Music

A six-course feast

Earlier this week, I took my twelve-string acoustic guitar (a Seagull S12) into town, to have its “action” (i.e. the distance between the strings and the fretboard) seen to. Though I have no proof, I suspect the freezing temperatures which beset the UK in December 2010—and the fact my guitars were placed close to an outside wall for that time—may have had more of a negative effect on the S12 than its “siblings”, so I am quietly hopeful that a couple of days with our local “guitar doctor” will see it bounce back to life. (Not literally, though—I’d hope the shop takes better care than that…)

I find I’m missing the Seagull already, not least because I’ve been listening to quite a lot of acoustic guitar recordings lately, and am trying seriously to get back into composing and recording this year, after a relatively inactive 2010 in that department.

Moreover, I’ve had a “soft spot” for the twelve-string guitar for years. Ever since I heard Sixties bands like the Beatles and the Byrds for the first time, the “jangly” sound of an electric 12 has always appealed to me, and in the last couple of years I’ve really come to appreciate the acoustic twelve-string in particular.

Although there are a few other players I like (for one, Roger McGuinn was awesome when I saw him play a solo gig in London in 2002), probably The Big One for me, as far as the acoustic twelve-string is concerned, is Anthony Phillips. A founder member of Genesis—Steve Hackett’s predecessor in the guitar chair, leaving in 1970—Ant has gone on to a prolific career as a composer/producer of TV and film music, but he is also a very fine guitarist, particularly on twelve-string and classical guitar. Here’s a YouTube clip of him playing one of my favourite compositions of his, “Lights On The Hill”, around 1995:

I really appreciate it when I find a player who understands what makes the twelve-string special—someone who doesn’t just strum or arpeggiate basic chords, but experiments with inversions, suspensions, re-entrant chord voicings and other techniques to make the most of the 12’s rich harmonic potential. Ant is particularly adept at this; he and Mike Rutherford first worked out a style of complex, interweaving twelve-string duet parts for Genesis’ first “proper” album Trespass (1970).

Although Ant left the band after its release (due to stage fright and health problems—leaving Steve Hackett to pick up with Rutherford where Ant left off), he reconvened with Mike a few years later, for the long drawn-out sessions which eventually led to The Geese And The Ghost (1977), one of my “desert island albums”. The set includes a couple of tracks which, at their heart, are duets for two twelve-string guitars (played by Ant and Mike); I like to think of these as the culmination of the style they developed in Genesis.

So, having been listening to that album this week, I’ll be very pleased to get my own twelve-string back (hopefully tomorrow), and perhaps I’ll feel inspired enough to come up with a piece, to fulfil the “one song a month” resolution I foolishly pledged to you all at the start of the year…

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