A Letter to my Guitar Teacher

A Letter to my Guitar Teacher

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Hi Tim,

Man, it’s been a long time. I think the last time I saw you was back in the 80s. You were playing with a folk band in a pub in Kemptown, Brighton. It was a great night and I wish I’d had the chance to have a chat, but I was only popping in on our way to the Hungry Years rock club. Like so many things we don’t realise when we are young, I never thought that would be the last time I saw you.

So many things have changed even since that night I barely know where to begin. So maybe I’ll leave that for now and just thank you for the huge influence you had on my life. I was your very first guitar student. I was 8 years old and I think you were about 24. My hands were still so small I couldn’t form a proper G chord, and I never really appreciated the patience you must have had trying to teach me back then. I was into rock music even at that age blaring out songs by Sweet, Slade and T Rex, but you were always a proper folky. I remember how you would warm up by playing an astounding piece of fingerstyle guitar and, to my mind, you are up there with Bert Jansch (not that I knew who he was back then, but I do now…).

You couldn’t read music so taught me how to play by ear and hand-drawing out chord shapes in my book. I think the only times I saw you frustrated with me was when I forgot that book.

It had everything in it.

“David, have you got your book?” you’d ask in your broad Irish accent, and sometimes I didn’t. You would hand draw the chord charts, and when you taught me a song you would write out the lyrics in full and place the chord names where they would change above the words. I think the first song you taught me was Crazy Man Michael by Fairport Convention. I’d never heard it before and only properly heard their original version around 1992. It might amuse you to know that when I was about 12 I pretended I’d written that song to get the attention of a girl I liked at school. Can you imagine what a plonker I felt when her elder brother played her the song from one of the most famous folk-rock albums of all time? She still went out with me but it wasn’t a very good start…

So how did you influence me?

I always wanted to play the electric guitar, but I found my way back to the acoustic and folk music, many years later. I think because I’d been taught folk music I was never a very good electric guitar player, so during my teens and twenties, when I was in various rock and metal bands, it was the drums that drew my attention. I was pretty good for someone who’d never been taught, and there were far fewer drummers around so it was pretty easy to get into a band. However, it was picking up the acoustic guitar again in the 90s, after years of ignoring it, that utterly changed my life, and it wasn’t long before the muscle memory of playing those 6 steel stings began to show fruit in new and exciting ways – but more about that later.

You always had long hair. I remember asking my Mum and Dad if I could grow my hair ‘like Tim’s’. So I’ve had this long old mop since I was about 10 years old. Sure Brian Connely of the Sweet and Rick Parfitt of Status Quo might have influenced me too, but I think it was because of you that my parents said yes.

When I rediscovered folk music it was to Irish traditional music that I first turned my attention. I remembered Clannad from the theme tune of the old Robin of Sherwood TV show, and that interest led onto Altan, The Dubliners, Planxty and Christie Moore, The Pogues, The Fureys and Davy Arthur, so many. That interest led me to then explore English traditional folk music and another whole new world opened for me. And there, on Liege and Lief by Fairport Convention, I finally heard the original of Crazy Man Michael – about 20 years after you first taught it to me.

So why am I writing this letter when I doubt you’ll ever see it? To thank you, with all my heart. Ok, it was me who wanted to learn the guitar and made that decision back when I was 7 and it was my parents who bought me my first guitar for my 8th birthday. But it was your way of teaching me, by ear, with patience, and the style of music you taught me and played, that sowed the seeds that grew to where I am today. You see I re-discovered my love of acoustic music at exactly the same time I discovered the Pagan heart that had been beating within me for years. And as that love of the acoustic guitar grew, so I found the Celtic myths of Britain and Ireland, I heard about Bards who played and sung with harps and I remembered you building a dragon-headed harp by hand whilst you began to also learn to read music. I picked up that old 6 string and discovered a voice within me I always knew was there but had never truly found until those stars aligned.

I’m now one of the very lucky ones who make a living through what they love to do. My guitar has taken me all over the world. When I stood before Sydney Opera House, the Statue of Liberty, Niagara Falls, so many other iconic places, every time I have taken a moment to think about how making that decision to learn the guitar when I was 8 years old led me to that moment, and to be grateful that my parents supported me, and that somehow they found exactly the right person to take my hand and lead me on those first few uncharted roads.

