Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

If all else fails, there’s always basket weaving

If I fail to master playing licks on the blues harmonica, it may be my only remaining option

[Photo: Lukasok]

The only thing left for me now is to embrace humility and take up basket weaving. In our dog and ferret club in the 1990s we had a ferret guy called Ron. Ron was an old sweat Royal Marine and he applied Royal Marine levels of commitment and organisation to our dog and ferret shows, as a strategy, I think, in his battle against the bottle. In the Royal Marines, he told me, anyone suspected of alcoholism was sent on a basket-weaving course. All his ferret cages were hand woven and I went to his house once and his TVTimes had a beautiful basketwork cover.

Or the harmonica. I’ve lately made a serious start to learning to play licks on the blues harmonica. It is harder than it looks and I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll be around long enough to master even the simplest Sonny Terry or Magic Dick harmonica lick. I began a month ago by watching tutorials by harmonica virtuoso Adam Gussow. Typically the tutorial begins with Adam Gussow sitting in an austere room that’s probably never been smoked in and harping an inspiring but mind-bogglingly complicated blues riff, which is the fruition of 25 years’ solid practice and live gigging and possibly an iron-willed abstention from self-abuse. The lesson then consists of him breaking the riff down into sections and telling you which holes and when to suck or blow.

I don’t have that fleetness of thought required for knowing when to suck and when to blow

But even spelled out as patiently as this I find it impossible to make a melodic noise. I can get the right hole easily enough. There are ten and of those you might use only four. But I don’t have that fleetness of thought required for knowing when to suck and when to blow.

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