When I was a child, I so badly wanted to play the guitar. Now I’m a grown-up, I play the guitar so badly. My dream has come true!
Here I sit, in the back row of the concert hall, my fingers drumming softly on the burnished curve of my steel-string Ibanez, my knee shaking, my heartbeat tripping, as the music teacher turns around and announces: “Next we have Max and Dad…” She looks at the piece of paper in her hand, raises an eyebrow: “With a guitar duet.”
There is a light patter of applause, like butterfly wings flapping in my stomach, and I heft my guitar and it bangs against the leg of the chair, making a sound more pleasing to the ear than any I have managed to coax from its strings. And yet, it is too late to run screaming out of the back door now. Besides, it is a duet.
Max has his blue electric Ibanez starter-model in one hand, and his little black amplifier in the other, and we are making our way to the front, like soldiers into battle, the air around us filled with the rustling noise that eyebrows make when they are raised in curiousity and disbelief.
I am thinking, I wish we’d had more time to practise, and, in two minutes this will be over, and, where are we supposed to sit? There are some steps at the foot of the stage.
I sit on the top one, my guitar cradled in my hands in the classical manner of one who has mastered every art of the guitar except how to play it. Max sits next to me, the cable snaking in his hand, looking for a point to plug it into.
The adjudicator, a young man who looks as if he knows how to play the guitar, gets up from his chair, sensing a slight stutter in the schedule. A schoolboy disappears behind the velvet curtain, ruffles around, and reappears, shrugging. This is going to take longer than two minutes.
I think back to the day when the newsletter was affixed to the fridge, and a finger tapped the word “Eisteddfod”, and a suggestion was floated in jest: “You and Max should do a guitar duet.” Only, as it turned out, it wasn’t a suggestion. And it wasn’t in jest.
I shook my head, put my feet down, stood firm against the onslaught. And then, slowly, my arm was twisted. Look, it is really difficult to play the guitar properly with a twisted arm. Well, that’s my excuse.
But the Eisteddfod was still three weeks away, and maybe, by the time the big day rolled around, the whole crazy idea would have been forgotten. Then it was three days away. And it hadn’t been forgotten. I scrambled onto the Internet and found a song called “Solo Blues”, an easy piece for beginners.
If I played some bits, and Max played the other bits, perhaps, between the two of us, we might be able to sound half as good as one person playing all the bits. But we needed practise.
Strings buzzed, frets clicked, doors were shut discreetly, and winces turned politely into smiles when we asked people to stop by and listen. My fingers hurt. We were ready. Well, we weren’t but…ah.
Here comes the three-pin adaptor. Max plugs his guitar in, and it makes a squealing, wounded sound, drowned by a frying crackle. “Will you be singing?” asks the adjudicator, and I shake my head. He looks relieved. “Whenever you’re ready.”
I position my fingers, and start plucking. Max plays his bit. I play my bit. Perfectly, but on the wrong string. Max plays, I play. We both play, although not necessarily at the same time. And then, it is over. People clap heartily, as they do when certain Eisteddfod items are over, and a little later, we receive our certificate.
It has the name of one of the precious metals on it, not quite tin but not exactly platinum, and the adjudicator has scrawled a note: “Keep playing, guys!” I don’t think he meant right there and then, but just wait: we’ll be back. And this time, nobody in the hall is going to believe their ears.
*From this month’s edition of Your Family magazine