Wednesday 26 February 2014

A 1966 Cherry Red Gibson 330

I think I'm in a phase of reinvention. I recently acquired a Fender Telecaster. I've always shied away the popular makes and models of guitars. I traded my 1966 cherry red Gibson 330 for a massive store credit at one of the few remaining civilised and independent music stores, Parkway Music in Clifton Park NY.
The Gibson had been hanging on the wall for two years, gathering dust. In previous years I've used it to create feedback drones that sound vaguely like a French horn. I almost used it on the track 1983 on our last album, A Working Museum. But I didn't because I've got a Guild Star fire that does everything the Gibson can do and a lot more.
When I bought the Gibson I really wanted a Starfire but the Gibson was there, I had the cash, and I needed a decent guitar.
It was London, 1990. The Gibson was hanging in the window of Macari's on Charing Cross Road. It was a Friday morning. They wanted twelve hundred for it. I had seven hundred in my pocket because that's what I'd decided I was going to pay for it. I made the offer which was refused out of hand. I pulled the money out of my pocket and started counting it. The guy in charge told me to put it away but I carried on counting.
Money was scarce in England at the time.
'That's our wages,' I heard one of the assistants say.
The manager told me I was wasting my time but I carried on counting out the money, laying it down on the counter. When I got to five hundred and he said I could have it for nine.
'All I've got's seven hundred,' I said.
I'd got to six hundred and sixty in used twenties by the time he capitulated.
'Alright, seven hundred, cash, you bastard.'
I never much liked Macari's.

The problem with owning a 1966 cherry red Gibson 330 in perfect condition (with chrome pick-up covers) was that crowds gathered round it. Fat blokes, blokes with beards, checked shirts, shapeless brown corduroys; balding blues players, blowhards, nerds and manual readers. I thought the Gibson was going to be a chick magnet but I was disappointed.
It sounded pretty good, especially when I discovered the front pick-up. I played it through a fifteen watt Ampeg Jet combo amp. It put out a fierce signal, distorted the pre-amp stage, horrified sound engineers in th more sedate venues.
 In 1991 I played it with The Pretty Things. Dick Taylor turned to me between Midnight To Six and Don't Bring Me Down – 'I can't believe the sound you're getting out of that guitar.'
It was one of the greatest moments in my musical career.
But still the guitar had to go.
The last time I used it live was on The Rutles tour in 2004. Since then it's hung around, waiting to be of used, and making me feel guilty as I churned out tracks using less valuable, less sought after guitars. I tried to put it out of sight but never relegated it to its case – I would have felt even more guilty knowing that such an asset was stored beyond potential and effortless use. 
And anyway, I was using the case for one of my other guitars, one that I could smash into the front of my amplifier in a wailing cacophony of distressed wood, metal and plastic.
You'd never do that to a 1966 cherry red Gibson 330.
The Gibson made me a better guitar player, mostly because it gave me confidence. I no longer suffered the disdainful looks that real musicians reserved for the young men and boys who gamely scrubbed away behind lesser instruments, with their questionable intonation and bow and arrow action.
I would get my axe out, and once I'd learned the swagger, the assuredness of one who has invested money in their calling, those fuckers knew I meant business.
But there was no fun in it.

