‘Connect’ 10.05 service from Welwyn to Kings Cross pulled up at New Barnet station. I stood at the open door. It was February 2007, drizzling and cold. Where was Danny?!
Suddenly a small stout figure appeared from nowhere, bundling along the platform. Seeing me, he threw himself through the door, his plump face grinning widely. “Almost missed it!”
“Where’s your jacket?” I noticed spots of rain on his grey shirt.
“I didn’t have time to get it.” Typical Danny, always late for school or his guitar lessons!
“Aren’t you cold?”
“No,” he said, shivering. Then, “Dad gave me some money.” He brandished a couple of tenners.
“You’ll need it where we’re going!”
Half an hour later we passed through the hallowed doors of Harrods, England’s premier department store. There, for a month, was Born to Rock, an exhibition of electric guitars. We wandered past hundreds of instruments of every size and shape imaginable. Here, a handcrafted black guitar, sculpted into the shape of an alien. On sale at a cool eight and a half grand. There, a shabby, dented Stratocaster, nearly all the paint worn off, a survivor of countless gigs by the Irish blues legend, Rory Gallagher.
Guitars owned by members of the Who, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin rubbed shoulders with modern instruments given hand-painted custom finishes – a hummingbird sipping at iridescent flowers, a lizard with a long outstretched blue tongue, a naked woman with huge breasts. “Don’t look, Danny!” I said covering his eyes with my hands. We laughed.
Beyond the guitars lay an art exhibition by the Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood; pencil drawings, multi-media prints, and oils.
“Is that an original?” I asked an attendant, admiring an impressive portrait of Bob Marley.
She smiled. “No, some of the drawings are original but the rest are limited edition prints. You can take photos if you want.”
I busied myself taking pictures of everything, snapping lifelike images of Mick Jagger and Freddie Mercury amongst landscapes and still-lifes. Ronnie was no slouch when it came to art!
We returned to the guitar exhibition, now thinking it odd to see all those instruments displayed like dusty museum pieces, instead of in the hands of some outrageous ‘rocker,’ pounding out ear-splitting riffs.
Most of them weren’t protected. When the security guards weren’t looking you could reach out and strum the strings. Finally, we reached a glass case in a special enclosed area. A guard hovered nearby.
“What’s this?” asked Danny.
I consulted an article in the catalogue. “It’s the Electric Frying Pan. A prototype electrified Hawaiian guitar, designed by Georges Beauchamp in 1931. The world’s first ever electric guitar!”
The fingerboard was in bad condition with missing and rusty frets, and the large silver pickup over the small round body was corroded.
“What d’you mean the first?” asked Danny, wide-eyed.
“The first. The one before the second! The one that started … everything.” I waved towards the maze of guitars beyond.
We stood, silently, gazing in awe.
Featured in the book and audiobook, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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