Feet of clay?

Well now, this is awkward.

A while ago I interviewed Joe Satriani and made note of the fear that obtains when you meet a hero of yours as it’s hard not to feel they will be gurning idiots or simply have feet of clay. I noted when I met and interviewed Peter Hammill, which was delightful, and he noted when he met Eric Clapton, which was traumatic.

Tonight I met my first guitar teacher again.

I was visiting an old friend in Norwich and he noted that Lee Vasey was playing a gig on Tuesday night, and perhaps we should go. Well, what a mixed set of emotions that conjured up.

To give you an idea of the influence here, Lee started teaching me when I was fifteen, and while in retrospect he wasn’t the best teacher, he was a fantastic example. That’s in no way meant to be rude. He was a guitarist who taught. I learnt an awful lot from him in terms of technique, theory, attitude and general musicianship, though most of it was through watching and listening to him. And I still feel privileged to have had him from the get-go.

Right then, a little scene-setting. This was Norwich in 1982. I’m sure you can fill in the blanks. Lee had a pretty hot trio going, with Neil Westgate on drums and a bassist whose day job was as a stne mason. They played Jazz-rock primarily, with Lee doing some rather splendid things on the guitar. Chuck Mangione’s Take 5 (in 4), the theme to War of the Worlds, Jeff Beck, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour … all manner of stuff. All Norwich’s musos seemed to be there, and there was me too.

One night he was playing at the Mischief Tavern on a Sunday night. I was a boarder at Norwich School, and somehow persuaded my house master to let me go to the pub to watch him (I was 15). Who should I meet but the school music teacher who’s a friend of Lee’s. He tells me that next time Lee’s playing I should tell the housemaster he said both myself and Ed should watch for the benefit of our musical education. Then he bought me a pint. Or two. As he did when Ed and I were there a few weeks later. How things have changed.

Lee was the epitome of the professional musician. Hard-working, talented, skilled and often under-appreciated. The man could certainly play.

Oddly, as I type, I think he’s logged onto my blog to see what I got up to.

So. A lot of water passes under the bridge. I have a career as a pro guitar player which doesn’t go entirely to plan, though I’m called ‘the best english guitarist I’ve heard in ten years’ by Mike Oldfield’s drummer and Lee Kerslake of Ozzy Osbourne and Uriah Heep fame says I remind him of Randy Rhoads … no small compliment. Still, I teach loads and publish seventy or so articles on the guitar but never ‘make it’ … I think I spoke with him some fifteen or so years ago, but it’s tough to tell.

So. Richard and I have dinner (where the waiter writes a note on the receipt ‘Hope you have a lovely week, Sean’ … did we look particularly gay?) and then go to the wine bar where Lee’s playing. We hear some rather out of tune singing and it’s a little worrying. We enter and see Lee playing whil a woman ‘sings’. I don’t recognise him at first, but then it dawns on me – he’s playing what is essentially a karaoke set.

Eventually the death by karaoke takes a break and I go to say hi. He has no idea at first but then recognition spreads across his face and we have a nice catch-up session. I really can’t remember what we talked about, other than it was nice and warm and brought back all manner of memories.

It reminded me, most of all, of what a vocation music is, and how musicians are monumentally unappreciated by society. They give their all and are most often rewarded with scraps from the master’s table.

Sometimes you may at first think that he who was once a hero has feet of clay, but then, then you realise that it was clay from which god made man. The feet may be clay, but it only takes the breath of life to transform notes into music, flesh into a mentor.

I was touched tonight in a way that only an artist can be.