Alistair and I go back so far it is becoming scary to even think about. (All the way to the late eighties if my increasingly porous memory is to be trusted.) He has always been supportive and occasionally even complimentary about my song writing endeavours. About my guitar playing he has sometimes been tempted to be ever so slightly less so. I remember him picking up one of my guitars way-back-when and two-tone-bending something around the 17th where he discovered to his tactile revulsion, intellectual amusement and my great shame, a stomach-churning patina of crunchy green Verdigris and good old fashioned rust of the kind that never sleeps. With his trademark impish smirk, he chimed, “Unexplored territory Gabacious?” I resolved then to right that wrong and have spent the intervening decades trying to do so, only it seems, to acquire an embarrassment of bad habits.
Having long respected both his ear and his tone-stick smacking prowess, when I heard that my old mate was considering giving lessons, I jumped on the phone like a seagull onto a sick prawn. It is by far the best thing I have ever done for my playing. It has also been moderately painful. (In the best possible way of course.) My brief to Alistair was simple. Help me fill the holes in my knowledge, address obvious weaknesses and eliminate bad habits. This is what we have been doing for some ten weeks and long may it last.
After the first few exploratory calibrating lessons we got serious about fixing my many bad habits and in the process discovered many that I didn’t know I had: Sitting position. Always practicing with a strap in a performance-friendly attitude. Hand pronation. Double-stops. Playing over the changes using the tonal centre of chords as reference rather than defaulting to tired pentatonic clichés. Arpeggios. And last but not least; a diabolically inhuman six-fret stretch in the first position from whence to stagger drunkenly up the board through the whole-tone scale. My initial response was, “This is not physically possible!” Alistair is a little bloke with little paws so when he said, “Stick with it and it will come eventually and the benefits will prove to be well worth it” I had to listen. After a few weeks and many days when everything from my fingers, to my eyelids and even various sphincters seem to ache, I am happy to report that I am making solid progress and, as promised, the benefits are legion. Playing is a lifelong journey. There is no arrival. As we move forward so too does that far horizon. While we may never reach the Grail, with the right help we may catch a tantalising glimpse of it from time to time.
Thanks to Alistair I am getting better at comping, playing over the changes and playing inside and outside the tonal centre of chords. I believe I am finally escaping pentatonic prison even though I have spent so many years there I suspect I will always hear the baying of the hounds. No matter who you are, how good you are (or how good you think you are>:) Alistair will help you become a better player. And if you are anything like me, he’ll also make you laugh until your face hurts.
Gold Coast, Australia