Never judge a guitarist by his fingers

On Wednesday evening, I once again found myself at the Art House Cafe listening to some (relatively) local musicians of improbably high quality.  As the title hints, some of this music involved guitars – of the acoustic variety.

Once upon a time, I could (sort of) play the guitar – taught by my then English teacher Mr Owen (before he fled to Gravesend).  Even at my peak, I was only strumming basic chords in the most plain vanilla manner possible – though I could use a transposition clock!  I actually own an acoustic guitar and fully intend to re-learn how to play it (however, this intent has been “active” for more than two decades now – so readers would be advised not to hold their breath).  As a result, I have a very modest understanding of what a guitar can do and how tricky it can be to play.

The gig involved a support act (guitarist 1) and the headline act (guitarist 2 + drummer).  Support was provided by Alex Bowron who had very unpromising fingers (in my, clearly erroneous view) – rather short and chunky and almost entirely lacking in nails (i.e. much shorter even than mine).  Despite this apparent handicap, he could do things with his guitar that I have never knowingly heard before – and which despite being able to see both his hands very clearly, I have no idea how he achieved.  He also made use of two capos (capi?) – which seem to have come a long way since my time with Mr Owen – to produce some glorious music.

The headliners were Will McNicol and Luke Selby.  Will had fingers which seemed much more compatible with playing the guitar – longish, slender digits with enormous, plectrum shaped nails on his plucking/strumming hand.  These nails clearly required a fairly serious maintenance regime – I assume he has to wear a single glove much of the time to protect them (or he may just be less of a klutz than I am).  He was (if possible) an even more incredible guitar player than Alex and also produced sonic effects I have never heard before (including an unexpected use of a business card and singing into his guitar – where the trick is not to inhale).  Luke was a drummer – and seemed very good at it, but given my previously mentioned lack of rhythm I may be overly easily impressed by drummers.  His drum kit included a foot cabasa – an instrument new to me.  Web investigation suggests that whilst it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, it does offer “a unique new voice for the feet” – which I can think we can all agree is something the world has been crying out for these many years!

They played a very wide range of music, covering inspiration from at least four continents – and for most of the gig wore only one shoe between them (I will leave an air of mystery around which of the four feet  – 1.22m – remained shod).  My musical education as a child was, in many ways, rather deficient – largely due to my lack of interest the subject (though I was very good at music-stand repair).  As a consequence, a surprisingly large amount of my music awareness came from Radio 4 comedy shows of the 1970s.  So, I do have an odd love of both the blues and madrigals as a result of some of the Willy Rushton era rounds of ISIHAC.  Much as I love and admire Colin Cell, hearing the boys playing Mississippi Blues including proper blues “licks” was a wonderful thing and almost brought a tear to my eye (despite a complete lack of vocals: not even a single “I woke up this morning”).

So, once again my musical horizons have been expanded for less than a tenner – and another album has been added to my collection (Hitchhiker by Will and Luke).  Living in Southampton really does have some excellent compensations.

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