'... Then Play On'

In view of recent meteorological events, I was thinking of writing Mr. Sampson’s Lack of Feeling For Snow this weekend. But I’m too worn out by spending Saturday afternoon in the crawl space under the house, known over here as a vide sanitaire, lagging pipes that should have been lagged years ago. The horse, in fact, had already bolted: we had no water from our taps – just long enough to give The Daughter a taste of what it must be like to live in some hell-hole across The Continental Divide.

So I’m taking the easy option. The fact is I was so buoyed up by all the comments and all the nostalgic reminiscences that came pinging into my in-box as a result of last week’s musical discourse, that I thought: why not offer a few more musical pensées? After all, the second part of the BBC Four trilogy on How the West Was Won (by British musicians in the U.S.A.) aired on Friday evening. And it was a good week musically speaking, because four CDs arrived through the post. Normally I hate opening up our letterbox – and only do so because it lets the rain in – for fear of official missives. But no, there were four CDs over the space of two days. Three from old friends, plus a promo. I love receiving friends’ compilations. I may not approve of every track, but it’s delightful and d’lovely to know what they’re listening to these days. (The promo, by the way, was Sly & Robbie’s forthcoming new offering. Fans will be heartened to know that they have laid down some of the best dub known to Jah.)

The second part of the trilogy added some new characters to the mix. Jon Lord of Deep Purple and Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, the Laird of some wee island off the west coast of Scotland, both come over in a suitably lordly way. Bill Bruford, former Yes and King Crimson drummer, is a good friend of someone whose maison de vacances I keep an eye on. I have been on at this good friend for months to persuade Bill to get over here, as I’m certain he would be game for some studious musical discourse. Keith Emerson appeared remarkably youthful and remarkably decent, considering he was partly responsible for creating Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

But my vote for pick of the week goes to another guitarist – the lugubrious Brummie, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath fame. Somehow the man has lived to tell the tale of touring with Ozzy Osbourne. Quite a different character from dear, charming Jimmy Page, but an engaging chap nonetheless. For more on Ozzy, Iommi, ‘Geezer’ Butler and Bill Ward’s bulbous W.C. Fields-like nose, make sure that you catch The Black Sabbath Story next time it’s shown.

While on the subject of guitarists, which we sort of were, Peter Green’s name cropped up in a few of the comments I read last week. It sent me searching for an obscure French compilation of British Blues for a Peter Green cut from 1978, some time after he and Fleetwood Mac had gone their diametrically opposite ways. It’s called ‘A Fool No More’ and it features some of the most resonant and educated guitar playing you are ever likely to hear. And one mustn’t forget that poor, drug-blasted Senor Green also had one of the most distinctive of singing voices. There is some memorable footage from the Top of the Pops’ archives of Fleetwood Mac performing ‘The Green Manalishi’. With his long curly locks and his checked maxi-coat, Pierre Vert (as the French call him) looks like some 17th century cavalier who has been dragged by a horse across Marston Moor.

I’ve always had a special affinity with the guitar. Though I can’t play a single note, I reckon you can hear in an electric guitar all the beauty and the anguish of the world. I always took my guitar simulation very seriously. In my early youth, I would stand in front of my dad’s Ekco gramophone, ‘playing’ along on my orange plastic Beatles’ guitar to hits by the Fab Four, the Stones and Brian Poole & the Tremoloes. I could have been a contender, Charlie, but (as I suspect I’ve mentioned before) my days of simulated guitar-heroism died as a result of mortification. My mother walked in on me in mid Frank Zappa solo on ‘Willie the Pimp’, my Slazenger tennis racquet ‘plugged’ into an old electric fan heater. Oh well, as Peter Green would have sung.

However, I still feel qualified to mention some lesser-known and maybe temporarily forgotten guitar-smiths of yore in the hope that it will prompt some chatter. How’s about then, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Ollie Halsall of Patto and beyond, or Gary Boyle of Isotope and Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express, or that proto-metallurgist with a gift for the ominous chord, Robin Trower of Procol Harum? And though I never gave a fig for Alvin Lee and his pyrotechnics, I should remind you perhaps of Albert Lee of Head, Hands and Feet, renowned ‘guitarist’s guitarist’ and – judging by his appearance with Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings at Cahors a few years ago – one of the sweetest and most modest of men ever to depress a wah-wah pedal. Let us also proffer our respect to a man known more for his voice and his organ. I speak, of course, of the outrageously talented Stevie Winwood.

There’s always a danger that musical discourse turns into a boys’ thing, so I shall try to correct the gender imbalance by mentioning two axe-women. I’m very fond of a Philadelphian jazz guitarist called Monique Sudler, who could be based in France these days. And there’s Deborah Coleman, a blues woman, whose solo of roughly 25 notes on ‘Dream’ is one of the most eloquent solos ever crafted. Less is more and all that.

Yes, indeed. Time I stopped this chitter-chatter and let you get on with your Sunday evenings. May your pipes continue to flow throughout the continuing cold snap.