Guest blogger: An Irishman of Note

Today we have a guest blogger:
Colm Redmond

My First Guitar by Julia Crowe
Published 2012

[My First Guitar is based on interviews by the US guitarist and music journalist Julia Crowe, and features guitarists talking about their careers and instruments; from classical and flamenco guitarists through to rock legends like Carlos Santana and Jimmy Page. This extract is from the chapter on English guitarist Martin Taylor.]

[Martin Taylor speaking:] I used to look at this guitar on the cover of a Val Doonican album that my parents had bought for me, a beautiful Clifford Essex guitar, made in England. Because I had this terrible first guitar that made my fingers bleed, I used to ask my mum and dad, "Why can't I have a guitar like that?" They said, "Well, we cannot afford a guitar like that."

When Christmas arrived, and my mum said, "We've got a present for you," I thought it would be this guitar. But she had knit me a sweater exactly like the one Val was wearing on the album cover.

observations: Let's start with a confession. The magnificent sweater shown above is not the one from the story. But the guitar is: it's the same gorgeous custom-built 1958 Clifford Essex guitar that graces many a Val Doonican album sleeve down the years, and then mysteriously disappears. So where is it now? Well, Martin Taylor's account is not over yet:
I came to know Val many years later and, when I told him this story, he did not know whether to laugh or cry. A couple weeks later I was playing a concert and his daughter came backstage and told me, 'My dad couldn't come this evening because he's got a cold, but he sent this in his place.' And she gave me the guitar that was on that album cover. 
One can only guess whether this lovely guitar, with its stylish lines but discreet colour scheme, was chosen for all those covers so as not to distract the eye from the legendary sweaters and cardigans. But for anyone who loves guitars it's a real beauty. Clifford Essex guitars were popular with professional musicians in the middle of the last century, and the brilliantly-named Vic Flick used one to perform possibly the best-known guitar riff in history: the iconic twangy James Bond theme.

Val Doonican is an Irish country and folk singer who was a fixture on Saturday night TV in the UK in the 60s and 70s. As Martin Taylor puts it, "His television show gave the impression of extending an invitation into his comfy house." Famous for his striking knitwear (and for singing from a rocking chair), he has not featured before in Clothes In Books. Only time will tell if he will again. Incidentally, UK readers may well think he looks remarkably like Richard Osman, from the TV quiz show Pointless, on the "Walk Tall" sleeve.

My First Guitar is a heartwarming book full of funny, sad, touching and inspiring true stories that would appeal to anyone who has an interest in human beings, let alone music. And for anyone interested in guitars: it's heaven.

The album Martin Taylor actually stared at as a child was this one, with a less spectacular sweater, much easier for a mother to knit...

Today's guest blogger made a previous appearance on Clothes in Books a year ago.


  1. I don't believe I will be going after the book to be truthful, but it's a bit of a trip down memory lane for me.
    I think old Val, was compulsory viewing in our house, a bit like attendance at church the following day.

    Walk tall, walk straight and look the word right in the eye,
    That's what my momma told me, when I was about knee high......etc etc

    I'll be cursing you guys later, because I'll still have this going around in my head......unless I switch to Paddy McGinty's goat!

    1. I know, both are the kinds of tunes that stick. And yes, Val was pretty much a Saturday night fixture in our house too.

  2. Interesting and should guest blog here more often! Not that the original blog isn't always fascinating - I may not comment much, but I do read avidly, and often pick up new books to read through this site - my favourite blog, so thanks!

    1. Thanks Maggie - how kind. But you're definitely right, he should do more entries. I'm working on him...

    2. BTW - did you see September's Harper's Bazaar? Interesting article by Margaret Atwood on how she uses clothes in her novels, plus a re-published short story by Virginia Woolf...just picked this up while I was lucky enough to be relaxing in the Sanctuary in Covent Garden - no mobiles allowed of course, so back to the forgotten pleasure of reading magazines!

    3. I didn't see that (because the only place I would see it would be sitting somewhere where mags were provided...) but it sounds fascinating. Lucky you at the Sanctuary.

  3. This book sounds fascinating. Even knowing next to nothing about music, I can see how interesting stories of one's first guitar would be. And I love the album covers.

    1. It does doesn't it? I haven't read it myself, but must borrow it from the guest blogger. And album covers are a lost art...

  4. Great post - and I *so* remember Val Doonican

  5. I think there are people of a certain era who will always remember Val Doonican....


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