‘It doesn’t have to be the great and the good who delight us with their guitar skills. How many times have you been at a party and inevitably, someone pulls out a battered guitar and royally entertains the guests in to the wee, small hours’
THERE is an old saying, “Music soothes the savage beast.” Apparently, as with many oft quoted lines down through the years, we have gotten this one slightly askew. It’s actually a misquoted line from a play ‘The Mourning Bride’ which goes all the way back to 1697. British poet William Congreve wrote: “Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast, To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak”.
You can look up the rest for yourself, but you get the point. I think old Will was spot on though with his assertion and I can’t find fault with his theory. In the crazy, all-consuming world we find ourselves in, surely today more than ever the delights of music are a vital necessity. To narrow it down, my homage this week is to the wonders of the guitar.
Since I can remember, I’ve enjoyed the amazing dexterity of sounds that have emanated from this fabulous stringed instrument. At times subtle, occasionally manic, even brutal in some hands; you can’t help but marvel at the versatility of guitars. I recall hearing the likes of Cat Stevens, Ralph McTell, Bob Dylan and other singer songwriters while listening to vinyl at a friend’s house back in my teens. While my taste at the time was probably a little more current and in keeping with the chart music of the day, I can now far more appreciate the likes of Gerry Rafferty, Neil Young and James Taylor. Back in my youth they just seemed a tad dated and old hat to a pop buff like myself.
To this day though, a song which was in our house on 45 remains a favourite. The guitar break near the end is worth listening to alone even after all these years. The record was, “Make Me Smile” by Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel. It was my sister’s record but anytime she was not home, I played it practically nonstop and the single is still nestled safely in my collection currently.
As I got into radio broadcasting in the early 80’s as a 16-year-old, my senses were attracted towards a slightly heavier guitar sound and by now the rock bug had bitten me and like Spiderman, things were never going to be the same again. The melodic American productions from the likes of Boston and Journey hooked me and the wailing guitars of Thin Lizzy and Rush were too good to resist. They could transform a dull, grey day in three minutes flat and had I not had music to occupy my time that first year after leaving school, I dread to think how boring life would have been.
Thanks to Tommy Vance and his Friday Rock Show on BBC Radio, I heard the cream of the rock world and basked in it, lapped it up and soaked in it any chance I could. I had been introduced to a world of guitar geniuses. From Jimi Hendrix to Johnny Fean, Steve Hackett to Gary Moore and a host of guys and gals I’d never heard of. Little did I know I’d be playing them on Zenith Classic Rock in 2019.
The joy of going out and actually getting hold of one of the albums you discovered on the wireless in your formative years can never be underestimated.
Today, it’s a click away online. Not in the 80’s. You begged, stole and borrowed records to play on air and procured them when and wherever you could. I can so identify with the early rock n roll fans who waited patiently to get a much sought after tune. Those at the cutting edge lived in port cities where vinyl often was transported via ship from the USA. Liverpool is one that springs to mind. Sailors would bring back Motown and rock n roll hits from America to adoring pop pickers on this side of the pond.
The ultimate for many is the concert experience. Here’s where I’ve had some of the best moments enjoying guitar music. Locally, I have memories of first seeing Simon at O’Shea’s hotel in Tramore in the 80’s and hearing “Best of My Love”, the Eagles classic, played wonderfully by the lads. The guitar I remember sounding particularly good. The litany of gigs attended down the years has produced a real appreciation for just how well some artists perform, particularly guitarists.
Luka Bloom played at the Mansion, Waterford once and his guitar sound soothed in all the right places. I could have listened to his playing all night.
Steve Hackett, the former Genesis star, gets my vote for the best guitar player I’ve ever seen live. From Spanish guitar to some altogether more complex sounds, the guy is gifted in the extreme and I look forward to getting to see him again sometime. Our own Irish legend Johnny Fean of Horslips is another virtuoso I’ve had the pleasure of seeing ply his trade on stage and he’s a joy to listen to.
It doesn’t have to be the great and the good though who delight us with their guitar skills. How many times have you been at a party and inevitably, someone pulls out a battered guitar and royally entertains the guests in to the wee, small hours.
I’ve always envied them, not being a player myself, to be able to just get the sing song going and play a few old favourites. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to do. Nothing like a get together in full flow and everybody joins in and sings along with “The Boxer” or “You’ve Got A Friend”. Who cares if you can’t sing a note, if you can strum a guitar, you have the crowd in the palm of your hands. A considerable feat indeed.
If you have kids who are displaying even a morsel of interest in the instrument, I would heartily recommend you encourage them to give it a go. Who knows, in years to come, they might pay you back for all those lessons if not with hard cash, with the joy of seeing them just having so much fun and doing something they love.
In closing, I’ll leave it to the great David Gilmour to attempt an explanation:
“It’s a magical thing, the guitar. It allows you to be the whole band in one, to play rhythm and melody, sing over the top. And as an instrument for solos, you can bend notes, draw emotional content out of tiny movements, vibratos and tonal things which even a piano can’t do.”
Timmy Ryan’s weekly column for the Waterford News & Star