The no rhythm method

WHAT a shock to discover that I am Richard Thompson’s dad. This unlikely scenario will be explained in a paragraph or two.

Guitars and me go back a long way. There has been a guitar in my life since my early teens. First came two or maybe three classical guitars, the last long cherished and eventually dismembered in a domestic accident. Now I have been two guitars: a steel-string Yamaha acoustic and an Aria electric guitar.

In the early days I performed in a couple of school concerts, before drifting from the classical guitar into decades of strumming, picking, messing around and generally annoying people unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity.

You see, I have a problem with playing music. Not the chords or the scales, I can handle those perfectly well. I can use open tunings where the guitar is tuned to play a chord. On the electric guitar, I can make a noise that keeps me amused. A passing person with little musical knowledge would think I was pretty good. But the trouble is that you can’t count on me, or you count on me to count. Timing has never been my thing, even with those long-ago classical lessons somewhere in the dusty vault.

I make up little pieces, I compose half-songs, often but not always starting with the D chord and, for guitar-heads, the bottom E-string tuned down to D for a nice bit of resonance. But everything I play is poorly structured and timed to some internal rhythm no one has yet got round to putting down on a piece of sheet music.

Occasionally my wife will tick me off about this. Down the years she has mostly stopped commenting on my guitar playing, although occasionally when I stop my arrhythmic strumming, I hear can hear her mumble. Well, it’s all right for her. Years ago I bought her ten saxophone lessons as a surprise birthday present, introducing her to a good and strict teacher, who got her counting and tapping her feet. Now, post-saxophone, she sings in a choir and is even better versed in counting out those rhythms.

As for me, I do my own thing, often late at night, watching the television news while strumming or picking away. The other night I did worry that Hugh Edwards was frowning at me, unless he always looks like that.

As for Richard Thompson, that folk-rock great, song-writing marvel and guitar genius, well he has long been a hero. I’ve seen him in concert countless times and have a couple of his songbooks, and have mastered how to play a few songs rather poorly. A few years ago in an interview, I said to Richard that some of his songs were difficult to play. ‘They’re meant to be,’ he said. And if he heard me attempting some of the songs, his wise head would implode with shock.

On the BBC Radio 4 show Midweek last Wednesday, Thompson was asked when he realised he was a better on the guitar than his father, a top policeman who had liked to strum a chord or two. ‘When I was about seven or eight,’ he said.

Well, that hit home. You see this ill-formed musical thing before you has a guitar wizard for a son. When he was seven or so I taught him some bar chords, and he almost cried in frustration at the effort. But he soon got the hang of those chords, spent many bedrooms years practising, and has since raced ahead of his father on assorted guitars and bass too. He really is very good, countless times better than I ever was or ever will be.

So there you have it. That’s why I am Richard Thompson’s dad. Does anyone know a good guitar teacher suitable for drumming some rhythmic sense into a middle-aged dimbo?

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