Once upon a time I was fourteen years old and played in a band with four of my friends. We had a good time doing jangly renditions of Black Sabbath numbers inbetween the dreams of eternal stardom and plenty of screaming girls. My guitar playing buddy used to stand next to me when we rehearsed. He owned a copy of The Beatles' Live at the Hollywood Bowl, a record consisting entirely of screaming teenage girls. We were pretty sure our first concert would have screaming teenage girls, but first we had to stop sharing the old Roland amplifier. Real rock stars had walls of Marshall's. We had seen it in Kerrang! so it had to be true.
Then there was the no-name bass guitar. No matter where you looked, it gave no clue as to who had made it or where it came from. To shift the coolness balance a little, I spent hours copying the Motörhead logo onto a piece of paper and applied it to the back of its body. I can only imagine what Mr. Kilmister would have said had he seen it.
My grandfather got word of my foray into the world of performing arts. He had attempted to teach me how to play the accordion when I was nine, but I gave up. I suck at learning from others.
My grandfather, all three of his brothers, my mother, all of my mother's cousins and two of my great grandfathers was or had been musicians. Almost everyone in the extended family in the small town played some kind of instrument. I was the only one who listened to Motörhead.
One day he came to our house and told me I had gotten my first job. Him, my mother's uncle and me were hired to entertain a crowd of senior citizens on their annual senior citizen's club dinner. Needless to say, I was less than excited. I tried to look annoyed, but to no avail. He dragged me to his house to practice an insanely long repertoire of polka, waltz, several types of folk dance I can guarantee you you've never heard about, and to add insult to injury, the evergreens of the 1930's and 1940's.
We practiced and practiced, my grandfather, my mother's uncle and me. An accordion, a semi-acoustic guitar and an electric bass with no name. My mother's uncle told me the chords he played, I tried to duplicate them only to have my grandfather throw in some lessons on harmony to confuse the situation slightly more. I learnt to play things by ear that week.
On the big night I was plastered with stage fright. The old hands tried to comfort me the best they could, but their bassist was seemingly beyond rescue. At one point I overheard them discussing whether a bottle of beer would calm my nerves. That's how sweaty my palms were. Ultimately I had to make it through the musical purgatory on drink offerings from the kids menu. Sex and drugs and rock and roll.
The job lasted until midnight, and my grandfather politely refused to do requests because of me. On the whole I got through it with my honour intact, proven by the fact that I became a hired hand for the two figures on several occasions after that. I cannot remember if I ever got paid in money.
I don't know if it was my grandfather's trust in me or the diversity of music I got to play that made me a more confident musician. My regular band's distorted interpretations of Snowblind became less jangly in any case. The only thing we thought still sucked was our singer, but he was our ticket to the Disneyland of screaming teenage girls, so - well - he got to stay.
Years later I was reminded of those special times with my grandfather and my mother's uncle while horizontally listening to The Waterboys and the casual ambience of Jimmy Hickey's Waltz. If you need to get lost in music, earphones are a prerequisite by the way. All music has an inherent value to it, be it moshing in front of Cliff Burton (which I did in Oslo in 1986), losing my voice at an AC/DC concert (which I did in 1995), the steadfast beat requirements of a Finnish Tango or - the funniest of all - being called from the crowd to back someone singing something you really hate.
I am still the only one in my extended family listening to Motörhead though.
Jimmy Hickey's Waltz is an instrumental on The Waterboys' 1988 album Fisherman's Blues. It's written by Steve Wickham, Anthony Thistlethwaite and Mike Scott. The waltz clocks in at 2:07 and is played by Trevor Hutchison on an unwieldy upright bass, Steve Wickham on the fiddle, Anthony Thistlethwaite on a mandolin and Mike Scott himself on drums.
Apart from the fiddle, the waltz sounds fairly close to my grandfather, my mother's uncle and myself entertaining a crowd of senior citizens one summer night in 1981.
And Jimmy Hickey, who was he? From 1986 to 1990 he spent his days as a roadie for The Waterboys. On the cover of Fisherman's Blues he's found back row centre wearing sunglasses and a beard. He also did some of the artwork on the inner sleeve.