• Keiron Farrow

I started learning to play the guitar in June 1993, I was ridiculed about my decision for quite some time. All my mates were into rave music, and my girlfriend and my parents didn’t really get it either... Sometimes it pays not to listen. The sarcasm, put downs and sniggers were being drowned out by The Beatles, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, Cream and Eddie Cochran. I learnt bar chords in a week, playing ‘Come On Everybody’ on a Spanish guitar strung with heavy gauge strings and an action so high, I could put my hand into the sound hole, to retrieve a plectrum with ease. My biggest ambition in life up to that point had been wanting to be Spiderman. I’d still like to, as my spidey senses are first class. But being a guitar player was, so I thought, more realistic.

The biggest myth about the guitar and perhaps why a lot of people choose to learn, is that it's the top line instrument in any beat combo and as a result, a lot of really famous musicians are guitarists. Which gives the impression that it must be easy. The fact is, that despite its incredible range of sonic possibilities, its power and aesthetic allure, the guitar is a ridiculous instrument to learn. I am yet to encounter any other human activity which requires such odd motor skills. The fretting hand and by extension the arm, are operating upside down causing the neural messages between brain and arm to howl like Jimi’s Marshall stack. It’s uncomfortable in ways a pianist could never fathom. It’s painful; no wonder it's painful for anyone in earshot. All this before the right hand/arm starts windmilling…

All this being said, perhaps that’s why my obsession is so strong. What you put into the guitar, you always get back. Granted, I’ve realised that this is true of other instruments and yet it's still all about the guitar for me, to the point that it feels like an extension of who I am. Playing guitar is incredibly intimate, because it has to be held so close to the body, it's all about touch and feel. Certain chords have become so integral, E Augmented is definitely the chord that sounds most like me. More recently, I have become so enamoured by Open C Tuning because of the depth and resonance it creates. It puts me in a state of being that for me, Vipassana, Kundalini and Transcendental meditation have been unable to match.

Playing the guitar is such a valuable metaphor for living, in terms of how to focus effort in order to attain a sense of achievement, communication and collaboration. It is also massively humbling: you are always at the beginning. I can recall the first time I came across a video of Paco De Lucia playing Entre Dos Aguas and it made me want to literally burn my guitar and exclaim “What’s the point?”. I’ve experienced dozens of these instances, as I’m sure many other players have. But then, something kicks in and I carry on. And if I stick with it, I reckon one day I could be, at a push, a decent guitarist.

  • Keiron Farrow

I’ve always had a thing for trees. Well, it's a bit more than that really. They captivate me; I feel a sense of safety and protection when I’m surrounded by them. I can feel their living presence in the way one might be aware of others in a crowd or queue. Ever since I was small, there has always been a silent sense of recognition between us. I know this qualifies me as a ‘Tree Hugger’ and yes, I admit it, often I’ve wandered up to a tree in Abington Park (there’s a huge gnarled Beech that springs to mind) and run my hands along the skin, excuse me, bark.

I can distinctly recall cycling to work one morning just before my son was born and seeing what I call a ‘Mother Nature Moment’. On the edge of Nene Water Centre stands two mature Horse Chestnut trees and as I drew parallel with them on this particular cloudy, autumnal day, I saw a cluster of conkers suddenly skydive from the upper boughs and clatter onto the bonnet of a silver Mercedes SKL250; before scattering on the pavement and road. Firstly it made me chuckle and then feel like I’d seen a sort of miracle…I started to think about who lets go of who, is it the family tree or do the chestnuts know when it's their time? And their fate, to lay on concrete rotting, or to be pulverised by Pirellis. No chance to grow. I began to consider my imminent parenthood: the decisions I would have to make on behalf of my child; how much I could positively influence and protect and how much of the world they would have to navigate by themself one day…

In the last year or so I’ve become familiar with the work of Henry David Thoreau; finally, I’d found someone else who felt the force of a forest. His observations of the natural world and in particular trees are sublime. He talks about how they can stand for hundreds of years and they achieve this by knowing when to resist and when to accept change: how they sway so they don’t crack and fall. Which, I suppose is a pretty sound metaphor for the times we live in as much as Thoreau’s.

For me though, Howard Nemerov said it best in the poem ‘Trees’

“To be a giant and keep quiet about it,

To stay in one’s own place;

To stand for the constant presence of process

And always to seem the same;

To be as steady as a rock and always trembling,

Having the hard appearance of death

With the soft, fluent nature of growth…”

  • Keiron Farrow

In 1987, just after I’d started secondary school, I saw a video on Top Of The Pops of a tune being sung by a plasticine cat with deep, resonant tones; the like of which I'd never heard before. I realised that the voice was being overdubbed and that it was a woman singing. She sang of these seemingly glamorous characters: Liz Taylor, Lana Turner and Liberace. Of not caring for clothes, shows and high tone places...There was something in the way she phrased the lyrics: like having a conversation, it was effortless and it seemed really sophisticated and worldly compared to Tiffany, Kylie and Debbie Gibson. Not only that, it swung harder than any music I’d heard up to that point.

From then on Nina Simone was always with me. At first it was all about the voice, I mean, imagine opening your mouth and that sound coming out. Being able to take someone through pretty much every emotion in our earthly experience. Then her wonderful mixture of confidence and vulnerability. Her stance on racial inequality and the way she channelled it into her art. Her piano playing: incendiary and exquisite, combined with that voice enabled her to glide from Jazz to Folk via Show Tunes, Blues, Pop and Classical; as she does in ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’. Nina’s authenticity both on and off stage has become a guide in my own life and my endeavours as a musician.

Once, on a seventeen hour bus journey in Australia, loaded on black sambuca and bush weed; Nina singing ‘Take Me To The Water’ and ‘Don’t Smoke In Bed’ brought me back from the brink… In 2014 my wife and I separated. It was a strange old time.... A time when I started to reconnect with myself in ways I’d forgotten. I wandered into HMV Northampton one dreary Saturday and was thumbing the racks of vinyl, when I came across a cover with bold colourful lettering and the unmistakable majesty of Nina sat at a piano. It was a pressing of an album I was unfamiliar with: ‘Live At Town Hall’. The range of material and its execution combined with the audience’s hushed reverence was simply stunning. Not least, when I reached the end of side one, which concludes with an Irving Berlin tune: ‘I Don’t Want Him (You Can Have Him). The song unfurls like a miniature drama, with Nina sat talking to the woman who has taken her love away. She then slips into a reverie of moments from all the years they were together, as the other woman sits and listens in uncomfortable silence. The scene climaxes with Nina’s evocative sobs ascending a scale of transcendent, knowing triumph. She is free. I was too and I wept as I played the song over and over again.