Friday, 2 December 2011

It’s not like I’m Jimi – you know.

And sometimes I pick up the guitar and play. I bought that guitar in 1992. A double payment from the dole office. Income support and unemployment benefit. A double cheque – clearly with no checks – as they never came looking for the money. The guitar and the wah-wah.

Now we got the funk.

Its paint is chipped – the single coil pick-ups worn – the knobs just metal. But it is my guitar. I can play that guitar. One day I will own the Fender Jaguar but in some ways some ways that will be an old man’s purchase – a vanity guitar – it will never have the love and attention like that one. The struggle to pick out a new chord on the neck, the wearing away of the wood, its weight in my hands. A new guitar – however much better and beautiful - will not really be the same. I am precious about it – but also non-committal – it can fall over – the kids can bang it.

It’s a guitar – it is built to kill fascists – it can take a knock.


Sometimes I open the pages of those ‘How to play’ books and rattle through a song – making shapes that resemble a chord and noises that pass for a tune. I was very anti-muso as young un – and there’s something of a sneer in me when I see a rocker grinding the axe man. Not when I witness the spectacle of an orchestra – it’s most likely a class thing. That elitist thing – which as I age and discard the postmodern pointers that equate the mundane with the sublime – I increasingly subscribe to - I blame reading F.R. Leavis at an impressionable age – although Emma will tell me that you can’t elevate the Pistols over Wham because they’re all pop – and therefore disposable. But we’ll leave that for another day – another rant. You’ve still got a hierarchy in pop.

But I was anti learning in a way. Not when I was at school – I lapped it all up – Christ I attended every lecture at University - bar one I think through illness. I loved it. But when it came to the guitar – I didn’t want to ‘master’ it – I wanted it to feedback and scream – I wanted it to buzz and fuzz. I didn’t care about tunings – or proficiency to the point of abstinence.

Three chords really was a mantra. Or four.

The first guitar I owned – all Kay’s catalogue and slightly too short strung perfectly for a week until the top E broke and I continued to learn – fucking up my finger positions as five strings was better than six. I had heard Keith Richards had done this – clearly this was not true. The spirit of the stones in Scunthorpe homes. Except it wasn’t – because I was anti – blues – I was anti this and anti that. I should have just shut up and played the guitar. I should have studied Scotty Moore’s technique, or the Stooges riffage, the arpeggios of Simon and Garfunkel and the major to minor Beach Boys cadence.

I didn’t - I learnt four – possibly five chords and refused to do cover versions.

This would haunt me for some time. Those knockabout sessions – where a guitar appears and people say you play – but you don’t really – you know chords – not tunes. So you make excuses but really want to hold it – but no one will sing along to your tunes. They are not hits my friend and never will be. Oh I could’ve been a YouTube sensation – but the net didn’t exist back then [this is an outright lie – I mean only 20 people ever read this] So this reluctance to learn was grounded in a sneer to the muso scene – the Phil Colllins thumping or the bass slapping of that Mark King from Level 42. It put up walls to it. And thus built walls around far too many things. So it’s taken a while to appreciate the skills and sleight of hand of many guitarists – because I was anti – music. As if Will Sargent couldn’t play or Johnny Marr or Bernard Sumner [actually he couldn’t - he’s more my kind of style]– but I don’t practise much these days.

And now I can appreciate it - I should.
A week ago I was in Nottingham placed firmly at the back of a merry pack of blistering guitarists. We played Valeria by The Zutons, I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor, Panic by The Smiths and Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You by Andy Williams. I was able to mask my incompetence through stumbles and jangles. It's not like I’m Jimi – you know.

So here’s to three chords or four – but no more than five and what you can do with them. When the Pistols arrived all full of froth and posture – it was a two fingered salute – a start – that quickly went nowhere – bound to really – it’s far too easy to claim you’re bored when you doing nothing to stop the rot[ten] but at least it was a start. It was clouded in this and that – it didn’t care. But clearly it resonated – clearly it was a stone dropped in the pond.

And I should learn those chords as an old man. I should play the tunes to the family – all strummed out.

So here’s to simplicity and anger – all wrapped up in that Steve Jones style. It’s good to make music using your hands.