The Week in Radio: Satisfaction guaranteed with this guitar hero
Thursday 19 May 2011
Obviously, any rock legend hopes he'll die before he gets old, but there's always the possibility that taking all those substances will have a pickling effect. So post rehab and the comeback album, what's the coolest thing the veteran legend can do? The answer, surprisingly, seems to be radio. Bob Dylan, whose 70th birthday is being celebrated in style on BBC radio next week, delighted his fans by turning DJ for Theme Time Radio Hour. Others from Alice Cooper all the way to Barry Manilow have followed suit. Forget the old accessories of the pop star life, the yachts, the jets, the African orphans. For the music legend, a show of your own is the ultimate must-have and Ronnie Wood has it in spades.
Wood, who this month won a Sony award for Music Radio Personality of the Year, was hired in 2010 by Absolute Radio in an inspired move that garnered loads of publicity. It helped that Ronnie took to broadcasting like a natural, describing it as "great therapy", yet in true rock star style his performance is not always consistent. Sometimes, he is forward with the memories, recalling that he saw Jimi Hendrix on the night he died or why Bill Wyman refuses to fly, but at other times he's less chatty. Last weekend, for example, he sounded a little drowsy and was skimping on the rock'n'roll detail, but he still got out his guitar and played a riff, confiding, "It's in the early stages of being written so you can nick that one if you want." He can get technical, discussing a song's DNA, or he can be disarmingly straightforward, "You can't really understand the lyrics," he remarked of one track, "but the bits you can understand are about eating strange food." Though you yearn for more talk, the atmosphere is unpretentious, intimate and decidedly mellow, and his music choices are faultless. It's only rock'n'roll, but frankly, that's what's great about it.
I wouldn't venture to say with Ronnie, but what a lead guitarist most needs is "musicality, personality and a thumping great ego" according to Nick Barraclough, who once played in a backing band to Chuck Berry and whose Twangmasters on Radio 4 provided a riveting insight into the world of the lead guitarist. The difference between riffs and licks, for example. "A riff is a signature part to the song, a lick is a short phrase identifiable to you," or whether the thickness of the paint, or the dye in the lacquer changes the guitar's tone. (Yes, apparently.) Band psychology matters too. "The lead guitarist and the lead singer are the pilot and the co-pilot of the band, but which one says he's actually flying the thing is the problem." By common consent everyone's favourite was George Harrison and the best bit came when veteran guitarists attempted to crack the rock equivalent of Fermat's Last Theorem – exactly what chord Harrison played at the beginning of A Hard Day's Night. The answer, in case you never fathomed it, was "an F shape over a G base with an added G on a high E string".
Rock stars who do get old often wash up in Surrey, and indeed Guildford was the location for Mark Davies Markham's neatly conceived Deep Down and Dirty Rock'n'Roll, starring the genuine ex-pop star, Suggs, playing Ed, lead singer of Lost Youth, who wants a comeback. His problem is Zac Smith, "the mythical dead one" of the group, whose new life as Carl Johnson, financial adviser, is starting to fall apart. This was cleverly done, rippling with metaphor and beautifully performed both by Burn Gorman as Zac and by Suggs. Indeed, Suggs who has an impressive acting career, is now, like Ronnie, a sparkling advertisement for the sorted second act of a music legend's life.
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