Down by the Jetty

Just been in a boozer called the Dog & Scroat, as big as my shed, watching a three piece do Zeppelin covers for ageing bikers. Bulging bellies, bandana wrapped round a chrome dome. Sweating under the heavy old leather. Whole bunch is knackered. One of them’s had an acid trip too many, shot away. He IS Robert Plant. Pale sunshine, seagulls, chilly day, sat on Southend seafront eating fish & chips, smallest bloody fish I’ve ever seen in my life. Must have caught it in a sock, a kids sock I reckon. About eight quid for plankton & chips. Robdog bastard. Shoebox came with me, curry sauce & chips for him. Always a safe bet.

Odd stuff that curry sauce. tastes the same every where you go, whatever it adorns. A dubious colour. It’s the ubiquitous Chinese curry paste.

I used to frequent the local Chinese supermarket. Curious place. Massive tubs, buckets of paste. Greasy chip shop owners forming an orderly queue. I’d wander round 'cos I'd just watched Ken Hom or bloody smug bastard Rick Stein on some Asian freebie jaunt, cooking dogs bollocks in a gutter on the back of a spoon. A smattering of fresh pak choi and tons of gear stashed in freezers, seriously weird stuff, covered in frost. Unidentifiable, maybe once had fur but looked like it was run over, flattened, mummified or all three of them and at the same time probably lived at the bottom of the sea.

In the very bottom of some oceanic trench and a million miles away from a freezer and curry paste.

Anyway the pier is staggering. A steel gem, or probably cast and wrought iron. I’m of engineering persuasion. Brunel was a great man. Engineer, Architect, Designer, Big Top Hat. They all wore top hats in those days. I bet Slash has never designed a pier. Southend’s was built by James Brunlees a Scottish Civil Engineer, he built loads of stuff. When I say “he built” I mean he scribbled a few sketches on the back of an apprentice’s head and had his minions toil and sweat for years, bringing about his creation. I bet they lost loads of fingers in those days, there would be guitar bargains popping up all over the place. “Giz a tanner Mister, me dad don’t need it any more, not since the accident, riveted his bleedin hand to the pier…”

I had no idea this pier was so long. 1.3 miles out to sea - well it would be I suppose, they generally don’t go anywhere else, certainly not in such lengths or with a train on them. A proper one. Not one of those red seaside trains next to the donkeys. Thomas the Tank Engine, Ringo Starr. They won’t accept Shoebox’s railcard so we have to walk to the end. Definitely 1.3 miles. Longest pier in the world I’m told. Don’t suppose anybody builds piers these days. Not enough top hats.

No demand you see. Too healthy, bit of fresh air and a brisk walk. Thing of the past, walking. Alien concept - health.

We’ve got millions wearing elasticated sportswear & trainers. People who couldn’t even run their own length. Pasty in one hand, fag in the other. Maybe juggling with a double buggy. Fat people, what would they want with a pier ? Maybe build a Greggs right at the very end, entice them down. Maybe it would tip right over. Fit a great big trap door, bit like the elephant trap in those Tarzan films. Pit full of pointy sticks covered in leaves. This would be a marine version, far more malicious and lever operated. The lure of Greggs. Clever business that one.

Political correctness, shouldn’t use the F word. Like I give a fuck about that at my age. “Gland problems” “It’s in my genes” Dead right pet. Lard ass. Simple - you only get out what you put in. A bit like guitar practice I suppose.

Fat bloke shuffles by with a lawnmower tattooed on the back of his head. Unbelievable. Why ? Does his missus wake up and think “Ah I must cut the bleedin’ grass…”

There really was a lawnmower. She ambles by, looks like an armchair wearing a vest.

Have you ever been to Italy ? There’s a pervading sense of style & design everywhere you go. Inherently important to the population, perhaps acknowledged leaders in car design, furniture,fashion and all those crazy old buildings like the Parthenon. In fact it’s like that in many European countries.

We, I generalise, are not interested in design as a populace. Express an interest at school and you’d probably get filled in. In my day your dad would probably tab you as well, just for good measure, keep you on the right track. We used to get a thick ear “for nothing, wait till you do something” You can try and work that one out or just go and punch someone - that’s what we did.

Design’s not seen as important, not taught or appreciated in school curriculum’s just a touch of it wrapped up in an art class. That’s why we have DFS. Look at those bloody sofas. Could you seriously have one in your living room ? Designed by a partially sighted East European taxidermist. There’s some scary stuff to sit on in that part of the world. I went to Chernobyl once. Biggest mushrooms I’ve ever seen in my life. The local town, Pripyat, was abandoned within 24 hours of the first explosion. There’s a monument to all the firefighters who perished. Nobody bothered to warn them about radiation. Just wear your Donkey Jacket and put the fire out. They were dead within a day. Come to think of it they didn’t warn anybody else either, until it was sniffed out on some Swiss mountain top, or similar.

