Thursday, March 04, 2010

“When I get off’ve this mountain, I know where I wanna go…”

I received news this week that one of my old landladies had passed on. Not so big news in itself, especially to those who never knew her, but it did stir memories of what she facilitated by her general easy-going nature, for the house that I rented off her had a basement, you see. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of an electric guitar, must be in want of somewhere to play it, and having a cellar, a couple of old mattresses and some egg boxes meant that this ambition was easily attained. Her forbearance had already been assured by the previous tenant who, by happy coincidence, was also the drummer in my band and so aside from the occasional intervention by bored policemen passing on foot patrol in the street above, we were perfectly able to spend every Thursday evening working on songs, mucking about with cover versions, writing, tweaking, recording demos and occasionally auditioning guitarists as the last one decided that they rather had more urgent engagements to attend to than to spend every Thursday evening…well, you get the idea. And at around ten o’clock we’d draw a veil over the evening’s work and pop around the corner to The Spread Eagle and ruminate over a few pints on what we’d achieved or, more likely, on whatever took our fancy as the subject of conversation that evening.
That we weren’t paying by the hour meant that work was conducted in a more reflective, quality-intensive way than if we’d been clock watching the whole time and of course the added benefit for me was that for the rest of the week I had a drum kit set up, a pair of headphones and The Band’s Greatest Hits on CD. I really couldn’t speculate on the amount of time I invested in happily plodding through those marvelous syncopations, but I do know that it was all time well spent. Without those evenings I wouldn’t have been teaching a song to the band when one of our members queried one of the lines by remarking that “Sadler’s Wells” was an odd thing to throw into a lyric. That wasn’t the original line, but that throwaway comment meant that the chorus got re-written on the spot to include it from that point on. Once again, that may not necessarily a biggie for you, but I still play that song sometimes, and not a chorus goes past that I don’t think about it.
Anyone with such a facility is obviously going to become quite popular in the musicianly circles he mixes in and so there were occasions that I made myself scarce for the evening and left a key under the mat for others. I didn’t like to be too usurious about the arrangement and so I generally left instruction that the guys could use the place to their own content and help themselves to tea and coffee, but that I’d appreciate it if they left items of food in the kitchen for me to be pleasantly surprised by when I got back. Trust me to lend the place out to the only bunch of vegetarians on the block, but at least I know now not to trust canned ratatouille. On one occasion I came back to find appreciative graffiti from Big Ray regarding the photographs of my girlfriend I had on the kitchen pinboard.
I had houseguest for a while too, and when I played an Eric Clapton record once he responded by playing the first Taj Mahal album to impress on me what guitar playing was really about. In response I upped the stakes by sticking on The Allman Brothers, and the silent one-upmanship went on all evening until he finally rooted around upstairs and dug out Electrif Lycanthrope by Little Feat then trumped all previous hands by simply sitting back and daring me to find anything better. Obviously, I couldn’t.
All of this and more went on in the end terrace house, endured stoically and benignly by the kindly lady next door, who once a month I went round to see, handed over my rent to, had a cup of tea with and a chat and then padded back again to my place. According to their deeds shall you know them, and also by their tolerance of young men with electric guitars. So long, Vera. And thanks.

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