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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

15 January 2021

Confined at home in the third lockdown, Malcolm Guite reaches for his guitar

COOPED up again in this third lockdown, I find myself reaching, once more, for my old guitar. Gone are the days when I could play it in pubs, and find that singing my poems could magically turn them into pints; but I can still savour a good drop at home and pick out a tune or two for my own solace and for the amusement — or bemusement — of George and Zara.

In fact, the first song that I found myself playing, or trying to to remember how to play, was a comparatively new one, which I wrote very near the beginning of the first lockdown. It’s called “My guitar in my hands”, and was about the sense of connection and community which playing music can bring, even when one is playing on one’s own; so, its first two verses went:


When I pick up this old guitar
My mind and soul are free;
For every song I ever sang
Will keep me company.
My songs can sail me out to sea
Or trek the desert sands.
I roam through time and space at will,
My guitar in my hands


They sent me word three weeks ago
That I should stay at home;
To help protect the NHS
I may no longer roam.
But that’s all right, this magic box
Lifts me to other lands,
And brings me safely home again,
My guitar in my hands.


And yet when it came to writing the chorus, even though I wrote and sang it alone, I could not help framing it as though I were in the company of my friends, and singing it with my band at the Blue Ball inn, as I should have been:


With a guitar in your hands my friends
You’ll never be alone.
You can ride the wind with the angel band,
Your can roll with the rolling stones.
You can sing your sorrows loud and clear,
You can bring your blessings home.
Those six strings summon all to hear;
So you’ll never be alone.


Then, back in that first lockdown, a remarkable thing happened. I decided, spontaneously, to sing it into my phone on to a thing called “Facebook Live”, which I had never used before. The result was wonderful (the response, I mean — not necessarily the music).

From all over the world, friends old and new began to comment on it, and tell me that they were singing along. Soon, various members of my band chimed in and let me know that we could, in fact, sing this song together; so they encouraged me to get my comparatively Luddite mind around some recording technology, and, a week or so later, I had the pleasure of hearing my song, with its three simple chords inexpertly strummed, embellished by contributions from people who really can play: there were drums, bass guitar, mandolin, and even some extra voices to join in on the chorus.

And now I return to that song, not only for surrogate companionship but also for the hope of release, which had somehow slipped into the final verse:


This lockdown’s locks give way to me
They open with a pick
Three simple chords can set me free
It’s such an easy trick
So I’ll stay home to save more lives
I’ll meet all their demands
Until we meet again my friends
With guitars in our hands.

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