Monday 16 June 2014

Lucky Philosopher - musical instruments



My first musical instrument, at age ten, was a ukelele - the one that looks like a little guitar - and it cost one pound and one shilling; bought for me on impulse by my Dad, unplanned, from a shop in Bristol. It came with George Formby guide on how to play it.

Within days or weeks my then group of friends had formed a 'pop group' which we called The Shades. We wore sunglasses (naturally!), flared trousers and brightly coloured nylon shirts with cravats.


The Shades comprised an electric and pneumatic reed organ (which sounded like a motorised accordion), a steel strung acoustic guitar, ukelele and maracas - we had no amplification.

With such a bizarre line-up, I can only attribute our success to the musicality of the organ player - who could compose, arrange, and improvise a bit; and also that we must have had nice treble voices', because it was not long before we were playing 'concerts'.

We even played at the main Church service on Sundays - which was probably a couple of hundred people; and 'entertained' the old folks at the nearby residential home.

We were canny enough to fit the material to the audience, and I recall playing and singing such contemporary worship classics as Lord of the Dance and Kumbayah in front of a full house with that nervelessness and sense of entitlement of the pre-adolescent; and an old time song called 'After the Ball' which we learned for the Old Folk.


By this time I had upgraded from ukelele to ukelele banjo - which was much louder and cost five times as much (i.e. five pounds).

Then, with terrible swiftness, we recapitulated that typical late 1960s trajectory by electrifying and becoming 'progressive'...

The old, old, and typically 'sixties, story: loss of innocence - corruption interpreted as sophistication.


We stopped calling ourselves a pop group and claimed now to be Rock - we changed our name from 'The Shades' to ...Quarternion (meaning a group of four... clever, yes? That one came from our intellectual organist); and we learned a couple of heavy numbers including the 'meaningful' (a word we actually used) Child of Time as played by Deep Purple.

We listened to the Woodstock live album. We worried about the Vietnam War - or was it the Viet-man war? We became tortured artists with a social mission and a keen interest in girls.

We plugged our instruments into on old valve radio which served as combined amplifier and loudspeaker - well 'amplify' and 'loud' did not really come into it: this particular radio was apparently designed for a wartime family to gather around and listen to Churchill's stirring rhetoric, rather than creating a 'wall of sound'.

The electronic organ remained, but we added an electric 'lead' guitar (the classic Avon budget model, purchased from the Kay's catalogue), and I switched to playing 'bass' on the lower strings of another ordinary electric guitar - the whole being sustained by the solid beat of the same old maracas rhythm section...


I quit before it got to the stage of peace-and-love-ins, Hari Krishna, drugs and overdoses.  


No, we never did get a drum kit. And no microphones. To be honest, you don't need a microphone to make your voice heard over the sound of a 1945 radiogram, a pneumatic organ and maracas.


1 comment:

Adam G. said...

Keep it up. This is an interesting series.