S. J. Farthing

www.farthing.me.uk

My Musical Interests

I first became aware of music (as a child) in the early rock and roll era. Most music heard in Britain at the time on the radio consisted of 'cover versions' of American songs recorded by the BBC by their own in-house artists. Some of the first songs I can remember were Green Door by Frankie Vaughan (No.2 in Nov. 56), and Singing The Blues (which was No.1 by Guy Mitchell in Dec. 56) and I remember noticing the 'colours' in the words. I wasn't really aware of the early rock and roll of the fifties. I don't think they were played much anyway. I hadn't heard of Chuck Berry. I seem to remember one or two versions of the orchestral Buddy Holly songs, but they were cover versions. I hadn't heard of Buddy Holly. They may have been "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" and/or "Raining in my Heart". Possibly "Early in the Morning". I don't think I had even heard of Elvis at the time (well I was only about 6!) thought there were probably some covers of his songs on the BBC. Everything was rather smooth and bland.

Cliff Richard was probably the first pop star I ever noticed. I don't think I ever heard "Move It".  With hindsight I wonder if it wasn't quit the thing for BBC radio at the time. The first song of his I remember was probably "Livin Doll", but also "Travellin Light" around the same time.  Later I also liked "The Young Ones". I may have gone to see the film at the cinema with my brother. I liked it then and I confess I still like it now. I also liked the B side of the single "We Say Yeah". It might be the first rock-n-roll style song I ever heard. The Shadows were also very successful at that time in their own right and in fact there were quite a lot of instrumentals in the charts in those days. Joe Brown and the Bruvvers was another group successful with original material before the great merseybeat era.

As a teenager I liked the pop groups of the sixties. There were the merseybeat and other northern groups such as the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, the Hollies and the Searchers. There were London based groups such as the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Dave Clark Five and later the Who. Then there were the Animals, Manfred Mann and others.  At the time the Beatles and the Stones were good, but not especially outstanding among the others. I don't remember hearing either of their first singles, Love Me Do, Come On or I Wanna Be Your Man. Nobody knew at the time that they would both later become much bigger than their contemporaries. What distinguished the Beatles from most of the others is that they were the only group who released albums consisting entirely of decent material and that was true from the first. There were other pop groups around who had singles just as good as many of the Beatles singles. The Stones were distinguished by their showmanship.

Many people remember the great music of the 60's. There was also a lot of other types of music around of widely varying styles. Some pretty old fashioned things. When listening to the top 20 on the radio there might have been only about a third of the music which was really good.

My time at university was great for encountering different kinds of rock, pop, folk and blues music. This was through much socialising accompanied by listening to LP records, and opportunities to see some top bands of the era. While there, I was lucky to see Dave Swarbrick and Martin Carthy at the university folk and blues club. Also Alexis Korner with Andy Fraser there. In bigger concerts at the university I saw the Nice, the Who, Pink Floyd supported by Hawkwind, and one of my favourite bands at the time Colosseum. At Bristol's Colston Hall I also saw Derek and the Dominoes, the Mothers of Invention, and even The Rolling Stones, thanks to some friends who were able to get tickets through the folk and blues club. I also liked to go see anyone really famous even if it wasn't in the mainstream of my taste, and not being to the taste of friends would go alone. In this way I saw Stevie Wonder and Shirley Bassey at Colston Hall.


 

I first started playing acoustic guitar in about 1973 when I was living in Bristol. Soon after that I moved away from Bristol and went back to Yorkshire.

For some reason there was now a different feel to the live music scene. I don't know if it was due to some change of culture in a new town, or if it was due to the passage of time. I occasionally went to concerts at Leeds University and saw Robin Trower (band), Ginger Baker in Baker-Gurvitz Army, even Captain Beefheart and his band. At St George's Hall in Bradford I saw Dr Feelgood.

I had left my previous acoustic guitar in my hasty move away, but later got another and continued playing, and used to strum a few Beatles songs occasionally singing too, but found it difficult to sing and play at the same time.

I got my first electric guitar in the mid 70's, a "strat copy". This was partly motivated by the wish to play in different keys. I had a friend who played guitar and we used to rehearse together. One problem was that we both played in a rhythm style, so I went over to playing more in a lead style. Anyway it didn't come to anything.

