S.Rhatigan/J.F Morrison © 1995
Anybody out there?
I have been invited to play harmonica at the National concert hall with the I Heart David Bowie band who are playing the David Bowie/ Space Oddity album at a tribute concert in aid of the Laura Lynn children’s hospice next Monday, tomorrow in fact.
The 2nd track on the Space Oddity album is Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed featuring a four and some minute blues harmonica solo and it is quite a challenge! Don’t get me wrong I’m delighted to be asked and very excited but, oh FUCK!
My love affair with the harmonica began with Larry Adler. He would pop up regularly on our 70’s and 80’s telly playing the most beautiful classical melodies. I loved Stevie Wonder’s harmonica lines too. He effortlessly picks up the melodies and weaves them in and out of his songs with such skill it is awe inspiring.
As a child I wanted to play an instrument but several attempts came to nothing and I just gave up. It was much later, when I finally learned to play the guitar and piano and drums a bit I thought why not harmonica.
So taking my cues from the Neil Young, Bob Dylan school of playing which seemed kind of random and straight forward enough I bought myself a brace and a couple of blues harps. Turns out it’s not quite as easy as it seems.
I was already challenged enough playing guitar and singing so throwing the harmonica in on top lead to some lairy gigs. Nevertheless undeterred by failure I would slap on the effects pedals to try to fill the holes with feedback and shout into the harmonica to produce any kind of sound. Sometimes it worked often it didn’t. Happily on the recording of Only Joking it did.
Fast forward 20 odd years and many hours noodling around on the guitar and harmonica between cooking and cleaning and school runs and and and… I finally felt the sound coming together and I realised the simple unavoidable truth. If you practice enough you will get better if you don’t you won’t.
Only Joking is sore.
I was an angry child caught in the gravity of a deeply unhappy marriage. My father and mother and sister and I orbited around each other in our nice suburban home pretending to the world that it was all ok but it was far from ok. My sister and I were unwitting allies in a cold war. For most of the time we were the only company we had.
Eventually as we got older, my sister started hanging out with her friends more and more and I was left behind. She was my best friend. I was jealous and lonely. I lashed out at her. I would lure her into play fights persuading her, since she was so much taller than me that she should stay on her knees, which seriously impinged on her ability to defend herself. Then I would explode in violent fury, reigning down on her with punches and kicks until her cries eventually brought one of our parents. I would defend myself with force insisting that she was lying and we were messing, or I was only joking.
Of course eventually my sister copped on that she had a considerable advantage over me if she stayed on her feet. Her favourite defence was to maul me into the corner by the door jamb and crush me till I couldn’t breathe. I changed tactics then and adopted more subtle strategies like stealing her vinyl and clothes and makeup and humiliating her in front of boyfriends, that kind of thing. Not very nice, but I was only joking!
So, where are we now, going forward as it were?
Well my sister is still my best friend, I don’t assault her anymore btw. I try to limit as much as I can the legacy of our formative years from infecting the present and my own family. Family and relationships are still informing my songs, even more now I suppose which is ok. At least I can get the stuff off my chest.
Lots of exciting things to come this year. A long over-due visit to New York and I have my new record tantalisingly close to being finished. I will definitely release some music soon and get out and play and let people hear it. Sure what harm.
Meanwhile back on my head.
PS: Not all the stories in Only Joking are entirely true however… I did kill the canary, but it was an accident. Really. I arrived home from school and I was alone. Sweetie the 3rd was standing on the floor of the cage propping up his head with his beak, his beady black eyes rolling. We had lost several birds this way because, due to his tampering with the gas tap, to prevent us from turning the fire up to full, my father had caused the tap to leak and as a result the canaries were dropping like flies. Anyway I thought I would try to revive the bird so I ran the cold tap over him. Mistake. He went into a kind of seizure and was shaking in the sink, so I did what I thought was the right thing and got the hairdryer at him. Well that did for him. In the end he had a massive heart attack and died in my hands. It was awful.
PPS: Happy New Year!
Suzanne Rhatigan: Vocal guitar harmonica
John F Morrison: Bass
Bryn Burrows: Drums