Family Tales III ~ Jason’s Thoughts
I have a bag of letters I do not open. Letters from the years of Dads travels, together with a few birthday cards and postcards from Morocco, Amsterdam and Spain from more recent times. They’ll be read when I need them. But not yet. It’s quite difficult to read Angela’s blog some days, and while I wanted to follow Eamonn and Ritamarys thoughts, almost all such thoughts are firmly secured within a mental bag of letters I do not open. Ah, but music, now that’s different.
On my birth cert, Dads profession reads ‘trainee accountant’. While his friends and family recover from the shock of that announcement, from my perspective music was very much on the periphery of life. It was Dad’s job, out after dinner and back in the wee hours, sleep till noon. Dad was football and chess, maker of spaghetti bolognese, Dad was dad. The house was always full of musicians with cowboy boots, big hair and occasional mutton chops, but no one ever seemed to play anything. It was a weird and wonderful collection of characters.
I still remember with horror how when we finally got a TV, Brian Dunning – otherwise the most lovely guy you could meet – would turn off Noel Edmonds Swap Shop on a Saturday morning to listen to music accompanying the BBC 2 test card. It was wrong on many levels, mainly because the music was shite and not Cheggers, but also because it was odd to play music in the house for fun. Brian wasn’t learning or writing a song for a gig, wasn’t writing a jingle, he was just listening – for fun? That was new. There was no radio, no stereo, music was work and didn’t seem to be played for fun or enjoyment. It was a loud stop-start cacophony emanating from the front room (which sometimes doubled as rehearsal space), or the soundcheck in the pub or club pre-gig. Dad’s voice repeating ‘one, two, one, one, two…- pause… ‘one, one, two…’, pints and smokes resting comfortably on the amps, cables snaking across the stage. The instruments were cool though. Myself and my brother would sneak in and try the drums for a good 10-15 seconds with glee before being hooshed out of it. Coolest of all was Dad’s bass, a huge dark rumbling sound that came up through the floor and rattled the windows, especially when playing with a drummer he liked. You’d play outside and listen to the house shake.
Music became fun one day. Da brought out Grandad’s turntable and amp to see if it worked during a visit between travels. I came home from work (oddly, Da had encouraged me to study accountancy – ‘there’s always some bread in it’ – and I had a temp job with Anglo-Irish Bank) and my brother Daragh was helping Dad solder the wiring for the speakers. A couple of dusty records had been recovered from the attic that hadn’t been played in twenty years: Edgar Winters WhiteTrash and Led Zeppelin II. From the speakers came ‘Bring it on Home’ and the roar of that raging creative rhythm section, and a conviction that if you were going to spend your life doing something, oh you should enjoy it. When Da headed back to London, I had Grandad’s amp, Led Zeppelin II and a beaten-up but accurate acoustic. We also began talking about music, we’d give each other albums at Christmas and birthdays, and had a shared love of instruments and gadgetry. I’d enthuse about the talk box I’d just gotten, and Da would expound on SoundForge or some obscure piece of kit or software he’d read about in ‘Sound on Sound’.
In recent years, Dad’s job at Fanagans meant it was easy to drop in and chat for a bit, mainly about some aspect of music accompanied by tea and toast. We never played together, though Dad’s gear was always hooked up and ready to go. Somehow we always ended up taking turns. Dad would talk enthusiastically about the relative merits of one guitar over another while I twiddled away. Or Dad would be hooking up gadgets and I’d quiz him: ‘how do you do that?’. He’d gotten a Strat a while back, and over last summer we’d take turns playing it over tea and toast. Every now and then, you find an instrument that was just a joy to play and your fingers fly over it. I was rabbitting on about the fingerboard and SRVs string gauges when Da paused with an introspective look around the room and said ‘you know, I’d have killed for instruments like these when I was gigging’. I said something like ‘then they were tools, now they’ve become a pleasure’. And it was. You can see it in his hands every time Da slings a Fender Jazz bass over his shoulder, and out comes this repertoire of riffs from 20,000 gigs.
Angela’s addendum ~ Jason may not know how alike he and his father are. They are both clever, opinionated, gentle and talented. They also are very talkative when they’re together. Jason’s younger son Mattia one day said: ‘My daddy knows everything’. What a co-incidence! Your grandad knows everything too. ..