May 1st - Getting all strung up
I’m not normally obsessed by shopping, but I’ve been going totally spanner over it this last week or so. I just can’t get what I want.
Stop sniggering in the background there. You know what I mean. I’m talking strings. Guitar strings. The essential accessory without which life in the Cevennes is totally impossible. Well, sort of.
Look, the winters here are long, dark and boring. The bars don’t open, the restaurants are all closed. There are no parties, no dances, no raves, no night-clubs. Telly? Nope. (Don’t like it.) And as for exhibitions, theatre, concerts and other cultural diversions: forget it. The cinema gamely spools out a selection of French arthouse attempts weekly (weakly, for the most part, actually) - but that’s our lot.
So outside the tourist season, ie ten months a year, us lot up in the mountains play music. Jazz mostly. And some of the other bands are very good. Not us, of course. We’re pretty well diabolical. But you know, we’re the best in the village, and what’s more we’re the only entertainment on offer - so we play sell-out gigs in Moisson.
It keeps us nicely occupied during the winter: leafing through yellowing songbooks, arguing over repertoire, soldering ancient reverbs together, patching up the PA, arguing over dates and who carries the drum kit, and of course, from time to time, actually rehearsing.
I’ve been in a lot of dud bands in my time. Rock n roll, R&B, punk, reggae, two-tone (remember that, back in the 80’s?), and even an ill-advised folk outing with a bunch of other blondes (made a fortune although none of us could play much). But I’ve never known rehearsals like these for “Simply Jazzy”.
First off, everyone is late. Or early. Or lost on the way. So the early arrivals drink beer while waiting for the others - who drink beer because they’re late or lost. And then there’re the hangers on. You always get these, and in my young day most of them were busty popsies dragged in by the lead guitarist and ogled by the drummer. But with this band, they’re mostly kids, and half of them drink beer, too.
Which is why the band is called Simply Jazzy. What with the elastic timetable, the beer and the kids, there’s no way we’d ever attempt anything tricky. We’re strictly K.I.S.S. - Keep It Simple, Stoopid.
But there are limits, and the washing machine shop, I’m afraid to say, has proved to be the absolute limit. I mean it. I’ve lost my rag with them. I’ve had enough. I’m taking my custom elsewhere.
No, I don’t play the washing machine; I play a rather battered old Guild X50, a semi-accoustic jazz guitar built in 1956. But recently it’s been sounding suspiciously like a washboard - the words blackboard and fingernails do spring to mind. So much so, that even Dolly the dog has taken to wincing when I launch into Summertime.
And whose fault is it? Yes, the washing machine shop is to blame. Because they’re the only place in town where you can buy guitar strings (round the back of the toaster display), and the last lot they sold me, God knows what they were, probably washing line, just sound disgusting. I really mean it. Even the beer drinkers noticed. And no, I don’t know what strings they were. I just bought them and slapped them on - Persil Whites probably.
Which was a mistake, and I have regretted it, and I do apologise to everyone, and yes, it is my fault, I am ultimately responsible for playing washing lines, but listen, when I went down to Montpellier to get something better, the funky young dude in the music shop under the Polygon was seriously dismissive.
He just took one look at me and his thoughts were crystal clear. I could almost see them running across his forehead like destinations at a bus stop: middle-aged old bag, frumpy old cow, cannot possibly know anything about anything, I’ll flog her the last of the Omo Extra-Lites for 25 euros. I swear this is true. He wouldn’t even let me look in the packet. So I didn’t buy them. Me and Dolly, we just flicked our fringes at him and waddled out of there.
As a result of which I’ve been going mad. Scooting round the internet looking for someone to sell me some decent strings - maybe a nice set of Fender stainless flatwounds - and no bloody, pointy-assed, adolescent attitude with it, either. Which is easier said than done. The best shops are all in the states, the UK ones are out of stock, and really no, I don’t think I want to pay $44.99 plus shipping for a bumper three-pack.
Ho hum. Fifteen years ago, when I moved into this village, I thought the only thing it needed was an Indian take-away. Then I added a dvd library, and a smoky late-night bar. Now I’m adding a music shop to my list.
You see? This has turned into a fully fledged obsession.
I can’t get no. Guild guitar strings.
Next column will be uploaded 15th May.
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