It’s an amazing place to walk round, trees growing through the roads and pavements. Rapid dereliction and reclamation by nature, except She’s struggling to clean this one up. Class rooms with books and toys. School gym. Like something out of a post apocalyptic movie, except this is the real deal. There’s a 30 mile exclusion zone around the reactor but I walked right up to it. People still live there, subsistence farming. They used to drag them away kicking and screaming but they always went back. I reckon the Powers That Be just regard it as a big genetic experiment now. The ground water is still hugely polluted and the protective concrete sarcophagus is crumbling. Governments argue the toss over who should pay, while it decays from within. Millions, probably billions, already spent I'm told. Chernobyl has witnessed corruption on a huge scale, forgotten now but still malignant and leaking.

Design has a huge affect on our lives, often subliminal when it’s good. You don’t realise or know why you really like something, you just know it feels right. I reckon Leo did that with the Telecaster. Maybe Greggs with the pasty. You’d need a lobotomy to feel that about DFS. As a compromise we have Ikea. Clever, cheap and cheerful, appealing in part to all. Bloody Swedes and their pickled herrings. You shouldn’t eat the fish in Ukraine. Discount meat balls and chips. The design starved queueing for the lard and bypassing the main event. A day out for the tracksuit.

Sun’s going down. Dockyard cranes on the opposite shore, motionless, like prehistoric giraffes. Canvey Island, all lit up like something out of Mad Max. Wilko’s stomping ground. A great, eloquent, educated man with a style all his own. Hopefully well on the way to recovery by now . Play some of that old Doctor Feelgood for a change in the New Year. Practice a riff or two. Wilko plays a Tele’ and a Cornell amp……. oh and the Zeppelin band were good. Top marks.

And the moral, as if I need one to justify myself, - take some exercise, don't hit people, take a long hard look at your sofa, don't eat suspiciously large fungus and buy a Tele' for the New Year. That's enough to think about, Merry Christmas.

Mojo Working

Just comatose on the sofa with a proper dose of Plague, none of that light weight man flu, this is a full-on near death experience with symptoms only alleviated by ginger and lemon tea while chewing on willow bark - source of aspirin, old indian trick. That's North American Indian. Apparently they had no written language. No wonder it took so long to invent bloody headache tablets. As I'm considered a vulnerable member of the community I get constant reminders from my Doc's to have a flu jab. I had one once, never got flu but I swear my arm had it for weeks. I don't see the point. It's a complete lottery they will guess the right strain. Why risk your moderately good health and sanity by sitting in an airless hot waiting room for hours and hours with a bunch of wheezing coffin dodgers, breathing all over you, wearing corduroy trousers and ancient Clarkes shoes that look like they were designed by David Attenborough. I while away the time wondering if one of them will croak or have a jammer before I get my shot. So slipping in and out of consciousness, dark tunnels, don't look at the light, flash backs, hallucinations and all the usual sick sofa stuff, gets me round to thinking about tone capacitors. I'm lying here of course. I do have Plague but no one would ever seriously want to ponder on tone capacitors. Oil filled Bumblebees, the Tone Gods, to be had at great expense, if you can track them down. Or Tropical Fish, Orange Drops, Mustards, Black Beauties. Sounds like a drug deal, a bunch of dodgy pills in a zip-lok bag. Take one, you'll sound much better. You can guess what's coming. Get that Mojo tone. What utter tosh. Mojo has got to be one of the most misused terms in the music industry. Keith Richards has it, Bumblebees have it. Bollocks it's a mystical object, a magical token, or a hex. A stick, a pebble, bit of dried fish, whatever you want it to be. Maybe it's Voodoo, loads of that went down in New Orleans, or just some other gibberish. It's not a magic musical tone bestowed by Old Nick, claiming to be the sole (not soul) province of music. I bet Keith's head's full of rocks by now and he looks more and more like the Walking Dead. The bandana stops pebbles rolling out his ears. Have you seen those ears ? Jesus why do your ears get massive when your old ? Like bloody Dumbo. I went to New Orleans once, crazy place, smelt odd, filthy. Took a river boat trip with my mate, the Mississippi Queen. Tourist photo, turned in to a fridge magnet, only just realised it looks very camp. The place needed a good flush out. Ironically it got one. We got evacuated, that was even crazier than Bourbon Street. Anyway, capacitors. Russian military specification, 600 volt. Bloody useful if your building a Sputnik but totally pointless in your Strat' unless your thinking of sticking a 3 pin plug on it. There's a huge lucrative market out there for all this custom upgrade kit. A bit like sticking a wing on the back of your Ford Escort, except that makes you look a proper twat and is still completely useless. You can even buy repro' Bumblebees, just some regular crappy tone capacitor in a multi-coloured plastic sleeve. Hmm... now that sounds so much better, thanks. Sucker. If your worried about tone, first off check your lead and buy a good one. (And yes we sell very good ones), short enough for your bedroom. Forget what you've been told, size does matter, Shorter the better. For once I'm not going to cheapen myself. You can always lengthen-up later when you need Stadium size. Then aside from all those twiddly bits on your amp (tilt it upwards, every little helps), there's your fingers - press a bit harder, or not, as the tone maybe. So despite buying all that SRV kit, including the hat and daft guitar, you just can't sound like him - that's because you ain't got his digits. I wonder if anybody has ? Now that would be some spooky collection. Bits of poor old Stevie all over a field and some weirdo furtling around with a plastic bag..... And don't forget strings, we all need them (Yes, we sell good ones). Try a different gauge or 100% nickel, like all your old heros had to play with as there was no choice, flat wounds probably. None of this bright steel nano-web ultra light spider's spit for big girls with soft fingers. The not-so-ancient - depending on where you are on the scale, (just have a serious look at your shoes) - ancient greats, used to use banjo strings. Have you ever seen Deliverance ? Man they were strange critters. Probably got a sackfull of SRV's fingers. I've been to Georgia. Full of lakes and trees. There really were people like that, just like their sister's mother's cousin, but no one quite like the banjo player. No tricks or CGI when that was filmed, boy could that sucker play. How does that song go ? "The Devil went down to Georgia". Forget Crossroads, I reckon he still lives there. And those people drive around in pickup trucks with guns and dogs hanging out the window. They have a supermarket chain called PigglyWigglys, big pink plastic neon pig sign, car park full of pickups and munters. It's just wrong. Pretty place but over run with throwbacks and people who can't decide which eye to look out of. The one in the middle ?? And they've all got the Vote and a Gun. I think Obama ought to seriously think about a bit of Devolution in his own manor too. Cut that bunch loose and build a big fence round it. All Cameron has to worry about is Nigel Farage. I bet old Nigel would never let them in. I'm apolitical. Trust none of them. Each party is just a big business. It's a career, nobody cares about you or me long term. I'll go and look for my soap box..... Don't vote, the Government always gets in. "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss..." as the song rightly says. I went inside No 10 once. Bold as brass straight through the gates and the front door. I bet that has you wondering now. It's all true. The copper inside said " 'E's out but she's upstairs" Conspiratorial nod. Tony Blurghhhhh had his name on the letterbox then. Shifty bleeder that one. Bit disappointing inside, like a second rate office conversion badly in need of a lick of paint. Shabby. Looks great from the outside but once through the front door it's all knocked through to No 11 and beyond. He used to play guitar, good old Tone, ha ha. Can't remember what else he did though. So, these Bumblebees and Tropical Fish Drops - not worth a light. You can try any capacitor you like, they all make a difference and cost buttons. If you don't believe me read this "The Truth about Tone Capacitors" It must be true, it's on the Net. Google it if the link sticks. If you care to drop your guitar off I'll hook it up to a Mojo box so you can hear the difference, or not, between all of them, I won't tell you what's inside but it smells of fish.

