There’s a well-worn joke about a guy who buys a bass guitar, learns four in a bar on the E string at his first lesson, four in a bar on the A string at his second, and doesn’t show up for his third at all. His teacher calls and asks will he be attending any further lessons. ‘No need,’ he says,’got a gig’.

What happened when the singer locked his keys in his car? He had to break the window to let the drummer out. And so on….

Rhythm, and the production thereof, gets a bad rap. It is assumed, or at least taken for granted that, if you can clap your hands or bang two things together, you’ve got it. This is not true. Anyone who has tried to get a room full of people to clap along to the breakdown in ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ knows this. As indeed do children of the 80s who listened to bootleg tapes of rock bands playing concerts in Japan (‘Lycheeee…’) This is especially true in the case of rhythm guitar.

It seems there are two types of person, broadly speaking, who pick up the guitar: navel-gazers and wannabe shred-heads. I guess I’m the latter- ferociously attempting to set the fretboard on fire by friction alone, sounding all the while like someone cutting steel cables with a buzz-saw… but I’ve been known to ‘janga-janga’ along with the best of them while perched on the edge of my bed feeling sorry for myself…

The art of rhythm guitar is an arcane and mystical practice- and not just because I have to look up the spelling every time I go to type it out. Oft over-looked in favour of flashy technique and ‘million-note-a-minute’ solos, true ‘rhythmic’ guitar playing is a wonderful and absolutely essential element in a good piece of music. That has guitars in it. Obviously.

I have had the great fortune to work with the outrageously talented Ciarán Lynch in a number of recording studios. Among the many pearls of wisdom imparted by him was the importance of a clearly defined, consistent rhythm to provide a foundation on which to build your song. Quite apart from anything else, good rhythm playing helps to develop discipline and timing- two things without which any further advancement would be seriously hampered, if not scuppered.

As for examples of exceptional rhythm playing? I can think of two right off the bat. Try The Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones. Despite claims to the contrary, Jones was, and is, a fantastic player. Tight, crisp and yet devastatingly bombastic, his playing on ‘Never Mind the Bollocks…’ is a lesson in consistency.

For playing of a different kind, more subtle and understated but no less vital- put Guns’n’Roses’ ‘Appetite for Destruction’ through a good set of headphones and concentrate on your left ear. Slash may have gotten all the glory, but Izzy Stradlin’ is, for me, the unsung hero of the band. His playing is sublime. Solid and yet whimsical, sometimes harsh and biting, at other times lyrical and sweet. Oh and Hal Lindes too... Stevie Ray, Jeff Beck....

Just because most bass guitars have two fewer strings doesn’t necessarily make them easier to play. By the same token, the art of good rhythm playing lies in making it look easy.

And finally… how do you get a guitar player to turn down? Put music in front of him. Ah haw haw…




I am, of course, immesurably cooler and hipper than my parents were at my age. I do not use the expression 'new-fangled' and can adapt reasonably well to new technology; I understand much of the modern patois of the current crop of adolescent creatures; it's not yet too loud and ipso facto, I'm not (yet) too old; I can use words like 'cool' and 'hip' ironically and therefore with ennui and a world-weary style; I italicise with flair.

Nevertheless, there is a yawning generation gap opening before me. I vaguely sensed it before now, in the same way one has an inkling that, when the bedside alarm goes off, it should have done so an hour ago. Little things, small but acute, like a horsefly bite or a bout of unexpected gluteal neuralgia. The worst part is- it's not between me and my kids. At nine, seven, five and one, I'm still something of an epic, god-like figure to one of them. The older three are starting to suspect that I'm a major bluffer and a bit of a clown. No, the chasm is between me and my wife....

She's ten years younger than me you see. Don't get me wrong, she's wonderful and we have, on balance, bonded seamlessly. Our age-appropriate maturity levels coincide exactly and she keeps me abreast of the latest developments in 'Heat', 'Closer', 'Now', 'Dance Moms' and something called a 'Kardashian'; while I endlessly impart indispensable knowledge on the finer, delicately-aged, vintage aspects of life (MT USA, vinyl, 'Lord of the Rings', 'Three's Company', 'Diff'rent Strokes' and so on). This however, is where the cracks are starting to appear.

It all started when we discovered that Ritchie Sambora had pulled out of the European leg of Bon Jovi's current tour. To my wife, this was a mere inconvenience, a minor disappointment. After all, it's all about the songs right? And anyway, Jon's the main man no? They're still Bon Jovi aren't they? When you get right down to it. Essentially.

