Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Satellite Les Paul Copy

The first records that I actually bought myself were, in no particular order: Ian Dury's 'Hit me With your rhythm stick', Blondie's 'Heart of glass' and Elvis Costello's 'Olivers Army'. It was an interesting time for pop in the late 70's, Punk had exposed the flabby decadence of the old guard of rock and had sewn the seeds for alternative waves of new music to flourish.

I have to admit, at the time when Punk first broke, I was a little too young to fully comprehend it, and anyway, the supposed old guard of rock were still very young and exciting to me. I quite liked the overblown stadium vibe that these old dinosaurs emanated (except for Genesis...and maybe ELP).

It was around '78/79 that I began to get deeper into pure rock music - the harder stuff. The names of these bands themselves started to fascinate me: Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Pink Floyd...and yes, Status Quo.

Quo were quite big back then for the aspiring rock guitarist. They still had some street cred and, most importantly, could be seen in all there glory at a reasonable hour on tv shows like Top of the Pops and Tizwas for example. Four guys with long hair in denim, leaning back and playing chugging rock 'n roll. Me and my cousin must have drawn literally hundreds of pictures of Rossi and co and their Telecasters and Fender Jazz Bass - drummers were a bit boring back then, sorry to say.

Besides the occasional serious mainline rock injection from catching the Old Grey Whistle Test now and again (allowed to stay up late), it was Mr Tommy Vance and his Friday Rock Show on Radio One that was to become my - excuse the cheesiness - 'School of Rock' from '78 onwards. I can't remember how I came upon the show, if I just found it twiddling the dial or someone told me, but I was gripped for two hours every Friday night between ten and twelve, lost in this vast deep dark ocean of noodling guitars, strange esoteric names, chainsaw riffs and Tommy Vance's weird ersatz America meets Croydon accent. It was a very strange brew.

But for years, it was the great font of rock knowledge for many young kids like me. There was no Internet then and only 3 channels on tv, so you had to be fully switched on to catch a glimpse of this kind of music, especially as New Wave, Disco and real turgid pop was the staple in the mainstream media. Remember, Punk had given Rock a kick up the arse a bit earlier - which was a good thing - but no need to throw the baby out with the bath water eh.

What was great about TFRS was the way it exposed you to so much music, so many bands under what could be called the rock/metal/prog/psychedelic banner. The more you heard, the more you wanted to run out to the record shop and possess this music NOW! Fortunately, there was something of a palliative - recording music on blank C90 cassettes on the old (state of the art) 'tape deck'.

I had piles and piles of these badly recorded tapes, and was forever losing the cases, or treading on the bloody things with bare feet while stumbling out of bed in a morning. All this music was great and genuinely fed my soul, but it just reminded me of how badly I needed a guitar - preferably an electric one too.

The moment finally came to pass at Christmas time 1980/81. I'd pestered my mum for yonks until she'd finally relented and ordered a red sunburst Satellite Les Paul copy from her mail order catalogue. I remember when it came, I was in dream land, floating on air. I took delivery at the door and knew what it was from the box, but was forbidden to open the box before Christmas day. My mum put it in the wardrobe for a week before the great day - although in the intervening period I managed to grab a few sly peeks when she was out by bending the long edge back against the Selotape and catching a glimpse of the body or a few frets.

Technically, this wasn't my first guitar, I'd dabbled on a borrowed nylon string acoustic on and off, but it just wasn't the same, too spongy and the action was ridiculous. Luckily enough though I'd managed to get that in tune (with some pitch pipes) and managed to nail five chords - C G D A and Em. I mean, according to the Punk aesthetic this made me a more than qualified guitar player.

When I finally opened that guitar box properly I would at first just prop that Les Paul on the settee and gaze at it for ages, checking out the lines, watching the various parts catch the sun. I loved the weight and solidity of that guitar. I immediately felt more rooted in the world of real musicians; as I fretted the strings and swung that instrument around I was feeling and sensing what they were - even if my axe was only a copy. Took a while to get used to those steel strings though and the action wasn't brilliant - a lesson in pain and endurance.

The next problem was to be getting myself an amp. We were a single parent family so I was just glad to get the guitar for the moment and my mum understood that and promised an amp for my birthday a couple of months later. Besides, my cousin now had a guitar and amp and was happy to let me plug into his little combo for a regular jam.

I was so happy when I first plugged that guitar in and it actually WORKED - MY electric guitar was chiming out of that little combo, I was making a real guitar 'noise' (literally) after all those years of longing. Even better, I discovered I could plug it into the axillary jack of the record player and I got a better sound than my cousin's amp - a distorted fuzzy growl. I'll never forget that day when me and a friend were lounging in my bedroom with the windows flung open on a summer afternoon and I was attempting (a very bad) version of 'Smoke on the Water' while he fiddled with the lead into the back of the record player. I was dubious it would work, so was only half paying attention, when...Duh Duh Der Dah! Shit, that's it! I was That Ritchie Blackmore sound live.

That guitar kept me going for a couple of years until it finally began to seriously fall apart (not only my playing but poorly made components) and I progressed to a Fender Strat. I recall waving the old 'Les Paul' goodbye, handing the body and neck in two separate parts to a friend of a friend as a freebie and feeling a little bit sad to see it finally go. R.I.P.

~ H-Allen