Answers to those tricky questions, Part I
8/10/2008 (updated 8/10/2008)

June/July Questions

Do you think it's important for musicians starting out to have some kind of formal training, knowing how to read music etc, or do you favour the punk approach of picking up an instrument and just learning by bashing it out, and honing the craft on the road doing gigs a la REM? Some of my favourite musicians took the punk road and became very accomplished players without formal lessons but at the same time some of the virtuoso players (the late, great John Entwhistle for example) had previously had some formal background in music. So, what are your thoughts on this? Many thanks, Etty Dickinson, South London

We touched on this in last month’s Q & A, and I basically said that what worked for one kid didn’t necessarily work for another. I think on the whole you’re better to learn as much as you think you need, and as parents you’re best to follow the enthusiasm of the student. In popular music history, there are various levels of knowledge on display, from total three chord punk naives up to classically trained virtuosi. Some of the most interesting music is a mixture. On a lot of classic pop records, the singer and the song are often the simplest elements, and these are surrounded by session players, often really good trained or self-taught musos, who are ‘stepping down’ a notch to play pop, but sometimes throw in more sophisticated ideas. The arranger on the same session is usually classically trained, and again may provide something unexpected. In a lot of bands, you find a mixture of naïve and educated. You mention the Who – I don’t know Roger’s background – did he sing in the school choir? Keith, like most drummers, probably took lessons at some point. Pete took some Spanish Guitar. Entwhistle was fairly trained. I think that most people grab lessons wherever they can, and of course one of the main sources of information comes from fellow bandmates – bands nurture and teach each other, so it’s a very important step for a young musician to hook up with like-minded peers,

I’m not a huge fan of the music of Prog Rock bands like Yes, which often seems to me technical but tasteless and unmoving….and one of the worst things I come across are classical and jazz musicians whining about having to play music that’s beneath them. I think only one in ten music graduates in the US gets a job playing music, and it’s probably worse for jazz hopefuls. The expectation of employment is very skewed.

How you learn good musical taste I have no idea…I was lucky to have great musical mentors like Ashley Hutchings and Joe Boyd, and even then, some folk would say my taste is shit, these things being very subjective. In every community, there is someone, usually with a vast record collection, who is the local arbiter of taste, and he or she might be the person to seek out.

Speaking of Townsend and Spanish Guitar, I have a theory and a question; I would imagine that a lot of our guitar heroes took a bit of classical guitar, often playing the standard Spanish repertoire. Is this influence at all detectable in the rock/pop music of modern times? I can’t hear it, but it must be there somewhere. One instance I can think of is Townsend’s flamenco intro to Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere.

Are you still unable to locate the masters for both “First Light” and “Sunnyvista”? Would be great to finally have them in my collection again, especially as you own them! Also, is there much unreleased stuff from those sessions, and if so would you happily have released? I know you were not too keen on the bonus tracks on the Island CD’s. Jamie Taylor

Still looking, Jamie. As far as I know, there were no extra tracks on those albums, and outtakes were probably just breakdowns.

During this Missourian’s first visit to Oxford, I found myself in a trance listening to the strange and wonderful bells of the Magdalen Tower. Upon my return to the states, I did a little internet research and came to learn about change ringing. Then it dawned on me – “time to ring some changes.” Was the change ringing tradition in fact the inspiration for your lyric? Do you enjoy listening to it? Mark

‘To ring the changes’ is a fairly common expression in the UK, and the song uses the phrase in its idiomatic sense.

I totally, and wholeheartedly, enjoyed the gig at the RFH. However, I would love to know if Beeswing will release some archive recordings, and would also love to know if Sunnyvista and First Light are coming out soon.

See above.

Or, why not get the folks at Free Reed to issue a massive boxed set of live recordings. We could venture into a Richard Thompson bootleg series like Bob Dylan.


Furthermore, what about a duets album with a female singer: we could go Bonnie Raitt, June Tabor, Eliza Carthy, Eliza's mum, Norma Waterson. Or an album with the best ever female singer in pop/country roots at the moment, i.e. Emmylou Harris. She does a good Dimming Of The Day, and has covered Sandy Denny's Like An Old Fashioned Waltz.

Hmm, well…

Or, would you ever dream of releasing a covers album in the same manner as John Martyn's Church With One Bell? Best Regards, Thomas Casagranda

Don’t see myself as a covers artist – but I could call it Guitarist With One Ball, or something…Ricardus solem unam ballistam habet…