For the first article to appear in the “Are you Experienced?” Guitar Jar feature, I thought I’d kick off proceedings by recalling the first time I ever played the guitar in front of a live audience.
…we were absolutely buzzing about the fact we were finally playing a gig. The mix of nerves and excitement will live with me forever…
Back in the somewhat hedonistic days of the mid-nineties, when the Spice Girls ruled the charts, Robbie Williams was properly fat and it was OK for Liam Gallagher to wear a full-length Parka jacket in the heat of midsummer, I left home to attend Coventry University. I’d visited Coventry numerous times prior to attending Uni, so I was well aware of the City; the history of the blitz, that ring-road and Coventry’s musical past. As a student walking through the streets of Coventry at night, “Ghost Town” by The Specials never seemed more apt.
I never completed my Uni course. In fact, I never even made it into the second term of my first year. However, I probably had the best three months of my life. Those were the days when Student Loans and Student Grants were issued, so I had approximately £1500 to spend on whatever I wanted (booze). In hindsight, I should have done what “Jimmy” did. Jimmy was a fellow fresher in the halls of residence and he blew his loan on a Fender Stratocaster and Marshall amp. Wise move, but at the time my thoughts were strictly focussed on partying (any Coventry readers remember The Planet?).
I arrived in Coventry with approximately 2 months experience of playing the guitar. At that time, I owned a Yamaha Pacifica and Crate practice amp (sold to me by Jon from Guitar Mania). I didn’t even know what an effects pedal was and I could barely play 5 chords, let alone any lead guitar. Looking back now, it seemed that my lack of musical knowledge made way for pure enthusiasm and energy. I didn’t care that I couldn’t play like my guitar heroes, I just wanted to jam with other likeminded individuals and make a lot of noise.
Soon after meeting some fellow muso’s, the students of Coventry Uni ’96 had (what we thought) a kick-ass band, where Pacifica’s and Aria’s were the order of the day, overdrive was at maximum and we were all fuelled on a stable diet of Tennants Super and a pack of Bensons. We called the band “Honeyrider” named after the legendary Bond girl.
After three months of honing our skills it all came to what seemed a crashing end. My Student Loan ran out by Christmas and I realised very quickly that undertaking a course in “Automotive Engineering including Thermo Fluid Dynamics” (what was I thinking!!!) didn’t really mix with my then-lifestyle. So back to the sunny South Coast, to start an acquaintance of numerous jobs that involved factory production lines, hairnets and extreme boredom; where listening to “Pop Master” (even with Ken Bruce’s dull voice) was by far the highlight of each day.
…the gig instilled a passion in me to play the guitar more and to jam with as many musicians as I can…
A couple of months after leaving Coventry I received a phone call asking if I’d like to come back for a night to play a gig. This was a momentous landmark in my life, knowing at last I had the opportunity to “play” the guitar in front of an audience. The next day I skipped work, got the train to Cov and headed straight to the halls of residence to practice the set list. I seem to recall we practiced a few Beatles and Oasis covers, including “Help!”, “Talk Tonight” and “Live Forever”. The venue for the gig was the aptly named “Beer Engine” pub, situated on Far Gosford Street. Far Gosford Street in my mind is possibly the coolest road in the whole of the city, littered with quirky shops and pubs.
In those days, because our ability to play our instruments was so limited, I even played the drums for “Help!”. The highlight of the evening for me though was standing alongside the good friends I made, playing to a heaving crowd. I remember how we (Honeyrider) were absolutely buzzing about the fact we were finally playing a gig. The mix of nerves and excitement will live with me forever. The Beer Engine couldn’t have got any more people in that night and despite our somewhat amateur playing, our enthusiasm flowed in bucket loads.
My lasting memory is looking up at the coloured lights thinking “that’s annoyingly bright and I can’t see the crowd or the fretboard” – little did I know then that bright lights and small stages is “de rigueur” for a lot of gigs.
The gig at the Beer Engine was my first and still one of my most enjoyable. It instilled a passion in me to play the guitar more and to jam with as many musicians as I can. In my mind, there’s nothing like playing live – even if it goes pear-shaped, there’s something special about playing to a live audience, where you can connect musically with fellow listeners.
I’ve got a lot of respect for Coventry and its residents. Just don’t make the naive mistake that I did and wear your “team colours” down Far Gosford Street (unless they’re sky blue) – but that’s a story for another day…