Monday, 16 September 2013

The Ziggy Stardust Years

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As I find myself falling rather ungracefully into middle age, I've been gripped by the muse to ruminate and cogitate on how the guitar and guitar culture has affected (and infected) me over the past forty years. I suppose this is a love story of sorts, tainted occasionally with Greek tragedy and lifted again and again to a Blakeian epiphany by the vision of a guitar shop window on a rainy Tuesday morning, or the unexpected sound of a warm Jazzy Hendrix riff leaking out from a passing car's stereo.

I'll get to guitar shops later - those occult opium den's of the six-string fiddler - for now, I want to slowly dissolve the frame and swim back through the murky waters of time to early 1970's Britain. This was the era of power cuts, strikes, decimalisation, IRA bombings and Action Man play figures with roll neck sweaters and "gripping hands"...not necessarily in that order.

Culturally at that period, for us British kids of a certain age and persuasion, it was Glam Rock that was our musical baptism. I think for me it was the imagery rather than the music itself that first grabbed my attention. My earliest recollection is of Gary Glitter on TOTP's, pointing menacingly at me in that ridiculously grandiose camp way he had, bedecked in silver glitter and swirling all over the screen in psychedelic strobing patterns and negative bleach-outs courtesy of the (then a bit crap) BBC special effects department.

Even now it makes me feel a bit queasy looking back, and of course we all know how Mr Paul Gadd's star crashed and burned in later years - he had a powerful effect on lots of other young boys, but in a much more darker way than my early 70's tele-vision.

Actually, on reflection, I was much more terrified of Alvin Stardust. He was a 'pointer' par excellence. People around my age will probably remember him: head to toe black leather, dyed black Elvis quiff, scary sideburns, and really far too old to be doing that shit.The most terrifying thing was, he actually looked like my dad. In fact, I used to think he was my dad in drag or at least some kind of Jungian alter ego shadow self of my dad...anyway, I digress a little if not a lot.

Marc Bolan was a bit more benign in comparison to these two (and he didn't do the scary pointing stuff), and Bowie was just... uncomfortably but fascinatingly weird. Bowie's guitarist Mick Ronson though, pulled the glitter thing off I thought. The way he tossed that funny shaped object around with a bit of wood sticking out of it, like a weapon, and his golden tresses reminded me of the hairdo's some of the alien's used to have on Doctor Who. This was something else. I found Slade fun, but a tad too cartoony - I wanted more grown up stuff, exotic and a bit mysterious.

My dad played on and off in an orchestra and was really into jazz. I remember him practising scales on his clarinet and trumpet in the parental bedroom - much to the consternation and downright anger of my mum (and me and my sister too). I can still feel the coldness of the clasps on his black instrument cases, the blue or pinky-red velvety lining, and then this strange mechanical creature just sitting there as if it was sleeping - which I suppose it was.

Unfortunately, rather than being gripped by an urge to express any budding musical talent I may have possessed when holding these instruments...I turned them into imaginary firearms. The clarinet morphed into a Winchester rifle or a sten gun, the trumpet became a weird pre-steampunk blunderbuss or sci-fi laser cannon. My old man tried to get me interested in the musical value of these exotic items, but to little avail. But still burning at the back of my mind somewhere was Mick Ronson and his (what I learned later) Les Paul electric guitar.

I was to get my own Les Paul (of sort's) a few years later. But over the intervening years I got through a few tennis rackets and my first real guitar - a cheap steel string acoustic that was painful in more ways than one. But first there was Tizwas, the rock opera of Queen, The Marc Bolan Show, The Old Grey Whistle test, the rudeness of Punk and the Friday Night Rock Show to get through.

~ H-Allen