Harry comes from Conway. It’s a long way from here to Conway, which by anybody’s measure is almost as far North as you can get in Wales without being wet or in Ireland. I formulate a plan to drive up there in my camper van and stop the night somewhere before arriving fresh faced at his house with finger and thumb picks ready to pretend to be a discerning customer. It would be a poor pretence. I am really not in the best position to be making informed decisions about the quality and condition and therefore value-for-money offered by Harry’s Sho-Bud LDG for the following reason: so far my total experience of a real, three-dimensional pedal steel guitar has been gained by touching one, once.
I did this around 18 years ago when very, very drunk indeed on a filming trip in the home of country music, Nashville for the BBC Holiday programme. The owner of the pedal steel was a resilient-looking gentleman who made his living by playing, and he had just finished a gruelling evening of backing up a series of artists on stage at an out-of-town venue. The place was frequented by almost no-one at all except hardcore country music musicians and a team of idiots from the BBC consuming ribs. I hazily remember saying something like ‘I love tedal speel. Is that one a pedal steel, what do you do it? Why is that thing (tonebar) brown and the other shiny? Whassit do?’. Pedal steel guitar players don’t drink and play. It just doesn’t work, and to this exhausted, sober behatted bottle of testosterone, I represented nothing more than a threat to his livelihood. He told me to step away from the instrument, which thankfully I had the sense to do before also getting my first taste of a genuine Tennessee Bar Brawl. On the other few occasions when I had come into a six foot radius of a PSG I just didn’t feel the ability to have a go or even attempt such a thing, such was the esteem in which I now held it. I can only explain that it would have felt a bit like coming to the end of a long pilgrimage, only to approach the altar or shrine and embark on a quick game of cards and a slice of toast. Silly, I know, but when you want something a lot you don’t want to risk jinxing it by going in half-cocked.
Anyway, the plan to drive and camp to Conway was quickly scotched when I realised that a two-day trip, exciting and pilgrimatic though it might seem, would mean I wouldn’t be available for work/home duties and would come back happy and exhausted and subsequently a bit guilty. Harry, meanwhile, emerging as a man of mild temper and great wisdom, suggested meeting somewhere near half way between us, with a view to splitting the driving time. That’s because he has clearly read the British Steelies’ handbook and knows that to be a gentleman or woman of steel, you must behave like a gentleperson. It really is that ubiquitous. Our halfway point, Harry told me, would be somewhere south of Birmingham, and he suggested the car park of the Belfry golf course in Solihull. A cheque would do just fine, he told me, again, old school levels of trust and manners.
When I arrived at the Belfry, Harry was already there. I didn’t know what the etiquette for buying a Pedal Steel Guitar was. It turns out it’s very simple. You get it out in the car park and have a look.
Now this is a rather unfortunate photo. I do realise that it looks as though the Sho-Bud has just fallen over on its head and Harry is very sad as a result, because his beautiful thing is ruined and the whole deal is off. I assure you that this is not the case, or at least, it is the case, and the guitar is upside down in that case. Er hem. But I wanted to show you how the guitar typically comes – upside down in its electric blue crushed velvet splendour, allowing you to attach legs and pedals to its bottom, therefore giving you something to hold onto. That’s exactly what Harry did, with golfers driving in and out around us in their vast 4×4 cars. I’ll admit I did feel a bit special, I mean, I was hopefully, in a few minutes, about to join a secret society of gentlefolk musicians who have committed themselves to Shaolin-like levels of discipline and practice to achieve musical nirvana. Why on earth would you want to waste time playing golf? To achieve what? Hitty-ball-sticky. We were interlopers in their world, using their carefully kept car park to complete our subversive transaction, and there wasn’t a court in the land that could do us for it. Most excellent.
The underside of the Sho-bud was a riot of birds eye maple, interlaced with junctions of steel rods, bell cranks and springs. Harry then hoisted the thing upright and revealed its true glory, shimmering whorls of varnished wood, holographically three-dimensional in the weak, milky Solihull sunshine. It was, again, not the place to lay hands on and play the thing, and to do so would prove nothing. Harry talked me slowly through the assembly and then dissembly of the machine, and above all, assured me that if there was the slightest bit of dissatisfaction on my part – even weeks later, he would gladly refund me and take the LDG back. As the wife of the man with no front teeth was heard to comment, you can’t say ‘fairer than that’. here’s Harry looking a tad happier, as we both were at this stage.
Cheque signed and dated, the Sho-bud was expertly fitted back into its case, and into the back of my van. The next time it would see sunlight would be in my home, where it would hopefully be staying for a very long time indeed.
Again. Isn’t she just? Thank you Harry.