There's something nice about a solo acoustic artist. Just a person with a guitar pouring their heart out to a pub full of indifferent drunks concentrating on their parmigianas. But the simplicity and honesty of a voice and guitar combo can only get you so far. There are occasions when a song needs a little something extra: accompaniment.
I was at a pub on Sunday where a young man on guitar was playing classic hits from yesteryear. It's a risky set for a young musician as they're almost certain to be cornered later by a baby boomer rocker with tedious music stories. Like the time they saw ACDC before they were big at West Preston gym for 50 cents.
Years ago when discmans were still a thing of wonderment, I used to take one on the train. Inevitably, I'd be asked by an old rocker what I was listening to. If it was anything recorded prior to 1990, out would come the music war stories starting with ACDC at West Preston gym. I heard this tale from so many people that if all were to be believed, the gym would have had a bigger capacity than Wembley Stadium. How fit were the people of West Preston in the early 70s to warrant a gym of this magnitude?
When it came time for the guitarist to play Neil Young's Heart of Gold, he stepped it up with some self accompaniment. Out came a harmonica in a harmonica holder.
I play guitar and harmonica and I too have a holder that allows me to play the blues harp hands free. One day I was strummin' and tootin' that very song, when I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of a computer screen. I was immediately repelled. There is just no way to look cool wearing a harmonica holder.
I think it's because the apparatus resembles dental headgear and wearing one leaves you feeling as though you should be teased by a high school bully.
There's also something inherently emasculating about a harmonica holder. As soon as you place it on your shoulders you go from music god, to looking like Darth Vader after Luke removed his helmet.
But what do you do? Do you hire someone to hold it in front of your mouth instead? In that case, you may as well get them to play it. Of course then you are no longer a solo acoustic artist, you're a duo; a duo where you're doing all the heavy lifting while the twerp next you to exhales every now and then and takes home half the pay.
It's a quandary and I don't have an answer. But if you are a musician contemplating playing guitar and harmonica, just take a moment before you hit the stage to ask yourself, "Do I look more like Dylan, or Bert from Mary Poppins?"