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Part 1 of however many it takes: The story of #TheKellycaster – A Thing of Beauty

March 17, 2018 Leave a comment

The Prologue.

So it’s about time I actually wrote in my own words, what The Kellycaster is (the best way I can), its story so far and why it’s so important to my future journey? I think for sanity and to keep the blogs not too long, see this as part one of however many it takes.

The Kellycaster shadow with orange/red backlight.

The Kellycaster purs away at home.

Recently someone very kindly wrote “Mary will introduce John Kelly to the stage as someone who has already helped us re-redefine the electric guitar working with DM Labs to produce the KellyCaster”.

Wow, to ‘re-define’ seems a massive statement which I was/am blown away about. However, keeping myself as grounded as possible I don’t take in so much to get carried away into the lovely things people say and write about my performances, songs I write or cover, voice, gigs or words.

Of course, I really appreciate and do not dismiss those nice words that someone has taken the time to give. I gratfully acknowledge them, feeling luky for them, but in my head, I always feel; what have I learnt from tonight, ah I have a lot to learn, long way to go, I’m not bad at this but many others sing sweeter, play better, articulate much better and so practice, practice, work hard, head down and continue working hard and hope I improve. I can be content in the comment or in the moment and enjoy it but not complacent in wanting to make my songs or singing or playing better.

The Kellycaster was in the big papers almost immediately the first sound was made on those three strings strung on an old throw-away Telecaster guitar body that we (Charles/Gawain & myself) cut up for a Hackathon on the Southbank. You’ll notice from the picture the strings doubled to 6 as to keep with convention.

Telecaster guitar body with kneck cut, wires and bulldog clips

First Prototype

And the interest has stayed and grown, the BBC ….then articles in Italy, Spain, The States…short films for The British Council….and of course things written by Drake Music colleagues, friends and other colleagues who have blogged, tweeted and shared such supportive news about its development. To all I am hugely grateful and somehow indebted too, I owe them more than a pint anyway!

A musical breakthrough says The Independent just a few days after we made the first sounds.

Guitar breakthrough – The Independent, 2015

At that Web We Want Hackathon little did Charles & Gawain (see below) know that we’d be taking my Guitboard (my first choice name for what is now The Kellycaster), on a big journey from that Southbank room (below) with no windows and lots of soldering smells. This was the first hack taken from my concept presentation shared at a DMLab meeting a month or so earlier

 

We started with a hex pickup and plugs for each individual string. The string signal sent to a max/msp with a 6 input soundcard to convert into sound and on that day we used an OSC app to change three simple chords.  There was a fair bit of latency but I could compensate on anyting under 90 BPM, perfect for Ride On! the first tune I played to share in the very public Clore Ballroom.

 

In writing this, I’ve just realised my lovely mum never got to see this beautiful thing that’s come into my life. I’m sad about that because she knew how important music is to me and she loved the craic and fun of the gigs I’d be involved in. She was so supportive to me pushing and doing whatever I enjoyed and succeeded at. I’m glad she at least knew it was happening, although I smile at what she’d thing of all the new extra gear I now carry around from gig to gig. She used to joke “jaysus, couldn’t you have got a job with a desk where you wouldn’t have to be pulling and tearing gear in and out of the house every night”, then she’d laugh, “sure we wouldn’t be happy then though’.

So…I knew what I could physically and musically do & of course I had dreamt from childhood of playing guitar. Rocking it out to a crowd, belting out a tune, playing with others sweating from the energy and emotion. Equally I’d dream of singing in a corner somewhere playing a guitar to myself (ideally in an irish bar obviously). Of course the journey had a few twists and turns and we had to work thrugh complicated bck to complex.  Complex is what makes The Kellycaster an instrument to be learnt.  Its prettty simple to get a sound out but practice and more practice is required to play it with skill, I’m still praciticing btw.

guitar with leads all over it, a nintendo controller, ballpoint pen and gaffer tape.

From complicated to complex. The birth of the Boogie Bar (nunchucker, bluetac and ballpoint pen).

Like any classic childhood guitar dreams the reality came in the shape of a snooker cue (i preferred this to the traditional tennis racket although I dabbled there too). I mention the snooker cue because that’s really over the years how I figured I could strum, pick n pluck…and also I could do left hand stuff as long as it was a button here or something there that would do the chord shape.

Although I learnt to play guitar sort of….it was on an open tuning of E, just like the old blues masters who could always go much further than I. it never went the way I wanted to play in my head. I learnt “you’re cheatin’ heart” on it and wrote “just a dream” and I could do a bit of the old boogie woogie 12 bar riff, that I am now spending hours trying to embellish and hone on The Kellycaster.

So I’d learnt the basics on piano, could blow the old trumpet (three valves, 3 faster fingers, perfick). As some of you will know I’ve played keyboards for years, using a single finger to play most of the chords and learnt 100’s of songs. Last count my little book had 170 something songs in it. So the keyboard was kind of ok, as far as I thought it would go. i could write, jam along and play well enough to please an audience. But in that old head of mine, I knew those single finger chords were still limiting and somehow locked in.  Anyone playing along with me had to fit in with what was happening.

Silhouette of The Kellycaster body shape with The Kellycaster logo on neck and inscription "This Machine Kills Oppression" on body of guitar..

This Machine Kills Oppression.