Mr Moody and Mr Grant by Hank Marvin

20th June 2014 at 01:00
Rock and roll came before schoolwork for the legendary Shadows guitarist, but he'll never forget the music teacher who sold him a banjo and the stern military man who nurtured his artistic talent

My music teacher, Mr Moody, kick-started my career when he sold me my very first stringed instrument - a banjo. At the time I was a lazy 15-year-old so-and-so at Rutherford Grammar School in Newcastle. I was only interested in music and art.

James Moody was an affable man of about 30. One day we were chatting about music and I told him I was passionate about New Orleans jazz. He said: "Jazz musicians use the banjo, don't they?" And then he told me he had one at home in a cupboard.

On impulse I asked if he wanted to sell it to me and he agreed. It cost pound;2 10s and I paid him half a crown a week. I thought I looked really cool walking down the street with this banjo case in my hand. In reality, I looked like a spotty prat but I convinced myself I was terribly urbane.

My parents couldn't afford banjo lessons, so I bought a book to learn how to tune it and picked up various chord shapes from there. Shortly after that I formed a skiffle band with schoolmates, in which I was the singer and played banjo and a borrowed guitar. We were called the Crescent City Skiffle Group and we'd go to youth clubs and play in return for a cup of tea and a biscuit.

My dad bought me a guitar for my 16th birthday and I practised a lot. Then I met [Shadows bandmate] Bruce Welch at school and he invited me to join the skiffle group he played in, called the Railroaders.

I was born Brian but I'd been called Hank since I was 12: we all used to call each other by our surnames so I was Rankin, which became Rank and then Hank. At 18, I changed my name legally. In those days it was all the rage to have a rock and roll name so I chose Marvin after country singer Marvin Rainwater.

Because I was hooked on the banjo, I lost all interest in schoolwork. The only subject I paid any attention in was art, which was taught by "Slasher" Grant, another influential teacher. He was a lieutenant colonel in the Territorial Army and he had tremendous authority over the class. He didn't have to resort to the strap - a look was enough to bring you into line. But I had a lot of respect for him as he was good at imparting information. And if you had a talent for art, as I did, he would give you a lot of his time.

Bruce and I went to London in April 1958, just before our O-levels, as we wanted to get into the music business. My parents were disappointed but I think the school headmaster was secretly pleased as we would have failed dismally and brought down his averages.

We headed for the 2i's Coffee Bar in Soho and there we met Cliff Richard's manager, Johnny Foster. He asked me to become Cliff's lead guitarist, so six months later we were back in Newcastle playing to screaming girls. It was magic.

I never kept in touch with James Moody but years later I met Slasher Grant when his daughter brought him to a Shadows concert. He was in his eighties then and no longer as imposing because he'd shrunk with age. He remembered me with affection and it was lovely to see him.

I don't know what would have happened if I hadn't got that banjo. It was a stepping stone to learning the guitar and extending my musical abilities further into rock and roll. I can't thank Mr Moody enough.

Hank Marvin was talking to Kate Bohdanowicz. His new album, Hank, is out now and features covers of summer-themed tracks from artists including the Kinks and the Beach Boys, as well as an original composition

Into the light

Hank Marvin

Born Brian Rankin, 28 October 1941, Newcastle upon Tyne

Education Rutherford Grammar School, Newcastle

Career Solo artist and lead guitarist of the Shadows, formed as Cliff Richard's backing band

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