I used to know huge swathes of my record and CD collection, or enough to at least play along but most of that is forgotten now.
Listening to music is great but playing gives it a whole other dimension and enjoyment. I think this year is time to try and relearn some of that. Like riding a bike, you don’t forget the basics but keeping songs in your head when you don’t play them regularly is hard.
They say learning an instrument is all about practice and never has a truer word been said. Lets see if I keep to that plan.
And to anyone who’s learning or finding it frustrating. Don’t expect too much, it’s not easy but as soon as you learn just two or three chords you can play something and that’s when you feel the achievement, see what you can do and get the urge to persevere.