It Might Get Loud – It May Get Cold

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It Might Get Loud is a documentary by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim which explores the history of the electric guitar, focusing on the careers and styles of Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White. The film received a wide release on August 14th 2009 in the US by Sony Pictures Classics and is now on limited release throughout the UK. Dave Cairns reviews the film for ZANI and his unique perspective of these three legends.

It’s the coldest day in London in 30 years and I’m tucked up in the Tom Cribb pub having a pint of Master Brew from the Shepherd Neame Brewery (still brewing ales on the same site in Kent for over 400 years) and I’m warm as toast before I cross the road to the Odeon, Panton Street, in the West End to see ‘It May Get Loud’ which should turn out to be a nice bit of guitar porn.

Once inside the cinema it’s bloody freezing. I see there are only eight of us including, what looks like a dead ringer for Bill Nighy, one of our great British actors sitting in the front row. Before the film starts the Manager comes in and informs us that the heating is in fact on (until I point out that I can see his breath it’s so cold) so he announces “Leave now and get a refund or sit it out and you might get a free Odeon ticket” Well while I like a challenge I haven’t felt this uncomfortable since I made the mistake of going to a soft porn cinema in Soho to see a Russ Meyer movie-having loved his cult classic ‘Beyond The Valley of The Dolls’-and had to do a runner after a handful of old men started making shuffling noises and my arse was getting stuck to the seat.

The documentary puts together three guitar players from three generations, Jimmy Page, The Edge & Jack White.At this point I must declare the following; firstly I am a guitarist (and my band was supported by U2 oddly enough many, years ago), secondly I was the Special Projects Manager for Gibson Guitars in the ‘90s and thirdly Jimmy Page is God.

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The film starts with Jack White giving us a ‘Blue Peter’ style demonstration of how an electric guitar works, with a piece of old wood, a bit of wire, a pick up and a bottle neck – I got news for you Jack, back in 1938 a geezer called Les Paul did the same thing with bit of 4 by 2 and a door hinge for a bridge (affectionately known as ‘The Plank’) and in 1950 cut an Epiphone semi-acoustic in half, inserted a bit of railway sleeper in the middle, screwed a pick -up to it  and two years later we have The Gibson Les Paul made famous of course by Jimmy Page in particular.

What is it with Jack? He’s made a career out deconstructing the electric guitar by demonstrating he can get a sound out of an old plastic guitar and a whacked out amp he found in a dumpster and has the front to play some crappy guitar falling to pieces in front of Jimmy and The Edge who look on in bemused amazement (he must of left his collection of Gretschs behind) and then we cut to archive footage of Jimmy playing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ on a gorgeous Gibson SG twin neck (why would you want to drive an old banger on three wheels when you can afford an Aston Martin Jack? )Although I must confess I did take a hammer to my Fender acoustic in a fit of anger one day and it stills seems to play alright. As for his gimmick of not having a bass player for The White Stripes, well it got him noticed but it’s bollocks basically, however his Bluegrass work was sensational for the soundtrack to ‘Cold Mountain’ and no doubt involved the use of classic Gibson banjos and mandolins (Orville Gibson started out as a mandolin maker back in 1894) and The Raconteurs were pretty mean too.

Moving on to The Edge from U2, we get some background to his school boy years and how the band came together and then a demonstration of his amazing banks of effects which make up an integral part of the U2 sound. But he’s the first to admit that it’s really a clever use of digital delay on two strings that chimes through most of what they do, so not really a guitarist’s guitarist. Don’t get me wrong, U2 at Manchester City Stadium a few years back was one of the best shows I have ever seen.

And then we have the legend, Jimmy Page, what on earth can you say? This film could so easily have been called “The Edge & Jack White Get To Meet Jimmy Page” such is the status of the man through his writing, production and immense guitar playing with Led Zeppelin in particular, so I wouldn’t know where to start. If this was Lord of The Rings, Jimmy Page would be Gandalf, The Edge, Aragorn and Jack White, Frodo.

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At no point during the film do we get to know how or why these three were put together and it all seems rather pointless (I made a point of not reading the press release beforehand and having now read it, I’m none the wiser). During my years at Gibson Guitars, the pairing of guitar players and bringing together the greats was par for the course. I can recall being closely involved in at least two Gibson documentaries and filming Slash with Brian May one day and Albert Lee and Dave Edmunds the next so there is nothing new about this format whatsoever. I bet if you asked Jimmy Page who he’d like to hang out with for a couple of days he probably wouldn’t have chosen these two guys, more like Robert Johnson and Jimi Hendrix (were they alive today) .I could be wrong but he looked like he was thinking about something he’s got to do the next day most of the time (sorry Jimmy) but what a joy to see the pleasure he gets listening to Link Ray’s Rumble.

Next we have the guys taking turns to play one of their best known riffs and the The Edge & Jack look on spell bound as Jimmy plays a ‘Whole Lotta Love’ with casual abandon-a choice moment. When it comes to guitars, having been involved many years ago in the promotion and marketing of the Jimmy Page Gibson Les Paul signature model, you couldn’t have come up with a more complex and well thought out guitar if you tried, which says it all about the man, whereas if Jack White put out a signature guitar next week it would probably come in an Airfix kit (although his custom Gretsch Anniversary Jnr with a built in retractable microphone is sheer genius).

Normally I can sit through hours of guitar documentaries but after an hour of this I’ve had enough and I’m too cold to care, so it’s a relief when it comes to an end with Jimmy wandering off playing what looks like an antique Gibson mandolin, in the grounds of Headley Grange. Then we see the cosy little ‘living room’ they were playing in being torn down on a sound stage. I can’t help thinking that if Jimmy had invited the lads round to his gaff for a couple of days to chew the fat we might of seen something really special rather than something which came across as contrived and forced,  and it’s interesting to see that only Jimmy Page has an Associate Producer Credit…

I’m so frustrated by this film I’m almost inspired to produce another guitar show/production of my own…such were the missed opportunities.

As the lights go up, bugger me but I’m standing next to Bill Nighy giving the Cinema Manager a hard time about the arctic conditions and demanding his complementary tickets but I’d rather have had an Argos voucher for a free fan heater. I ask Bill what he thought of the film and he simply said “Three extraordinary men” and wandered off into the night; which just about says it all.

I’m now so acclimatised to the cold I could have walked across Leicester Square in a t-shirt and not felt a thing as I rush back to catch the last half of the excellent BBC 4 Elvis Presley documentary. Elvis might not be God but he’s still the King I guess and at long last I’m in the warm again.

© Words - Dave Cairns/ ZANI
Gibson Guitars Special Projects Manager, 1991-99.

Read 3784 times Last modified on Friday, 08 May 2015 16:44
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