Voltarol - related music

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Voltarol rides again!

Thanks to Jules for the picture

After an arthritis driven lay-off I have just played my guitar in public for the first time in three years. Many would say that my absence from public performance was no great loss but for me, my return to playing was quite a significant moment. I have had arthritis in my hands for about nine years now, and for the last five or six of them there has been an increasing tendency for them to lock up at unlikely moments. At first this would only happen after quite a few hours of continuous playing but then it began to happen more frequently. Eventually the inevitable happened and they locked up in mid chord change, mid gig.

Despite having a total involvement with music from quite an early age (see the various autobiographical postings of this blog) I have never had great manual dexterity. Most of my more dexterous friends acquired their initial guitar playing skills quite rapidly and I was left way behind, but – as with the tortoise and the hare – my consistent plodding eventually got me to a standard that I was not ashamed of and I went on to play with some damn good musicians. So when the inevitable happened and I could no longer rely on my hands, I took the decision to stop playing guitar and switched to my other discipline, percussion.

The guitar, which had been a more or less constant part of my life for the last 48 years, was now something I didn’t even want to look at. Instead of being kept on a stand in my living room where I could pick it up whenever the fancy took me – which had been about once every half hour – it was returned permanently to its case and stashed under the bed. For the next two years I continued to convince myself that – since I could no longer play to the standard that I had been capable of, there was no point in playing at all. Then one day I just said ‘sod it’ and got the guitar out again.

At first I struggled. My fingers had lost their calluses as well as their flexibility, but I would play for ten or fifteen minutes at a stretch and within a couple of months I was playing for anything up to an hour at a time. I realised how much I had missed it and also that, provided that I didn’t attempt to play fast jazz changes any more, my hands were no longer locking up. Eventually I felt ready to play with someone else again and gave an old mate a call. He and I had played guitar duets together on and off over the last twenty odd years, and we’d also been in bands together during that time. We got together one evening for a session and were soon playing once a week and assembling a repertoire.

Last Wednesday we toddled along to a local pub that was running an acoustic evening and we played four numbers to a mildly receptive crowd. I made a few mistakes and we didn’t set the world on fire, but ultimately it was far more important to me than anything I’ve done in a long time and I realised that I had just leapt over a major psychological barrier and landed safely. I’m already looking forward to the next gig and am playing with a lot more freedom and originality than I have for a long time. The only downside is that someone videoed the performance and, watching the footage, I realise how much face pulling I do when I’m playing…