My Blues muse

11th March 2005 at 00:00
Steve Foxhall (right) tells of an enigmatic music teacher who introduced him to the guitar and sweetsounds of BB King

In 1974 I met Mr Neptune who was to change my whole outlook on life. He was to teach me guitar. But music wasn't the only thing he taught me, he also taught me kindness, compassion and patience.

Mr Neptune was my secondary school's visiting, peripatetic guitar teacher.

He was a slightly built, softly spoken West Indian man of about 50, with two large gold front teeth.

I first clapped eyes on him at 12 through a steamed-up music practice room window, swigging from a miniature bottle of Captain Morgan dark rum.

Without saying a word as I entered the cramped little practice room, he simply passed me his guitar and said: "Play me something sweet, anything you like man."

I had never held a guitar before in my life and was astonished by his challenge.

Nervously I responded: "But I've never played a guitar before."

Mr Neptune's face cracked wide open in a fabulous smile and, quick as a flash, he came back with: "I can just tell by the look of you, man, you've got guitar in you."

I plucked the first bass string, it sounded awful. He smiled and clapped his hands together. "You got it man, you made it sing," he said.

I was excited by this positive feedback, but was he gently mocking me? Had the Captain Morgan induced a state of artificial appreciation?

Incredibly, after 30 minutes, I realised that I should have been in a cooking lesson 25 minutes ago. But I didn't care, I was mesmerised by this enigmatic teacher, his love of BB King and his brilliance with the guitar.

"You want lessons next week?"

"How much?" I ask.

"I don't know, and don't care, the school does all the money stuff." I couldn't control myself and blurted out: "Yes, I'll be here."

With that, he grinned and left the room without saying a single word more.

I sat for a few moments, not sure if I had dreamt the whole thing.

I could not stop thinking about the encounter with Mr Neptune - his blind vote of confidence in my unwitnessed musical abilities, his flashing gold teeth, the rum, and then his silent mysterious, departure.

As I fell asleep that night, I swear I could hear BB King's 'Rock Me Baby'

softly playing in the distance.

The week rocketed past at school with my only thought being the guitar lessons that I could not afford to pay for.

The big day arrived. Better get it over I thought to myself. So I just blurted it out there and then in the music room. "I can't pay for lessons, sorry Sir."

He grinned back, his gold teeth glinting. "Who's to know, it'll be our secret," he said.

I had lessons with Mr Neptune for the next three years and nobody discovered that I never paid.

One frosty morning in January, I was waiting eagerly outside the music room. The deputy headteacher appeared. "Foxhall, No guitar lesson today I'm afraid.

"But where's Mr Neptune?" I asked swiftly.

"Well, he won't be coming here anymore." For a split-second, I wondered if the secret rum-drinking had been uncovered and had led to his professional downfall.

"Why?" I asked.

"Sadly, Mr Neptune died on New Year's Day. He had been suffering from cancer for two years, but I expect you knew he was unwell." Time stood still for what seemed like an eternity, I tried to contemplate what I'd just heard.

Mr Neptune had, quite literally, rocked my world for three years and it now seemed incredible that I would never see him again.

He had never complained about his illness, or the pain he must have been in some days.

I never heard another thing about Mr Neptune. But school was not the same without his lessons: he was my inspiration and he was gone for ever.

I suspect that Mr Neptune would have flashed one last gold-toothed smile, to see his old student keeping his love of guitar alive, but I never did develop a taste for Captain Morgan rum.

Steve Foxhall teaches English at Beths Grammar School in Bexley in Kent. He still plays guitar, occasionally in class

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