Guitars and Voices

As you would have guessed from my earlier blog, I love guitars and I love bands – I love the blend of guitar, drums and voice and the many ways that simple equation can go. Music is essential, I have always told my children – they have listened to music from the womb. Now I watch my newest grandson lie happily in his day bed while guitars and voices wash over him. Yes, he’s one of us – he’s only weeks old but music can already sooth and distract him.
On Christmas Eve, when it was almost impossible to get the kids to bed, we played James Galway to them, filling the house with flute music until they finally settled. I love all the instruments, many different kinds of music, but it is always the simple combination of guitar and voice that I come back to, time and again.
I love the range of emotional experience that can be wrought from that basic combination. Give Mark Knopfler a guitar and a mike and he will tell you tales of war, touring and a band he saw playing in a grotty little club somewhere. He will call on his Celtic heritage to move you to tears or laughter, he will mesmerise you with his guitar playing, those long elegant guitar fingers flowing over the strings.
The Australian band Powderfinger, with the same simple set up, will remind me who I am, and where I live, tell me stories of places and people I know and make me yearn for Queensland skies, wherever I am.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers, in spite of their name, will tell moving tales of loves lost, of the sights and sounds of their lives – and I could go on. The bands I love are each unique, the songs all drawn from life as I have known it too.
Watching Nirvana in their acoustic MTV gig is always a bittersweet thing – to see that humble but divinely talented young man joke that he has to clean up his language because Mum and Dad are in the audience (and then a shot of proud Mum and Dad – it breaks my heart) – Nirvana captured a whole disaffected generation with one phrase – “here we are now, entertain us”. Laughter and tears – only the finest artists can do that. When I heard the song that Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl wrote for Kurt Cobain the first time they met, I was deeply moved. One line – “when he sings, no one speaks” – is so true every time I watch the acoustic performance. What is there to say when someone is saying it all for you, taking you places you don’t want to be, but can’t bear to leave?
Of course, even that has been beautifully said in a song – Aretha Franklin’s “Killing me softly with his songs” was about Don Mclean but I think of it when I hear Shawn Mullins.
Music is essential, and people who shrug off modern music as `incomprehensible’ or `that awful noise’ don’t know what they are missing. To these people I say, just listen to it. These people are the new poets, they speak for all of us, not just the young.


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