Piano Man, A Guest Post by Will Nett

William Nettleton is a fine name. Stick a ‘Sir’ in front of it and it brings up images of a big game hunter in the 1800’s with an elephant gun nestled under one arm, smoking a pipe of suspicious looking native tobacco while pontificating on how long he can avoid returning to his wife and young child William the younger, back in Britain by pretending to be lost in the Serengeti.

Sir Willian Nettleton, who fathered a string of mix race bastards over the course of his fifteen years of being ‘lost’ on safari finally returned to Cape Town when the gin ran out. Died of consumption in 1837 on the journey back to Teesside, so never met his his own namesake who had been born a few weeks after he first left for Africa, That William was to be the great great great grandfather of the current Willam Nettleton who for some reason shortens his professional name to appear cooler and writes as Will Nett…

(Its should be noted I made all of the above up : MH)

Occasionally Will Nett sends me blog posts , they tend to be entertaining, well received and deceptively intelligent reads… he normally does this when he has a new book coming out. If he has a new one out he hasn’t bothered to tell me this time. He has never claimed to be ‘lost’ in the Serengeti, he did once spend a very long time getting some cakes from a shop in Amsterdam though…

Piano Man by Will Nett

Like most authors, I’ll do almost anything to avoid writing. Buying a piano a couple of years ago seemed as good an idea as any. I’d always fancied having a crack at it, but would not have gone out of my way to find one, so when a friend was selling one, and another had a van in which to deliver it, I was first in line.

All we had to do was transport it the half a mile between our houses. Equipped with a couple of ratchet straps and an impressive collection of orthopaedic complaints that were about to be considerably exacerbated, we lugged it aboard with little incident, other than the loss of a single foot. That is, one of the piano’s feet. Between the four of us we’d done the hard part, so when we reached my front garden, and within 10 yards of the intended destination, we dropped it flat on its back, causing a sonic boom that could be heard as far away as the Peak District. It was accompanied by the distant hum of Carl Bechstein spinning in his grave. I bet Chopin didn’t have to go through all this rigmarole.

 If it was even vaguely in tune before, it most certainly wasn’t now. We heaved it into place; against a gable end wall as far away from next door’s attached living room wall that the architecture would allow, and the tuner set to work on it, doing a fine job restoring it to something playable, despite the damage we’d caused- the interior metal crossframe had broken some of the wooden parts and a couple of keys required attention.

‘Bechstein’s of this vintage are fairly sturdy,’ he pointed out, as I pored over the order book that I managed to source online from Bechstein themselves.

All-focus

The ‘vintage’ in question dated back to 30th September 1896, the exact date the piano was dispatched from the factory to London as part of an order of 5 similar pieces.

It had survived two World Wars, Spanish Flu, Covid, and yet, like many others, almost came unstuck on a Spencerbeck housing estate. 

But how to play?

Naturally, my ever auto-didactic mindset meant there was simply no time for lessons, or doing anything properly, so instead I immersed myself in a pile of records and YouTube tutorials- specifically the excellent Pianote channel. Given that I took no formal training, my classical repertoire extends only as far as the first ethereal few bars of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’, but it was the sidemen and women of my parents’- and now my record collection- that I most hoped to emulate; the broad countryfied strokes of the Rolling Stones’ Nicky Hopkins; soul man Billy Preston; Eagles and Elvis back-up Glenn Hardin; Bobby Whitlock; Leon Russell; Nickey Barclay. They all seeped into one another, as musical influence often does, but I developed a set of sorts comprising sing-a-long country classics like ‘Swinging Doors’ and ‘The Fool’ alongside some Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash for anyone who wanted to sob into their beer suds come closing time. Elvis songs come as standard given that they’re largely repurposed country covers and there’s a potential impersonator in every pub in the land, and my obsession with the r&b rumble of Ray Charles’ ‘What I’d Say’ found it’s way to the fore, too. I made a point of avoiding the works of one of my all-time favourite artists, the untouchable Nina Simone, lest I grow tired of her work from trying to recreate it.

I haven’t quite reached the recommended ‘10,000 hours’ theory of practice, but I played every single day for over a year, be it at length, or on occasion for a matter of minutes in a manner that would give any piano teachers palpitations. My appalling posture and Octopus-like hand placement and fingering- careful, now- soon became part of my whole style, but I wasn’t going to be invited to the Proms anytime soon. I didn’t care about any of that. I just wanted to raise a tuneful racket.

I didn’t seek out pianos publicly- they’re few and far between in pubs and the like, now, but they suddenly seemed to materialise; an out of tune baby grand, also a Bechstein, over a now closed rock bar heralded my first public performance; an equally toneless stand-up dustbox in the corner of the Navigation led to a rousing ovation during a post-Boro match jam; I found myself in evening dress en route to a wedding playing in the lounge of the Scotch Corner hotel. A Belgian friend looked on baffled as I was accompanied by a gang of Scouse housewives- Scousewives?- in Toxteth’s Peter Kavanagh pub. I almost missed a flight playing, badly it has to be said, in an airport in Milan after a heavy few days.

The piano has brought much joy, and continues to do so, but more importantly gives me an excuse to avoid writing. You can expect my next book sometime around 2028.

Any requests?    

This entry was posted in amreading, big questions, books, humour, indie, indie novels, indie writers, indiefriday, indiewriter, reads, writes, writing, writing music and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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