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String Thing
Roy Wood
 

Roy Wood [no, not that one] - sound Technician for John Cale and Kevin Ayers - relates the following extraordinary story. I have no reason to doubt its accuracy since the incident described may not, in fact, be that unorthodox for someone who learned to play the vibraphone at the age of 14 on a paper cut-out of a piano keyboard or who, reputedly, spent his share of Patto's recording advance on a Persian carpet! 


I was monitor engineer on the 1985 John Cale European tour but, because I play guitar, I was also asked to do the guitar roadie job during the show and change strings and tune up etc. Ollie had a spare guitar on that tour which actually belonged to the bassist, Dave Young. This was an immaculate white Fender Stratocaster which Dave hated Ollie even touching let alone playing because of Ollie's casual way with these things.

On the first gig at the Amsterdam Paradiso, Ollie broke a B string on his bruised and battered cherry red Gibson and resorted to the white Strat. Dave visibly winced.

I retrieved Ollie's guitar from the stage and my first surprise was that the strings were absolutely filthy and rusty and I thought I would ask if I could change them all after the show. I changed the string, tuned it, and returned it to the stage. Ollie leaned over to me. "Is it in tune?," he asked. When I said that it was he seemed surprised, as if he had never had a guitar tech before.

 

After the show Ollie came over as I was packing down and thanked me for dealing with the broken string. No-one had told him that I would. "What did you do with the string?" "I changed it,." I said. “Oh have I got some spares then?," he asked "Yes," I said "eight sets."."Where's the broken one then?,” he asked. "It's over there, lying on the floor beside the monitor board," I said, puzzled. 

He went over and found the two bits of broken guitar string wound them up and put them in his pocket, smiled and explained, "I tie knots in 'em and use them again." When I looked at his guitar I saw that this was exactly what he did. The strings were old and crusty and all of them, with the exception of the one that I had changed, had knots in them. 

He broke very few other strings on that tour, despite wiping the guitar on the mike stand, the speaker cabinet and anything else he could find. They were replaced with new ones by me, because I was not going to mess about tying knots during the show when I was supposed to be doing the monitors. 

The strings I was given for him were Ernie Ball lite gauge, but he would use anything if it was not too heavy. At the end of the tour he pocketed at least five sets and said, "These will last me for years." He had that same guitar on the Last Kevin Ayers tour and I was totally amazed to see that it still had knotted broken strings. I was even more amazed when he allowed Dave Thomas - a guitar tech who had done three tours with Steve Harley - to change the strings before the final 1992 Shaw Theatre shows.

Roy Wood

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