Treading The Boards Again

Some time around the late 1990s I left the band I’d been playing with for a couple of years when it became apparent that our search for a new singer was going nowhere. The previous singer had been fired because of his reluctance to learn songs, show up at rehearsals, pitch in looking for gigs or help with the carting of equipment into/out of wherever we were playing – that particular mixture of prima donna aloofness coupled with bone-idleness often simply known as LSD (lead singer disease).

But I digress… the point is that I quit the band & then a load of stuff happened in my personal life. Getting married for a start, as well as taking on some new work teaching guitar in schools. I just didn’t have the time to go out & gig any more. You know what it’s like, once you get out of the habit of doing something, you soon lose the will to do it. Before I knew where I was I’d been out of the live music scene for ten years. I then made the mistake of trying to put together my “dream” band.

“The Sweeney” was a ’70s tribute band made up of myself, a guitar student of mine on rhythm guitar & vocals, plus the bass player from his old band & a drummer we picked up along the way. It did not go well – you know that band we’ve all been in? The one that takes six months in the practice room & is no tighter at the end of it than on day one? That was this band to a “T”. I was in a band with people who imagined it was acceptable to not return phone calls about availability for gigs; who thought it was perfectly OK to pitch up to the rehearsal having not learned any of their parts; who seemed perplexed at the idea that anyone (me) might be in any way hacked off at the general lack of courtesy shown. I eventually pulled the plug and walked away vowing to never get involved with playing live again – there was no way I needed the grief. Until…

I began working as a radio presenter at PalaceFM, a new community radio station in Redcar, the town I call home. The station manager there suggested that we do a “live lounge” slot on the Friday drive show. She plays the guitar and is one heck of a singer & we seemed to have an easy way of jamming together where we could tell what each other was going to do with the song almost intuitively. So now we’ve decided to take the whole thing out on the road. No backing tracks, as is often the way with duos, we’re just doing it naked (musically speaking). Just a couple of guitars, a couple of vocals, & maybe a bit of tambourine. And I have to say it is SO liberating!

For example I put together a bunch of rock ‘n roll tunes into a medley, but I was never really happy with the ending. So I changed it. Just like that. No having to worry about the drummer or bass player fluffing the newly arranged part, or fretting about if what you think will work in your head will actually hang together when the full band gets their hands on it – I effectively am the full band & if it works when I’m playing it on the sofa in front of the TV, then I know it’ll work at the next gig. Myself & Dee (aforementioned station manager at PalaceFM & singer in this little enterprise) have been rehearsing for only a couple of weeks & now we’ve got the full set pretty much in the can. How many bands have you been in which have got their act together (in a literal sense) that quickly?

Yes, there are compromises to be made – a single guitar (or maybe two) is never going to sound as full as a “proper” band, but I’m loving the challenges involved in making each song work as a solo guitar accompaniment. Usually it’s a case of having to figure out what to do when the singing stops & the guitar solo kicks in. You can’t just launch into a blazing bit of lead guitar with no chords or even a bass line behind you. No, you have to try and hint at the chord sequence by letting open string drones hang underneath little double-stop based instrumental parts which give the whole thing a bit of shape beyond just some “campfire” chord strumming, which you can get away with behind the vocals. Here is an example of what I’m talking about, this is the famous riff from Status Quo’s “Rockin’ All Over The World”. Finding ways like this of keeping some kind of melodic content going whilst bashing out an accompaniment at the same time is a skill I’ve never really used before & I’m having to learn as I go. For the first time in ages, being a gigging musician has fired up my imagination, I’m learning new skills and I’m having fun. Which is how I remember it being all those years ago before I allowed myself to become so jaded. You CAN teach an old dog new tricks, it seems.

Oh, I almost forgot… The duo is called “The Palace Buskers” & you can hear a roughly put together demo showing off Dee’s fantastic vocals here.

John Robson Guitar Tuition & Musicianship Coaching


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