Paint It Black

Saturday afternoon painting the shop. I used to spend Saturdays totally chilled one way or another. Now I'm in a shop, a space that was just a lock-up a few months ago, on a Saturday, I can't believe it. Strange how life takes these unexpected turns. I hate painting. Done loads of it, acres, or gallons I suppose, tankers full. Not exactly Matisse I admit. Never learn. Have you seen the price of 10 litres ? When I first started ( not this particular wall ), before God had a beard, it was just six quid a tub. So I buy the cheap stuff - give it two coats, then decide it will never cover, go back out again and buy the really proper expensive stuff which I knew all along I should have done and then start all over again. So you get the picture ? - Ha ha. I prefer the Jean Paul Sartre method of painting - just imagine it's there, any colour you like. It works really well sat in the corner of the room with a six pack of Stella. But I guess not everyone will have the same luminary vision and probably just think I'm a drunk with a scruffy shop. Anyway landline rings loudly on my second roll through. This ruins my pensive mood and visions, totally throws me as it's never rung before. After deciding there's no fire, I answer. Who would ring a landline these days ???? Once some irate phone operator asked me my landline number in an attempt to ID me. I didn't know it I politely explained, " Why would I know it ? I don't ring myself up. If I was in there would be no need to answer and if I was out I couldn't answer. " I remember this vividly, stood in a call box in the Market Square on a Saturday afternoon when I used to be free to do what I wanted, which usually involved sitting in the same place for hours, imbibing, until such time as I couldn't function let alone speak on the phone. Funny how you see things differently when your young with time on your hands ! I reckon it's about as much fun as a car crash now. Now there's a thing - the Call Box. I am a bit of a Luddite but that's one pox ridden petri dish of germ culture we should be glad to be rid of. Clutching that filthy receiver fractions from your mouth, rubbing it all over the side of your head while stood in something less sanitary than a portaloo at Glastonbury. Who on earth thought them up ? Jesus, talk about Weapons of Mass Destruction, we could just drop them on countries we don't like or sell them to militant nut jobs and religious zealots while slagging them off on News at Ten at the same time. There'd be no antidote and it would make a proper big hole in your roof. Smart arse. I didn't get ID'd or whatever it was I wanted - not surprisingly. Just as tricky these days - What's the answer to your secret question ?? How the fuck would I know, I can't remember why I walked in to a room never mind what the question might be. I've got loads of answers though, some really SECRET ones but I'm telling no one. Anyway this bloke, on a Saturday, wants to know if I'm open, as he's seen the website - (can make you look like bloody Harrods working out of a garden shed for a few quid). "No I'm painting" I have a Sartre moment. "But come by if you like, there's nothing to see unless you want to look at paint. But hey, you might as well know where I am." He does. Lovely bloke, interesting, likes the shop, thinks it will be even better when it's got some guitars in. "Do you play ? " I enquire. Dumb question I know but a bit of an ice breaker when your stood there with pole in one hand and mohair roll in the other, covered in Orange vinyl matt. I could've said "do you rock n paint roll" but that would have been just plain wrong. "Yes" he replies "My band's playing at the Running Horse to night" Great legendary Nottingham venue, my words not his, home to Nottingham's amazing Harry Stephenson, also not shy of the paint brush I can add, with or with out the Crabs or Last Pedestrians, Ian Siegal, Tony Crosby and many others who deserve to be listed but aren't. Bollocks ! I don't know who this geezer is but I know some big hitter's playing to night. Big mistake ! Maybe there's a support act on, maybe he's a drummer looking at guitars, well fresh paint really just now. Turns out he's only Aynsley Lister, top class Bluesman and thoroughly nice chap. I give him some plectrums, all stamped up with Nottingham City Guitars, I can see he's just completely made up. Hope he comes back - now there are some guitars on display !

