Friday, 24 September 2010

Why do you play the guitar?

It's funny - I've had this conversation with many people over the years I've been playing. Now for many the belief it that I picked up the guitar as a way to get girls or because it is supposedly some phallic symbol. I've heard these thoughts reinforced many times by observers, other musicians etc.

However for me that was never the reason in my head and I never make the association with the sex thing that many seem to. When I was very little I was obsessed with music, my Mum had one of those huge stereograms that people used to have in the 60s - I just remember that replacing our old Danset record player.

Here's a similar type one...

Eventually this ended up in my bedroom whilst I was in 6th form / college before I replaced it with a music center I bought off my wife's brother not long before he passed away.

Anyway back to the point... I used to stand in front of this loaded with 45s that were on the spindle and crashed on to the deck to play... remember that - playlists aren't new you know just the technology has changed :-) My Mum had a good collection of music, Elvis, The Beatles, Shadows, Herb Albert etc. I had a little old metal toy guitar that I used to stand and mime with "playing along". I honestly can't remember when I didn't do that. By junior school I was into anything music, learning the recorder and in the choir etc. so I could read music etc.

I then went to grammar school and again was straight into the choir and then into the orchestra playing the oboe - I've no idea why but I wanted the oboe. I think I'd heard that was the instrument all others tuned to in an orchestra therefore it must be the best I thought! Also then my Mum got me a cheap Spanish guitar and started to learn in a group lesson but didn't get on, soon Mum found a young lady who taught classical guitar and I took off with that. A year later the first electric arrived and bands started.

However in all this - it was the music, making music, writing my own music that was always the driver and the interest for me. Frankly I never considered being a musician and a guitarist would "get me the girls" or was some form of public masturbation. However I did meet my wife through music connections - she'd been in a show that my mate had played drums for and she came to see a big band jazz band we were both in and he introduced me to her. She then came along to one of our rock band rehearsals and the rest is history as they say. But I don't think the guitar had any appeal to her in any way.


  1. Regarding your last sentence. You may be right, you may be wrong. However, the facts speak for themselves: she went off with the guitarist and not the drummer!

  2. Part 1:

    Holy mother of G, that's a big question for a Friday! It definitely wasn't to get girls and it wasn't to "be cool".

    Growing up my musical influences were scant. My parents has a record player, but, other than a Frank Ifield LP, a copy of the Grease soundtrack (not performed by the original cast) and a handful of 78s which were unplayable on the system... well, they were playable, they just didn't sound as intended... other than that, the only music to come out of it was AM/FM radio, on rare occasions.

    Mum used to bash out "Tiptoe through the Tulips" on an old upright piano every Saturday morning as some kind of call to arms for us kids. Around about verse 2 we'd start screaming "TEA!" in unison. She'd stop playing and bring hot beverages to us in bed. We were spoilt!

    Oh, and then there were the neighbours. They had a system like your folks' old one. The 45 of choice for many years was "Daddy Cool". They could move the party wall with that tune.

    When my older sister reached that dangerous age, she bought a copy of Madonna's "Like a Virgin". Then came Tina Turner LPs and mix tapes from her friends. Duran Duran, Nik Kershaw, Thompson Twins. The New Romantics were in town!

    As I recall, I pretty much spontaneously started listening to Genesis. The old stuff. I guess that's where I cut my teeth on interminably long songs with definite beginnings, middles and orgasmic climaxes. A teacher at school had also once asked what kind of music I liked and, having just listened to a record by Miles Davis that I'd checked out of the local library I answered "jazz". He'd listed off names I'd never heard of, notably John Coltrane. I then went through a phase of listening to every jazz record I could lay my hands on. From there I moved on to blues records. Something about cultural history being captured in music fascinated me.

    Still no real guitar influence, though. That came with the Allman Brothers. They came into my life by accident. I was sitting in my Mum's car, waiting for her to finish a tennis match. I must have been 17, as I was old enough to be trusted with the keys. I turned on the radio and was blown away by a concert being broadcast. The twin wailing guitars grabbed me and wouldn't let go. I found out who they were and started collecting their records. I remember being devastated when I realised that the reason the style of the records changed abruptly was that Duane had died... not recently but in 1971 when I was two years old! It broke my heart that at some point I would run out of new music from this guy. Seriously. From the Allmans I started trawling used record shops for any artists signed to the same labels and so on. This was all before the internet (obviously), so such things took quite a bit more leg-work!