Me? I went spare. This was an outrage! Jon without Ritchie? A Dodge without a Charger? A stallion without a cowboy? Unthinkable. I contacted Citizen's Advice wondering was this a breach of contract under the trades' description act. I rang hotlines, helplines, care-lines, The Samaritans, Denise from 'This Morning' (didn't hear back from her); I shook my fist in a vaguely threatening manner while muttering, 'Why I oughta...'; I even bought a trilby, took it off, threw it onto the ground and jumped up and down on it.

In Bongiovia, back in the '80s, there were two distinct tribes- the Jonoclasts and the Ritchivites. I was firmly in the latter camp (I suspect this is a very appropriate term). Ritchie was a darker, more dangerous yin to Jon's wholesome, all-American yang. His sallow skin and smouldering glare provided the perfect antidote to Bonner's toothy, albeit infectious, mugging. The growling backing vocals, the outrageously catchy riffs.... And as for his conch-band cowboy hat and full-length crystal-encrusted trench coat.... He was, and is, the man. The very idea of Bon Jovi, the band, without him was ludicrous. It was bad enough when Alec John Such did a John Deacon and vanished off the face of the planet. Aliens probably. But this?

No, the point of a band is the band. Key figures are an essential part of the whole. It's a question of loyalty you see. Solo artists engender a particular type of devotion- more focussed and often veering toward the obsessive. Bands, especially rock bands, are comprised of individuals- each having their own personality, style and image. Inevitably, fans of a band gravitate towards one (or more) member(s). Sometimes for very specific reasons. Drummers, guitarists, bass-players, identify with their respective musical counterparts. Singers are a little different, of course. Instrumentalists usually tend, at first, to imitate in the hope of learning the tricks of the trade (or in the case of bass-players, whether to hold the pointy bit or the other end). Singers arrive perfectly formed, omniscient and with (as yet) undiscovered mega-star potential. Owning, as I do, a guitar or two, a few of my own favorites include- Smith, Slash, May, Gilmour, Knopfler and, in this case, Sambora. A band, a truly great band, is the sum of its parts, and no one member is greater than the whole.

And so, when I discovered that, without comment or explanation, 20% of Bon Jovi (40% if you include Alec) was going to be absent without leave, I was pretty upset. To lose one member may be considered unfortunate, to lose two is careless. Especially when one of them is so iconic and neither of them are dead. I saw 'Thin Lizzy' recently in the O2. As a Lizzy cover band, they were great. It was a thrill to see Brian, Brian, Eric and Scott again but without Phil? Really? The frontman, (I want to say Ricky Warwick...?) was gallantly attempting to put his own stamp on the songs and did an admirable job but in reality, this is like trying to finger-paint the Sistine Chapel. No disrespect to the chap, just a very tall order. Queen and Paul Rogers? Hmmm.... rather like swimming and knitting- great on their own but a bit soggy when combined.

Perhaps I'm being unfair. After all, there's no attempt to deceive us here. And, in most cases, the missing links are no longer operating on the corporeal plane. I'm lead to believe that a recent holographic Tupac performance left many of his fans feeling distinctly uneasy. When you're gone, you're gone and the music must live on. The show must go on. You can't have it both ways I suppose.

On the upside, as a result of my foray into the shadowy and hitherto unsuspected world of help-lines, I now know how to get a red wine stain out of a silk blouse and what to do if I accidentally drop a sanitary product into the toilet. Every cloud...




Given the relatively short span of the human life-cycle, 18 years is a significant amount of time. Roughly about a quarter, by today’s standards, or a fifth if you’re lucky. I’m forty two now (if you are a Douglas Adams fan, this is a very important and auspicious number) and 18 years is perilously close to half my life. It’s also how long I was away from karate training before resuming two years ago.

I started training in 1985 in Dublin. Cycling to class and back, immersed in the sheer joy of balletic yet lethal movement. There was the added thrill of knowing that you had chosen a relatively unusual discipline and were part of a pretty exclusive club. I loved it, as many did, but I was also passionate about my guitar and, I say this with burning pride, my RPG pursuits. The guitar, and music in general, has flourished to the point that I am now a semi-professional musician; I was a fully-fledged professional for some 12 years, but circumstances intervened and I became a postman (long story); and I still collect and cherish my fantasy RPG games and accoutrements. So what happened to karate? Why was I, in 1993 as a 1st kyu, able to walk away from something I had devoted eight years of my life to?

The short answer is I don’t know. I could hazard a few guesses but at this stage, it’s not really that important. What matters is, I’m back. And I am suffering. In ways I never expected.

