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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

100 Lessons for Life I have Plucked from Guitar Playing

The Early Days: Chapters One to Six

How I nearly missed my own first performance

I was about 10 years old and with my full-size guitar went alone to play in a shared gig at the Caxton Hall (or somewhere similar, not quite sure). It was a winter's night in London during the late 1950's. The bus conductor - that's the one who collected the fares and dispensed dinky paper receipts from a miniature mechanical device with a rotating handle strung round his neck - recognised me as a regular passenger on my morning run-ins to school.
"Isn't that wonderful that you are going to play in a concert". he beamed, "don't worry, I will tell you when we reach the stop." Well, you guessed it, he forgot, and I had to walk back what felt like three miles but was probably no more than five hundred yards.

I was first on the bill, and John Williams, still a teenager, was last. Afterwards he came up to me and gave me some good advice about my playing. It was the first meeting of our life-long association.

Lesson for life:
Don't travel by bus to your shows unless you know where to get off.

Parents and musos are just like everyone else - or nearly

I was five years old when I started to play. My first teacher was my father who was a keen amateur player of Spanish music. He played by ear, and had no knowledge of musical notation. My mother had a lovely voice and we would accompany her together. We would play and sing our arrangements of Jota Valenciana, Ines, Eres Alta y Delgada, Cielito Lindo and lots more. My father had facility and a fine ear but no time or inclination to practise. One day, when I was seven or eight years old I asked him:
"Dad, can I play that bit where you get stuck and miss the fret?" He looked up a bit hurt and said:
"No, that's my line."
I felt awful that I had upset him.

Lesson for life:
Music is personal, tread lightly when it comes to dealing with other players and their abilities, whoever they are.

9 years old and time to move on

I first learnt to read music on the guitar in my lessons with a plectrum guitarist called Mr. Le Sage in Clapton, East London, near where we lived. He was a kind and gentle man who patiently took me through the Clifford Essex guitar tutor. After a year or so he told me there was nothing more he could teach me. I was nine years old and I was stunned. Up to that time I thought adults knew everything.

Lesson for life:
Adults are not Gods, so avoid the ones who act as if they are, and seek out wiser mortals.

A musical rebel with a cause is slapped down at school- and look where he is now

I was sixteen years old when a mate of mine defied the music teacher and played one of his own weird atonal pieces in the school concert, in spite of being instructed not to. He whistled and puffed through his flute, banged it on the music stand, and issued fearful shrieking noises from it in a rebellious mood. Although the piece itself was almost completely tuneless the real outrage was defying the authorities. Punishment was immediate: he was banned from further public performance for some time. This same cheeky chappy is now the senior editor for an important London publisher.

Lesson for life:
Authority will hold you to account for defiance, whether in school or in the world beyond. Then when you are in charge, it's your turn to rule. That's the way the world goes round.

Sight-reading Ferraris play with a push-bike guitarist - me

While at William Ellis School in North London I played music with violinists, cellists and pianists. None of them were much older than me, but their music reading skills were way ahead. They were like Ferraris on their respective instruments, accelerating to 100 miles per hour in a few seconds. While I pedalled away on my push-bike guitar still at bar two, they were already at bar seven. I resolved to change this humiliating situation and through hard work and determination eventually replaced my guitar pushbike with a motorbike. It was a big improvement, but I kept working at it right through my teens and during my student days too until one day my persistence paid off spectacularly - but that's another story.

Lesson for life:
Improve your guitar-reading skills so you can keep up with other musicians. Illiteracy is a handicap in all walks of life.

My first paid engagement was with attractive young women and lots of drink

I was asked to play in the reception to launch a new sherry by a Spanish importer. Attractive young hostesses in flamenco dresses served the drinks. I provided the music: a sort of pseudo-flamenco complement to the generous servings of jerez which I too was strongly encouraged to imbibe. In this heady atmosphere at the end of the evening, and rising to my full sixteen-year-old height, I veered towards the organiser and asked him to pay me more money than agreed beforehand, all the time trying not to slur my speech. He gave me a withering look and uttered a few words which put me firmly in my place.

Lesson for life:
Always be nice to a promoter who pays you a fee for an engagement shared with pretty girls and plenty of drink.

Well, that's quite enough nostalgia for the moment! The remaining 94 lessons learnt will appear from time to time in this space, some more serious than others, but all plucked from my experiences with that wonderful, mysterious box: the guitar.

Alesund, Norway, 26 May 2012

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=1244 .
© 2019.

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