Talent

Talent. It is a strange thing. Some people ooze it without effort while others strive for it. A talent is a gift and it is a shame when a talent isn’t used.

I purchased a guitar for my eldest son Paul when he was quite small. He picked at it and strummed it as small kids do and then it gathered dust. I did try to teach him some chords but he seemed to have little interest. He took up violin in school and actually became quite good at it. He did study music as well.

One long hot Houston summer, I came home from work to discover Paul playing my electric guitar. Hours and hours on end in his room he strummed and played. after a few days, he could already play solos I could not. He asked for lessons and so I took him to a local guitar teacher for beginners. Within a couple of weeks, he was well past that teacher and so we found another. This one kept him going for about 6-months and then he was done too. We needed a real guitar virtuoso – a shredder who knew the theory and we found one in the shape of Joel Gregoire.

Within a few months of lessons from Joel, Paul was playing beyond anything I had ever witnessed. He had been playing a few months and was already capable of intricate and complex and fast (was he ever fast) compositions. Of course, he loved music like Opeth and other guitar-oriented metal and progressive rock bands and tried to emulate them. He entered a national competition and although very nervous and shy, he won the local round! He hit a few bum notes but otherwise wowed everyone present.

He started composing too and we went in to a local studio and came out with Flight of the Mongoose. Flight of the Mongoose was a hit with the music community being download thousands of times. He worked with Joel to record a couple of other tracks as well. He spent a summer at the Berkeley School of Music in Boston. If I had been him, I would have been in bands, playing live and looking for fame and fortune. But not Paul. He wasn’t good enough you see and couldn’t seem to understand that it is the little imperfections that make music interesting.

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His talent went to waste through college. When he emerged again, his musical taste had changed and so when he picked up the guitar again he chose to emulate the Gypsy Jazz players he so admired. Again, he recorded little bits and pieces but that search for perfection seems to always haunt him.

These days he has a job and he is busy. He is already looking at 30. He is the best guitarist I have ever seen or heard (other than Joel Gregoire). But other than for this sneaky post and one or two book promo videos I made using his guitar as a background, that seems destined to be a secret. Its a shame I think. I would have given my left leg to play like he does…

Oh, don’t get me started on his hockey and American Football talents either……

What it taught me as a father is that, while you can encourage your kids to develop their talents, you cannot live life through them. They want different things and have different needs and in the end, it is their life.

(Click the links to listen and download)

Here are a couple of book promotion videos I made using some of Paul’s more recent work as music.

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Japan and Birmingham

I play a lot of music during the day as I work in my home office. It never ceases to amaze me the power of music. In particular, its power to evoke memories and trigger mood and emotional responses. If I want to meditate, I simply go to youtube these days and select a nice suitable piece of music and I am off to other spheres…..

Today, I played some Japan. It has been a long time since I did and I was immediately transported back to Birmingham and 1979. My best friend at college – Steve – introduced me to Japan one afternoon at his flat. We were playing Dungeons and Dragons and he put one of their albums on. I loved the music and the deep rumbling of David Sylvian’s voice. I immediately went out and bought that record – and the next and the next. I devoured Japan music. Now, I listen and I am back in that room all of those years ago……. that is the power of music. 35-years on but ‘Nightporter’ sends me back in time every time.

I also went to see Japan. In Glasgow while doing my Ph.D. Perhaps they were an acquired taste but I could get no one to go with me and so I went alone. Amazing evening. Given it was a sell out at the Glasgow Apollo I have to wonder why none of my friends wanted to go? The music of Japan accompanied me to Nova Scotia and periodically through my life. I still adore David Sylvian’s voice and have two of his solo efforts too.

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It makes me wonder. What music will I associate with now? In a few years time, will I be transported back to my office in our apartment here in Brno by the sound of some artist or song? I guess I will.

Here is some David Sylvian to float to –

 

 

Cosmic Dancer

On Friday I will be going to see Slade. Yes – Slade. Without Noddy Holder but the rest of them including slimy Dave Hill will be playing.

I didn’t much like Slade back in the 1970’s. I was into the more gentle magic of Marc Bolan and T.Rex and Slade seemed raucous and too down to earth. There was no magic, no white swans or Wizards with Slade – just poor spelling and loud music. I moved from T.Rex to Status Quo. Corkscrew hair and spandex was replaced by greasy hair and denim. Fantasy was replaced with a gritty, monotonous reality of life in the north.