Karate can be a cruel master; it is also a rewarding and immensely enjoyable pursuit. Forceful, dynamic and elemental on the one hand; subtle, insidious and addictive on the other. Karate very quickly begins to influence many areas of your life in unexpected ways. I find myself answering ‘oss’ in everyday conversations with colleagues and friends. I often practice kata in public places in an odd, robotic shuffle confined within a tiny, imaginary box. I employ tension and kime in inappropriate situations, giving people the impression that I’m having some sort of fit. Karate is art, philosphy and a life-style. It is, above all, very difficult to return to after such a long time away.

Everything is a challenge. From the embarrassment of realising that your old 180cm belts barely touch ends around the middle-age spread, to the frankly alarming pops and creaks that accompany even the lightest stretching session. I am constantly out of breath on the dojo floor and struggle to prevent my pasta arribiata con pollo from making an unwelcome appearance during evening classes. Where once I leapt gracefully and sprang, gazelle-like, during kumite, I now move like a monster truck negotiating a pile of old stock-cars; the thunderous pounding of my raw-soled, flat feet echoing throughout the dojo as I ponderously telegraph my every intention to people two counties away.

My centre of gravity and balance is, by now, so off-kilter that any technique that involves spinning or turning is an act of pure, blind faith. I accelerate wildly, throw myself into a spin, and hope that the twin pillars of momentum and inertia will favour me with (a) a start and (b) a stop. Sometimes I get it right and can move on; other times I teeter drunkenly, flailing for balance and praying that Sensei is looking elsewhere while I regain my composure. I can still kick reasonably well but only by flinging my legs out with such reckless abandon that, if I were wearing shoes, they would surely fly off, arc gracefully through an open window and land in the bed of a passing lorry, never to be seen again.

To sum up, I’m making a rookie mistake. Rather like a novice trying to imitate a master, I’m trying to ignore the last 18 years. I’m trying to pick up exactly where I left off. I'm trying to pretend that years of less than ideal diet and exercise regimes have had no effect on my body. For me, this is simply not possible. It’s taken me two years back training to realise that I need to take my karate back to first principles. Less of a ‘light-bulb’ moment; more a sandbag dropping from a height. I have the knowledge, but I do not, yet, have the capabilty. I may never again confidently and effectively kick maewashi-geri jodan, but that does not make me a poor karate-ka. Technique and spirit are of utmost importance. Karate is an adaptive art and can be tailored to suit anyone, even me. I must practice slowly, concentrating on the fundamentals. If I can only kick chudan, so be it, but I must ensure a devastatingly effective technique.

It’s not all bad though, lest you think I’m being thoroughly morbid. I obtained my shodan under Kanazawa Nobuaki Kancho in October 2012 and, if anything, I am more determined to live up to the responsibility of the rank. Content to leave the attainment of legendary status to others, I’m just happy to be back and to be training to the best of my ability.

When one is a young buck, brimming with energy and potential, the object is to exceed your limitations. Push your boundaries and soar to new heights. At my age, boundaries are more like garden fences- I must work within them and learn to create harmony in my own little patch of ground. Sure, every once in a while I’ll kick a football into my neighbour’s garden but hey, that’s the spirit of adventure that started me on this journey in the first place.




Before I start, I need to set the record straight about something. I have nothing personal against 'bedroom virtuosos' (virtuosi?) who post videos of their not inconsiderable talents on YouTube for all to see.  Fair play I say, good luck to ye and much good it may do you. I do however have an issue with two related consequences of this activity. The first is the ubiquitous and sadly inevitable 'trolling' that ensues whenever someone dares to share their hard work and dedication with the rest of us. Simply put, if you can't find anything nice to say, f*ck off, become a hermit and paint your poison on the walls of a lonely cave far, far from the rest of us.
   
The second is the 'hurler in the ditch' syndrome (as we say here on the aul sod). The insular and slightly anti-social nature of solitary widdling (ahem). Many of you guys are great, don't get me wrong, but there is a world of difference performing guitar pyrotechnics sitting down, in the comfort of your bedroom, with only a camera for an audience. On stage, with the lights, the sweat, the nerves, the weight of the guitar, possibly even a hostile crowd (or worse, another guitar player), things are very, very different. To paraphrase Joe Walsh- get out there, perform live. Anywhere and anytime you can, over and over again. Nothing beats the experience and learning curve of a live performance.

This is all by way of introduction to something which, even after 30 years of playing the guitar, still gives me huge pleasure- learning something new. Particularly something which I, in the past, considered beyond my capabilities. Now, we're not necessarily talking about the Concerto D'Aranjuez (although pleasure is too mild a word to describe the achievement of successfully navigating that piece), but something rather more prosaic- the solo in 'The Final Countdown' by Europe.