Day Tripper

Late night, bored surfing the ether I spot an ES 335 up for auction, no it's a 345. Easy mistake, they're all red and roundish, usually. Sometimes a bargain's to be had but looking closer this was not only owned and played by a Mr James Marshall Hendrix, among a few others. Played a lot, re-fretted, bits swapped, left handed, right handed, bits fallen off, replaced, pickups "from the '60's" - there's a surprise. Maybe Lord H really did sweat on this one, who knows, provenance looks good but I guess it's bound to. Monstrous guide price, for sale by auction £40 000 - £ 60 000, not much variation there then. That means we don't know what it will fetch + ex's, VAT, bits & pieces, who cares. Commission at 20% + 3% online. Then like a brick to the back of the head it strikes me. Go to the viewing. have a noodle on the Beast and watch the floor show as bidding begins. Maybe 100's or even 1000's have had the same thought ? Wonder if they'll let just anyone walk in and play it ?? Should do. Who are they to judge whether I have a spare £ 50 G's ? Unless Harrods have anything to do with it - see my earlier outpourings, "The Guitar Shop", what a jerk he was..... I could always wedge my pockets out and look the part. My mate Shoe Box reckons you can get £ 20K in the front pocket of your jeans if they are new. That's the notes, not your strides. New jeans are actually quite tight. I remember that much but can't comment on the former. I do know you can carry enough Pound coins to knock out a donkey if you put them in a sock, but I digress. Back to Lord H's instrument. So a trip out. No messing, straight on the case, book the train and a hotel, why not make a night of it ? After all it's not often you get to have a blast on Jimi's stuff. Big day out, all set, packed lunch, last minute phone call to the auction house to check on viewing times, maybe have enough time to mooch around Denmark Street and get depressed. Ah - now there's a thing. Really helpful bloke called Ted on the other end, tells me there is NO VIEWING as, after all, it's only a small auction, not worth it you see. Bollocks it is to me mate, I carefully explain train / hotel / cost a bloody fortune thing. No chance, on-line only, no room no viewing. So I'm the sad loser sat in the hotel reception waiting for the sodding thing to start on-line with a bunch of Oriental types getting stuck in to the free cheese and biscuits. I did the same in Bangkok once and ate them out of satay chicken washed down with a case of complimentary Singha - in a different life. Bloody hot in Bangkok. They eat frog's bits and other unnecessary stuff too, not big on guitars mind. Proper 24 hour city. Auction website's up and running, not even any audio, just a photo and Bid Button. This is the slowest auction I've ever watched. Life ticks by. Bids roll in for Madonna's vest. No wonder there was no viewing, would've been full of proper weirdo's trying that on. Thankfully no one's interested in a Fleetwood Mac top hat. Ozzy Osbourne's pants fetch £ 940. Barking mad. Maybe Ozzy bought them back, he's bonkers, bet they don't fit him now. Jimi's leather jacket £ 2700. More stuff. Bored I buy a Beatles poster. Why ? You can have anything it's just a click away, so easy, painless, no need to even get your card out. Then "Bids in the Room" flashes on the screen. What's all this about ? There is no bloody room. I reckon the auctioneer's sat in his lounge with his mates, crate of brown ale, having a laugh, wearing top hat, Madonna's vest and Ozzy's pants. Finally, two hours later. Two hours I can never get back, we get to Lot 50 or whatever. There it is - the 345. Not much interest, the ether's playing it real cool, I think bidding starts at £ 15000, I daringly bid £ 18000 for a giggle, dead pan face, showing no emotion and have some more free bread and cheese. Bidding soars to £ 32000 and stops, no more interest, lot swiftly passed. I did hear later it was sold for £40000 to an offer from the other side. USA. Ironic that. I wonder if it will just end up under the bed ? That's £ 50 000 with all the paperwork sorted. And did you click on that link ? FBI, now that's just plain weird, it just came up out of no where. I wonder if they want to buy any guitars ? I have two 1960's 335's, one with PAF's.............

