The problem with Jonny was that, no matter how much he practised, he was never going to master playing the cello. And he practised a lot. We knew this because we heard every screech and every scratch of his bow scraping slowly against those strings - our family dining room backed onto the converted garage where Jonny tortured his instrument for hours at a time on a daily basis. I should add that he was only nine, two years younger than me, but he was as far from being a child prodigy in a string quartet as it was possible to be.
The neighbours' converted garage not only housed Jonny's cello but also a neglected upright piano. I was friends with Jonny's sister Lindsay and it would be fair to say that she and I also shared his misplaced musical aspirations. When 'Tubular Bells' had been around a little while and everyone was talking about it, we took it upon ourselves to compose a similar opus on said piano. I mean, how hard could it be? Neither of us had been taught to play any kind of keyboard but I knew my way around descant and tenor recorder, I had a pink and white plastic tambourine and, as for Lindsay's musical abilities... well, actually she didn't have any unfortunately, she was tone-deaf. But she did have the piano.
We tinkered around on that thing in the cold garage room in the Winter of '74/'75, surrounded by boxes of apples from the tree in their unkempt garden, various unidentified electrical appliances and a permanently rolled-up rug in the corner. The piano was, of course, untuned, but we put a couple of little themes together by remembering to press this key and that, the third black one along and those two white ones at the same time, etc. - convinced that at the end of it we would be as famous as Mike Oldfield - more so, in fact, because we were only 11 - and have a best-selling album in the charts. 'Cause it's that easy, isn't it.
Such is the naiveté of childhood - and how lovely it was really to have that. We messed around on inadequate musical instruments without inhibition and taught ourselves to remember our made-up sequences, motivated simply by the joy of doing it and our daft fantasy ideas. Isn't it a shame that at some point in life all that carefree attitude gets replaced with something more serious? Music lessons demanded progression and perfection, there might even be exams. Unrealistic personal expectations led to frustrations and frequent giving up. I've started to wonder if I could go back to that childhood approach and learn to play an instrument without all the adult stress that might accompany it - have some fun, not be too hard on myself, see what happens - especially as they say that learning to play one later in life can boost your brain's health, help with cognitive function, improve your creativity and memory too. It's just a shame perhaps (for the neighbours, anyway) that my ideal instrument of choice would be an accordion, and that I live in a terraced cottage with quite thin walls...
I keep thinking about it, though, because I just love the accordion - the way it sounds, the way it looks. I'm wondering: maybe start with a cute concertina at least; it takes up less room too. Does anyone reading this know how to play one? If you could play any instrument (that you perhaps don't already), what would it be?
Anyway, let me treat you now - here are three favourite songs with accordions:
Fairport Conventon: Si Tu Dois Partir