  3. Part 2:

    Before heading off to uni, while I still hung around with all my old school friends, one of my closest pals got a Squier Strat. Within a month or so he was playing along pretty well to Dire Straits records (he was a major fan of Mark Knopfler). Of course, my friend was already an accomplished musician, playing violin amongst other instruments, so it came easy to him.

    With one of my first gap-year paychecks, I got myself my first axe, too. I tried playing but when learning in complete isolation I made little progress. Many frustrating years later, I could still only just about strum a few open chords and play a couple of riffs.

    I went through a few guitars, thinking to myself that better instruments would motivate me more to learn, but the truth was that I had no clue where to start and so I always failed miserably, going through long periods where I would own a guitar but wouldn't play it. In the end I traded my electric for an acoustic, freeing myself from wires. With the acoustic, I could use my open chords :-)

    Long story short, I gave up. I decided that I made a better listener than a player. That was around the time that I was moving back to the UK from Texas in 2003.

    A year or so after we returned to the UK, Tim bought me a Les Paul copy for my birthday, completely out of the blue. He said that he didn't think I was the same person if I didn't at least have a guitar in the house, that somehow I wasn't complete without one. I don't think he realised that with an electric I needed an amp, cables, picks and that it would be capable of such extreme NOISE!

    That was the turning point. The guitar was a cheap but useable one and I wasn't intimidated by it. It wasn't embarassingly better than I deserved. I decided to attend a course at a local community concert. With guidance I finally started to improve. When I got to the stage where I felt I was good enough to play with other people I started "The Project" and, well, the rest you know!

    So. Why do I play? Because I have to. Because I can pick up a guitar and be instantly transported to somewhere other than my day-to-day life. Because of the music.

  4. Interesting - like you, I'd always loved music from the earliest age. Mum always told me how, at around 18 months, I jumped up whenever the Four Tops appeared on TV, and that I'd play Timing (ticka,ticka,ticka, ticka timing) over and over on the record player. Even if she buried
    it amongst the other singles omewhere, I'd still find the correct slice of vinyl and fire it up.

    But guitar - I'd always loved the sound of overdriven short snappy riffs:glam-banger anthems like Blockbuster, Ballroom Blitz or even Alvin Stardust and T.Rex..that and the feedback intro on I Feel Fine. Although it was the Sex Pistols were the real trigger. Hearing 'Bollocks' on headphones at 13 changed everything for me and blew my world apart. I cut my hair, bought punk clothes and lusted after a guitar.

    18 months later I got my 'Satellite' strat-a-like, by which time Adam and The Ants and Marco's rocking and riffing were an inspiration. I gave it up after a few months (too hard and crappy songbooks). But at 19 watching a friend at party run through Bowie's Queen Bitch, had me thinking 'I can manage that'. Shortly after I joined a band and became self-taught on the fly - and yes it did help as an icebreaker with girls, but any snog-a-thons were an added bonus.

  5. What a bunch of comments...

    More thoughts - maybe some more to come on this topic - ... Alvin Stardust - first ever gig I went to aged 11 with a friend of mine - it was my Mum's present to me for passing the 11+!!! I remember him playing a semi-acoustic on stage at that.

  6. John Medd is correct.


    1. To Get Pussy
    2. To Look like a BadAss.
    3. To Let out aggression.
    4. To Get Pussy
    5. To Look like a BadAss.
    6. To Let out aggression.
    7. To Get Pussy
    8. To Look like a BadAss.
    9. To Let out aggression.
    10. To Get Pussy

  7. It was probably the tight leather trousers that did it not the guitar.

  8. no the singer used to wear them... i've never been a leather trousers man ever :-)

  9. You know, I think this question is suitable for making film and visuals as well. I think it's not so much that "civilians" think people choose to be artists and musicians to get girls, or the artist thinks's more about giving oneself the opportunity to say ANYTHING that might get one a dialogue on any level.

    I always made paintings and drawing since I was small. And it is the way i felt I had a "voice". I think most artists and musicians have a similar background that as kids they didn't feel they had a "voice" ...or if we get fancy autonomy for communicating.

    On the other hand the main reasons for making film or paintings is

    1) to get sex
    2)to look like a badass
    3) to let out aggression
    4) to get sex
    5) to look like a badass
    6) to let out aggression