Hand Wound

Assuming you are still alive and having carefully extracted your guitar from some orifice, following an ill advised "relicing cream" suggestion (see some earlier drivel I wrote), have a thought on this : I've just been reading one of those glossy monthly guitar publications - "Repetitive Guitar Bollocks". Next to a handy chord box randomly reminding me how to play a E 7 sharp 9 - like I'd forgotten, I came across a review on hand made pickups by some small cottage industry type. ( I think that's commonly referred to as the Hendrix Chord. I'm bloody sure he knew more than just that one though). "Cottage Industry" now there's a weird term. Conjures up images of George Michael and thatch. I bet George doesn't know the first thing about industry, getting his hands dirty or thatch - let's not go there. Pickups. Anyway this bloke tests pickups, obviously, he's reviewing them after all. It's his job. Get this, to quote : "Well balanced old school sounds, refreshing absence of muddiness, slightly fluffy, nice degree of phasey mid-range scoop, quack, plenty of beef, snarl, sweet ride". What a nut job. I'm getting hints of vanilla and raspberry with overtones of stoats's breath and lark's teeth. Complete tosh. What is scooped mid ? I defy anyone to play like it. So this bloke makes pickups, (the other bloke, not the nut job, keep up), they certainly look the part and they work. Brilliant ! What more do you need to know or expect ? I think they were reviewed in a farm yard. Down to the nitty gritty. They use Formvar Wire, presumably because good old Leo Fender did too. Now correct me if I'm wrong but Formvar is a trade name for a branded enamel wire insulation - some form of vinyl acetate resin. Formvar retains its insulating properties at cryogenic temperatures and is compatible with transformer oil and oil filled applications. It can also withstand high voltages in excess of 1500 V DC. Now that's just really useful next time I play my guitar at sub-zero stood in a vat of oil, or on Pluto maybe, jacked up to the electric main at the same time. Somebody once said they wished I played on Pluto. I would guess that old Leo used Formvar wire because that's what the local transformer factory used. His mate probably nicked the first batch. He tried it and it worked - no surprises there. Then he just banged pickups out - with a minimum number of windings to produce a half decent sound and save on the cost of precious copper. While Leo was at it I also guess he picked up off cuts of Forbon sheet for his flatware from the same place. And thus another legend was born. Black or grey ? Which sounds best ? Who cares ? More on Forbon another day. Purists despair of me. I don't think the insulation (or Forbon for that matter) makes the slightest bit of difference to your sound. I accept the overall physical volume, and size of the coil makes a difference technically - whether you can hear that difference for the same gauge wire is a moot point. To suggest that the choice of insulation, an inert, unreactive material by definition, applied microns thick, versus a similar chemical insulation applied a similar number of microns thick, can affect the sound is, frankly, barking mad. Anyone who has ever hand wound a coil will tell you that the thickness or choice of insulation had no bearing on the finished size of the coil. It is primarily all down to applied tension and personal technique - snap a few wires and you back off the tension. It's all done by hand and naturally varies, no matter how good your technique. I was going to get back to George at this point........ I suspect that Formvar, as a company, or branded product, no longer exists. There are plenty of hand wound boutique pickup manufacturers out there. I'm not sure what boutique implies, I always think of the 118 118 geezer selling pickups in a 1960's dress shop. Odd, but there you go. It's an age old science and method which we can loosely follow using the same old materials and techniques as those early electric guitars. Whether you want single coils, humbuckers, P90's, they all sound great and are all individual. Each one undeniably unique by the very nature of the methods used. Experiment, give some a go - and yes, we wind them too, but not in a farm yard.

Custom Shop Relics

I've just had to remove a scratch plate for a bit of tinkering with a customer's Strat. A lovely white pearloid number with a Custom Shop logo to the rear. What a mess. Warped and twisted, lifted at the edges. Jammed tight around the pickups, preventing any adjustment. A piece of expensive four-ply junk. Now it's not rocket science. We've been making plywood and laminated materials for years. Veneering, tarting up wood to make it look like an expensive piece of solid kit. Often for good reason too. Then came the Custom Shop wizards, or their suppliers, weaving their magic and price tags. Don't they know that you cannot have an EVEN number of layers ?? There always needs to be an odd number. Veneeer something to the face and it is essential to stick a balancing layer on the back. 1.2.3. not 4. Off you go and count the layers in your posh Eames foot stool. I'm just going to double check the kids Ikea toy box, don't want the lid sticking, that would be a nightmare. This warping is not to be confused with shrinkage and deformation of early palstics. That's a different matter and chemistry. If you have one of those lovely mint'ish green Strat' scratch plates don't try and straighten it out or bother about wonky screws - just look after it and the guitar it's wrapped around. ( If you need a repro' one, drop me an email. Last original one on ebay was £840! ) I don't understand the fascination with Custom Shop parts and specials, particularly relicing - speeding up the process. Fast forwarding to imitate 30 years or more of transportation, beer, brawling and nicotine. Many 70's Fenders were sold without the luxury of a protective hard case. UK imports had original cases sold separately, at a relatively high cost. Why buy in to this enormously expensive process ? The extra cost is understandable, it's a big hands-on process. Surely it is far better to buy your mint condition dream guitar, nurture it, admire it and shed a tear at the first scratch. Howl at the first slipped strap and big dent. Thus begins the slow decline to paintwork, whether on stage or under the bed. Fret wear, tarnished metal work and a bit of sweat and grime. Why do we seek to accelerate this process ? Motorists don't do it with their cars. "Oh yes I had the hugely expensive cracked rear bumper, that's a one-off, some shopping trolley scrapes and the door mirror was wrenched off just at the right angle.. Well worth an extra £5k I'd say. Apparently I can get broken aircon for another £900" Nobody takes a hammer to their piano. Does an artificially aged guitar impart greater skill and experience ? Clearly not it just makes a bigger dent in your wallet. Does the owner of a Custom Shop special lose sleep over that first genuine knock ? Does it devalue the guitar ? Too many questions. If you want to learn more about dents just imagine buying your lovely girl friend or wife some Relicing Cream. "Eh pet there you go, slap a dollop of this on your fizzer, you'll look knackered really quick....." See how far that gets you.

