Friday, May 18, 2012

Soundcloud/ Facebook page

I have put some of my tracks up on Soundcloud. Please do have a listen:

I have also created a Facebook for my work, here:

Thursday, May 10, 2012



Nidge was a fool who talked nonsense nearly all the time
He was maddening, infuriating, sometimes boring but never dull
He was kind, he was generous, he was warm, he was genuine
He was hilariously funny
He was an enthusiast
He was a dreamer and a fantasiser – spinning lines no one could believe but himself
He was a self-deprecating egotist, he laughed at himself and encouraged others to do likewise
He was religious, he was a blasphemer, he was a Christian and a Pagan – a superstitious man who habitually took absurd needless risks
He was an idealist and a sinner who respected purity and who sought it in his own fashion
He was a drunkard, a drug addict and an abstainer
He was a bad poet who read and loved good poetry
He was a bad singer who listened well, an abominable musician who loved music with all his heart
He was a fine solo dancer, ostentatious and un-self-conscious, with graceful arms and hands – even when completely plastered
He was swayed by flattery and longed for praise and was deeply embarrassed by both
He wrote stories for children
He was imaginative
He loved animals and refused to eat them
He was an innocent
He was a natural leader who never sought to lead, whose friends included many followers
He was an instigator and a rebel, an anarchist with no interest in politics, an historian with a selective memory
He was a fighter and a pacifist on the front line, a rioter and a magnet for police and thieves
He was always scrupulously honest in criminal matters
He was supremely gregarious, an excellent host and a fine cook
He was spontaneous and impulsive
He was always broke and always lending money
He was a lover and a husband and a father
He was a carpenter and a provider, a scholar and a bum
He was completely unreliable and utterly dependable and trustworthy
He was tall and thin, ungainly, with a huge shock of flaming red hair
He was completely English and he considered himself a Celt
He was ashamed of his real name – Nigel – and forgave his friends for mocking it
He was ashamed of his respectable background and forgave his friends for mocking it
He was perfectly and absurdly dressed and sometimes he wore women’s makeup and forgot to shave
He used to wear a decrepit top hat with a flower in the band
He wore jewellery and many rings and bangles of primitive or Pagan design
He was always ‘hip’ but never ‘cool’
He had style
He greeted friends with a warm salutation and an embrace and he smelled of leather and tobacco
He ‘bounced’ – like Tigger from Winnie The Pooh
He laughed loud and often, not at but with others
He was educated and cultured and more often than not he spent his time with philistines
He was well spoken and only rarely tried to disguise his accent
He would sign himself as ‘he of the lean and hungry look’ and describe himself as the ‘cream faced loon’ or the ‘shag haired villain’
He would quote endlessly from Shakespeare and Vivian Stanshall – whom he worshipped, along with Iggy Pop
He was an artist with no palette, an orator with no soapbox who invited scorn and derision
He was wise and reckless
He inspired love and friendship and laughter
He was loyal and true and he betrayed no one more completely than himself
He was real and human and enormously alive
He was my friend, he was my brother and my comrade and I loved him
He is dead.

(September 1992)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Who was Jimi Hendrix?

Before the days of Wikipedia, one of my young students asked me this question:

Who was Jimi Hendrix?

Jimi Hendrix was born Johnny Allen Hendrix, Seattle, Washington, USA, November 27th 1942. His father, Al, was African American, his mother, Lucille, Native (Cherokee) American. He was re-named James Marshall Hendrix by his father in 1946. A lonely child, deserted by his mother, he began playing guitar in his early teens, inspired by his father's Muddy Waters records and the music he heard on the radio. He became a professional musician at the age of 18, after being invalided out of the US Paratroops with a broken ankle. If he had not broken his ankle he would almost certainly have been sent to Vietnam where he would almost certainly have been killed in action. He spent five years as an R'n'B sideman on numerous package tours from which he would usually be sacked for lateness or absentee-ism or for displaying too much individuality. He made his recording debut in 1962 and continued to do studio session work whenever he could find it, which was not often. By 1965, he was based in New York City where he experienced homelessness and dire poverty. He was inspired to start writing and singing his own material on hearing and subsequently meeting Bob Dylan.

