Wednesday, July 12, 2006

from the top

the deal was, the devil got my soul. in return i could play the blues. in the event the bastard short changed me. but thats what you got to expect if you negotiate with a supernatural entity who, in most Western religions, is the central embodiment of evil.

i should have known. he's caught me over a capuccino before now. just by hanging onto that fistful of pound coins when my attention was elsewhere he smilingly transformed an expensive cup of milky coffee into an exorbitantly expensive cup of milky coffee. but way back then i still trusted the hornèd old reptile.

these days i like to think i can see him coming. so it was something of a disappointment when, on my way TO the pub one summer evening, he slipped a near lethal manhole cover under my shoe and i hit the deck with a substantial bump.

i tore some stuff in my foot. worse than that tho, and infinitely more sneaky, as i landed the scaly sod caught me one in the neck. ever since i have been ... ahem ... bedevilled with multiple nerve problems in
my right arm.

in that instant my guitar playing was stuffed. not to mention the mandolin. my passion, and a significant part of my income, were removed. just like that. although i suppose in his diabolical way he was keeping his side of the bargain. from that point on my experience of the blues intensified significantly. now i really had something to play about.

despite his smart little moves mephisto the great dis-illusionist had missed a trick. as luck would have it my dalliance with stringed instruments had been a second act. the first love of my musical life had been that fundamental tool of the groove, the trumpet of the blues angels, a 7/6d hohner super vamper.

i can
still see my first harp. several lengthwise windings of tape bandage keeping it on the right side of mortality long after the cover plate tacks had snuck through the pearly gates into tack heaven.

did that bandage stick! it stuck to everything. especially when moistened with enthusiastic teenage saliva and thrust uncased into a jacket pocket. a dirt and fluff magnet beyond compare.

oh god, talk about filthy. but not then, to me. to me it was beautiful. and in tune despite having the reeds roughly jabbed with a matchstick if they ever got stuck. which from time to time they unaccountably did. who knows what they were made of but they couldn't half soak up a bashing. and that was before playing the little demon.

to get slightly more technical, i am talking diatonic here.
you know what i'm saying brothers and sisters ... the little one without the knob on its side. the harmonica that is mostly used for the blues. because ... it sounds great. in fact that high wail is so good that a lot of audiences just love to hear the thing regardless of the skill with which it is being tooted. trust me. i can bear witness. probably even done it myself.

over the years i had kept my hand, or more accurately, lips in. when i wasn't playing guitar anybody who didn't tell me to shut up or bugger off or both could expect to find me a-honking, a-tooting and a-wailing along side them at the slightest opportunity.

after the fall i realised that if i was going to keep on making music it was going to be on harmonica. and this would mean raising my game above the morass of hound dog howlers who, having paid their £20 or so, reckon they're as good as charlie musselwhite or rod piazza any day of the week and don't understand why they aren't fronting the blues band. now!

i felt i needed to be able to offer something different. so i decided i'd learn to play the chromatic. i bought one from an acknowledged dealer. it was crap. what to do?

buy another. (this time a hering special 48. a name dripping derring-do nautical machismo, and hopefully appropriate for the charts with which i was trying to navigate a scarey new ocean of dots and lines into the deep end of which i found myself plunging.) and get help.

i made enquiries and eventually beat a path to the door of the shadowy national harmonica league. i went straight to the top. and spoke to the chairman.

"is that roger trobridge? i'm looking for a chromatic teacher."

silence ... then an extended intake of breath.

"there's not many of them about

anxiety's chill talons scrabbled for a grip on my vertebrae. somewhere out in the ether i sensed a rustle of leathery wings as old nick did his best to divert me from the path of righteous endeavour. all three of us knew there was a lot riding on this one.

a pause ... "where do you live?"


"oh," said roger. "one of the best teachers in the country lives in porthcawl." (for the uninitiated porthcawl, apart from being welsh rhyming slang for 'an insignificant amount' is twenty miles down the coast from swansea.)

and that, gentle reader, is how i met gerry ezard.

more to follow ...

© patrick ellis july 2006

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