Guitarist Of The Year

The Guitarist of the Year competition is hosted by Guitarist magazine. You send them an instrumental, they shortlist their favourite five entries- and the finalists play to judges and an audience at the National Music Show, Wembley. If you ever thought of entering, here is the story of my 1999 trip.

I received a letter from Future Publishing on a Saturday morning. On the original entry form it is stated that the finalists would be contacted by telephone - so I figured that this letter would be a subscription reminder. But it was from Simon Bradley at Guitarist magazine informing me that I'd made it through to the finals. Ye-ha!

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This was only a few weeks before the date of the final. Fortunately my wife is the world's most meticulous planner and arrangements were made for trains and a hotel. She even had me ring the London Underground to make sure that there would be no closed lines on the weekend of the competition!

I set off on the day before the final (the final was on a Sunday morning). I had a pretty uneventful journey to King's Cross-, but then discovered that the tube line to my hotel was closed for maintenance (so much for my meticulous research). I was told to get a train to Harrow-on-the-Hill and then to rejoin the tube line to my hotel in Ruislip. A 20-minute journey took an hour-and-a-half. On arrival at my hotel I was asked if I would be dining in the restaurant on that evening. I thanked the receptionist for the invitation, but informed her that I would be feasting on a Pot Noodle instead. She looked a bit puzzled but obviously didn't understand Haute cuisine in Sunderland.

I was impressed by the size of my room's lobby until I realized that this was the room. But at least there was a kettle and a tea bag. What generosity!

My sleep was badly disturbed by two German guys in the next room obviously on a romantic London break. I was up at 5am and over to breakfast at 7am, desperate for something to take the taste of the Pot Noodle away.

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I was feeling big butterflies in my stomach now (or maybe it was that Pot Noodle). I took the tube to Wembley, and not trusting my sense of direction I jumped into a cab to take me to the Exhibition Centre. A twenty second cab ride later and I was there. The exhibition centre is a maze of halls and corridors. This year's final was in the Grand Hall. Top man Simon Bradley from Guitarist was on the stage setting up the five Laney stacks for the finalists and practicing a few rather snazzy stage moves. A few of the other finalists were already there. Firstly, I had a chat to Dave Burn from Newcastle (only a few miles away from me).His girlfriend rather kindly asked if I would like my performance videoed. Fearing an appearance on "You've Been Framed" I politely declined.

After my performance in the previous G.O.T.Y. I couldn't find the gap in the curtain at the back of the stage. My frantic comedy routine seemed to amuse the crowd (although they may still have been laughing at my playing). Then on to the previous year's G.O.T.Y. Simon Lees. We had an entertaining game of Parker guitar top trumps- one of his frets fell off - my neck warped - his Bridge snapped in two- my replacement neck (which took three months to arrive, thanks for the fantastic customer service Mr. Parker!) warped within a week of receiving it. A draw!

It's now sound check time. At my previous G.O.T.Y. I'd used the amplification supplied and no effects. My Godin guitar has a pretty bright sound, as have the Laney amps supplied for the finalists - so I used my Zoom 9030 effects unit and the amplifier set on the clean channel. My backing track D.A.T. seemed to have drop-outs all over it - but I had a spare copy on CD and this ran fine. Phew.

We were led by “mother duck” Simon Bradley to the dressing room. My fellow finalists were nice blokes. But the smell of nervous farts was rather putrid. I was on third and was massively relieved to play okay. Now it was the wait for the judges' decision. Backstage I bumped into an old mate Jimi Savage who was playing at the exhibition on the future music stand. He told me that even though he worked for the company he had no influence on the decision... after I gave him the £50 (Joke!). A message came backstage that the judges still hadn't made a decision and were going to need a little more time. Eventually we were told that the decision had been made and we were all led back on stage. We all practiced our good loser smiles.

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Neville Marten (Guitarist’s editor) was the chief judge. " And the winner is......... Les Cheetham! Completely shocked, I shook the other finalists hands and gave Neville a big kiss on the forehead. Fortunately he didn't disqualify me! I was presented with the prize (a Gretsch Streamliner guitar). Backstage, Guitarist’s photographer took a few photographs for the magazine. I went back to the dressing room to telephone my wife. I tried to bluff her that I hadn't won - but think that my manic laughter gave me away!

After having a bit of a mooch around the exhibition I jumped into a cab to take me to King's Cross to begin my journey back to sunny Sunderland. On returning home I was sure that I could see a look of pride on my daughter's face, even though she was too young to understand. In retrospect, however, I now realise that this was most probably wind.