Of course, now I look back and enjoy a lot of the music of that era. Even stuff I detested at the time now has a certain nostalgia about it. I’m not sure the music has got better just that it takes me back to a simpler time, a more innocent time for me. I shall enjoy Slade on Friday night and I may try to take in Suzi Quattro next year when she visits Brno too.

I have said before how for me music can evoke memory, mood and magic. The opening bars of Hotel California always send me back to an outdoor bar in the south of France and a wonderful holiday, and The Jean Genie always puts me in a schoolroom for some reason.

Even as I type this I am listening to music – Blackfield. The whole of their first CD reminds me of a day in Austin, TX. The whole of their second album makes me want to write poetry and every single line of every poem in Moon Whispers was written listening to that CD. I use music for mood. I can relax or energize with music and everything in between.

Marc Bolan captured a bit of how music works for me in Cosmic Dancer….So here he is to explain…

I was dancing when I was twelve
I was dancing when I was aah
I danced myself right out the womb
Is it strange to dance so soon
I danced myself right out the womb

I was dancing when I was eight
Is it strange to dance so late
I danced myself into the tomb
Is it strange to dance so soon
I danced myself into the tomb

Marc Bolan.

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The Power of a Song!

It’s just a song

But it echoes of yesterday.

Memories are triggered

By a simple set of chords.

Images floating on by

Regrets or perhaps simply

Happy cherished memories.

The simple power of a song

Was that a good time?

If only I could go back there

Meet people and go back to places

Now long gone and passed by

Perhaps meaningless at the time

Taken in with that fleeting feeling

Of immortality that only comes

With the arrogance of our youth.

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Smoke on the Water (and Everywhere Else Too)

I got my first guitar when I was 12. It was an acoustic. My father also got a guitar at the same time and while he focused on learning notes I focused on chords. He and I would play various folk songs where he would pick out the melody to my chords….

At age 14, I was bought a Woolworth’s electric and small amplifier. Of course, I was soon ‘jamming’ with other kids and we formed a band called Brutus shortly thereafter. actually, we simply met one night a week to sit chatting, strumming and tasting my Dad’s home-made beer shandy. Brutus however eventually became Nemo and Nemo had a weekly practice at the Conservative Club up in Willerby Square. Eventually, we could actually play a few songs…. passingly. The crappy woolies guitar was soon replaced by my pride and joy that sits across from me now. A Cleartone Musical Industry Telecaster Custom copy in black with maplewood neck. I did a paper round 5 nights a week for nearly two-years to buy it!

Nemo had a few line up changes and then we went into a local studio and recorded two songs. One written by me and the other a rock and roll classic. It was time to do our first proper gig.

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So the five of us, none older than 16, found ourselves at some church hall one night the main feature – after the disco of course…. We wanted it to look good and we had invested in a few colored lights and two smoke bombs. The idea was to open with Smoke on the Water in darkness bringing up our coloured lights as the smoke from the two smoke bombs took effect. It would be a cool way to begin.

The moment came. Finding number one is that it is difficult to play in the dark on a small cramped stage but we managed. Finding number 2 is that smoke bombs create a lot of smoke. By the time we were two or three riffs into the song, it was apparent that the smoke was over done. So over done that the place had to be evacuated!

Our first gig ended after 4 bars of Smoke on the water with the fire brigade and 60 kids stood outside the church hall waiting in the cold to be allowed back in again.

We learned.

No more smoke bombs.

What Happened to Music?

OK – now I am going to sound like my parents but, can anyone explain to me what happened to music?

Am I the only one that thinks that what passes for ‘popular’ music these days is complete and utter sh*one*t? Not only that but what happened to self respect? Much of the ‘music’ I hear on the radio is not just mono-tonal and monotonous crap but the lyrics leave a lot to be desired too. One song that gets played a lot over here has some guy singing about how he is gonna have a lazy day and get him some ‘nice’ sex. Lucky him but – it that a topic for a song? There are several songs that simply seem to use the F word at every opportunity too and the accompanying videos are essentially simply soft porn.

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You know, I am sorry, but this isn’t art, it isn’t music and its not much fun either. It’s crap. It is synthetic, over the top, shock value crap designed to make some untalented showoff or exhibitionist a bunch of money at our expense.

Just recently, I read an article where they examined popular music over the last 50-years. The result? Today’s so called music is the least complex and least tuneful music yet.

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Ok. I know that sex sells and that it takes an exhibitionist to sustain a career in the pop industry. But there appears to be one rather large difference in general between people like David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Elvis Presley and today’s instantly forgotten stars. Talent.