Challenge and Space

Foxbat

None The Wiser
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Way back in the mists of time (circa 1981 I think) I was playing in a band and we’d just acquired a new singer. One of the other band members knew her and suggested we try her out. Turns out she was excellent. I’d played in a previous band (see my previous entries in this section) with a female singer so it was situation normal for me. Locally, however, we were the only rock band like this at the time. All the other bands had hairy-arsed guys with beards and we had this extremely attractive young woman with a fair set of lungs on her. She could hold a note better than most and it made us stand out a little from the crowd.

She fit into our structure very easily and was quickly contributing her own ideas. I often collaborated with her on new music projects. Things seemed to be going well. Or were they? One night after band practice, I got home and all hell broke loose. It appears, according to my girlfriend of the time, that I’d been having an affair with our singer. Well, this was news to me and it was complete nonsense.

Complete nonsense it may have been but sometimes that makes no difference. An ultimatum was served. Unfortunately, two things came into play. Number one, I tend to be too practical for my own good sometimes and, number two, we’d just bought a house together. So I decided to leave the band. This ended up splitting the band for good (which was not my intention). What made things worse for me was that I couldn’t really say why I was packing it in to the other members. I thought it would be incredibly unfair on the singer (whom I had come to regard as a friend as much as a colleague) to saddle her with the truth – that she (through no fault of her own) was the reason I was leaving. So I just mumbled some rubbish about my heart not being in it anymore.

I think it was more than a year before I touched a guitar again. But when I did, I felt re-invigorated. It made me wonder that perhaps my heart really wasn’t fully in it at the time when I left that band? Maybe I’d become jaded? Whatever the reason, the experience taught me two things. First, never let anybody stop you doing what you love. Nobody, absolutely nobody is worth paying that price for. Second, space is important. It might be space between the notes, space between people, or space just to clear your head. I had finally begun to understand that what you don’t do (or in musical terms…what you don’t play) can be just as important as the things that you do.

Historical footnote: my love for playing music long outlived that old, ultimately toxic, relationship.


Why do you have so many guitars?
For the record, I don’t have that many. But it’s a question I’m often asked and I’m sure other guitar owners get asked this too.
There is more than one answer to that question and I’m sure each owner will cite different reasons. Here are mine.

1) I like to view sound as a tapestry. It’s a case of weaving tones like musical threads until they begin to form a new sonic picture. Every instrument I buy is bought for a specific reason and it’s usually to add a different colour of thread to my tapestry.

Take, as an example, my PRS Chris Robertson Signature guitar. I’d never heard of the guy and had no idea what kind of music he played. For the record he's in a band called Black Stone Cherry. What I did know was that this particular guitar carried some unusual specifications that would allow me to mix and match tones that I normally couldn’t do with one guitar. It has a P90 pickup at the neck and a coil-tapped Humbucker at the bridge. That may mean nothing to the uninitiated but it’s the only guitar I’ve ever come across with this specific set up. Adding to my tapestry of sound is also why I’ve branched out into mandolin, bouzouki and 4-string guitar. I’m currently considering buying a dulcimer.


2) You don’t go running in a big pair of hobnailed boots and you wouldn’t (or at least you’d be stupid to) work in heavy industry wearing a pair of sandals. Guitars can be like that. Horses for courses. Playing a Fender Stratocaster is a completely different experience to play a Gibson Les Paul. They feel different in your hands. This is because of both body shape and (much more crucially) neck shape and profile. There are so many different profiles. Take the Fender Telecaster. I preferred mine to have a nice, thin neck whereas my dear old mentor (now departed for that Great Gig In The Sky) liked his Telecaster neck to be more like a baseball bat.

The pickups play a big part too. Stratocaster pickups are bright and perfect for that nice, clean Dire Straits type sound. Gibson Les Paul PAFs….it took me years to discover what that stood for, it simply means Patent Applied For. The name stuck – I presume even after the patent was granted…or maybe Gibson is still waiting. PAFs are perfect for that meaty, twin guitar sound that Thin Lizzy made their own.

I have an old Ibanez Artcore semi-acoustic and every time I pick it up, it makes me want to play jazz. I don’t actually play jazz but the very feel of the guitar in my hands makes me want to explore some of the more unusual chords and structures usually related to jazz.

Why am I writing all this? Because it’s important for any musician to stay fresh and challenged. It’s very easy to pick up the same guitar everyday and play without actually practicing. You just sit there running through the same routines, playing the same scales and learning nothing. Putting on a different guitar is like putting on a different set of shoes. It makes you want to run in a different direction and to go to places you wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

I love to write and record music and sometimes I challenge myself by saying something like : right! If I were to write a soundtrack to a horror movie, how would it sound? What kind of chords do I want to string together? What kinds of tones will I use? What guitar(s) will I use?

I think this whole idea of challenge, change and space can be applied to many walks of life. Tired of writing the same old fantasy stories? In a rut? Why not try to write a detective or murder mystery just for the challenge or simply creating something different just to give your head some space. I think it makes life a little more interesting.
 

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