In my listening I began to like electric guitar music and blues, and particularly Eric Clapton. For much of the later 70's I listened mainly to blues and little else. I Got acquainted with the roots of the blues such as the electric blues of Chicago, and also the earlier country blues from the south of the USA. I combined my interest in listening to blues music with my guitar playing.

I particularly liked the double "Layla" album by Derek and the Dominoes, Eric Clapton's short lived band of about 1970. I particularly liked this for its great long guitar solos which formed the main part of the music. Key to the Highway was one of my favourite tracks. I also liked Robin Trower's "Bridge of Sighs" for different reasons. It's not really blues in a conventional sense and in fact more related to soul music, but with drama and good Hendrix-like guitar. I liked the original songs and the words and the way they are used so sparingly with short oracle-like pronouncements like "Takers get the honey, Givers sing the blues".

Around 1980 I bought Eric Clapton's "Just One Night" double LP. In this he really went back to powerful rock/rhythm/blues. It had vastly superior sound quality to any other live LP I had ever heard. (Recorded in Japan- is that why?).


In 1982 I moved from Yorkshire to go live in Southampton.

Around this time Michael Jackson released Thriller which I liked, though its background of Soul and Disco was not something I had ever liked much. For some reason, probably pressure of work and lack of time I stopped listening to music on the radio completely in about 1983, but still listened to my record collection of rock and blues quite a lot. I never went back to listening to music on the radio. You just have to listen to too much unwanted material before you get to something you like.

Previously, as a young teenager I had a small reed organ and had some preliminary knowledge of the keyboard. Some time around 1987 I took up playing the keyboard again. I first bought an old Colorsound electronic piano. Very soon I got a Yamaha DX27 which I paid about 300 for. I was impressed with the huge amount of settings which could be done on it to alter the sounds. I was also very pleased with the ability to tune the whole instrument very accurately, and also the ability to transpose the whole instrument to any key. These things solved many of the old disadvantages of traditional keyboard instruments. I took to the keyboard quickly and soon learnt to play adequate backing material. I found the keyboard suited my logical thinking much better than the guitar which I never really got to grips with.

After a year or two of playing the DX27 I upgraded it to a Yamaha DX7 Mk II which I really liked and still have. I paid 550 for it. It was my second most expensive purchase (coming second only to my house). The DX7 is a truly professional quality instrument and was used by top name professional musicians. I played in some duos and one-night bands in pubs, playing mostly sixties and seventies pops.


Around 1989 while on holiday in the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset with my girl friend, we came across a barn dance in a real barn at a tiny hamlet called Bushey in the middle of nowhere. I didn't expect to like it but was very impressed by the powerful combination of instrumental folk dance music and rock rhythms provided by the Strong Country Band. I suppose I would always have liked this kind of music if only I had encountered it, and did used to like Fairport Convention and Dave Swarbrick in the late 60's.

I started going to folk festivals and folk clubs, especially the Irish Club in Portsmouth My main interest was instrumental music and particularly the sessions. Unfortunately it was inappropriate to take a keyboard to these places so I got a piano accordion as a portable acoustic implementation of a keyboard. I adapted to the accordion quite easily and started to prefer it to the keyboard. Around 1994 I played with Southsea Belles, Portsmouth based Ladies Morris side. I began going to the sessions at the Irish Club more often and took the accordion. With girl-friend playing acoustic guitar and another lady playing fiddle we formed a trio and played at some folk clubs.

For a time I played mandolin a bit. I had all the techniques from my previous guitar playing, it was just a case of learning where the notes are, and learning some tunes. I still had a great liking for folk fiddle, and encountered it much more often now that I was going to folk festivals and sessions. About 1997 I got a cheap violin to see how I would get on with it. My brief excursion into mandolin playing proved useful because the violin notes are exactly the same. It is tempting to suggest that anyone wishing to learn the violin should first play mandolin. Actually I don't think so in every case because the technique of picking takes some learning. However it I would advocate such a path for a guitarist. Having satisfied myself that buying a violin was worthwhile I got a better one and since then have been playing the violin more than any other instrument.


See my music related web sites:

www.english-music.co.uk - Mainly English folk music with an emphasis on instrumental folk dance music.

www.rhythm-n-blues.co.uk - British rock and pop.