I sometimes use a quote that I took from a TV show; I was sitting in my villa on Ranco Village compound, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2000, hiding in the comfort of air conditioning from the extreme heat outside and flicking through the channels as you do. I started watching something I’d term “brain mulch”, I find if you let yourself go with this stuff sometimes you can actually enjoy it (which explains why I don’t own a TV). Anyway, the quote was “If ain’t coming out of a thing called Marshall, then it ain’t music”. I smiled at this, looked over at a recently purchased cheap Epiphone Strat copy that I’d bought locally (for reason of its amazing setup – not the sh*te pickups). I thought “true! – to a point…”
A year later and living in London I enrolled in the Guitar Institute, the reason was that while I love much about the guitar (albeit, I was more a drummer), I never ever understood it, nor did I ever understand the part when an individual crossed the line from being about to play every note or chord in any key and suddenly find the whole lot as an extension to the player’s emotional creativity. Sure, I did basic music in my first year of high school, they had weird acronyms and stuff, like “good boys don’t burn their toes in the morning”, (nah, that wasn’t actually a saying) and I did retain the knowledge of what treble and bass clef was and what the tempo looked like. The music bit was about letters, but really the thing to “note” was that as the dots went up the ladder thing, so did the pitch… Then someone showed me piano music, I accused them of taking the piss and that was the end of that – go figure ;-)
The Guitar Institute course did my head in, and for the most part it killed my enjoyment of the guitar for a long while. But in that sentence is an answer to my overall question – if it’s a passion, just how passionate are you and where is your thirst for learning it? Or more over, how did I let someone else kill it…
This isn’t so easy to answer unless you’ve ever tried to play an instrument and spent many hours forcing your body, fingers and mind to keep going until you’ve made the sound or tune do as it should. In fact modern music styles, and even modern house music is constructed completely differently, by this I mean different instruments. I won’t belittle it, but some tunes have just come about by nothing more than just tapping a key repeatedly on a keyboard.
The one thing I took away from the Guitar Institute was a pro-session by a well-known guitarist who did an incredible demonstration of multiple finger tapping… they were a guest at another well-known (but now sadly deceased) performer’s concert later that day. They came on, the guest did their amazing finger tapping, the audience was stunned at the skill – then the person whose concert it was walked on and finished the segment with a single power chord… and the crowd went wild…(Yay!). The lesson (as pointed out by my tutor) was simple… Are you playing for your own benefit, or to teach? or for entertaining a cash paying crowd? and if for the crowd – which bit made them go wild? Because that bit was the entertainment! Yup, the single “A” chord rocked out the crowd… but then I thought – the power of that single chord would not have had its effect without the finger-tapping before it.
This is what I think of as 2nd gen music theory or the true ballodial (think I just made that word up) effect of the overall music – whether in one piece of over the course of many pieces of music together. It’s like that great live concert opening that explodes in front of you – that can fall like a damp firework if the wrong song is chosen to follow it by.
But you see, main music theory is either the most obvious key to life to some, or it reads like an incomprehensible dark art to everyone else – albeit based in complete logic. Then there are the instruments, some consider the guitar as not a true instrument; I understand this, it has frets on the neck making it the equivalent of paint by numbers when compared to the violin and cello. If you don’t know what I mean, the moment I place my finger on the guitar string, it pulls it down and locks its movement against the fret before it. At the point of the fret is the location of the note – BUT what if that fret wasn’t there? The note would be exactly where my finger on the fret board is – so what note would that be? Damned if I know… but a cellist and violinist would know as they have to know where they’re at without references and get it right every time. Move the finger only a millimeter or two out and – boom! It’s a different note altogether. Heck, a cello is tuned in “5ths”(?!) and I eat with a spanner :-?
In fact, I know a bloke who can knock out a tune or two on a Cello, not only that – his wife can also knock out a fair old tune on a violin… Now, when a “youth” (pron. Yoof) and after my time at boarding school this guy was by far one my best mates, then one day, in amongst the long hair, rock playing in the background and the scent of joss-sticks courtesy of shops like Pippy’s or “Bringing it all back home” he whips out (wait for it) a cello… at the time I thought “wtf you doing with that?!” (in fact knowing me, I might have actually said it thinking I’m about to be blown away by a classical Lemmy) right up until the point he did like Robin Hood and took a bow to it… Strangely the cello stayed in one place and what followed was (to me) stunning… At 15 I was at the point where I could only wish to make a coherent noise on a shocking guitar I had that had a neck on it that actually could have been put to good use by Robin Hood… heck he coulda hit Fr**ce from here with the arrows if he’d used it – and give them something back on behalf of our Harold! But right there and then I saw a guy, who was as good and bad at everything as the rest of us were, completely change, the music, the indulgence of passion, the feedback of instant (to me) perfection was not only instant, but totally consuming to him.
I watched as well as listened to something that while today I understand, but have never experienced – true passion for the creation of music by feeling, still keeping it artful while I was trying to get me head around it by typically being annoying.
Now…. I’m an old-ish kinda bloke, heck Sue Black simply calls me pregnant (and that is on a good day) and I understand all sorts of technologies – my mind: a sponge… Yet no matter how young or old you are, you’re moved, excited and revitalized by a lot of music, yet we are ALL moved by classical… I’ve never been to a classical concert in my life and yet there isn’t a movie we watch that doesn’t have an element of classical that hits an audience with power… Heck even at my own mother’s funeral I was fine, except for the bit when they played Nimrod as they brought the coffin in and I totally lost it – mother, the music really didn’t help!! (vengeance huh?)
Like all of us, we have our musical heroes, they could be great blues players, drummers – pop artists with astounding voices, but artists with a blind passion completely draw me, whether it is Stevie Ray Vaughan, Alison Goldfrapp or yes, my old buddy… These people truly have something few others have and I certainly admire someone who truly follows that passion throughout their whole life. They’re consumed by it, it is to them as common as the air they breathe and yet they know they’re nothing without supreme excellence – heck, they don’t demand it of others, but they work hard persistently to hear the right note at the right time with the right accent reverberate through their entire bodies. In this I know I’m not a musician in any classical sense, nor will I ever be, but we need music’s classical heritage to keep alive the passion and all musical styles thrive on those who will experiment, improvise and have a go at crossing the divide of classical and modern styles and my old buddy does this in the most staggering way.
Also, as I mentioned before; after leaving the hell hole that was my boarding school which is becoming more and more well documented, this guy was the first kid to even try to talk to me. As an adult and with the recent processes regarding the school I have come to realise just how important he was in my adjustment to life after. I won’t mention it all here – as it can go in the book. What I will say is this; He gave me something that even today 32 years on and while during this time it has taken him on to perform in over 50 countries, with him and his wife playing with just about every Orchestra in the world of note at some point – his way still holds true as he showed me that not only thinking differently was ok – but was the way to go.
Nevertheless, while I have a passion, I accept I’m simply not gifted with the passion that others have. To my old buddy, all I can say is “dude, what’s with the hair?” ;-) and to everyone else, wherever you are in the world, if you ever want to hear true passion in musical form, to see and feel it, and like me, not fully understand but really see a person whose life truly does have a theme tune running all the way through it – then do look up the name Matthew Barley and his awesome wife Viktoria Mullova as they will be coming to a country or town near you at some point… and let’s be honest here, if you come to my read my blog – then you could probably do with the culcha! ;-)
To Matthew, you’ll probably never know why, but thankyou!