My mother started playing the guitar when she was in college, back in the late 60s. She had always been musical – achieving grade 8 on the piano, and playing cello and clarinet for her boarding school orchestra. The guitar was a more 60s- and 70s-friendly instrument, one you could pick up at a house party to play a Joan Baez or Bob Dillon song.
Her first guitar was one her mother owned. It’s lying around the house these days with no strings, no fret board. I gather it’s such poor quality it’s not worth the cost of getting it fixed up, so we keep it for its sentimental value more than anything. Someday soon it’ll be a museum piece.
Once my mother had mastered ten chords and some finger-picking techniques, she bought her second guitar. She met her French guitar teacher in the city, and together they picked out a guitar in Walton’s music shop, which is still the biggest music shop in Dublin today. It was the mid-1970s, and it cost her 25 pounds.
As a child, I played the violin and the tin whistle, and I surely must have picked up the guitar at some point, only to find that my fingers – long as they were for a child my age – couldn’t get to grips with the wide neck. But I didn’t give it much thought until I was fourteen. I was studying for my Junior Certificate in school that year, but I never had to do much work when I was younger to achieve good grades (that would change later, much to my shock and chagrin). I had just started listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Bob Dillon and Jeff Buckley, and I had a burning desire to learn the guitar.
So my mother’s second guitar became my first. Her music-playing days had gradually lapsed, and I was to carry the torch. I spend two or three solid years playing for hours each day, writing several songs a week during that time. I fell out of the habit, and never became really good, and now my shiny new Martin guitar sits in its box mostly untouched. But I still have a soft spot for that first Spanish guitar, and the memories it disturbs, rising like dust.