Time Is On My Side

Christmas away. Heavy weather in Cornwall, there's another storm brewing - don't travel says the Weather Man. Bollocks we're off, its Christmas. Gutters groaning. High winds, something tapping on the roof. Santa's been and gone, blown home with a tail wind. A walk on the beach, a different beach. Glistening, sparkling, wind carved sand. Beautiful Boxing Day, tide rushing in over your welly tops. Sea dark and foreboding. Huge breakers as big as buses, crashing on the beach. Dirty brown spume, pollution warnings posted by triple time workers. Fat people in Christmas hats, jogging bottoms and trainers. People who couldn't jog their own length. Dogs. Dogs everywhere. Queueing for chips, people not dogs. Walking off the traditional excess but feeling the need to top up on the way. Keep the lard levels up. Who knows when you might need it. A lone, neoprene clad loonytune with his surf board. Head bobbing like a discarded coconut usually seen in warmer climes. Potentially about to cost the squeezed tax payer a few £100 K. Air Sea Rescue on standby. I tasted a fag for the first time in many years. Some poor bleeder in a wheelchair. All trussed up, tubed up, cylinders, watching the sea and coconut head. Can't move, desperate for a gasper but his one good arm numb with cold and impotent against the battering wind. Box of Swan Vesta, packet of ten. I lit him up, good deed for the day. It was disgusting, foul reek on my fingers. God knows how we thought that would make us cool when we were kids. That was before all those adverts with petri dishes full of tar and inside out lungs. I think Marlboro Man was still wheezing along in those days, not quite extinguished for ever. We used to have some TV cartoon bloke called Dave who could swim like a fish and pull birds - so learn to swim. Reginald Molehusband, daft twat who couldn't park his car and a geezer urging you to put your tab end out properly. He wore big boots. Government safety ad's - Shut the door before you go to bed. Oh ! and no lighting up once your there. They'd done the tax calculations and didn't actually want you to stop. I remember being sat in a club at the tender impressionable age of 15. Red Formica tables, Robin Day chairs. Double Diamond, Harp, Watneys Red Barrel, Gold Label Barley Wine - for the barking mad or your Grandma. The smell of burgers and chips - proper chips. Huge anticipation, excitement, waiting for the band. Budgie or maybe Pat Travers. Pint in hand. Consulate dangling from the lips. How cool - literally, it had to be, it was menthol. Bet the girls were really impressed, if there'd been any around. Great venue. We saw the fledgling Whitesnake, Strife, Pretenders, Barclay James Harvest, Lindisfarne, Climax Blues Band - they were amazing. Gold plated guitar catching the spot light. Be Bop Deluxe - £ 3 - never showed, stuck in snow somewhere. Bill Nelson's a brilliant musician. Punk by-passed us. The older generation were still reeling from the allegedly outrageous Bill Hayley. Punk had no chance where we lived. Three pints of lager and lime, that took care of £1. Feeling dizzy, not quite at that stomach churning fourth. Maybe time to slow down but, HEY, I'm 15. Bus fare or another pint ? Can I walk through the door quietly enough, ears still buzzing. All of that "Here's your sober son stuff". Not daring to speak. Mumbling a slurred goodnight and bed. Bright as a button in the morning and off to school with ears still ringing ! Proper Rock n Roll in those days. No curfews, no on time, no off time. Encores on demand. It was such a big deal when you were a kid, trying to look old when you didn't even shave. Trying to get in to places you shouldn't be. Wishing the years away, to be old, 22 maybe ??? What do old people wear ? Cool people ? People who get served in bars ? A Sports Jacket !!! Like a pair of bad curtains. Why was it called a Sports Jacket ? I didn't play sport and I don't think anybody played sport wearing one of those. I had a bluish tartan number, some unrecognised clan, with big lapels. I remember walking up the club steps one summer evening, nonchalant, clutching my ticket, cool as could be, warily eyeing the bouncers. Huge, menacing, old. Proper Hell's Angel types. No nonsense. Beards, big hair - white affro's. No licensed doormen in those days. My next step walking straight in to the plate glass window, next to the plate glass door. That hurt. I must have looked a proper twat. After they picked them selves up and stopped choking they let me in. Sports jacket had obviously done its job. Looking back I don't know what was funnier - my slap stick entrance or the jacket. The smoking never took hold with me, I just dabbled, but the alcohol tolerance increased massively. 40 years of indulgence, pleasure - some would say abuse. Always indestructible. Armoured with twelve pints of Stella sloshing round inside. The odd check up. "How many units" ? "Oh, 35 or so maybe" ..... Good job it was only a Monday. The weekly 150 does sound bad I guess. "You should try and cut down.."Yes ......" Medication, a tablet or two. Then six. Tea total now. I can't believe how life has changed, how different I feel. For the better beyond belief. A revelation, a Hallelujah moment or similar. I could go on and on but I even bore myself. It's enough to drive YOU to drink. Today the bands are still as exciting sober, particularly if you can get to the small venues. It's funny how I often watch the same bands, in the same places, that I watched all those years ago, No more stadium shows for anyone. Nothing much has changed. The music is just as good. A few more rules and regulations, proper policing and licensing. 14+ gigs are a great idea. I suppose we do now have mosh pits and bottles of bodily fluids to contend with but thankfully no more Red Formica. Keep it Live !!!! Happy New Year.

