Brian May’s guitar setup and bass guitars

I’m a sucker for articles or videos about Brian May’s handmade guitar, the Red Special. Premier Guitar has both, and is one of the best and most thorough that I’ve seen.

Something I didn’t realise was that in May’s original design for the guitar, which he built with his father, he had included an ‘F-hole’, like a violin. The article shows an arch top guitar that Andrew Guyton from Guyton Guitars built for him featuring that F-hole.

What is not featured on the video is that Brian May Guitars now make a large number of variations of his iconic guitar, including the original (in a variety of finishes), a mini guitar, an acoustic and now a bass.

I remember as a teenager making sketches of a bass guitar version of the Red May Special. I wonder if I still have them? I dreamed that one day I would build my own… maybe one day. Now I see that both Brian May Guitars and Guyton Guitars have built bass versions and they are quite beautiful pieces of craftsmanship.

There’s a new book scheduled to be published by Hal Leonard next month with the snappy title Brian May’s Red Special: the story behind the home-made guitar that rocked Queen and the world. More information on the Queen website.

Greensky Bluegrass

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a John 5 album which had some bluegrass influences, so I went in search of more bluegrass music on YouTube. I discovered this song “Demons” by Greensky Bluegrass, which is a jolly fine tune. Some splendid beards and facial hair too.

Oh I am a spaceman, a song by Reuben

This afternoon Reuben (5) told me that he wanted to write a song called “Oh I am a spaceman”. Who was I to say no?

We had such fun coming up with this song and then recording this demo on my phone. The lyric ideas were mostly Reuben’s and I wish that I had recorded the writing process because I can still hear his laughter as I read through the lyrics.

We demoed this song about six times. We chose this version not because it was the most pitch-perfect but because of Reuben’s enthusiastic drumming, his joining in with the singing, and his lovely laughter.

 

OH I AM A SPACEMAN

by Reuben J M Saunders (5) and Gareth J M Saunders (42)

Oh I am a spaceman
Standing on the moon
Looking down at planet Earth
I’m glad I’ve brought my spoon

Cos back there in the spaceship
Is my best friend Bert
He’s guarding the fridge from aliens
He’s protecting my yoghurt

My favourite flavour’s strawberry
And Bert’s favourite is lime
But when I bounced back to HQ
I discovered he’d eaten mine

So I opened up the space hatch
And pulled with all my might
Bert’s floating out in space now
He’s a yoghurt-y satellite

Oh I am a spaceman
Standing on the moon
Looking down at planet Earth
I’m now sad I brought my spoon

Written on a Sunday afternoon (4 May 2014) by Reuben J M Saunders (aged 5) and Gareth J M Saunders (aged 42). Lyrical ideas from Reuben, musical ideas from Gareth.

Recorded on a Google Nexus 4 using J4T Multitracker for Android.

Dodgy gig in Edinburgh

Dodgy playing live at Edinburgh's Electric Circus
Dodgy playing live at Edinburgh’s Electric Circus (L-R: Andy Miller, Nigel Clark, Mathew Priest)

On Wednesday evening I drove down to South Queensferry, teamed up with my brother Eddie, and the pair of us took the train in to Edinburgh Wavelery to see—what Wikipedia calls—’English power pop trio’ Dodgy in concert at The Electric Circus on Market Street (which is right next to the station).

The summer of 96

In 1996 I was working with homeless young people in London, and living in a very nice basement flat in Eccleston Square with my good friend (and former National Youth Choir of Great Britain member) Jonny Coore. We had a summer of beautiful weather. It was the summer of Euro 96, which was hosted by England, and the city was alive; the atmosphere was electric. It was the year that I got engaged for the first time. And the soundtrack to that summer of 1996 was Free Peace Sweet by Dodgy.

In many ways it was a strange choice of album for me. I was heavily into metal (still am), I was trying my hardest to avoid anything with the ‘Britpop‘ label, like Oasis and Blur, and yet here I was listening to Dodgy again and again and again.

But the song writing was fabulous, and I loved the use of acoustic guitars throughout the songs.

Live

I was always under the misconception that Dodgy were from Birmingham. Apparently they started out as a band called Purple, a trio from Bromsgrove and Redditch in Worcestershire, who moved to London had a few line-up changes and re-badged themselves as Dodgy.

So, they were in London in 1996. I was in London in 1996. How on earth did we never bump into each other?! I would have loved to have seen them in concert back then.

So I made up for it this time around. They were coming to Edinburgh on their UK tour. I live about 50 miles from Edinburgh. I bought a ticket. My brother bought a ticket. And on Wednesday evening, I stood about 10 feet from the tiny stage at The Electric Circus and grinned from ear to ear for about 90 minutes.

It was an intimate gig. Dodgy were fun, and professional, and played a fabulous set. Despite my dodgy back (no pun intended), which was really beginning to hurt by the end of the set, I could have stood and listened to them for another 90 minutes.

Guitarist Andy Miller stood stage left behind a lap steel guitar on a stand. His playing was intricate and delicate but never too much. At times his guitar sounded more like a keyboard and I loved it for that. Every now and then he would look out to the crowd and smile. He obviously seemed to be enjoying himself.

Vocalist, guitarist and bassist Nigel Clark stood centre of stage, armed for most of the evening with an acoustic guitar, occasionally taking bass for a few of their earlier hits. The rest of the evening bass duties were handled very comfortably by a friend of the band. There was a warmness and confidence about his stage presence that suited the venue.

Drummer Mathew Priest has a fabulously simple drum set-up but he plays it so melodically and with such space. If I was a drummer he’s the kind of drummer I would want to be. I enjoyed his between songs chats, and we all marvelled at his knitted drumstick warmers in what I presumed were Aston Villa colours.

Thank you Dodgy.

New album

Dodgy released a new album Stand Upright In A Cool Place earlier this year, from which this is a track

Playing live

I don’t get out much these days. That’s my choice. I have three small children and a wife to support. So when I do get out to see a live band it’s a real treat. I’m glad I made the effort this time. Dodgy live were more than I expected. The venue was much smaller than I had expected but as a result there was an intimacy and a relaxed feeling to the gig that I relished.

The gig also reminded me how much I miss playing in a band live. Maybe one day I’ll get back to it. I sure hope so.

As my brother and I stood on the platform at Edinburgh Waverley to catch our return to Dalmeny, Eddie asked me “So, have you got any other bands you’d like to see live on your… bucket list?”

If you don’t already know, a ‘bucket list’ is a list of things you’d like to do before you kick the bucket (die).

“Why?” I asked, “If I don’t are you just going to shove me in front of the next train?”

Dodgy were definitely on my list. I’ve scored them off now… but do you know what? I think I might just write “Dodgy” on that list again.

Epilogue

A few weeks ago I got a phone call from my Mum.

“Hello Mum!”

“What’s this I hear about you going to a dodgy gig?”

“The band are called Dodgy.”

“Ah… right,” she said, obviously sounding quite relieved.