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I got my first real guitar when I was fourteen, a three-quarter scale Japanese acoustic. Before that Id had several unsuccessful attempts at making one. They were strung up with fuse wire and were usually unplayable.
My sister was learning
folk guitar with the TV series, Hold Down A Chord. The back page of the
tutor book had diagrams of all the chord shapes. When she lost interest
and went to university I tore the back page off and learned all the chords
on it dominant, sub-dominant, tonic and minor. I didnt know
what any of that meant but I could soon do it in all twelve key signatures.
The other boy really wanted to play folk music and I didnt want to be a drummer so we learned to play Colours by Donovan and fizzled out in the wake of a couple of Gordon Lightfoot and Tom Paxton tunes. The Baptist ministers son got himself a white Hofner Galaxy that looked a bit like Jimis Strat, the other boy grew up and started playing in folk clubs, and I was the confused kid trying to write songs that bridged the gap between John Mayalls Bluesbreakers and Pink Floyd.
I got a full-size Eko acoustic guitar and electrified it by sticking the earpieces from a pair of army surplus headphones to the body. I plugged it into a homemade ten-watt amplifier given to me by a local TV repair man that I met at a jazz club. All the heavy-duty musicians were into jazz it said they were in the Melody Maker, so I went to a local jazz club at a pub in Peacehaven called the Gay Highlander.
I had some difficulty reconciling Monty Sunshine & His Jazz Men with Jack Bruce talking about something called bebop, and I couldnt imagine how Captain Beefheart could have been influenced by this, but I was prepared to give it a try. I went home confused my head ringing with trumpets, trombones, clarinets and banjos.
It was a hideous racket but I persevered. A guitar player didnt show up one night so they gave me some chord sheets and sat me at the back where I played chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk all night, with a chord change at the beginning of every bar. Soon I was playing trad jazz at the Pier Hotel opposite the Palace Pier in Brighton.
The Pier Hotel was rough. I saw loads of fights in there. It was what you might call bohemian, which is another way of saying it was full of low-life beatnik scum. It was refurbished in the late 70s and renamed the Buccaneer. Then it turned into the Escape Club. They dont have jazz there any more.
I bought an Ornette
Colman record The Art Of The Improvisers. I was gong to buy Hot
Buttered Soul by Isaac Hayes but theyd sold out so I bought the
Ornette Colman album instead. At last I understood. I couldnt begin
to play this stuff and I wasnt sure that I wanted to but I started
to understand something about freedom in music. I was done with trad jazz.
into a mixed comprehensive. Lewes County Grammar School For Boys no longer
existed. Neither did the Girls Grammar School or the Secondary Modern.
We were all together now under one banner Priory Comprehensive.
I didnt give a damn about comprehensive what interested me
was girls, and suddenly there were loads of them.
On the journey to school none of these rules applied it was beyond the bounds of possibility that we could get sexually aroused at quarter past eight in the morning. But care was taken nonetheless the girls summer school uniform, 60s coat dresses with buttons all the way down the front, had to be redesigned because the temptation could prove too much for the boys we might find ourselves unbuttoning them in an unsegregated moment.
At the beginning of
the fifth year this regime was abolished. The senior biology master gave
us boys a bit of fatherly advice and counselling he explained how
babies were made:
And thats why, in a darkened field at a pop concert with the lights flashing and music pulsating, so many young lives are ruined.
It crossed my mind that a man of his age should really know about wearing a johnny. But it sounded fabulous I could hardly wait, and Id promise to be careful. I was hoping to try some marijuana too.