It’s Getting Better All The Time

When I was a kid having a treat was stuff of Sunday afternoons. Sardines on toast & an extra parcel of sea coal on the fire. - you think I'm joking. All sat in one small room, no TV, huddled round the grate, faces glowing, backs freezing, or so it seemed. We used to collect the sea coal off the beach, long black glistening ribbons laid on the sand. Washed up, formed in ripples and solid waves as the tide retreated. Some times it was thick, inches deep, other times just a deceptive thin wisp, colouring the sand ebony, like veneer, not thick enough to scrape up. We used to stuff it in to hessian sacks & wheel it home, hanging off the cross bar of your bike, chain grating full of sand, like some shrouded dead thing. A solid fat carboniferous slug. Feet numb, wellies full of water. I found a whale on the beach once, and a ship, a proper big tanker, laid on its side. I don't think the tanker was actually lost, people knew where it was. A Copper told me to bugger off. But that's all a different story. It was always bloody freezing. I suppose the heavier seas, which eroded the marine coal seams, generally occurred in the winter months. We didn't care it was free coal. We were always on the beach, whatever the weather. Some times there would be heaps, mounds, of sprats, washed up knee deep. Stone dead. The gulls didn't touch them, neither did we. Broken lobster pots, bits of crab and starfish. Loads of starfish - don't touch they sting. Sardines out of a tin. If we were lucky, ice cream ! We bought that off Chris Rea's dad. He had a van - Rea's Ices. David Coverdale was a local lad too. Now when kids want a treat it's £ 20 for Wagamama's , money for the Flicks and a lift home. And not just on a Sunday. We had next to nothing but it didn't matter because there was no expectation in those days. You missed nothing because you'd never had it. We DID have Rag & Bone men though. Real life Steptoes. Rickety old cart pulled by some knackered horse, loaded down with junk. They used to do their street rounds, shouting something unintelligible that sounded like "Rag bone". Often with a filthy kid in tow. God knows what they did with all that garbage and bones. Nobody had a fridge to keep bones in. Why would you want bones ? Maybe they didn't. We followed until we got bored. Nobody threw anything away in those days. Anything could be fixed, repaired, serviced, mended. That was Leo Fender's ethos. Repair & replace, don't renew the whole. You could do it yourself or check it in to the factory for an overhaul in the good old US of A. Like we knew about THAT ! I don't think we ever saw a Gibson or a Fender. In those days it was all copies. Copies of things we didn't know and had never seen, other than maybe a glimpse of Marc Bolan playing a Les Paul on TOTP. Watched through my mates front room window, face pressed to the glass, Mam going barmy - "I've told you, come away from there... anyway your tea's ready" We never had a telly. Not for any moral reason, it was just a money thing. No one had colour. Fender started all those guitar colours in the 60's because of colour TV, so the story goes. Les Paul - now that was just a wierd name for a guitar. We never knew that story. Some one was actually called Les Paul....... really ??? So we had these copies - Antoria, Columbus, Kay - the Woolie's version not the USA stuff. They were crap, dreadful. No wonder it was SO hard to play anything. Bought second hand for maybe £ 45. That was a fortune then. Generous birthday contribution, two years of paper round money. Terrible action, so high you could swing off it, never in tune. No electronic tuners then, just a tuning fork - which we never had. Strings that lasted a life time and were a tetanus risk. Kids with lock-jaw. I can't remember what they sounded like, often we didn't know. It took forever to buy a guitar, never mind a bloody amp ! No tutors, no books, maybe some hand-me-down pages learning "Red River Valley" , "Clementine" or other dirge. We didn't have Blues then, we just lived a modern day version without knowing. We should have all been virtuosos by the age of 15 with experience like that. Progress - now we have Squier guitars and many other makes, affordable, all effortlessly playable. Tuners, Garageband, Apps, tuning apps, chord apps, practice amps, Youtube, a billion on-line free lessons. Set up for the price of a night out. Leo & Les would be most pleased. This is progress, some things do get better. I still like sardines on toast and think central heating's amazing. MERRY CHRISTMAS

