Hello everyone. Since I last wrote I’ve been easing back into guitar teaching and thinking about my next project. I’ve been doing some writing and research on Marc Bolan of T.Rex. Over the years I’ve written a number of magazine articles on him, notably two big features in Guitarist and one in Shindig! I also wrote the entry on Marc Bolan in the New Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Part of this research is about his equipment, and the origin of his fabled orange Gibson Les Paul. I’m hoping this might culminate in a book; if not, I shall use the material as a magazine article and possibly add a page on my website summarizing some of the information. I’ve been thinking about the music he made before he became a regular fixture on Top of the Pops and making a case for it. The world needs more innocence and enchantment.
And by the way, here’s a musical curiosity. One of his most well-known songs is ‘Get It On’. Most people think it uses the chords of E, G and A on the chorus. Actually, it’s E, G and A minor. (He used almost the same chords for the chorus of ‘Planet Queen’ which follows ‘Get It On’ on the album Electric Warrior).
Otherwise, I’ve been looking forward to the remastered Led Zeppelin IV and House of the Holy which will be released at the end of the month. (Dave Lewis’ Zep magazine Tight But Loose has a Jimmy Page Interview coming up in the next issue – you can find details at his website). I had a listen to some of the Queen Live at the Rainbow 1974 album which has an excellent performance of ‘Now I’m Here’ .
On the classical front I’ve been listening to a famous 40 minute piece by the American composer John Adams called Harmonielehre (1985) which is full of thrilling textures and movement, with a slow movement which has beautiful lyrical moments. It’s on a Chandos CD/SACD with his Dr Atomic Symphony.
Whether composing or songwriting it is always a good idea to be alert to the potential of happy accidents and the unintended. Here’s an example. Back in January I found a beaten-up acoustic guitar in a secondhand shop in the town where I was having a holiday. It was only £30 so I bought it. When I checked its pitch I found that it was detuned by a minor third so the open strings were C#F#B E G#C# – quite low! I also found that there was a problem with the nut, so that the top string was sounding the same note as the first fret. If the guitar had been in standard tuning EADGBE this means it would have been EADGBF. A capo at the first fret removes the problem, and a capo at the third fret takes the guitar back to standard pitch.
I picked up the guitar in an idle moment and decided to go with this rogue top string. Since it was sounding as a D instead of a C# I decided to write a chord progression In D and just accomodate that top string as I could. This meant using the shapes that go in the key of F. The result was a very expressive chord progression which is the basis for a short song. Happy accidents …
Sorry not to have posted recently. Since June I’ve been preparing for my annual teaching stint on The Oxford Experience, a five-week programme run by the International Section of Oxford University Department of Continuing Education. Last week was the first teaching week and I have five different courses to deliver. One has a musical theme: The Beatles and 1960s Britain. This week it’s Shakespeare’s Late Romances, and one of the extras I like to put in is some examples of musical settings of the songs which occur in those plays, as well as directing my students to larger works such as the two suites which Sibelius wrote for The Tempest.
On the composition front I managed in late May-mid June to write an 11-minute piece for string orchestra called ‘The High Oaks (Threnody)’.
I’ve been giving some thought to starting work on a new book at the end of the summer.
Otherwise, I’ve been revisiting some of the songs of Marc Bolan (1968-71). Some of the articles I’ve written about his songwriting and guitar-playing have been pasted up online by others. I may put revised versions on this site eventually. This was in part set off by the fact that a week or so ago it was 40 years since T.Rex’s ‘Get It On’ was a UK no.1 and Marc Bolan appeared on TOTP with a black Les Paul Custom. Earlier in the year Gibson finally produced a signature Marc Bolan Les Paul in what they termed a ‘Bolan Chablis’ (orange-amber wood) finish. I can remember suggesting such a guitar to the head of Gibson in London about ten years ago. At the time he was sceptical that there would be enough interest – but it has happened. Sadly, the guitar Gibson issued is a bit of a hybrid – based on the fact that in the spring of 1971 in the U.S. in a fit of frustration Bolan threw the Les Paul and snapped its neck off. For some reason a black Les Paul neck was then fitted to the guitar, so that looked at from the back you have a cherry-red body and a black neck. So the Gibson guitar doesn’t match the one with which Bolan is pictured on the cover of the 1970 T.Rex album.
More on Bolan anon …