Video Saturday – Neil Diamond
So, September 1971 then, the new school year just beginning for the class collectively known as Form 4S and I can pinpoint this very song as the one that inspired me, and several others I suspect, to pick up the guitar and learn how to play it.
Indeed from our Form of thirty boys came the legendary Leeds guitarist, a legend in his own mind, the man who made a storming comeback at the Brudenell Arena last year playing a mean sort-of-punk-but-using-more-chords lead guitar, yes I speak of Tim Knowles, Tim Knowles was in our Form, as was Sam Kirkbride, yes you do know him, bass guitarist of the parish, looked like the milky bar kid when he was a big shot in the bass guitarist circles, well anyway, he was in our Form too, in fact he sat right in front of me in our alphabetically seated form room, in fact now I think of it, Tim Knowles sat right behind me in our alphabetically seated form room, so there I was, alphabetically seated between two guitar greats and Neil Diamond in the charts singing about frogs becoming kings and the feeling being laid back, how could I resist ?
“Mother” I declared at the door one evening when returning home from another long and weary school day, “You must buy me a guitar, for I am seated between two guitar legends and I wish to emulate them, why who knows, one day, when I’m silver haired and far, far older, I may even make a comeback at the Brudenell Arena to hordes of adoring similarly old fans”.
“Don’t be ridiculous dear” my mother gently explained, “Brudenell Club is just a shit working mens club, your father sometimes plays billiards there”
“Never the less mother” I replied, “I wish to learn to play the guitar, go and obtain one for me, call it an early christmas present”
And of course my mother, being my mother did just that, Ned and I just had to ask and she’d get the Brian Mills Catalogue out and order it, or as in this case, speak to someone and obtain one from, how can I put this, a person who thought they already owned the thing that I wanted so dearly.
She came home from work on the bus one day with an acoustic guitar for me, not in a case or a gig bag or anything, just carrying an acoustic guitar a bit like that one that Neil Diamond is sitting with (above), in fact almost exactly like that one, just imagine instead of Neil Diamond sitting on a stage in the Top of the Pops studio he’s sitting on the number 33 bus to Cookridge instead, well that was my mother that was, on her way home from her work as a cleaner at Carnegie College, on the bus, with a guitar, her fellow travellers must have thought she was a new pop sensation in the stylee of The Singing Postman, alas The Singing Cleaner-Woman never made it to the big time.
Look, I don’t know ok, if it had been my father I’d happily accept that maybe the previous owner of the guitar didn’t know that I was now in possession of it, but my mother didn’t do that sort of thing, I prefer her version of events that one of her student clients, one of “her girls” who’s room she “did”, didn’t want the guitar anymore and when my mother the cleaner was there dusting one day she happened to pick up the guitar to dust and mention that her son was going to be a big star in the field of guitaring and he was looking for one just like this one, and the student said “Why cleaner lady, take that one then, for I am shit at playing the fookin thing” or words to that effect.
Fortunately in September 71 there appeared at Leeds Modern School an English master known as Fat Hodgson, the moniker “Fat” being applied not because he was a famous Blues pianist, but because he was fat.
Fat Hodgson, despite being fat, was also a very cool dude, in fact several of the English department were cool dudes in a very 1971 stylee, think of Donald Sutherland in the 1970 film “Love Story”, maybe thats where the English department got the idea that they too could wear corduroy and chelsea boots and be construed as cool too, whatever, Fat Hodgson was also cool because he could play the guitar and with that in mind he formed a “Guitar Club” which met in one of the basement rooms of the school for the purpose of learning to play the guitar under the tutelage of Fat Hodgson, none of which went down very well with Weber the schools recognised music teacher for whom a guitar was the devils work and any music written after 1850 sacrilege,a nd so while he taught the rest of the school to play “Go Tell Aunt Nancy” on the recorder, some of us would meet in a dingy cellar with a low ceiling and lots of school heating pipes running through, to learn all about the chord C on the acoustic guitar.
I’d like to say that I took to the guitar like a duck to water, became famous, went to LA where the sun shines most the time, and found fame and fortune on variations of the chord C where I write from today in my beachfront villa.
In truth the chord C baffled me completely, well not so much the actual chord itself, but what you did when you didn’t want to play that chord anymore and had to change to another, you see there aren’t many songs in the world that just use the chord C throughout their refrain and those that do are not particularly classic songs, so what you must do is learn how to play a chord C, and then change it to another chord, say, G, so effortlessly that no-one in the audience notices – yes I know, its as hard as it sounds too.
To make things worse, you have to use different fingers on different strings in the making of these chords, and YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO REMEMBER ALL THIS.
I could do it when Fat Hodgson would show us a chord C, “This is C” he’d say in a cool succinct style, and I’d nod and I’d put my fingers on my guitar just like his, press on very hard (it hurts too, did I mention how much it hurts your fingers to play the guitar) and strum and my C would sometimes sound familiar to Fat Hodgson and he’d nod sagely and move along to the next boy.
I could even do it when Fat Hodgson would show us a chord G, “This is G” he’d say still in a cool succinct style and I’d nod and put my fingers on my guitar just like his, press very hard and strum and my G would sound a bit like my C but enough to make Fat Hodgson nod sagely and move on to the next boy.
Where it all went wrong for me was when Fat Hodgson showed us a page on which he had written a sequence of six such chords – SIX CHORDS – I only knew two so far and needed to pause for twenty seconds inbetween each one while my brain and fingers tried to sort out where my fingers should be, during which the other hand being impatient would strumming some awful mid-chord noises which didn’t sound tuneful at all.
Neil Youngs “Heart of Gold” was the first song that Fat Hodgson tried to teach us, it uses six chords, I’ve looked it up, I thought it only used two actually but it uses six, and with the wisdom acquired of these last 40-something years since I can now see where I went wrong with Heart of Gold, I had only learned two chords and needed twenty seconds pause between each to re-finger, while the rest of the class had learned all the six chords required for the succesful rendition of the song and had almost finished by the time I sorted out my fingers at the first chord change.
And then fate dealt an even more painful blow – it came to my attention that one of my cousins was doing some wonderful things on his guitar, knew all six chords to Heart of Gold already, and was speaking of becoming a world famous guitarist, marrying into showbusiness elite and playing the O2 arena with even more famous antipodean pop royalty at his elbow – the game was up for me before I’d even learned C and G properly.
“Go bollacks to the lot of you” I yelled and stomped out of the basement Guitar Club room one evening dragging my never-played-properly guitar behind me, never to return.
I still have a guitar, its in the loft, I bought it when I was 40 years old and re-learned C and G and then shortly afterwards put it back in its gig bag and told it to “Go bollacks you heathen implement of shame” and cast it to the loft, where it remains, unplayed, to this day.