I guess you’d be about 71 now and I bet you are still playing music. Who knows, maybe you will see this letter, I really hope so. I’d love to thank you in person and maybe play you a few of my songs. I think you’d like where that 8-year-old wannabe musician pointed their life. I think you’d absolutely understand the drive of music and mysticism that every day wakes me up looking forward to what the day may bring. But wherever you are Tim, man, did you make a difference.

Peace,

Dave

11 responses to “A Letter to my Guitar Teacher”

  1. What a lovely tribute. I actually did a similar thing….when I was 15 I went as “office boy” into an architectural practice and was fortunate enough to be taught to draw by a chap called Edward Lemon. When I retired from that profession 40 years later he came to my retirement party and I was able to thank him personally for the gifts he had given. It’s about showing gratitude for the life we have, not always happy, not always as we would like it but perfect in its patterns…

  2. What a beautiful letter Dave, I do hope Tim is still around and gets to read it somehow. My route musically has been somewhat similar to yours. I started off on an acoustic that I bought for 6p in a jumble sale! To string it cost £1.50! I then went electric and knocked out glam rock hits then was in a punk band. In the 80’s I got into folk music and went acoustic and thats pretty much where Ive been ever since – only I can’t play finger style, I do flat pick and I cant write songs as good as yours!All the best for 2021.

  3. We all have our heros Damh…and you’re one of mine; yours was one of the first voices I heard (on Druidcast) when I began to tread the druid path. Here’s the rub though, you’re at least 20 years younger than me!

  4. Dearest Dude, you haven’t sung a note this time and you’ve managed to bring a tear to my eye from the start. This is a beautiful letter and I dearly hope that it reaches Tim – either on this plane or in spirit. I still struggle with my guitar 40 years after picking one up but it’s folk like you that remind me to keep picking it up and get great peace just noodling to myself. Thanks Brother xxx

  5. What a beautiful piece. To be able to identify a life changing moment in childhood is a wonderful gift. Blessings.

  6. Wonderful Dave, atleast you stuck at it. I had the mind to learn to play the piano in my teens and a teacher offered to teach me but he was very much into musicals and that was poison to my ears then and in a lot of cases now, so after a few lessons I gave it up. Boy do I regret that decision now with the advent now of modern electric organs. I still have one but need to sit down and practice instead of using it as a spare table for junk! I know basic chords on the guitar and have your CDs and Song Books, though now thanks to covid I don’t have the breath control I once had. It is nice to know though that someone out of the many of us that attempt to learn an instrument actually make something of it. And that makes you an inspiration to us to carry on trying, So who’s the teacher now? Thanks Dave.

  7. I’ve always been around people who play the guitar, my whole life. My Dad has tried to teach me, several times, a few chords so that I could play along with him.
    It’s been me listening to your for a few years now that’s actually inspired to to make a real effort in learning how to play again- it’s part of how I plan to start this new year.

  8. I hope Tim reads this, or better yet, you run across him in some pub or other and you get to tell him in person. I’ve gotten to meet several of my inspirations over the years, and getting to tell them how much they’ve influenced my playing has been a great joy.

  9. Damh,
    I’m out here, in Tim’s generation, and I’m wondering if you have really sought to find this wonderful mentor. This is such a beautiful and heartfelt tributes. I know that, as an elder, it would be so meaningful to him to know that’s his efforts and presence in this world continues to effect many people through in such a positive way. At our stage of life in this sometimes insane world it means a great deal to know that. I realize that it is out of respect for his privacy that you omit his family name but, with the reach of today’s technology, I would think it quite possible 2 find him and make sure he gets to read your tribute.

    May you be blessed on your path to reap similar joys in your own elderhood.

    – The Lone Crone

  10. Lovely tribute and expression of gratitude for those who leave their mark in our lives. It is also a good reminder of the power of small expressions of care and kindness that adults can invest in kids, that can reap huge rewards years later. Your story reminds me of what happened when I was 8 and told my parents that I wanted to learn guitar. However, my dad, being the great salesman that he was, talked me into piano lessons instead. My mom was about to give birth to my baby brother, so he had an emotional card to play to get me to change my mind as something special to do for her. He did say that if I still wanted to play when he was older, he would buy me one then. Well, I took those piano lessons (and today am glad for all the music skills that developed), but I also held him to his promise. I got a beautiful, sunburst acoustic on my 13th birthday. Now, dare I say 48 years later, I have stringed instruments in every room, and play at least one every day.

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