So finally I took it along to the music store and we thrashed out a deal that made us all happy. The 330 went to a collector in Japan where I'm sure it'll adored and fawned over in a manner that suits it – that guitar was always a bit of a Prima Donna so I'm sure it's having a great time.
As for me, I've had a load of equipment repaired, I've got a Tascam 38 1/2” eight track machine with Teac heads in practically perfect condition, and a Mexican Telecaster. Stuff I can use! And I've still got store credit.
I spent a long afternoon trying out every Telecaster in the store. The ones made in Mexico are good but the pick-ups are shit. There's no point even plugging them in. The trick is to find one that feels good and has a good acoustic sound.
I found a second-hand one with all the tags and guarantees still attached. Plugged into an amplifier it sounded disgusting but it felt good so I took it. I sanded the lacquer of the back of the neck, changed the bridge saddles for brass ones, lowered the action, replaced the pick-ups, rewired it and changed the tone control capacitor. Now it sounds great – my first Telecaster!
I used it the other night at Atwood's in Cambridge, Massachusetts. People told me afterwards how good I sounded, but nobody commented on the guitar. I finished the show with a full five minutes of intense feedback and ended up swinging the guitar between the amp and the mic stand in a whirl of oscillating feedback.
You wouldn't do that with a 1966 cherry red Gibson 330. You could, but you wouldn't.
It might not be a chick magnet but I obviously mean business with my customised Mexican Telecaster. I've already chipped the paint in a couple of places. I was going to sand off the metallic red finish but I think it might just take care of itself in time. It'll end up looking like the big green Microfret.
I'll tell you about that one another time.

Sunday 9 February 2014

This Thing Called Sparky

The other week I drove from Catskill to JFK in the worst hire car I've ever driven. A compact car, a Ford Focus or equivalent. A squat, ugly, black plastic and metalic silver object. I never found out what make it was – there was some sort of logo in the middle of the steering wheel but no company name like Chevrolet or Renault or whatever. On the back it had some silly model name – I think it might have been Sparky but I put it out of my mind as soon as I saw it because I found it vaguely depressing. I was standing in the pissing rain in a parking lot at the time. I'd just been to TJ Max where I'd failed to find a pair of tenable socks. (I'm sure I once bought some really good socks at TJ Max but it might have been in England at TK Max.)
To start with I thought the car was a two door model because the handles for the back door were concealed in the space where another manufacturer might have put a quarter light or a bit more window. The thing was little more than a buggy, though buggy suggests an element of fun - like a Citroen 2CV or one of those Smart Car things that Kensington estate agents zip about in.
At least I think they zip about in them – you see them cluttering up trendy and up and coming London boroughs, similarly ugly to this thing I hired but with the jollifying addition of estate agents decals plaster all over the sides.
Having said that it occurs to me that I haven't seen one for a long time. But that might be because I haven't been looking, or because I haven't really been frequenting trendy or up and coming London boroughs of late.
Anyway, the Sparky, if that's what it was called, certainly didn't live up to its name. We've got a secondhand lawnmowers with more zest than this thing. It seemed to freeze at forty five miles an hour and the only way to get it to go any faster was to floor the accelerator and keep it there until the rev counter went off the dial and the motor sounded as though it might blow up. Then you could get sixty out of it. I managed seventy on the New York State Thruway. It was a terrifying experience. At that speed it became apparent that the thing didn't really have any shock absorbers.
If the Ford Motor Company was aware that this aberration of a vehicle was being touted as a Ford Focus equivalent they'd surely bring a lawsuit against whatever company made the thing. I was happy to leave it behind at the Hertz drop-off place.
I say happy but...
It was all very unclear – car rental returns was in a list along with
terminal 1 passenger drop-off
long-term parking
terminal 2 arrivals
terminal five departures
dangerous animal drop-off point
short-term parking
mid-life crisis
airport trauma counselling service
assisted suicide center
It was like reading a telephone directory.
When I finally got there through the rain and fog a recorded announcement kept saying Take a note of your mileage and leave your keys at the control point. Several other people were dropping cars off and none of them knew where or what the control point was either.
I left the keys in the car – I'm not sure that I even turned the motor off. I may have left a door or two open as well. As I wheeled my trolley stacked with cases and guitars through the Hertz control point that miraculously appeared when I followed the signs for Shuttle To Terminals some wag behind the desk suggested I might stop and play him a tune. I told him to fuck off. It was quarter past five in the morning.
Here's a tale from last December that I didn't get round to posting:

