Category Archives: what’s on your bedside table

The Monday Book – Clapton’s Guitar

Clapton’s Guitar (Allen St. John)

Jack presents the Monday book today

As I’m a bit of a guitar freak, I looked forward to reading this and I wasn’t disappointed. However, I do have a few caveats –

First of all, despite the title, this isn’t a book about Eric Clapton – he makes no appearance. This book follows master guitar luthier Wayne Henderson as he builds two nearly identical guitars. One is being made speculatively for Clapton while the other is to auction off and raise money for Junior Appalachian Musicians (Jam). Jam was the brainchild of Henderson’s late partner Helen White and there are branches throughout Appalachia.

This brings me to my second issue with the book. There’s hardly a mention of White or JAM in the book, which strikes me as very strange. I have seen Wayne and Helen perform a good few times together and their individual activities were very much intertwined.  Perhaps she declined to be involved; I don’t know. I only know Henderson by reputation, whereas I had a friendly and mutually respecting connection with White through providing advice on tutor training for JAM. There’s no report in the book of how much went to JAM or whether any did.

I’m also not impressed with the way the author describes the various characters who hang out regularly at Henderson’s workshop. There was more than a hint of Appalachian stereotyping and condescension. For example, eating cold fast-food and the famous tail out of the box trick.

Aside from these issues, the book does describe wonderfully how Henderson puts these guitars together, where he gets his wood, the tools he uses and the sheer craftsmanship involved. This I found truly fascinating. I won’t give you a spoiler on whether Clapton bought the guitar.

The author is also a guitar freak, and he references many other excellent and well known luthiers, such as T. J. Thompson (I’m surprised he didn’t include Dana Bourgoise in Maine or Chris Bozung in Nashville.)

If your interest is in how a top notch luthier puts together a hand crafted guitar, then I can thoroughly recommend this book. Just ignore the ‘local color’ and wait for another volume that should be written about the life achievements of Helen White.

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The Monday Book – Wales – A History

Wales – A History (Gwynfor Evans 1996)

Jack gets to write the book review this week –

I was taught hardly anything about Welsh history at school, so this was a real eye opener for me. All I knew was that Wales has a strong indigenous culture and language and that its influence extended once to southern Scotland, Cumbria, Cornwall and even to Brittany.

What Evans explains is that while it was never a ‘kingdom’ with a centralized ruler, it was a loose federation of ‘cantons’ rather like modern Switzerland. It was held together by its shared culture, language and values. Sometimes the various local leaders fought each other but often they banded together to resist incursions by, in turn, Romans, Danes, Normans and English. In effect Wales, including all its territories where Welsh was the common language, was the land of the Brythonic Celts.

He also points out that despite attempts to anglicize Wales over many centuries, the sense of Welshness in a large part of the population remains strong.

The book ends just before the Welsh assembly was established which introduced a limited amount of devolved responsibilities and democratic accountability. The UK government now frequently refers to a United Kingdom of four nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There’s also strong evidence that support is increasing for Welsh independence, for which Evans argues powerfully.

I suppose all historians write from their own perspective, prejudices and world view and sometimes this can be rather hidden and subtle. I prefer when the author makes no secret of their point of view and so I was able to keep Evans’ obvious enthusiasm for independence to the side and concentrate on his well researched factual narrative.

I must admit that at various points I had to concentrate hard to distinguish between the many Llewellyns and Daffyds that appear, but I also have difficulty with the many Scottish kings called James!

This is a very readable book and highly recommended for anyone with Welsh roots, interested in Wales or how it fits into the wider Celtic picture.

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