Trisha Macnair – Ain’t Nothin’ Like The Blues
While you have been growing damp and chilly in the English September weather, I have been out in the Charente Maritime, south of the Loire and north of Bordeaux. There, as the sun burned down and the swimming pool gently rippled across its blue tiles, a bunch of guitarists of a certain age (too old to throw our guitars or even our cars into the pool) were scattered around a French farm garden, practicing their Minor Pentatonic scales and improvising blues riffs among the fig trees and sunflowers. After each day of hard musical grafting, followed by a refreshing game of pool volleyball (ok, a violent game of pool volleyball as people worked off the tensions induced by the frustrations of bending strings) Cognac cocktails were served just before dinner al fresco. It was soooooo rock and roll!
I had managed to scrounge my first week in 16 years totally free from both domestic and parenting duties (you can’t imagine the pleading, the guilt, the promises that went on there) and endless NHS stethoscope wielding to jet off to La Moreau where they were running a week’s course on Modern Electric Blues Guitar. It was fantastic and now I am back home to the coal face, busy once again taking pulses and cooking suppers, I want to be back there.
The course is run by Richard Perkins of Bath Guitar School and Stuart Ryan, Head of Guitar at The Bristol Institute of Modern Music (BIMM Bristol) and a noted concert performer and guitar clinician (actually I’ve taken the word clinician from his biog. As a clinician of the human body, I can only presume a guitar clinician pokes and prods a guitar, and asks it questions about the rumbling of its innards before sticking needles into it and then smothering it in unguents. Should have asked while I was there).
They suggest that anyone thinking of going on the course should have been playing guitar for at least 6 months. As I had thrashed through a year of guitar and nearly three years of bass playing I felt that I should be able to tackle the course, especially as I was very proficient in lurking around swimming pools, eating croissants and knocking back a glass or six of French wine. But my French is tres rusty and I had only recently started getting into a bit of music theory, so I was worried that I would keep up with either musical or native lingo. Fortunately the course is all in English, and the house and accommodation is run by a fun and helpful English couple, Chris and Jenny Trotter, who provided everything we needed. More relevant was my working knowledge of minor and major pentatonic scales – which is exactly where the course started, so despite being a bit slow with chord shapes (I’d come over from the dark side of Bass) I quickly got to grips with it all.
There were 12 guitar players, one lonely bass player, and two accompanying partners who kept fairly well clear of the din. And there was a din when we all got going – as the music room backed onto a large sunflower field it wasn’t too much of a problem but a grumpy French man did come storming in one day from somewhere over the vines. The musicians came from all around the world – an American eye surgeon with a lovely Eddie Van Halen customised strat (this description has since left my girlfriends bemused – a lovely what ?? a lovely smile ? a lovely strut ?), a couple of Germans, people from Belgium and Australia, and a number of Brits. Standards ranged from me (I blame the Bass) to one of the German guys who was clearly already fairly proficient in blues techniques, hammering, string bending, dynamics and phrasing and all that, and would wail out some lovely improvised solos into the early morning air as the rest of us staggered through our Cognac hangovers. Several players (including myself) played in bands which gig regularly – you could tell who we were because we were the ones who stood up to perform.
The teaching was excellent. Richard and Stuart worked fairly seamlessly, one explaining or demonstrating while the other went round pointing out aspects of technique or helping anyone who was struggling. We learned about warm up techniques, practiced scales, vibrato, string bending, rhythm and phrasing, discussed the history of the blues and the major stars along the way, and then worked on a number of blues songs, from Cream’s Outside Woman Blues, to The Thrill is Gone by BB King and Gary Moore’s Texas Strut. There were 4 hours of formal teaching a day but we also did a fair bit of jamming among ourselves once the tutors had finished. By the end of the week we had split into groups to perform a couple of songs each, which went reasonably well given the fact that each group had 4 or 5 guitar players and nothing else – no drums to keep time or singers to hide our mistakes.
So that was it. Great weather, good food and company (dinner and conversation would carry on into the night) and my guitar playing improved immensely. And all for a very reasonable price. The task now is to keep it going – perhaps the only answer is to go back to La Moreau for their Rock guitar course next year.
Guitar Holidays in 2011
The Complete Acoustic Guitarist ~ 17-23 April 2011
The Complete Electric Guitarist ~ 29 May – 4 June 2011
Modern Electric Blues Guitarist ~ 28 Aug – 3 Sept 2011