It’s been a long time, been a long time, been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time. But it’s all over now.
As I shuffle inside, trying to look cool, inconspicuous, one of the boyz, I am struck by an overwhelming sense of wonder.
After all these years, travelling through life with a nagging sense of incompleteness, a great revelation comes upon me. This is where I am meant to be. My destiny is waiting to be fulfilled, just through the door of a sprawling warehouse in the back-end of Birmingham.
The exterior of 136 Lawley Middleway in Nechells may evoke the dull anonymity of early 1980s architecture but behind the drab red bricks and black industrial shutters the atmosphere is reminiscent of a temple.
This is a veritable house of the holy and I have come to worship. So let us play. If you’ve never been to Professional Music Technology may I suggest you make the pilgrimage.
Satisfaction is guaranteed although there are a few prerequisites. First, you need to possess at least two of the following to really dig the vibe: middle-age angst; fading memories of teenage kicks; rock hair; tattoos; a black coat; eyebrow piercings; suspect mental stability; a tendency to break into air-guitar during board meetings, team briefings, medical consultation, or while using public transport.
Secondly, your very soul must lust for total immersion in the ancient rituals of rock. No stairway, no entry.
There’s lots of music stuff inside PMT. And yes, that is its abbreviated name. There are drums, acoustic guitars, keyboards (anyone for a Roland V-Synth Gt Version 2, 61 note synth with multiple oscillator technology?). But there is no doubt about the main event, and the reason I have come here: the electric guitars.
Aged 41, balding, intermittent back trouble, with little going for me musically except a sneak feeling I might just be the reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix, I have come here to buy my first ever leccy guitar. And you know what they say – you never forget your first time. True to form I am suffering an adrenaline overload; I’m all fumbles and breathlessness. I can’t believe I am actually going to touch IT. Oh, man, the curves.
It’s my wife’s fault I’m here. It is she who led me on this path of temptation. She and a couple of groovy chicks (my daughters) fixed up for me to have a taster guitar lesson with the Yamaha music school in the Jewellery Quarter. They had grown tired of my alcohol-induced late-night riff-along-a-Jimmy-Page sessions in the dining room. Unplugged and clueless, they decided it was time for me to play up or shut up.
I went along to my taster and was hooked by the crazy amplification of sound. So what if I could only play the E string (which is the bottom one, although cunningly there are two of them, at least I think there are)?
Guitars are provided at the classes and the tutors advise plectrum rookies to give it a few weeks before they plunge in and make a purchase, just in case it’s not for them. After all, how many homes of 40-somethings are littered with the pristine, unplayed guitars of rock flops? Discarded amps doubling as foot stools.
Naturally, I did the sensible thing – and rushed out to buy my electric lady. Did Keith Richards wait until he’d learned his chord progressions before he shelled out on one of these babies? Did Pagey make sure he’d mastered Finger Jogging Exercises 1 to 10 before splashing some moolah? No, man. Guitar is a calling.
Amazingly, absolutely amazingly, fate decreed I should receive a tax rebate at just this time. “That’ll help to pay off Christmas,” said my domestic muse. She was right, of course. We’re in the clag, cash-wise. But sometimes in life you gotta get your rocks off, so I headed to Lawley Middleway, without telling the missus.
Guitar ownership makes wildly sane sense in a recession. For a couple of hundred quid, far less if you haven’t hit the Inland Revenue jackpot, you can buy one of the best stress-busters on the market. If you don’t want the full electric feel, a decent acoustic can be had for £40 to £50. Learning to play requires such concentration that you forget everything else. There’s no more fretting, except with the frets.
And here I am, inside PMT, being guided to The Wall by this crazy cat called Hewey. The Wall is 150ft long and 20ft tall and is dripping with 600 of the world’s best, shiniest, sexiest guitars. Oasis’s Noel Gallagher shops here. He snapped up a vintage Gibson acoustic on his last visit. If it’s good enough for the geezer who penned Wonderwall, it’ll do fine for me.
“What are you looking for?” asks Hewey.
“Well, I’ve come to get myself a gee-tar,” I say, coming over all Delta bluesman. I can’t help myself.
“O-kay... Do you want to be a bit more specific?”
As we walk The Wall, my eyes are caught by the seductive hues of Gibson cherry sunbursts and the sledgehammer design of some heavy duty metal affairs. “Nothing too Megadeth. Or Metallica,” I says.
Hewey explains that the angular, flying V design of the metal guitars has practical, alternative applications.
“You can use them as weapons. You’ll need that when you go gigging in Smethwick,” he says. In the end, I settle on a classic 70s-style vintage modified Telecaster Custom. It’s in horny black maple. Looking at it leaves me in a purple haze. I let Hewey plug it in and he gives me a demo, because I haven’t got a clue how to play it. And that is it. I’m in love.
PMT is a great shop with brilliant, unsnotty service. Hewey doesn’t need to give me any sales patter but when he mentions Pagey played a Telecaster on Led Zeppelin I and the studio version of Stairway to Heaven I am sprinting for the till.
My Tele has a pair of chrome-covered humbuckers (me neither), a three-position toggle (no again) and 22 “medium jumbo” frets. But none of this matters because it looks cool – and it’s the Stairway guitar. And it’s mine.
I get an amp, some leads, picks and a black “gig bag” and that’s me set. “I’m living the dream,” I tell Hewey as he carries my gear, roadie style, to the car park.
And as one of those about to rock, he salutes me.