Tuesday, 27 January 2015

musical box

I know it's true, oh so true,
'cause I saw it on tv

The Welsh have a word hiraeth which translates loosely to a "homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed". In Wikipedia it is defined as "a longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness an earnest desire" for Wales really but you can see its usefulness as a term. As with most words we borrow from other languages it'll be used wrongly anyway so I'm happy to misuse it. I think of it as a way of thinking about the past and its pull. There's a great piece here about it.

There are loads of people around who do not have much yearning for the past and don't grieve over lost opportunities and that's a good thing really. Many artists, writers and other creative types do, however, have such a pull and it can lead to quite emotionally charged music for one thing. I've been accused often of being a bit of a nostalgic chap (or "wallowing in self-loathing for missed opportunities" - is there a word in any language for that?) so its appeal as a concept for me is obvious.

My last post mentioned a current project of writing and recording songs that use the sounds of 1960s and '70s organs and along with this is the sound of acoustic 12 string guitars. Some readers may guess what's coming. Because of this I have been exploring some old favourite songs. My youth and early listening experiences were steeped in what is known as Prog Rock, yer 'onour. I'm not going to make any apologies for that as we all have to start somewhere. I've mentioned more about this recently in my post about Alan Hull. Once I discovered folk, Richard Thompson and Ry Cooder all that changed but occasionally certain sounds suggest themselves and there is a need to go back and search them out. It was such a search that has led me to the here and now where I have a feeling of disappointment with some past opportunities - and not my own I hasten to add. A sort of hiraeth for other people's lost opportunities.

Having grown up in those exciting times long before MTV and 24 hour musical assault, it was wonderful to get the opportunity to watch bands playing on tv. Bands started regularly appearing on programmes like The Old Grey Whistle Test and we sort of got a chance to see what these guys - it was mostly guys - were doing. Or did we? For musicians it must have been a real boon. In those days there weren't many guides to playing instruments like the ridiculous amount that's available nowadays. This obviously led to many youngsters experimenting and making lots of wonderful serendipitous mistakes that meant there was a huge spike in creativity. However, for a non-musician like myself it was often a disappointing missed opportunity.

Let me clarify a few things here. I don't consider myself as a musician. I play various guitars and mess about writing songs occasionally but I know that I have never practised enough or have the talent many of my friends do. I am happy with that (cf above re the wallowing in self-loathing point). Honest. Also, I left a question dangling above and that's the point here. Did we really get a chance to see what all these creative types were doing? Maybe there was enough for genuinely talented musicians to figure stuff out but I seem to remember finding the experience constantly frustrating.

The reason I found it all so frustrating is illustrated here. Why did the producers, directors and artists all collude in this wasted opportunity? Was it because the artists themselves didn't want anyone to know how or what they were playing? Or was it because the programme makers didn't understand that there were hundreds - possibly thousands - of young wannabe musos out there trying to figure out how to play their favourite songs? Watching what the guitarist was doing with his picking hand was interesting up to a point but seeing a plectrum being wiggled or a spidery hand clawing at the strings wasn't that educational. In the case of all these talented musicians, their left hand may have known what the right hand was doing but I bloody well didn't! I wanted to know what string, fret and finger was doing what on the pointy end of the damned thing.

On top of frustrating myself and countless other less talented guessers out there in the new emergent musical tv land, they also kept putting photos of the band on or pictures of the cover as in the following European tv programme from 1972 (Dutch possibly). Whenever the band goes into a solo the producers put a mosaic picture of the cover of their latest opus over the screen or a close up of the singer's face during the bits when he's not singing. I mentioned this point in my last post I know but here I have found a perfect example of what I mean.

Those of a nervous disposition and a fear of acoustic 12 string guitars, mellotrons and badly played flutes should check this out with the sound switched off. No fox's heads or Ossie Clark red dresses were worn during the making of this programme.

So, there we are. I've indulged a little bit of hireath, found a good example to use and brought it all in well under a thousand words. I wish you all a good day.

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