I know what you're thinking, I do, but bear with me. For a start, 'The Final Countdown' is the ultimate guilty pleasure (anything by Smokie running a close second...) The swelling intro chords; the insidiously catchy keyboard riff; the galloping tempo; the crystal-clear, soaring vocal- it's all there. And, right smack bang in the middle- a thunderous, neo-classical romp best imitated by rapidly fluttering the tongue in and out of the mouth in a 'blurbly-blurbly-blurbly' fashion familiar to all who have 3 year-old children. It's stupendous in every conceivable way.

For years, I used play the guitar solo in an ad hoc, 'throw your fingers at the fretboard and hope for the best' sort of way. Fairly convincing to the untrained eye but, deeply unfulfilling and left me feeling a little cheap and nasty. Then, along came YouTube and with it a seemingly endless parade of musicians prepared to share the mystical secrets of the guitar and the proper playing thereof. It's a fantastic resource and one that, with some common sense and prudent editorial discretion, is absolutely invaluable. For the first time, John Norum's astonishing fluidity and dexterity swam into sharp focus and seemed achievable. Not easy, oh no, but possible.

I mastered the solo in, what I'd like to think, was a pretty short time. I practised diligently in my music room (that's what the bedroom becomes when you're paying the mortgage!) I knew however, that the real test would be playing it live, as part of the Dad Rock set. I had two principal concerns- 1) That I might fluff it and (2) I'd be laughed of the stage as soon as people recognised the tune. To my enternal (and continual) surprise, neither of these things happened. Quite the opposite in fact, they loved it. It's still part of the set today and, despite nearly dislocating my larynx attempting to sing the bloodly thing (damn you Tempest!), it remains a firm favourite.

The moral of the story? Never give up, never stop learning and get out there and play!


It's a sad fact that, despite desperately clinging on to whatever miniscule measure of 'cred' you might have had (long,long ago), your previously liberal and highly original views on life, the universe and everything tend to constrict over time. Whereas once, as a young buck, you would stridently remonstrate with anyone who had the temerity to question the ear-splitting volume at which the 'tish-tish-cahhh' spilled out from your walkman headphones on the 14A bus- if it's too loud, you're too old- now, you jump in near hysteria when turning on the television after your children have been comatose in front of it and bemoan their obvious lack of aural sensitivity and hitherto undetected deafness. When, as a teenager, you dressed in an edgy, avant-garde style, mirroring and paying homage to your idols at the time, you were achingly hip and beyond cool. Funnily enough, as you crest forty and begin the alarmingly rapid descent down the other side, youngsters imitating present-day trend-setters are slavishly bound by the agenda of the media and are being turned into mindless drones with little or no personal freedom. Odd that....

And so it is that I have developed a bit of a hobby-horse. A soap-box on to which I will leap at the every opportunity, without even the slightest encouragement. Baby names. Modern day baby names.

An innocent enough subject, one might think. None of your bloody business, others might say, with some justification. But, there are two relatively recent developments in the practice of naming one's offspring that really grind my gears. The first is using nicknames as proper names and the second is calling your baby after a celebrity or 'sleb' as they are now known.

The first of these, nicknames, is innocuous enough and I should really mind my own beeswax. I just feel that, if you give a child a nickname as a proper name, that's it, they're stuck with it. The contraction, the pet name, the term of endearment is already there and is used by everyone, every day. The name, to my mind, loses all meaning and cannot be reversed. You can go from John to Jack, James to Jamie, but never the other way around. 

The second, celebrity baby names, is a much thornier issue, and there are a number of important reasons behind this. Chief among them is that, in the vast majority of cases, the celebrity has chosen their stage name for a particular impact and their given names are often much more prosaic and easy to live with. Secondly, particularly in Ireland, the average surname does not lend itself to an exotic first title- Shakira O'Malley, Diego Keegan and Maddison Murphy are not, one feels, wholly consistent with the spirit of the thing. Thirdly, the practice of a child's given name being a surname originated in the US as a means of women who were marrying into rich and powerful families to preserve a sense of identity and to carry on, in some small measure, the legacy of their maiden name. Hence Bradley, Blake, Carter, Spencer and so on as forenames. The tradition does not translate quite so well this side of the pond.

'Oh-ho,' you may say to yourself, 'the lady doth protest too much. This is a bit of a storm in a teacup, a tempest in a tin can, much ado about nothing. Perhaps there's more to this than meets the eye...' And, yes, I must come clean. I am, in no small way, guilty of almost exactly the same thing that I denounce so readily.

I have three sons and, while the first born bears no burden, his brother's middle name is Rory and their 13-day old baby brother was so named that 'Ozzy' would be a viable contraction, should he so wish.

I am a hypocrite, a charlatan and an unforgiveable snob but I still maintain that, despite my failings, I did it my way.

(Oh and FYI, that walkman- an Akai with auto-reverse and a bass booster! iPod m'iArse....)

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