Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Mr Bouz

I've enjoyed playing music for longer than I care to remember. Most of my friends come from the semi-pro live music scene and some of them go back more than twenty years (clue there).

Like so many people, I started learning music on the guitar. I currently play an early Sigma Martin HD-28 dreadnought acoustic with Takamine electrics. That's to say, I occasionally get it out for a short time; otherwise, it sits in its case.

The trouble with the guitar is, most people can play one. Well, not most people, obviously, but you know what I mean. If you're into music and want to learn an instrument, it's probably the guitar you pick up. The piano isn't terribly portable, while learning the violin is agonising (for others), and the recorder is a pointless little stick. These were the choices when I was at school. On the other hand, the guitar is sociable; you can carry it around, and sing along to it, and the girls will want to shag you.

But when I joined my first real band, everyone could play the guitar, we looked like some thirties jazz combo, all strumming away (and all the same chords) with only - bleugh - a melodeon and a bodhran to break up the wall of jangle. What could we do?

One of my favourite bands is Planxty, a wonderful traditional Irish group who performed their music with real fire and astonishing dexterity. One of their number, Andy Irvine, played the bouzouki. Actually, 'played' is a very weak word, for the man is a genius. The sound of the bouzouki hooked me and I bought one, a Fylde - which was promptly named Mr Bouz. I introduced him to the band, and he really helped to vary the sound.

Since then, Mr Bouz and I have travelled the length and breadth of the southern half of England, playing in pubs, clubs, functions, festivals, and the back gardens of rich people. We've had trips to Wales, Ireland, France, Belgium and Germany. Mr Bouz has picked up many scrapes and bashes during his long career but he's still a beautiful instrument to play. He's been through three electrics fits, four sets of frets, and two cases. The edge of his sound hole has been eroded by billions of strums. His table has lifted around the bridge, but thanks to a couple of minor operations his action and intonation is fine.

Mr Bouz has become an old friend. He's shared a big chunk of my life, and so many memories. I love the feeling of putting him on, and the eerie modal sound he makes. He's a joy to play live, so easy and comfortable, just when you need it. He's also something of a conversation piece; people are curious and aren't quite sure what he is. I'm unashamedly sentimental about him - can you tell?

I sometimes wonder how long he'll go on. I can see him finally giving up the ghost during a gig, his table lifting, his bridge collapsing, the tension of his strings finally pulling him to pieces. It would be rather a fitting end, suitably memorable and dramatic and poetic.

But not just yet, I hope.


Callum S Mitchell said...

Ahhh Pete, I'm the most hopeless musician you could ever meet!

Sorry I missed your gig at The Longboat. Complete lack of funds as i'm STILL waiting for my f**king loan to go through!

Hope you had a cracking Christmas and a splendid New Year..


sara said...

Hi Pete, you've made my son's day; he's looking forward to testing out the guitarist/shaggability theory!
Sara X