Maybe it’s an antidote to the continuing darkness – though it’s not quite as dark as this time last week – but I feel compelled to write about uplifting things at the moment. Last week it was wee Dougie and the dancing. This week it’s music and singing.
First the music. I’ve just this afternoon heard from my songwriter daughter Anna that ‘the baby’, whose neck had been broken, is back in the land of the living again. I should explain …
In March 1973, a week-long, landslide-dodging truck journey out of the Andes landed me in the Peruvian jungle town of Pucallpa on the River Ucayali, one of the headwaters of the Amazon. A dilapidated, muddy frontier town, I remember very little about it except for a warehouse stuffed with the skins of exotic animals and snakes; and down a rutted lane, astonishingly, a guitar-maker’s shop.
I could hardly believe my luck. The guitar my girlfriend and travelling companion, also Sarah, had bought me before we left the UK had been stolen a few days before and I was lost without it. In his dusty, cluttered workshop the guitar-maker showed me a succession of beautiful instruments, all for sale at ludicrously low prices. But I was worried about the damage they would suffer on the rest of our travels.
In the end, for ten dollars, I bought a half-sized guitar made by his 14-year-old son. I chose it partly because of its lovely rich tone, partly because it was made of a type of wood that weighed practically nothing. It spent the next six months on buses and boats, planes and trains, making its way through Latin America, the USA and Canada in a bright yellow plastic fertiliser sack. I wrote many of my favourite songs on it and it made us many friends along the way. When we finally got back to the UK I kept on playing it, even though my pride and joy, a fine 1971 Martin D35, had been waiting patiently for me for nearly a year.
In later years ‘the baby’, as I’d always called it, became more and more battered and eventually began to fall apart, but I kept gluing or screwing it back together again, and despite my inexpert repairs it continued to sound as resonant as ever. When Anna moved to London three years ago she took it with her and there, finally, the tension got to it again and the poor thing’s head fell off. But now, after a spell in hospital, it’s well again and I can’t wait to hear it when I next see her.
‘The baby’ will be 43 years old in March. Its maker will be 57. How I wish he knew what had become of it, what adventures it has had, and how it has continued to sound as good as it did when he made it. And what did he go on to make of his life, I wonder? I would like to imagine that he got out of Pucallpa, perhaps to Lima, and ended up making even more beautiful instruments than his father …
One of the reasons I was delighted for Anna to take ‘the baby’ to London with her is that over the years, as much out of laziness as anything, I’ve mostly forsaken the guitar for the piano. The piano doesn’t hurt my fingers and you don’t have to get it out of a case or tune it. What’s more, I’m lucky to have another baby – a baby grand piano, given to me by my mother after she’d married my stepfather, who already had a good piano.
Last weekend this baby came into its own when we invited some friends and neighbours around, and once everyone had eaten and had a glass in their hands, my new musical partner Dave Amos and I set about our repertoire of 60s and 70s classics. We had printed out the words and for a few hours the living room rang to the sound of about 20 people singing their hearts out. Everyone was having fun, smiling and laughing together, and the voices were sending waves of happy energy through the house. Like the dancing the previous weekend, I was reminded how singing releases in us something that is caged for so much of the time; it opens us up and connects us to one another. Gareth Malone would have been proud of us.
We now have an Amos & Jauncey Facebook page and we’d be glad if you could tootle along and like us. House concerts a specialty (piano desirable but not essential)! We’ll be posting some actual music soon.