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A Shout From The Attic: Youth And Confusion - 9

...The wood was blond and varnished to a high shine, the fingerboard was inlaid with delicate traceries of nacre, the edge of the soundboard was trimmed aorund with inlaid mother-of-pearl in an exquisite pattern, and the sound hole was ringed around with a delicious and intricate ornamentation of pearl, ivory, and ebony to form a bejewelled mouth through which the romantic tones of traditional Flamenco must soon pour forth to fill the air with melodic consecrations – as soon as I figured out how to work it!...

Ronnie Bray recalls finding his first guitar in a dustbin.

La Guitarra

My grasp of Spanish is slightly on the lean side, and the title is pure affectation. La Guitarra, as you who holiday in Torry Molly Noss will know, means ‘The Guitar.’ During my lifetime, I have owned a total of five of these exciting instruments. At present I have an Epiphone electric, and my previous ones were a small electric child’s guitar made by the Kay Company somewhere in the Far East that I bought for five pounds at Woolworth’s in Huddersfield because it was broken. I mended it with a piece of Matt’s Lego and a screwdriver.

I had a splendid Grant, which was a Japanese copy of a Les Paul SG200 that I used when I was a semi-professional singer, that my son Pete bought from me, and an ‘F’ hole bow-bellied acoustic that brother Arthur gave me, and ‘The’ anonymous eponymous ‘Guitar’ of this account.

‘The Guitar’ was my first guitar. At the time I acquired it, my intention was to become either a concert pianist, thank you Franz Liszt, an operatic tenor, thank you Richard Tauber and Tito Gobi, or a film star, naturally in the hope that I could get near to Elizabeth Taylor with whom I fell in love in “National Velvet” at the Picturehouse in Ramsden Street before they knocked it down to put up the concrete monstrosities that surround the piazza adjacent to the Bomb-proof Bunker (alias the New Market Hall), in the fond hope that she of the beautiful dark eyes and milky mile-wide smile would fall in love with me!

The accounts of how each of these ambitions was frustrated will have to wait for another time, but suddenly there was ‘The Guitar!’ That I got it at all is a tribute to non-approved activities in forbidden places. The forbidden place was the grounds of Huddersfield Royal Infirmary in New North Road, and the non-approved activity was first, being there, and second, rummaging through the dustbins outside the nurses’ home. I came, I looked, I found! Veni, vidi, er … well, anyway, Vine, yo miraba, yo encontré, which is Spanish for Eureka!

Sticking out of one of the dustbins was the beautiful neck of an even more beautiful guitar. It was The Guitar. The first time I plucked a guitar was when I plucked the Guitar out of the waste receptacle and carried it home in triumph to inspect it in the privacy of my attic bedroom. I had a treasure.

The wood was blond and varnished to a high shine, the fingerboard was inlaid with delicate traceries of nacre, the edge of the soundboard was trimmed aorund with inlaid mother-of-pearl in an exquisite pattern, and the sound hole was ringed around with a delicious and intricate ornamentation of pearl, ivory, and ebony to form a bejewelled mouth through which the romantic tones of traditional Flamenco must soon pour forth to fill the air with melodic consecrations – as soon as I figured out how to work it!

I was not completely ignorant of these machines, because I had seen cowboys magically produce them around the campfire when all the cows were tucked up in their beds, and I knew you held the fat part of it under one arm and did things with the wires with the fingers of your free hand. I settled down to charm the creatures of the night, a large number of which lived under flaps of wallpaper in my bedroom, and others curled up in the bedsprings until they sensed body heat, when they emerged to gorge themselves.

My knuckles dragged themselves across the wires whilst my face took on one of those looks that Spaniards adopt when playing broad necked guitars and thinking about life, love, and death. But instead of a breathtaking melody there came a series of discordant twangs. Perhaps the wire things needed tightening. I began tightening them, turning the machine heads until the first string made a pleasant note, and then went to the next one. I didn’t know that there was a pattern to be observed when tuning guitar strings, but I turned the machine heads until something resembling a musical note came from the second string, then the third, then the fourth. As I tightened string five, something strange happened.

Perhaps I have not fully conveyed my intense excitement at finding The Guitar and transporting it to my lofty lair, but as intense as it was, it was about to be reduced to a piercing mortification. As I tensioned the fifth string, the soundboard began to curl up from the bottom! More tension produced more curl. Less tension gave less curl but the sound was atrocious. Although I had not asked the question “Why would anyone put such a beautiful guitar into a dustbin?” at that moment, I knew what the answer was to the question.

If I were to come across The Guitar today, I would split off the back, fix the soundboard to the sides by affixing support blocks using one of the miraculous wood adhesives available today, and then, after re-gluing the back into position (as I did with Arthur’s guitar when it was returned damaged after I let a friend borrow it for a gig), I would lift one of the legs of the dining table and set it down on top to keep it static until morning when it would be as good as new. In nineteen forty nine that kind of technology was not part of my skill-set, and the only glue was made from horses hooves and fish bones, and needed a double glue pot and a big sticky brush, and I had access to none of them.

Although it did not help me become pianist, singer, or world renowned film actor, and Elizabeth Taylor did not return my adoration, The Guitar in its dying moments did make a contribution to my athletic endeavours as I jumped on it repeatedly! And in the heap of matchwood and tangle of tuneless wires, my interest in and acquaintance with guitars were frozen for thirty-five years until an encounter with a guitar-vocalist led to a resumption of interest, and induced me to take steps to burst into the sparkling world of entertainment. But, that’s another story!

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