Why I Play Rhythm Guitar Not Lead

I have been playing guitar for fifty-two years and I have always been a rhythm guitarist. Lying in bed this morning I started thinking about why that is.

Well, for one thing I’m not a good enough lead guitarist to play lead. But it’s not that; I love playing rhythm.

I started playing guitar because I was excited by the music I was hearing, on the radio (occasionally), on TV (even more occasionally) and on record. When I think back to the records that made an impression, a big part of their effect was due to the rhythm – Bo Diddley, The Kinks, The Beatles – and I wanted to be able to play those rhythms.

So, when I was fourteen, my parents bought me a guitar for Christmas, a small, steel string acoustic. Of course I didn’t know how to play it or tune it or even that you could get different notes by using the fingers of your left hand (I’m right-handed) to make chords. I didn’t even know what chords were. I moved my thumb across the strings and got six out-of-tune sounds. “Is that it?” I thought. “Is that all it can do?” I was very disappointed. Continue reading

Enthusiasm(s)

I was thinking about what I do with my life and realised that it goes in phases, phases of enthusiasm for one thing and another.

At the moment it’s e-books. I love reading (a continuing enthusiasm which has never left me) and when I discovered e-readers it was like the answer to a prayer. Instead of carting around a book, usually in a coat pocket or a shoulder bag, I could take all the books I needed, or thought I needed, in a nice, neat little package, always ready to open at the page I was on. I won’t tell you how many e-books I have (it’s a lot!) and my enthusiasm at the moment is having all the ones I want to read on my Kobo Aura (love it!) and have them sorted into categories – fiction, non-fiction, science, sf, fantasy, music, films, literature etc. I use Calibre, a free ebook catalogue programme where I can sort them, categorise, download covers and lots of other nifty things. It’s my favourite computer programme (not an app, apps are for mobile phones) and an example to a lot of commercial software companies of how to write a programme that is elegant, useful and, all in all, a pleasure to use.

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Calibre – my favourite programme

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Home Music Recording 1

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My Old Studio Setup

This is my old setup – windows with, I think, Cockos Reaper (a great programme which is ridiculously cheap for what you get), an M-Audio Keyrig 49 controller keyboard, a pair of Yamaha NS10s – borrowed from Steve and now, sadly, no longer with me – an M-Audio Fast Track interface (not shown), various mics and guitars etc.

My Music Recording Setup

I haven’t done any recording for a while and, when I last recorded any music, I was still using Windows. Recently I’ve switched over to Linux – Ubuntu Studio – and though the operating system is fantastic (and free!!) I’m finding the setting up of programmes for recording to be a bit of a hassle.

I’ve installed Ardour 4, a free Digital Audio Workstation, and a bunch of plugin effects and software instruments etc., but I seem to get quite a few crashes when using the plugins – very frustrating. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll get it sorted over the next few days.

The other thing I need to do is to put new strings on my acoustic. I haven’t played it for weeks and the old strings are a bit dead. One thing I hate doing is changing strings, it always seems like a real chore. But then, when the new strings are on, I get excited because the guitar is suddenly sounding good again.

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This is my acoustic, a Freshman FA400FBJ which I’ve had for about 10 years

The main reason I’m trying to get everything set up is that, last week, we had a visit from Steve and Ric (a musician friend) to go through the script for Limestone Wood. It feels like it’s all starting to move again. Steve has come up with some more lyrics for the programme and I’m keen to get back into putting together more children’s songs.

I’ll write more as I get back into the swing of things.

A bit exhausted today as I was down in South Wales yesterday running a course on ‘Heroin Addiction and Blood Borne Viruses’. The drive back took about 6 hours, the traffic was very heavy, and I’m not as young as I was.

1977 – Baltimore, Randy Newman

In the late 70s I was rhythm guitarist in a band called Dilettante. I had been playing with a more RnB type band called A.K.A. Bats and was approached by two musicians, Dave Paillow and Mike Bannon, to see if was interested.

The band didn’t have a name then but we sat and talked about what their influences were. Mike was very keen on Captain Beefheart and dub reggae which immediately made me interested. Although I was enjoying playing with A.K.A. Bats and we had done some good gigs, including headlining at the Kulture Shock event in the Great Hall at Lancaster University, the music we were playing wasn’t really the sort of stuff I wanted to do. The band was popular and a lot of the material was good for dancing, but I really wanted to be involved in something more experimental.

This was around the end of the first wave of punk and a lot of the music I was listening to, apart from old favourites like Bowie, Zappa, and Genesis (alright, we all have our weakness, but only Peter Gabriel Genesis, not the Phil Collins stuff), was punk (Sex Pistols, X-Ray Specs) and post-punk (XTC, Magazine). Plus I was getting in to some of the new US bands, particularly Patti Smith whose ‘Horses’ album had really made an impression. And of course there was always Beefheart.

So I quit A.K.A. Bats and joined the newly named Dilettante. We started rehearsing at what was the Musician’s Co-op rehearsal room upstairs from Single Step. It’s now the Whale Tail cafe but then it was just a big, bare room with no heating, no carpets and bare stone walls. I’ve tried to find a photo of it as it was then but no luck. If anyone has any photos from the time I’d be most grateful. Continue reading

My Music

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That’s Matthew suffering for my art!

