I’m not one to fetishise gear. I don’t know enough about technical stuff to hold forth on the virtues of the gold-plated stereo jack, the double humbucker, and the Bigsby trem. Even if I was into all that stuff, I wouldn’t have the money to buy any of it – so what’s the point?
But I’ve just had to get rid of a certain bit of kit that’s served me fantastically well, and I feel a tiny bit sad about it. It’s my tatty old guitar case.
I say ‘case’ – it’s not one of those hard cases, festooned with Musicians’ Union stickers, tough as old boots and twice the weight. Essentially it’s a bag. Fashioned in black from some indeterminate synthetic fibre (polypropylene? I dunno), trimmed in blue, and lined with a bit of padding. But it’s seen me through more than a decade of gigging and practice, and thousands of miles on the road (and rails). From Glasgow to Brighton, from Bristol to Durham, and manifold points betwixt.
I bought the case in about 2002 when I lived in Birmingham, from one of the music shops near (or under) the railway arches off Great Charles Street. “Got a gig up in Sheffield next week!” I explained excitedly to the bloke working in the shop, who couldn’t have looked less interested if he were in a coma.
Some years later, walking through Leicester, with guitar inside the case, I tried to flip it from one hand to the other, succeeding only in propelling it several feet across the pavement. On the way back to Birmingham once, it fell off the overhead luggage rack of the train. On the Megabus home from London it languished at the very bottom of an unholy pile-on comprising suitcases, rucksacks and holdalls of every calibre, with a combined weight of half a ton.
In all of these instances my guitar not only survived without damage but didn’t even go out of tune.
Two of the zips on the case had broken pretty early on. Then the velcro on the handle went a bit funny. Another zip broke. More recently my cat started using it as a scratching post. Still the case held firm.
Eventually I wrenched it up from the floor of a bus one too many times without using the handles, and tore a hole in the top. The end was clearly coming soon. It was going to let the rain in. Then a few days ago the pump in our cellar failed. Groundwater rose in and covered the floor. The case was ruined. The water was only an inch or two deep but it leached into the padding and climbed right up the case. It’s a good thing the guitar wasn’t inside.
A lot of other stuff was though, and a lot of it was soaked and spoiled.
The case had four pockets: two little ones at the top and two bigger ones on the main body. Here’s what came out when I emptied it.
- A5 notebooks full of lyrics (3)
- packets of guitar strings (3, mostly used)
- jack lead (1)
- patch lead (1)
- copies of the last single by The Sweet Nothings (6)
- copies of my solo album (2)
- Marshall Jackhammer gain pedal (1)
- Marshall Reflector reverb pedal (1)
- (I know I said I don’t fetishise gear but those pedals are awesome)
- acoustic tuner (1)
- ballpoint pens (3)
- pickups (2)
- Propolis & Echinacea throat spray (1 bottle)
- capos (3)
- 1/4-inch to 3.5mm adaptor (1)
- thumb pick (1, never used)
- Dunlop .73mm plectrums (packet of 12, unopened)
- gaffer tape (1 roll, black)
- 9-volt batteries (5, charge status unknown, except the one with the bottom falling off, revealing the secret of the 9-volt battery, that it actually comprises six tiny 1.5-volt batteries inside – this one presumably won’t work any more)
- wristband (1, black and purple, the colours of pain, given to me by a member of the audience during a gig in Leeds in approximately 2007 when my right arm was chafing against the edge of the guitar)
- lyric sheet for ‘Inbetweener’ by Sleeper (1, laser-printed direct from a website, specially for the one time I ever played it live, for the Britpop special at the Pop-Art all-dayer on Battersea Barge in 2008, the video for which seems to have disappeared from YouTube, which makes me sad because I looked really pretty in it)
- other lyric sheets, setlists, random notes made on the backs of laser-printed train and coach times, hotel booking details, Google Maps, crap from work, and sundry other ephemera, each telling a tiny and otherwise half-forgotten story about the endless bewitching minutiae that accrue down the years I have expended on the simultaneously pointless and essential pursuit of indiepop thrills in a small room above a pub on a city street I’m pacing for the first and maybe last time in my life, compelled to go on in this way year after year, never quite completely understanding why but never less than completely exhilarated by the compulsion and the pursuit, lifting my face to the night sky every time to relish the rain and the obscure magnificence of it all (countless)
I’m playing at the Wirksworth Festival this weekend. I’ll be using a new case but I’ll be thinking of the old one.
The new case only has one big pocket. I’ll never fit even a single pedal in it.
So long, tatty black polypropylene guitar bag. You deserve better than a suburban wheelie bin. Thanks for the all the good times we had together.