The Guitar Shop

The "Guitar Shop" intrigues me, I don't know why as I've been in many in various countries around the globe. Strangely they all follow the same formulae - 100's, if not 1000's of guitars crammed in to all sorts of places. All carefully placed so if you so much as breathe on one it's bound to smack in to its neighbour. The hardest place ever to actually find a guitar shop was, most surprisingly, New Orleans, despite being swamped with live music in every bar. One thing in favour of the US is the ubiquitous Guitar Centre. Industrial sized sheds, totally soulless but crammed with zillions of beautiful shiny guitars, from the carpet tiles up to dizzying rafters, requiring a cherry picker to inspect the stock. They have not only the biggest range of guitars but prices too. From a $100 to a PRS $ 100 000 custom built effort inlaid with slivers of unicorn horn. AND they were the most enlightened store I've ever been in - "Would you like a blast" ? enquired the sales assistant gesticulating at the Unicorn. Unfortunately the worst place I've ever been in is our very own, in a manner of speaking, HARRODS - some £20 k special EC Limited Edition Strat, not a unicorn in sight, the suited ok selling it wouldn't let me touch or play it and just talked bollocks about its potential collectability, passing judgement before I could get my wedge out. However Guitar Centres aside, most shops have poor quality ancient shop fittings, a bit of low tech mdf slat wall, faded gig posters, dead flies, rust and have never seen a hoover or any other form of suction. Surly youth assistants, who've never seen sunlight or a vitamin. Goateed over weight owners loitering behind the counter, talking drivel and ripping off the occasional blistering lick - I guess they do have to know a few and have plenty of time and gear to practice. So now it's a hot afternoon in London. Boilingly tropical infact. I do Tin Pan Alley - what a dump, talk about resting on your laurels. As it's so hot I decide to walk, rather than do Gas Mark 6 on the tube and check out a couple of other BIG names in the guitar shop world. One having something to do with royalty and the other the Devil - probably always been a link there come to think about it. How disappointing, cracking web sites but in reality like me Nan's best room and she's been dead 36 years. It's really bloody hot now and the specimen behind the counter (who to be fair was very pleasant), was wearing a thick wooly hat pulled tight down around his face. I wondered if he'd had some sort of cranial problem and was trying to keep everything in. He could barely move for guitars, pity the same could not be said for customers. Rack up on rack. Must be at least £ 100 000 + if the ticket prices are to be believed. God knows why they don't buy a tin of paint and a coffee machine - let's face it you'd get a better reception on a used car lot. At least on a car sales pitch they do not look at you thinking "can he drive" ? I just know Skull Attack's thinking "can he play " ? - and I'm thinking "Jesus what should I try and play " ?....... Same the world over. Do I really want to spend £ 3 500 of my hard-earned on an instrument that hasn't been cleaned or re-strung, in a grubby room with a sofa out of the Young Ones, while beanie bonce shreds his heart out, demonstrating the inadequacy of my musical dexterity ??? I can only assume the formulae works and I need to take heed !!! I'm off down the tip to find a sofa.

Lee Ritenour

Soho, Saturday afternoon. Looking round the hot sweaty queue, from my even hotter casual repose on the sunny side of Frith Street, I wondered if we were all really the same, those of us with a common interest ? Was I like them ? A bunch, or rather line, of middle aged badly dressed men, some clearly flouting the venue's published code. Some grey pony tails (Why ?????), not all on the same head fortunately. The ubiquitous obligatory Japanese tourist - I've no idea what they thought they were standing in line for but passed the time photographing scaffold. Then we had a few lucky, (bet they doubted it) teenagers with dads or grandads and several 40 something Thai ladies, don't ask why. What better place to spend a hot and humid afternoon in London - anniversary olympics my arse, why do we put up with repeats ? - but in a dark night club, albeit air conditioned to the point where I wished I'd worn my coat. Lee Ritenour was doing a question and answer session with a few demo's thrown in, before playing his second night at Ronnie's - which sadly I missed. What a genuinely great, entertaining bloke. Lots of interesting anecdotes and none of the Guitar Godliness he could've laid on very thick. A brief nod to his gear - I hope he's not sponsored, as they will be disappointed. Good to hear that most of his gear is standard kit and within the grasp of us mere mortals. Nice story on his German effects pedal too. Some good advice, we've all heard before and usually ignore - practice makes perfect, particularly if you dedicate your life to it AND learn all those notes, all 20+ frets worth, not just a few on the dots. Then practice getting to each and every one FAST (All that being said and on a side note Steve Cropper says he ALWAYS follows the dots....) Then the bit we all dread, at least if this was a comedy act, which it certainly wasn't. The main man wants somebody to join him on stage to help demonstrate technique. Unbelievably 20 half wits stick their arms in the air !! So by my reckoning that should have been 10 of the full shilling if you had to rely on them. Thankfully we didn't. I suppose it really is something to say you've JAMMED on stage with Lee Ritenour at Ronnie Scott's. CLAMMED more like. Clearly everything these two hapless volunteers ever learned instantly vacated the cranium and fingertips. A very brave effort but cringeworthy. All in all an excellent afternoon's entertainment from one of the best - more Audiences to come on a monthly basis, check it out on Ronnie Scotts website. Well worth a tenner whatever the weather.