By the time of his 'discovery' in 1966, Hendrix had fully developed a completely revolutionary electric guitar technique. An entirely self-taught musician of exceptional ability, Hendrix found his style through a combination of methods. Firstly, he thoroughly absorbed the work of contemporary 'Urban' blues guitarists such as Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, Otis Rush, and his particular favourite, Albert King. He then integrated this with the more commercial soul/R'n'B guitar styles he had been required to provide as backing guitarist for artists such as The Isley Brothers and Little Richard, these having been learned from guitarists such as Steve Cropper and Bobby Womack. In addition to these, he demonstrated an unusual fondness for the 'primitive' blues of such as Elmore James and John Lee Hooker - as well as his beloved Muddy Waters and his great contemporary, Howlin' Wolf. Using this rich blend as bedrock, Hendrix practised ceaselessly, day and night, until he had arrived at an entirely personal musical vision which exploited to the utmost every sonic possibility of the electric guitar. There has been much speculation over the years as to the uniquely individual sounds he brought to bear. One theory has it that he was trying to reproduce the sounds he had heard whilst parachuting. More prosaically, Hendrix played a right handed guitar left handed (as did Otis Rush), and consequently had an entirely different perspective on the controls of the electric guitar; but this in itself does not explain his extraordinary ability to control feedback and other essentially non-musical sonic phenomena.

After taking 'Swinging London' by storm, Hendrix became an international star in 1967. His songwriting and singing, his enormously charismatic stage appearances, his understanding of the possibilities of the recording studio - in all of these areas Hendrix excelled, and his guitar playing was very quickly recognized as being both revolutionary and phenomenally exciting. He was soon being labelled as "the best guitarist in the world" - which annoyed him intensely. Chronically unsatisfied with his own achievements, under constant pressure to deliver, increasingly distrustful of the praise he found lavished upon him, Hendrix grew more dependent on the drink and drugs he had always used with alarming abandon. Frustrated, he broke up his successful group and tried fruitlessly to form another. Then he broke up that one and re-formed the old one (albeit with his old buddy Billy Cox on bass in place of the unfortunate Noel Redding). He dabbled with jazz but felt hamstrung by his inability to read music (he talked of taking a year off to learn orchestration but his management would not hear of it, nor could he find a suitable teacher). He casually re-invented the American National Anthem at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969. By this time he was experiencing constant legal and financial problems, compounded and often caused by criminally poor management, which necessitated his being forced to undertake lengthy concert tours he didn't want to do performing material which no longer interested him. He died in London at the age of 27 on September 18th 1970, of asphyxiation due to an accidental overdose of sleeping pills.

In a recording career of just over four years, Jimi Hendrix changed forever the sound of not only the electric guitar, but of amplified music in general. Quite apart from his enormous significance as a symbol of his time (his influence remains highly controversial in this area, but no-one doubts its importance), on a purely musical level Hendrix was one of the very few musicians who can be said to have changed the way in which people hear music. He moved the goalposts.

(He was also, by the way, the coolest, hippest, best dressed, baddest, sad-eyed magic boy to ever play a guitar the wrong way round, to smile slyly and shyly to himself, to murmur "dig", or "aw, shucks" into the microphone while effortlessly launching into a phrase to slice the top of your head off and sail it away like a weightless frisbee. Listen...)

The Problem of Led Zeppelin

As a guitar teacher I have a frequently recurring problem with Led Zeppelin which isn't as simple as you might think. 

On the face of it, it's straight-forward enough: any number of spotty youths want to learn to play "Stairway To Heaven". If they're prepared to put the work in, I can make this happen for them. Like any old whore I think of the money and get stuck in. The funny thing is, "Stairway To Heaven" is not particularly easy to play. In fact, to play it well (ie, all the way through without making any mistakes) is quite demanding. Fortunately, most of my students are content with a serviceable approximation. Mostly they just want to play The Intro and The Big Chords just before The Solo and thenThe Big Lick just before the vocals come back in at the end. Armed with these, it's easy enough to fake the rest of it (after all, I did, when I was 15.) 

No, my problem is the more seasoned Zeppelin fan who wants to learn things like "Heartbreaker" and "Since I've Been Lovin' You", "When The Levee Breaks", "Black Dog", "The Ocean", "Out On The Tiles" etc. etc. As I patiently explicate the monstrousness ofThe Riffs, I find I am enjoying myself. I try to rein it in by lecturing firmly on the theft of sources, the provenance of the blues; I poke fun at the risible Spinal Tap-ishness of it all - but this is like shooting fish in a barrel with Zeppelin and I become aware that my student sees through me, that my discourse reveals far more about me than my subject. I see through myself. I squirm. I want there to be rawwrk, I want to wear my guitar low round my knees, I want a vintage black Les Paul, I want a wall of Marshalls and a drummer who bites chunks out of brick walls for breakfast. 

Is this a form of musical Stockholm Syndrome? I long ago realised that Zeppelin's strength was John Bonham's. Their success the result of Peter Grant's bullyboy gangsterism. That Plant's lyrics were ridiculous, his histrionics absurd, that Jones's bass playing was the epitome of professionally dull, that Page never plays from the heart, always the head, but damn... Sometimes those riffs sneak up on a person. 

If I didn't teach it, this problem would go away. I would listen to more worthy music and put aside this childish foolishness. But I'd miss it. Guilty pleasure? Yearning for lost youth? Anyone recognize the problem?