In the long hot summer of 1976, I had just completed my teacher training diploma at Jordanstown Polytechnic, here in Northern Ireland. Those were heady and uncertain days in more ways than one, and the school where I was due to begin my teaching career was situated right next door to Armagh Court House.
It made my place of work, let’s say, an interesting location during that time. The windows of my classroom were fortified with cross-strips of bog-standard Sellotape, which might give you some inkling as to the health and safety rules of the day. Yet I don’t remember a single time when the ‘Troubles’ affected the camaraderie and solidarity of the staff. By all accounts, we seemed to have been a resilient bunch, and more than that, we were not found wanting in the support of each other either.
One of my fellow teachers in the school was the much-loved and respected Mr Denis Currie, who had a remarkable ability to transfer his own magical technical skills onto many of his young pupils during woodwork and technology classes. Denis also owned the gift of persuasion to which I am deeply indebted, as will become more obvious as this story unfolds.
Gigs and guitars
Apart from teaching music, I sang at gigs with three other girls in a group called Middle Earth, each of us owning cheap, tinny, unremarkable guitars.
Then, one day Denis mentioned to me that his friend, George, was actually making guitars and that I should really consider buying one. “How much, Denis?” I asked, mindful that I was now living independently away from home and suddenly having to pay my own rent. He told me the price – a whole month’s wages for me at that time, so I politely declined.
Denis looked back at me knowingly. “I’ll see if he can throw in a hard case”, he said. Needless to say, the deal was eventually sealed, the guitar (and case) duly delivered, and I had to live on beans on toast for the next four weeks, which did not do me any great harm.
Since then, of course, George Lowden’s guitars have come a very long way and are played by many of the finest guitar players in the world, including Pierre Bensusan, Paul Brady, Richard Thompson, Thomas Leeb and Alex De Grassi.
Top-quality works of art
I was privileged, a short while ago, to visit the factory where these beautifully crafted instruments are made and I took my own aged Lowden along with me. Most of the young staff who work there were not so much as a twinkle in their mother’s eye when George created my guitar (his number 38), so it was hopefully interesting for them to see one of their boss’s original creations.
Of course, nowadays George Lowden has honed his art to perfection and you do not need to be a guitar buff to appreciate the work, dedication, pride and love (yes, love), that goes into each and every model. Only top-quality materials are used, and oh, the beauty of the woods. Walnut, Honduras rosewood, African blackwood, Adirondack and Sitka spruce, even Bog Oak (imagine the stories behind those!), to name but a few.
The guitars are works of art and the craftmanship exquisite, reflecting the demand from high-profile clientele who have availed them over the years. However, not everyone can afford a high-end instrument and a relatively new addition to the Lowden guitar family has been the creation of the Sheeran by Lowden. It is the result of a collaboration between George and Ed Sheeran, both men obviously sharing a passion to produce a quality guitar for budding musicians at a more affordable price.
Pride and recognition
More than anything, the story of Lowden guitars should be a source of great pride for us here in Northern Ireland. George himself, a humble and gentle man, has created a hugely successful family company whose longevity is proof that with dedication, belief and a dogged determination, anything is possible.
Earlier this year he deservedly received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Ards Guitar Festival and I am very grateful to him for facilitating my visit to the workshops in the midst of his continuously busy work schedule. Added to that was the pleasure of meeting up again with Denis, whose friendship with George has continued since those early days of the 70’s.
A month’s wages may have been a wild extravagance in 1976, but boy, have I been eternally grateful to Denis for twisting my arm.
A full history of Lowden Guitars can be found on their website.
This article is part of a series. Read the other posts here:
- Part 1 – getting into writing
- Part 2 – how I became a poet
- Part 3 – garden blessings
- Part 4 – cancer and me
- Part 5 – thank you for the music
- Part 6 – anyone for a carbonara?
- Part 7 – who cares?
- Part 8 – technology and me
- Part 9 – dementia and my family
- Part 10 – the visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau
- Part 11 – the menopause
- Part 12 – stuff
- Part 13 – change
- Part 14 – Christmas
- Part 15 – getting old
- Part 16 – bazaar
- Part 17 – hush-a-bye baby
- Part 18 – gettin’ hitched
- Part 19 – the birthday lunch
- Part 20 – say a little prayer
- Part 21 – all being well