In this week's Cavanman's Diary, Paul Fitzpatrick tells us about his travails learning to play the guitar.
When I was an impoverished student, as opposed to an impoverished journalist, I was given a guitar as a present. Well, when I say I was “given” it, the present wasn’t for me. My brother bought a guitar and when he got bored with it after a few weeks, I brought it up to Dublin.
As I boarded the bus that Sunday evening, frozen lasagne and guitar case in tow, I could see a new future for myself, a future in which lads wanted to be me and girls no longer wanted to avoid me. There was only one problem: I couldn’t play it. I could barely hold it.
That didn’t stop me flaunting the thing, ostentatiously so, at parties; carrying it around with me, even enigmatically twisting the little knobs at the top in the manner of someone - someone who knew what they were at - tuning it.
Around this time, my cousin and I went to look at a flat in Smithfield, above a pub called The Tap. It was before the rental crisis, when student accommodation was a little bit easier to secure (not that it was ever plentiful - every year, as far back as I can remember, was ‘The Worst Year Ever’ for getting student digs).
Still, it was, it’s fair to say, more attainable than now. Or, it was so long as you didn’t over-reach.
Anyway, in we walked and soon, we were getting on famously with the guy who was letting the room. Benny led the negotiations and we almost sealed the deal.
That was when I spotted an expensive-looking guitar, grinning up at me from the couch. Of course, I couldn’t resist and picked it up. I saw the look of horror on the landlord’s face as I man-handled the fretboard.
“Do you play?” he asked me, nervously.
“Ah, bits and pieces,” I lied, violently twanging a string.
His eyes narrowed as he gently but firmly removed his prized Fender from my grip. Soon, we were ushered out the door and my cousin and I exchanged glances and drew a line through the listing in the Evening Herald. He did not call us back.
Fast forward to the end of the term and the unfortunate guitar I appropriated from home was no more. It ended its days, I think, at a party in deepest Drumcondra, having never been properly wielded. It was, as they say, happy for it.
Above: Jimi Hendrix sporting the Cavan colours (kind of).
From then on, though, I always had it in my head to learn how to play it. Now, my brother-in-law is something of an Axe-God and told me he would teach me (or, rather, I told him).
I picked one up cheaply and, last October, finally got round to giving it a bash (note: this is not a metaphor).
To be fair to me, which the brother-in-law, in his withering assessments is not (“that sounds like a trumpet, lad”) - I put the hours in this time.
I wintered in the spare room, hammering away. Soon, I developed calluses on my fingertips, the sure sign of a real guitarist. I’m not saying I got carried away but, at one point, I considered purchasing a bandana.
Mostly, I ‘played’ the same song: A Pair of Brown Eyes, by The Pogues. It’s simple enough, as these things go. Not the quickest but a good one to know at a house party.
I texted my tutor exactly that. “The same as yourself,” he texted exactly back.
But even that did not perturb me - if anything, I was even more determined. The lyrics (“some cursed, some prayed, some prayed then cursed”) could not have been more apt.
If I could just master that one track, I thought to myself, that would do.
It brought to mind the character of the sergeant in Shane Connaughton’s A Border Station and his dream of “one good murder and me the only one able to solve it”.
One good tune, that was all I wanted, and me the only one sober enough to play it.
At this point, I should mention another master guitarist, my friend Barry, who got married to his childhood sweetheart Meave last Friday. Barry, whose patience is endless, had given me a couple of lessons and, for the last few months, I had been sending him recordings of my attempting this particular track.
“Getting there, man!” he would text back, after the latest two-minute aural car-crash landed in his inbox.
“We’ll have you right by the 8th of March.”
The 8th was the day of the wedding, you see, and an inevitable sing-song, at which a guitar would surely be produced, given both families’ musical pedigree. And, I won’t deny it, I had visions of that moment when, to paraphrase Heaney, hope and whiskey would briefly rhyme and there I would be, serenading the happy couple.
It didn’t happen. Performing at the wedding ceremony was the brilliant Liam McCabe, formerly of the band Shouting At Planes of Glastonbury fame. That man can play guitar. My fragile confidence was shattered.
The party raged on in the residents’ bar afterwards. Guitars were produced but I stayed clear. Bottled it. The moment passed. All those hours...
On Saturday morning, with a hangover, I wandered into the spare room, or ‘studio’, back at base and spotted my Chinese-made SX acoustic - the Hi-Tec of guitar brands - lying against the wall. It was as if it knew. It knew.
Deflated, I slumped on the couch and opened the paper. My gaze fell on a random open page and staring at me was Ruby Walsh, giving his tips for the weekend.
And, there, in bold letters, was ‘Pairofbrowneyes’ in the 4.50pm at Naas. On the weekend that was in it, and given my precarious state, I couldn’t miss it. And you can guess the rest - in he bolted, slicker than a Hendrix riff, at 12/1.
Wallet replenished and my peace made with The Pogues’ greatest song, the headache disappeared immediately. As for the guitar? It can rock off...