I'm in a Welcome Break, on the M42. It appears to be full of old people eating sandwiches. Old people going places, wearing body warmers, sensible anoraks, fleeces. I'm drinking Starbucks espresso. It tastes sour, quite disgusting. I think Costa espresso is better but it's a desperate choice.
This is what it's come to – I'm sitting here at a big pine table facing the window, looking at people standing around outside smoking cigarettes, and at the car park beyond. I feel I should get a sandwich to fit in. Or start smoking again. I don't want to eat an ice-cold sandwich, the thought of it has me on the edge of tears.
I'm adrift on a sea of bland.
I'm going to Waitrose now. So much choice. Back in the days of pie, chips and beans we didn't know how lucky we were. The Blue Boar, Watford Gap, before it became a fast food multiplex. Stick a 10p piece in the jukebox, get in quick with Alice Cooper or Mott the Hoople before Sugar Baby Love by The Rubettes chalked up yet another airing.
I wish I could hear Sugar Baby Love right now.
All I can hear is the chatter of hundreds of travellers, it rattles around the metal rafters like demented baritone birdsong.
I need to leave.
I need to eat.
I'm going to Waitrose.

I wrote that a few hours before I arrived where I was going and had eleven hours sleep. I felt better after that. As I left Waitrose, feeling thoroughly dejected, I realised I've developed a phobia against chilled sandwiches.
I just thought I'd mention that.

I wrote this as well, just before driving to Glasgow to start my UK solo tourette. Though in fact I'd already started with a somewhat under-attended show in Worcester a few days before. It could only get better after that one - the gig in Worcester showed me that I need to think it out a bit before I stroll onto the stage. I usually have a better handle on the set but I was exhausted from dealing with my bank in America and with car hire firms in England.
I stumbled into an airport car hire place – Hertz Car Rental at Heathrow. I'd forgotten which car hire company I had a reservation with so I had to go round them all and find out by process of elimination.
The woman at Europcar was very nice so I asked her for a quote just out of interest. It came in at six hundred pounds for the three weeks I'm here. I thought it sounded a bit expensive but you know, I'm slightly out of the loop. It included a free upgrade to a bigger car so I said I'd think about it.
I eventually used a disgusting computer with a keyboard that was gummed-up with a decades worth of fecal matter and snot (I think that's what it was) and found out that I was with Hertz. 
I caught the shuttle bus, a risky business – those things always fill up with big people who've just got off long haul flights from far-flung places where you can go back packing with a surf board and four enormous suitcases which they'll later use to try and break the necks off guitars belonging to other passengers.
The man at the Hertz desk was an oily boy racer grown old – greasy tendril hair-do with a hint of faux-hawk and a stubbly beard. He found my reservation by clacking at a worn out keyboard, sucked air in through his teeth and went dut dut dut as he tapped a pencil against the side of the computer screen. Then he asked me to bear with him and got out mobile phone that he may or may not have been using as a calculator. I say that because it's quite possible that he was texting a friend – we've got a right cunt here... 
After much screen prodding, dut dut dutting, sucking in of air through teeth, and a couple of bear with me's, he came up with a final price for three weeks car hire of one thousand eight hundred pounds. I was a little taken aback even though he pointed out that this included an upgrade at no extra cost to your good self sir.
I'd had a much better offer from Europcar.
I stumbled out across tarmac and rubble, climbed over a fence with all my luggage and arrived at completely the wrong car hire company. I'd got Europcar and Enterprise mixed up. I caught a shuttle bus back to the terminal and went to see my friend at the Europcar desk.
I got an electric blue Skoda Octavia. The interior was heavy with the scent of cleaning products, illicit cigarettes and takeaway food.
What with the car hire fiasco it took almost as long to get out of the airport as it did to fly across the Atlantic.

There's more – there's always more, but this is going to have to do for the moment. It's probably badly written, disjointed and vaguely uninteresting, but you have to do what you can.

And just before I go, if you live in New York State you can see us on Saturday 22nd February at our own venue, The Homemade Aeroplane, in Catskill NY. 
Here's a link, you can read all about it here and book a seat: