Monday, 18 June 2018

Best musicians I've seen - 4.4 David Gilmour

Sifting through the mists of time, I reckon the first gig I went to was Tyrannosaurus Rex, still (just) in their acoustic hippy progressive era before Marc Bolan sold out, went electric and cleaned up with a string of the poppiest songs from any 20th Century Boy. Actually he did pick up an electric guitar for the last few songs of the set I saw at the Liverpool Phil, circa 1969 and the audience didn't know what to make of it. Although I enjoyed both versions of T Rex, Bolan isn't on my best guitarists list.

The next three gigs I saw were The Nice (see Best Musicians I've Seen 2, 26 October 2017 on Keith Emerson), Deep Purple (see Best Musicians I've Seen 4.2, Richie Blackmore, 22 April) and Pink Floyd. I can't remember the order of these but they were all in late 1969 or early 1970. Three amazing gigs actually!

Floyd, still in their fairly early post Syd Barrett days, played the Liverpool Empire around the time of the release of their double album Ummagumma, with its live recordings of already released tracks on one disc and a rather odd collection of pieces, though with the notable highlight of Grantchester Meadows on the second, studio recorded disc. Although I can remember general impressions from the gig, I can vividly remember one particular song: the Syd Barrett composition Astrominy Domine. Part way through it, as the other three musicians let Rick Wight play his quiet keyboard solo, David Gilmour crouched down on the floor of the stage, hunched over his guitar, fiddling with it. And he was still fiddling with it when Wright looked up, puzzled, as the guitar was meant to be coming back in. Then Gilmour lept up, waved and started playing. He had been replacing a string. Now the back cover of Ummagumma has a photo of the band's roadies with what looked to us, then, like a huge array of musical equipment in front of a medium sized van, rather than the pantechnicons that ferry band equipment now. There's a decent number of amps and speakers, a standard drumkit with some extra timpani (and a gong), various bits and pieces - but only two guitars and two basses. The two guitars both look like Fenders but might have been set up for different songs. So Gilmour had no spare when the string broke. And, needless to say, no guitar roadie to fix it for him. (Or to play along in the wings, beefing up the sound. In those days we knew who was actually playing!). So Gilmour fitted the new string himself. And was presumably having a go at tuning it, which would be why he was almost lying on the floor, trying to hear. Sometimes it's when things go wrong (see my piece on Richie Blackmore already referenced) that make for a memorable moment.

I've been extremely fond of Astrominy Domine ever since. Along with Rope Ladder to the Moon (the Collosseum Live! version, see Best Musicians I've Seen, 30 September 2017 and Best Musicians I've Seen 3, 16 March 2018) and Rondo 69  from The Nice's eponymously titled album, it is one of the tracks I have most listened to over the nearly 50 intervening years. I don't listen to many live albums but these three are all live recordings.

As for Gilmour, I hadn't seen many guitarists by then, but he was impressive, as were the band. I saw Floyd and Gilmour again at the Manchester Free Trade Hall. I guess this would have been 1972 as they were touring Meddle. While all three early Floyd albums had been top 10 hits in the UK, Ummagumma had achieved their highest album chart position to date. I bought the next one - Atom Heart Mother - which was their flirtation with playing with an orchestra and was their first number one seller. I've always liked it, though I didn't listen to it as much as The Nice's Five Bridges Suite. Like Ummagumma it's first half live, second half studio, with each band member contributing material to the latter. According to Nick Mason*, Gilmour - with little song writing experience at that point - was ordered to remain in the Abbey Road studios until he had composed a song suitable for inclusion on the album. The result, Fat Old Sun, is a gorgeous track and one of Gilmour's personal favourites.

The point I am moving towards here is that, in the late 60s and early 70s Gilmour was still developing as a musician, whereas the superficially more impressive Blackmore was pretty well the finished article. By then Deep Purple had found their musical identity with the release of their seminal - and breakthrough - album Deep Purple In Rock. In contrast Gilmour was just about to train on, as Floyd switched from their early era approach based on sound textures, soundscapes you might say, to writing actual songs and albums that flowed and soared, with Gilmour taking over from Rick Wright as arguably the key element in the band's sound, if not the major song writer.

I didn't enjoy the Meddle material as much as Ummagumma so, with student budget restrictions, I didn't buy it. At the time King Crimson, Traffic, Roy Harper and Soft Machine were all higher priorities to see and hear. The next Floyd album, Obscured By Clouds, sold well but was a bit of a stop gap, being based on a film soundtrack they had done. So I lost interest in their new material. This was more than a bit of a mistake, as their next offering was their definitive recording, Dark Side of the Moon, which features high on many pundits lists for the best album of all time. Although I soon caught up with this, by then my student years were over. Going to gigs was in abeyance to save money for the deposit on a house. Things don't change that much, youngsters! It was no holidays - ok, one week in a caravan in Wales in 3 years - no gigs and not much going out. After all, when we got the house we had no television or washing machine. Or anything much to sit on either. Do all those commenting today on the difficulty of getting on the housing ladder make the same sacrifices, I wonder? After all, not seeing Gilmour in the Floyd's mid 70s pomp was some sacrifice, in retrospect!

While Gilmour can play as fast as you like, his best stuff is the opposite of frantic: melodic and with a lot of sustain. A buddy who is a big Pink Floyd fan brought home a superb book from last year's V&A exhibition. A section on Gilmour's playing style describes how he often plays above and below the main melody, bending notes and swooping down and soaring up to join it. Breathe, the Gilmour track that kicks off Dark Side, is a classic example. Apparently Gilmour tended to use a lap steel or pedal steel guitar for these parts though they can be played as a conventional slide guitar part** - though Gilmour makes it sound nothing like a standard bit of slide playing. Not many guitarists pull off anything quite like it. As a compare and contrast, I like Muse and its front man Matt Bellamy a lot and I've seen them live twice. But Bellamy's playing can be the epitome of frantic. When we bought the superb but flawed Muse album Black Holes and Revelations and heard the track Invincible, which starts quietly with some almost Gilmour-esque long notes, but decends into a hectic and rather simplistic guitar break, I was heard to mutter to Mrs H "on tracks like this he couldn't half do with a lesson from David Gilmour". I've seen Muse twice and Bellamy is good, but no Gilmour.

Wikipedia notes that Gilmour's style is  characterised by "expressive note bends and sustain". Gilmour says of himself that his fingers make a distinctive sound: they "aren't very fast but I think I am instantly recognisable".

Indeed. So, while I didn't see Gilmour at his apogee, he's a fine guitarist and an outstanding musician and he is the first on my guitarists shortlist. Which is, as they say, in "no particular order". Since, although I think I've decided on it and the "winner", my indecision could yet prove to be final!

*Nick Mason's book Inside Out is a great read and highly recommended. But I can't write this stuff without checking some facts on Wikipedia, of course.

** Guitar Player, David Gilmour's Dark Side - a deep look at his rhythm and lead techniques. If you can play guitar - which I can't - this article tells you how to sound just like him.


Saturday, 16 June 2018

Wide open?

We have lift off in the 2018 World Cup and already a classic match, Spain v Portugal. I've not watched much of the last few World Cups - it all seemed to have got a bit stale - but I've been looking forward to this one. Although the 1966 tournament is a vivid memory, it's classic games involving Brazil, Italy, Argentina and Holland from the 70s and 80s that I remember most fondly. So I'm hoping for some more memorable matches.

As for who will win, it's hard to see past the favourites, as the winner nearly always comes from the top four favourites. And yet. Brazil will have to overcome a fair weight of history to win so far from home. Generally South American teams win in the Americas and European teams win elsewhere. Sure, Brazil won in Sweden in 1958 and Germany won in Brazil last time round, the only major exceptions to the trend. I'm counting South Africa as Europe (same time zone after all, as USA is for Brazil). Brazil won in Japan in 2002 but all the favourites were playing "away" then. Maybe the fact that so many Brazilians play in Europe now means they aren't playing "away" this time. And counting Russia as Europe is debatable. I just don't know if Brazil have improved that much since they got smashed by Germany in their own back yard last time round.

But the other favourites don't go into the tournament in great shape. Holders Germany have been on a poor run going into the tournament, but they always turn up and have Timo Werner, an exciting 22 year old striker who doesn't play for Bayern, yet anyway (he's at Liepzig). However, Germany feel beatable.

Spain replaced their manager on the eve of the tournament, which one feels could be very good or very bad for morale. They've got the first match under their belt so could be ok.

France have a lot of "name" players. We'll see if 19 year old Mbappe is worth the fuss. I've never been particularly impressed with Griezmann, though he is attempting to be the first since Gerd Muller to win the golden boot at the World cup and Euros having got a decent tally of 6 in 2016, despite not fully convincing me. Just as with Man United, we wonder if Paul Pogba will turn up as a player or strut around looking like a spolit rich kid but not actually doing anything. Of course, I don't count Griezman's penalty and Pogba's streaky winner against the plucky Aussies as 'performing'. As you can tell, I have my doubts about France.

Fourth favourites are the perennial underperformers Argentina, at least since the days of the Hand of God (1986). They have Lionel Messi, who many respected  commentators rank the best player in the world ever, not just now. And Messi won the Golden Ball for the best player in the last World Cup. He had the good grace to look embarrased when presented it since, like most of us, he must have wondered how come Neymar or one of several Germans hadn't won it. Even crooked FIFA chief Sepp Blatter thought it was bent. For Messi to be ranked the best ever he needs to turn in a really good performance in what might be his last world cup, rather than looking like an imposter most of the time. As he did against Australia today. So I'm not convinced by Argentina either. After all, can you win the world cup with Willy Caballero in goal? We'll see.

So could it be an outsider? Belgium are ranked fifth (fourth by some bookies) and have Hazard and de Bruyne. They could go well. Oh, and they are in England's group of course.  And after that lot, the next ranked team are England, who have only won 6 knock out rounds at a World Cup finals since 1966. Germany have won that many since 2010.

So I feel that, unless Brazil live up to their ranking as fairly hot favourites, it could be a wide open tournament. Maybe like when Greece won the Euros in 2004. Though probably not wide open enough for England! But who knows, maybe we could get the best performance from England at a tournament since Euro 1996. I'm not holding my breath.

And I'm not actually watching the football at all in the evenings at the moment: I can't take my eyes off Ian Poulter and Justin Rose who have been going well in the U. S. Open golf with decent showings by Tommy Fleetwood and Matt Fitzpatrick. A game the English are quite good at!

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Look man!

If anyone out there still thought Sam Allardyce should have been a good fit for Everton, or was unfortunate not to go into a second season there, the story of Ademola Lookman's season should put them straight.

Lookman was a member of the England team that won the under 20 World Cup last summer. He had moved from Charlton to Everton in January 2017 and appeared a few times that season and early in 2017-18. In January Sam Allardyce decided Lookman needed more game time and tried to fix a loan to Derby County in the Championship. Lookman didn't fancy it. He wanted to go to RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga. Big Sam was puzzled and cautioned Lookman against the move. After all, why go and play in a slightly bigger league for a bigger club, where you don't know the language and will just be on the bench. Much better, as Rod Liddle said, to go and get clogged by Burton Albion and Barnsley's defenders, "make a man of you, son". But Lookman had already had that experience with Charlton. So he went to Leipzig. Where he got five goals in eleven appearances, with loads of assists. And ended the season second in the table of goals scored per minute played behind Robert Lewandowski. And pretty much terrorised Bundesliga defenders, playing typically 45-60 minutes a game, Leipzig recognising that he should not be over played aged 20. And had Everton fans saying "this guy looks good, we should sign him" on his youtube highlights.

But it shouldn't have been a surprise. Lookman's last appearance for Everton before going on loan was as a substitute in Everton's dismal performance at Anfield in the Merseyside derby FA Cup tie on 5 January. Lookman was perhaps the one bright spot. A Liverpool season ticket holder I know well, who is a good judge of a player, told me Lookman had been the only player in a blue shirt to impress him: sharp and fast. Meanwhile Everton laboured for pace up front without him.

To be fair, Allardyce might have known that Everton were going to get Theo Walcott. Or at least that they intended to bring in an experienced forward. However, I suspect Allardyce just couldn't imagine playing Lookman when he already had more youngsters than he was comfortable with in the squad. Personally I can't understand why anyone would keep Yanick Bolassie and loan out Lookman rather than vice-versa.

Leipzig want to sign Lookman permanently. I hope his view of Everton hasn't been soured.

Everton have now announced Allardyce's successor: Marco Silva who did well, relatively speaking at Hull and started well at Watford. Since his first management post at Estoril, Silva has never stayed at a club for longer much longer than a year.  Hmm. I hope it works....

For the record, Silva wouldn't have been on my shortlist, which was Rafa Benitez (see previous posts - I'd have gone for him instead of Allardyce), Sean Dyche (though I don't think he would leave Burnley right now) and Eddie Howe, whose Premier League record vastly surpasses Silva's. Of course, all three might have been sounded out and declined. But I doubt it.

I'm hoping Silva wins me over. Can he improve the club's recent Premier League record (11th, 7th and 8th)? We'll see. It will take a couple of good seasons at least to win me over.

*Rod Liddle recounted the Ademola Lookman story in his characteristic style in the Sunday Times on 20 May


Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The Writing's On The Wall

We've travelled to mainland Europe a couple of times in recent months. In Spain we drove to three major cities and more recently we went to one of the larger Greek islands. And one thing about the eurozone was staring us in the face. The writing was literally on the walls. The amount of graffiti, compared with anything you see in the UK these days, was off the scale.

It was the same - actually probably worse - when we went to Italy last year, though we did fly into Naples.

My explanation couldn't be more simple. Compared with the UK, youth unemployment in all those countries is also off the scale*. So what else to do but paint the walls, if you're climbing up them with frustration.

So now Italy stumbles into a crisis because its president will not risk appointing a government that might be eurosceptic enough to threaten Italy's presence in the euro and maybe even the EU. Thereby risking an even more eurosceptic government resulting from new elections, as electorates don't like to be told they got it wrong, try again.

Actually the underlying problem is that the euro - still not a fully, properly honest currency - has proved to be a source of misery for many of the southern European states. Why should anyone be surprised that Italy should be deeply unhappy when it's growth has been zero since the creation of the euro. That's right, zilch, nowt, nothing at all in the way of growth since 1999. (An average annual growth rate of zero, to be more precise).

Some authors have tried to argue that this is because of structural problems in the Italian economy that predate the creation of the euro. After all France has had an average annual growth rate of 0.84% and Spain all of 1.08%**. But the euro is set up to benefit the Germans, who want to sell German products but don't want to face up to the broader financial consequences.

I will return to the Italian job at some point. But for now all I can make out is the frustrated doodlings of a generation of graffiti artists. I'm not surprised they and their parents are angry and ready to lash out by voting for change even if it entails risk. After all, if it's broken why not break it properly?

* It's actually 44% in Greece, 36% in Spain, 32% in Italy - and even 21% in France. The EU average is 16% and the GB figure is 12%. See https://www.statista.com/statistics/266228/youth-unemployment-rate-in-eu-countries/
**Bruegel.org, Italian economic growth and the euro, 26 July 2017

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Sorry chaps but I got there first

The Sunday Times noted at the weekend that last week another newspaper had launched a campaign to reform the House of Lords and also marked the opening of the Grenfell Inquiry with a special tribute, with a picture gallery, to the victims. Which paper? "Here's a clue" they said "it wasn't The Guardian".  It was the Daily Mail, which has also been commended by the United Nations for its 10 year campaign against plastic in the environment. Yes, its over ten years since the Mail launched its campaign with a front page article and has kept banging on about it ever since until at last some people with the power to act have started to listen.

Anyway, I was skimming through the Daily Mail today. Yes, I know the old Lord Salisbury quote about the Mail being for those who can read but not think. There is a lovely piece by John Humphreys about the dawn chorus that greets him as he leaves his house to go to work at this time of year. John's favourite is the blackbird and he waxes lyrical about what he thinks should be Britain's favourite bird, though in a poll a while back the robin got the accolade.

Humphreys's column reminded me of my recent blog Blackbird Singing In The Dead Of Night (18 May). Like me, Humphreys noted that each blackbird can have a varying but recognisably individual song. And I'm glad I'm not the only one who whistles to a blackbird to see if he will reply....

Not that I am suggesting I am the first person ever to write about blackbirds of course. Or link the timing of the dawn chorus to the well known song from the Beatles pantheon. But hang on, what's this? In Richard Littlejohn's Mail column on 25 May he said "...we won't get an acceptable deal from the EU negotiators unless Mrs May is prepared to walk away, Renee", referring to the Four Tops song Walk Away Renee. Readers will know I've been using that song as an analogy for what should at least have been thought of as a contingency in the Brexit negotiations. I've been doing this since my blog of 17 September 2017, Don't Walk Away Renee? when I said "If they won't talk like grown ups it's time to Walk Away from Rene. For the purpose of this blog it's unfortunate that none of the negotiators appears to be called Rene, but never mind!" (I had in mind the sitcom, 'Allo 'Allo! of course, which still seems apposite).

Meanwhile Adam Boulton, in his Sunday Times column on 27 May, We can check out of Hotel Brussels but the truth is we can never leave referenced, though not explicity, the Eagles song Hotel California. Which  I first did in my blog of 8 December 2017, the day after the joint report on the first phase of the negotiations was published, when I could immediately see the risk of us staying, as Boulton said in his column this weekend "entangled". Indeed, my blog was called Reasons to be cheerful - or entangled? as I had, as usual, a soundtrack going through my head with Ian Dury and Genesis on the playlist along with the Eagles.

And in my blog As I was saying - entangled or walk away? (21 May) I noted that Dominic Lawson's Sunday Times column of the previous day was a better crafted version of the same two blogs of mine from last September and December.

Now I am not, for a moment, suggesting that Humphreys, Littlejohn, Boulton or Lawson have ever read my humble blog. But isn't that strange?

More importantly, Boulton said that, if only by inertia, the government is leaving itself little option but to stay entangled with the EU. After all, it was last year that Phil Spreadsheet Hammond wouldn't sanction spend on contingency customs arrangements, meaning that we won't be ready for no deal so we can't realistically threaten to walk away (d'oh!). In comparison, the Electoral Commission is planning contingency spend of £829,000 to prepare for our participation in the European Parliament elections which will happen in EU countries 8 weeks after we are due to leave in 2019. Whether any of this money would need to be spent before 29 March 2019 isn't clear. It seems that we can make contingencies for what we didn't vote for, but not what we did.

I'll leave the penultimate word with Boulton (I always get the  last, it's my blog for pity's sake!).  He notes that Sir Ivan Rogers, who quit in January 2017 as the UK representative in Brussels, has predicted that the EU will refuse to agree a definite end date to the transitional arrangements, including the Irish backstop of the UK maintaining "alignment" if it is invoked, because "as the Swiss always correctly observe: no negotiation with the EU ever ends". Remember those words, says Boulton, which he says may come to epitomise Brexit, "no negotiation with the EU ever ends".

I fear it is all to easy to envisage that eventuality. Because it wouldn't just be the EU side dragging heels and playing it long. Theresa May has been doing the same. And whatever we do get agreed won't be liked by all. So there will be many lobby groups campaigning to change this or that aspect of the deal. For example, one can imagine the Brexiteers campaigning out meant out if we end up staying in a customs union or the single market. Indeed, I may be with them! Conversely, I firmly expect there to be a vocal minority campaigning for us to rejoin the EU for the rest of my days.

My fear all along, shared in my tortured blogs of June 2016 in the run up to the referendum and why I pusillanimously voted Remain, was that the transition would be extremely long and difficult. Indeed in my blog of 21 June 2016, Reason To Believe, just before the referendum I said "the transition weighs heavily on me". Though I accept I didn't predict it would be infinite (I was predicting 2-5 years). Yet now Littlejohn wakes up to this prospect, saying somewhat indelicately that it's taking longer to get out of the EU than to get rid of Hitler.

On a more positive note - and one that is a reminder that the really important things in life go on - here is "my" blackbird, giving it large in his time shared fir tree and at his other nearby vantage point, the very top of a small beech tree, just in my eye line from my patio:


Monday, 28 May 2018

Don't bet against the bank

Depending who you bank with, you may well have received a communication from your bank about "ring fencing", a government requirement to set investment, or so called "casino" banking, at arms' length from retail banking, the everyday services that you and I use. These requirements are costing the banks quite a lot. Actually, of course, they are therefore costing us all quite a lot in lower interest rates and higher charges.

Investment banking got a bad name for causing the financial crisis. After all, Lehman Brothers went bust and that triggered the shock wave. Plausible sounding, but not necessarily wise, politicians like Vince Cable railed on about "casino banking" even though the depth of the crisis was caused in several countries, Ireland and Spain in particular, by a good old-fashioned property bubble. Arguably that was the case here as well, with Northern Rock and Halifax. Actually, I have recently read an American take on the 2008 global financial crisis which, with classic introspection, called it the "American housing crisis". A bit like calling your beauty contest Miss Universe or a national baseball competition the World Series.

So none of this had that much to do with investment banking. Yes, RBS's problems surfaced after its acquisition of the Dutch bank ABN Amro. But RBS, in a consortium with 2 other banks, high on Fred the Shred's megalomania, simply overstretched itself, paying three times book value for ABN to make sure they outbid Barclays, even though the bit they had really wanted had already been sold to someone else. And, of course, there were toxic assets. But basically the whole thing wasn't remotely worth what they paid, so the RBS balance sheet was shot and at a bad time. After all ABN, bailed out by the Dutch government, has got back on its feet and is privately owned again, something that is not even on the horizon for RBS.

Under Stephen Hester RBS made good progress towards repaying the taxpayer and returning to the private sector. But after he fell out with chancellor George Osborne over future strategy, Ross McEwen took over and did what the government wanted, retrenching to retail banking. Which, as Hester realised would happen, has just locked the shares in "under water", i.e. permanently below the price needed to repay the government loan. Good job, George.

The RBS performance won't improve dramatically. Iain Dey* explained that, while recently retail banking has outperformed investment banking, that looks like a short term blip. After all, if the Financial Services Authority finds fat margins it would conclude that customers were being ripped off and take action. Meanwhile the "fintech" revolution threatens to disrupt consumer finance with upstarts picking off profitable chunks of retail banking business off the dinosaurs. You don't need to go to bitcoin to join in this revolution. If you use Apple Pay part of what was the bank's profit margin goes to Apple.

Of course, one British bank, Barclays, declined a government bail out, stayed independent and built its investment banking operation. And is doing well. Profits in Barclays corporate and investment division soared 48% in the first quarter, driven by a boom in its bond and equity trading businesses. The way Barclays escaped a government bail out by getting finance from Abu Dhabi and Qatar, much to the annoyance of Gordon Brown and the Treasury, was controversial. The authorities here seem to have hated Barclays ever since. Barclays took the rap for the LIBOR scandal and lost its top two board members but material published since makes it seem to me that they were only trying to do what they thought the Bank of England were telling them to do, i.e. frig the numbers. The Treasury's lapdogs then stitched them up for it.

I accept that the way the loan appears to have been arranged seems dodgy - a Serious Fraud Office case against the bank was thrown out a few days ago but charges against several senior Barclays executives are still proceeding. As I understand it the Qatari loan makers are alleged to have received back handers. While not defending fraud,  I can understand why  Barclays were desperate to avoid a government bail out. After all, had they been bailed out by the taxpayer, they would presumably not have been allowed to pick up chunks of Lehman Brothers and would have had to scale back their investment banking like RBS. Meaning that London, the world's biggest financial centre, would now be home to precisely zero major investment banks instead of just one - Barclays, of course.

I also accept that there has to be strong regulation of the banking system and wouldn't want the banks to take advantage of the fact that the Financial Services Compensation Scheme protects the deposits of private individuals by taking on too much risk. Or indeed, getting so exposed that there are serious risks to the country's financial stability, as happened to Iceland. After all as Iain Dey also pointed out,  investment banking as a business is effectively a big bet on global growth. But, as a trading nation strong on financial services, like Dey I don't think this is a game we ought to sit out.

Dey says that the argument of recent years that retail banking has better margins seems trite. He says the short-termists appear to be those who oppose investment in "casino" banking.

I have a simpler argument. Remember that, in a well run casino, the banker always wins!

Unfortunately for the prospects of the taxpayer getting back the investment in RBS anytime this side of never, Osborne and Cable didn't twig this simple fact.

*Iain Dey's weekly column is in Sunday Times Business, this one on 29 April 2018.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Best Musicians I've Seen - 4.3 Tony Iommi

Brummie Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath is at number 25 in Rolling Stone magazine's top 100 guitarists. Unlike Richie Blackmore (see Musicians 4.2, 22 April) who I would say is a "hard rock" guitarist, Iommi has a reasonable claim to be the first true heavy metal guitarist. And there is an explanation.

As is recounted in many sources, though I didn't realise it when I saw him, Iommi lost the tips of his middle and ring fingers of his right hand in an industrial accident working at a sheet metal factory. Iommi was aged 17 and it was his last day in that job. Iommi plays left handed so it was his fretboard fingers that were affected. He was told he would never play guitar again.

Two things happened. Firstly, his friendly factory foreman insisted Iommi listen to Django Rheinhardt playing. Listening to guitar was the last thing he wanted to do but Iommi reluctantly did, agreeing that the dude could play. The foreman's motivation was then revealed. He told Iommi that Reinhardt was playing with only two fingers on his fretboard hand because of an injury caused by fire. Iommi was motivated to try.

He toyed with playing right handed and, with the perspective of decades, thinks he should have persevered. But, having a few years of playing left handed behind him he didn't have the patience to re-learn his skills. However, pressing the strings with his right hand was too painful. So he made some home made prosthetics out of Fairy liquid bottle tops, heated to mold them to his fingers and stitched into chunks of leather cut from a jacket.

It worked but Iommi still found it a bit painful to use ordinary guitar strings. So he used banjo strings until lighter guage guitar strings became available a few years later. But then he went a step further and detuned his guitar to loosen the strings and make them easier to bend.

Although the doom laden heavy metal sound probably has numerous origins, many aspiring heavy metal guitarists heard Iommi and followed step and detuned their guitars. It is hard not to conclude that Iommi's tender fingers helped to create one of the most widespread and persistent musical genres. And many metal guitarists pay hommage to Iommi as an influence.

Although there is no explanation on the Rolling Stone website for its panel's ranking, Iommi's influence over heavy metal is presumably a big factor since, much as I love the guitar part in Paranoid, I wouldn't rank him very high out of the people I've seen play. (I'll return to this question of how influential guitarists have been another time).

However, my perception of Iommi as a top guitarist may have been partly due to the circumstances when I saw him play.  I went to see Black Sabbath circa 1972 at Manchester's long gone Free Trade Hall. They were supported by a band who were, at the time, riding a wave - prog rock act Curved Air. The music press had noted that Curved Air were going down better than Sabbath on the tour and word had got round so the auditorium was unusually full for the support act. And yes, Curved Air pretty well blew Sabbath off the stage, going off to a rapturous ovation, though Sabbath turned in a decent performance for their more muted reception.

And so it was that Curved Air's violonist, Darryl Way, was the musician who caught my attention that evening rather than Iommi. Curved Air also had Francis Monkman on keyboards, who became fairly well known. And the eye catching Sonja Kristina, who had starred in Hair, singing.  But Iommi became the best known over the longest period by some margin.

What happened to Curved Air? Well, they scored one top 10 hit and then it all fizzled out. As did prog, before too long. Partly because, to paraphrase John Peel, the one thing it didn't do was progress. And metal? One would be hard pressed to find much progress there either, but it's certainly had longevity. And just about everyone has heard of Black Sabbath.

Though I hadn't heard about Iommi's fingertips or home made prosthetics until a few years ago, when I read that Iommi had just about run out of his sacrificial leather jacket and, to continue playing, he was going to have to start cutting up another one.

For multiple reasons Tony Iommi is a guitar player of some significance. But he isn't on my guitarists shortlist. You can read about him all over the place but Wikipedia is a good place to start.