Here’s a short piece I wrote about a story or two surrounding the making of The Ultimate Guitar Book. It first appeared in Guitarist magazine in 2011 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of its publication.
Bruce Welch of The Shadows opened the door and said to come in. We sat and chatted for a bit, and then he got the guitar out of the case. Actually, that ought to read The Guitar. It’s an important one, to say the least. It’s the red Fender Strat with maple board and gold hardware that Cliff Richard bought for his band early in 1959: one of the first Strats in Britain and very quickly one of the most visible and audible. Hank Marvin plays it on ‘Apache’. On ‘Man Of Mystery’. On ‘FBI’. You get the idea.
This happened almost exactly 20 years ago, when I was finding instruments to photograph and include in The Ultimate Guitar Book. It was the first time I’d met Bruce, and after about 20 minutes or so I began to talk about arrangements for photographing this gorgeous historic Strat. Most of the guitarists and collectors I was meeting were, understandably, keen to have our photographer travel to them, so that their precious guitars never left their sight. I asked Bruce if he had any time in the next week or so when we might visit, or alternatively when he might pop across London to our studio with the guitar. “Oh, take it with you now,” he said. Just like that. Right. This was not the answer I’d expected.
I walked to the tube from Bruce’s flat near Carnaby Street carrying an original Fender case with The Guitar inside. Everybody I passed knew exactly what it was and looked at me with criminal intent. I’m sure of it. I have never had a more terrifying tube journey in my life. I tried to look as inconspicuous as you can holding such a thing, but this lot knew, too – especially that bloke sitting opposite. I think he had a weapon under his jacket.
Remarkably, I survived to my stop, Bethnal Green. Normally I would walk home through Victoria Park with no worries. This time I decided on a short taxi ride. “Got a nice banjo in there, mate?” Blimey, not him as well! Clearly this was a coded message into his radio to tell the crack team of international thieves to surround the cab, kill me, and remove this rarest of rare Strats to its new owner, forever to be stored in a locked dungeon in Havant.
I jumped out and shoved him a random banknote. “Thanks, I’ll walk from here.” I made it home. I closed all the curtains, checked the door locks, and only then opened the case. I sat and stared at The Guitar for some hours. I admit I then tried out the first bit of ‘Apache’. I stared at it some more.
I could tell you more stories as we celebrate the happy 20th birthday of the publication of The Ultimate Guitar Book – and I should make it clear to the Academy that I accept this award not only for myself, but also for the team who helped make it happen: Nigel and Paul and Sally and Judy and Matthew and Garth and the rest. I could tell you about photographing Ian Anderson’s lovely Martin collection by propping each guitar up in his toilet, the only place in the house where the photographer could get far enough back for certain lens-related purposes. I could do an impression of Adrian Legg’s reaction when I said, “Oh, just play the entire history of the guitar in 20 minutes,” at the book’s launch at Chandler’s guitar store. I could try to explain how it felt to hold what its owner Robert Spencer described as the oldest surviving full-size guitar, which dated from about 1590. I could tell you about George Harrison’s brother Harry driving up in a Volvo estate with two case-less Beatle guitars rattling around in the back.
But I always come back to that beautiful red Shadows Strat. It’s where the desire to play guitar began for so many men of a certain age. And I didn’t imagine all this, did I? Nope: there’s The Guitar on page 75 of the UGB – and not that big, actually, but that’s another story. Bruce seemed pleased to see his guitar back when I delivered it the following day, after another scary jaunt across London. The ultimate nice chap.
This piece first appeared in Guitarist magazine in July 2011