I’ve just added a page where I will be posting examples of the music I’ve been doing over the years. Some I really like, some I’m not so sure of, and some I find a bit embarrassing.

Let me know if there are any songs you particularly like – or ones you can’t stand.

I’ll add to it as and when.

The guitar I’m playing is a Fender Telecaster Standard with a maple neck. Great guitar. Sold it to Tony Riden along with the Maine Stage Combo. Wish I still had the guitar. Ah well.

1968 – Hurdy Gurdy Man, Donovan

In the Nineteen Sixties Morecambe had two piers, West End Pier and Central Pier; now there are none. Central Pier was one of the two venues in Morecambe where young people went dancing – the other was the Floral Hall (The Beatles played here twice, in 1962 and 1963; sadly I didn’t know about it and anyway I was only 13 so probably wouldn’t have been able to go). The West End Pier was wrecked by storms in 1977 and Central Pier suffered several fires in the 1980s and was finally demolished in 1992 after a further fire destroyed the ballroom a year earlier.und6

So, to the music. I have a vague memory of going the Central Pier ballroom when I was about 16 to see The Undertakers, a sixties Liverpool band. I can’t remember much about it (this is a constant refrain, probably due to an excess of alcohol consumed over the years – but not for over 30 years and something I intend to blog about at some point), but I do know that I was very nervous being there, surrounded by older boys and men who were probably planning to beat me up. Just as an aside, I spend much of my adolescence and early adulthood afraid of violence; I had been bullied as a kid and tended to roll over and show my belly when threatened. There, mini-confession over and again, back to the music. Continue reading

1999 – River of Orchids, XTC

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Hasn’t a clue

‘With arms stretched wide’

George doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life; he doesn’t even know what he wants to be doing tomorrow. I’m the same, I’ve never known what direction I was going in. The difference between George and me is that he’s a dog and I’m not. You know how it goes, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’. That’s easy when you’re a kid, ‘Astronaut’, ‘Engine Driver’, ‘Ninja Assassin’. When you ask George the same question he just looks at you as though he’s giving the question serious thought, but that’s as far as it goes – silence (add the word walk or dinner and you get a more positive response. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and I’m sixty three! Some people seem to know, they appear to have their lives all mapped out – school, university, career. Me, I never had a clue. Oh I knew what I didn’t want to be – boring, insane, accountant, insurance man – and I’ve done pretty well at avoiding three out of four (Guess!). But as to careers and long-term plans, no idea.

Just as an aside, about twenty years ago I wrote a song about insurance men; at least it’s called ‘Insurance Men’. I’ve no idea what it’s really about and I know that some people find it a bit disturbing; even I find it a bit disturbing. Have a listen, see what you think. Maybe after you’ve listened to it (I’ve cut it down as the whole song is over nine minutes long), you’ll have a better chance at guessing which of those four things I didn’t manage to avoid! By the way, the song, along with most of the other stuff I’ve done, was recorded and mixed by my best friend Steve (of cellar fame) at his studio, ‘The Mill’ in Blackburn. So ‘Insurance Men’ is a ‘Run of the Mill’ production. I’ll say more about ‘The Mill’ in a future post.

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1964 – You Really Got Me, The Kinks

1964 - You Really Got Me, The Kinks   That riff!
In 1964 I was fifteen and had been playing guitar, or rather trying to play guitar, for about a year. I had an old arch top acoustic guitar (I think it was a Hofner but I’m not sure) which my parents had bought for about £15 from our next door neighbours and had recently persuaded my mum and dad to buy me my first electric guitar. It was called a Caravelle Top Twenty and had, I think, three pickups and was a similar shape to a strat. It was very light and cheaply made but it was an Electric Guitar!!!, the first one I had ever owned and, as far as I can remember, the first one I had ever touched. I loved it, even though I had nothing to plug it into. It was either light blue or a sort of purple colour (I’m not sure on the colour as I am colour blind), but it had six strings and a tremolo arm and looked a bit like the guitars the bands I was watching on TV were playing. Oh, and the action wasn’t too good, probably nearly half an inch at the twelfth fret but as the only guitars I had played had been as bad and my playing was fairly rudimentary this didn’t bother me too much. (I’ve just checked with Steve and it was actually pink). The shop where we got it was at Strawberry Gardens, a little music shop where I also bought my records. I’ve just realised that one of the records I bought there was ‘You Don’t Have to be a Baby to Cry’ by The Caravelles, http://www.45-rpm.org.uk/dirc/caravelles.htm8f37f-caravelles a female duo from London (which was probably not played on a Caravelle Top Twenty). It wasn’t the sort of record I was really into but when I had my six shillings and eight pence in my hand (the price of a single then), I had to go home with something, and I thought my mum might like it. I think she did but I don’t remember her ever putting a record on to listen to; she probably only heard it once when I got home and played it to her. In fact I don’t remember anyone in my family ever listening to music. We were a television family; in the evening we would gather in the front room and watch TV, although there wasn’t much choice in 1964 as there were only two television channels, the BBC and ITV and, now I was fifteen, I had started to spend more time either out with my friends or in my room listening to records and trying to work out how to play them on guitar. 
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