Few would believe that getting caught shoplifting as an 8 year old would be an ideal introduction into playing a musical instrument, but it was.
Our usual sprees as kids involved everything from half a dozen mars bars, whole display boxes of panini stickers and even those long, blister packs of 10 bubbly balls for which I had specially amended my coat with a“secret” slit in the arm lining to slide the booty down into the lining at the bottom. It even required some home stitching which I did myself such was the buzz I used to get from it.
On this one evening, I only stole a packet of 2p chewing gum – slim pickings compared with my usual haul. I took it outside to share the spoils and the shopkeeper came out and asked us if we had stolen them. I smiled sweetly, shaking my head, playing it cool and looked him squarely in the eye only to see that my so called friends had crumbled and were pointing at me in a “He did it!” gesture.
The shopkeeper took me to my mum, who smacked me round the head for a fortnight whenever I came within an arm's radius of her. I couldn't play with any toys. No snooker table, no Atari, no nothing, except for being allowed to play with a disused christmas present from two years previous, my guitar. A young and really cool teacher at school had recently run a few lunchtime classes showing us how to tune it and giving us chord charts to a couple of songs. I was grounded for the whole of the summer holiday and this was my only form of entertainment. So after 8, maybe 10 hours a day practice, I was pretty good by the end of the holiday and had got over the sore fingers that beginners get.
I have now played guitar for a good number of years more than I haven't. From the days of trying to emulate Hank Marvin, listening to my Dad's Shadows records, and a bit later, Mark Knopfler to a misspent youth playing Metallica songs in sweaty, spotty teenage bands with the amplifier too loud, I always struggled to merge the popular styles I was passionate about, with the classical guitar lessons I was lucky enough to be given by the Sheffield schools peripatetic service.
During my A-levels I made the decision that I was going to take a science route as good jobs were thin on the ground and Physics would be more likely to pay the bills than music. This didn't stop me playing though as I became an accomplished bassist and front man for a soul / funk outfit on the Northern Working Men's club circuit. I also enjoyed playing classical / acoustic guitar as both a soloist and in small ensembles to a wide range of audiences. This helped give me a wide repertoire and also helped me to think on my feet and improvise. I would have to field the inevitable requests from drunken audience members who would not be able to remember the title but expect you to know it from - “Duh – Duh Durrr – Duh der de durr”- I think it's smoke on the water, aah sorry I don't do that one – what you'll slash my tyres if I don't?- Ok then, here goes.. Duh – Duh Durrr –
Unfortunately, becoming a science teacher meant that I didn't have the energy to be playing four or five nights a week any more so I played a residency in a restaurant once a month and when my son was born in 2007, the missus told me that I had to grow up and the gigging stopped. The playing however didn't.
I started writing children's songs about my boy and the missus had the bright idea of personalising them and selling them. It has been great for me as I get to play for people occasionally at some of the craft events that we attend to sell CDs but it also means that I can legitimately play guitar and sing around the house, learn how to play noisy and annoying instruments like the banjo and ukelele and then get to tell the missus that I am working. Even better still, she believes it!!!
I spend much of my spare time in my little recording studio – ok ok it's the spare room but I have access to the kind of set up only professionals with multi million dollar record labels could afford when I was playing on the clubs and because of technological advances, it just takes up a small corner of the room. I am thoroughly enjoying playing music with a purpose again and I am also looking forward to being able to go out and play again as my boy gets older.