I am not now, and it must be said, I never have been Ipswich’s go-to guitarist when it comes to dep and session work - this, you may be surprised to learn, is in the manner of a massive understatement. Very early in my career I took to heart the mantra that one note played with feeling was worth a hundred rattled off at speed, and the knowledge that I probably couldn’t play a hundred notes in a row at any speed without stopping for a cup of tea and a breather half way through then, and I certainly can’t now, has certainly helped me to maintain this conviction over the course of the years. Drummers, usually the last refuge of the guitarist who has run out of banjo jokes but who still needs a fall guy, have been heard to hum along with solos of mine in real time, not because they are so memorable and catchy, but because they are always the same. It isn’t that I’ve not tried. I could probably quote you chapter and verse from Ralph Denyer’s seminal The Guitar Handbook, although it’d probably be the chapters containing pictures of Jimmy Page wearing a dangerously low-slung Les Paul and some gemstone en-Zoso’ed flares rather than the one explaining the modern diatonic scale and where to locate it on the neck of a serviceable electric. The Guitar Workout for the Interminably Busy* is rarely far from hand, however in terms of graduating from the paperwork to the fret work I remain, like E.L.Wisty’s High Court Judge, tantalizingly short of the Latin.
Phlegmatically, I’ve come to figure that since in any room containing three or more other musicians there’s statistically likely to be someone better than me, one of them may as well get on with the business of taking care of, um, business. Although I might have the ego for the lengthy guitar duel I certainly don’t have the chops, and I’m generally happy to fulfill the gurning for the cameras and keeping an eye out for the ladies part of the on stage equation. Apart from that one time, of course.
Since I was already involved with the raiding party being dispatched to help Ippo’s twin town celebrate France’s national music day (as one seventh of The Perfectly Good Guitars**) I suppose it made sense, when one of the other bands' guitarist pulled out, to ask if I would fill in. After checking twice that they’d got the right phone number I agreed, and then immediately went into the sort of bowel-loosening cold sweat that usually involves the prospect of a hospital appointment or a driving test. The Frisky set itself was a mix of originals from singer Jules’s past, a few things from keyboard player TT’s solo album*** and a couple of covers - one of which, Paul McCartney’s Maybe I’m Amazed, even if not wholly dependent for its success on the guitar solo per se, would certainly be deflated in its impact if I fluffed the whole thing up during my time in the spotlight. There began a series of rather intense CD listening sessions during which I spent an awful lot of time hovering over the pause and rewind buttons, and which also involved a certain degree of deciding to pack away the guitar at the end of an evening and heading off to bed with a mild headache before switching the lights back on and trying to run through the whole set without making a mistake just one more time.
At the single rehearsal we had time for I managed to bluff my way through without persuading anyone else in the group that simply drawing a discreet veil over proceedings and withdrawing gracefully from the engagement would be in the best interests of everybody, and I think I even added an extra part into one of the songs through judicious use of finger-tapping during one of the intros where there had been an atmospheric keyboard overdub on the recorded version. Thus emboldened, I hopped in the van determined to give it my best shot. That the gig itself was reasonably uneventful was cause enough for celebration on my part – no-one fell off the stage, we managed to play all of the songs all the way through without having to stare accusingly at a recalcitrant amplifier in order to cover up momentary brain freeze, and my climactic solo went unremarked, which I was more than happy to accept as validation of its authenticity.
Afterwards we all piled off to the nearest Irish pub where party leader Shev had blagged an impromptu gig for “…beers only for the guys in the band” to celebrate, whereupon he invited so many members of the touring party up in succession, like a jam session Gandalf inveigling Thorin’s dwarves into a Joycean Rivendell, that it would have been cheaper for the bar owner to give free beer to the audience members instead. I was, and remain, profoundly grateful for the faith they showed in me that weekend and, as I often think regarding whatever has befallen or may come between us in the intervening near-decade, we’ll always have Arras.
*It’s a real title.
**It’s fair to say that there was already a fairly generous cross-fertilisation going on between the nominal groups that made the trip. At one point Shev swears he heard one of the promoters exclaim “Eet is the same guitar player - burt zees time ‘e is wearing a ‘at!”
***This received the best review I’ve ever read, from The Blackpool Courier, which concluded "The influences of Rick Wakeman, Tony Banks and Jools Holland can be heard without a trace of plagiarism... Tony's playing deserves credit. More's the pity then that I can't find any tracks on the album that I like"
Here are me, Andy, TT and Frisky Pat reunited some years later, backing Steve ‘Kilbey’ Mears on a version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Unlike during our time in Arras, I stood on my guitar lead half way through this song, hence my nervous glance toward the amplifier before I check all four controls on the guitar and finally wiggle the lead around until it starts making noise again. You don’t really notice because of the tremendous racket the other three are making, which was also of great comfort during some of the trickier sections of Summer in the City in France.