Performing Arts | Wry Society

The electric guitar

Two decades after his rock group disbanded, a musician-turned-hedge funder revives his dreams of becoming a guitar hero.

September 02 2011
Adam Edwards

James Davidson is a manager of a leading hedge fund, lives in Notting Hill, wears a pinstripe suit and has two children, both at private schools. He is the very model of a City slicker. But that is not how James perceives himself. In his eyes, he is “Dynamo” Davidson, the cool lead guitarist of Chalk Body.

James formed the band at university in the mid-1980s in defiance of the then fashion for electronic music. The hedge funder was in thrall to the great guitar groups of the late 1960s and early 1970s such as Deep Purple, Free and Cream, and his group was a tribute to them – a “silhouette of the past” was how he described Chalk Body.

Unfortunately, James was not the most musical of men. He could knock out the riffs to, for example, Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water, but struggled with more complex songs, such as Led Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused or Cream’s Badge. Despite these musical failings, James (like so many melodically challenged individuals before him) planned to make a career in rock’n’roll. However, after drifting into the financial world – ostensibly to raise funds to take Chalk Body on tour – he found his true niche: making money.

And that money has given him a trophy wife, an Audi R8 and a country house in Oxfordshire’s Steeple Aston. Unfortunately, what it hasn’t done is sate his desire to rattle off a cornucopia of guitar licks in front of a stadium audience.

And so, rather pathetically, he spends his spare moments at House of Guitars, an emporium two minutes’ walk from Liverpool Street Station, where the Fender Stratocasters, Rickenbacker Fireglos and custom-built Paul Reed Smiths hang on the walls in their dozens. And there James plucks away at one or other of the instruments, imagining he is wowing crowds of ecstatic fans at the fastest-selling gig in Wembley’s history.

He has also started to build up a decent collection of six-string “axes”, including a 1965 Sunburst Les Paul, a copy of the model that Eric Clapton played when he was with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, and a reproduction Gretsch that was popularised by George Harrison. But his proudest possession is his Gucci guitar.

This limited-edition instrument (only 22 were ever made) was produced at the turn of the century, with a V-shaped ash body and an African ebony fingerboard. It has 24 frets, a black-lacquer finish and a complete set of accessories, including plectrums and straps sporting the designer logo, and is enclosed in a special leather Gucci case.

It was designed by the fashion house’s then group creative director Tom Ford, and had originally cost £9,564 – double the price in those days of a classic vintage Fender or Gibson. James bought it at auction in 2007 for £12,000. The catalogue claimed that it had once been played by Sting, but there was nothing to authenticate this star-studded provenance.

Many have looked askance at James’s guitar, but he sees no irony in it. When he plays it, usually in front of the mirror at home, he is in his imagination a 1970s rock god. In reality, the rock god he most plays like is the armless Venus de Milo.

One day, during a visit to House of Guitars, he meets fellow “hedgie” Michael Reddich and the two of them begin to team up at lunchtimes for a short jam on the borrowed guitars, which are not plugged in, in the basement of the shop. After this has been going on for some time, Michael suggests that the two of them join his brother-in-law, who is a dab hand at the drums, for a plugged-in live gig. James, retracing the silhouette of his own past, suggests they play under the name Chalk Body. It will be the first date of the tour he had planned those many years ago.

And so the three intrepid middle-aged financiers take to the stage at the Steeple Aston village hall to play rock songs at a fundraiser for Somalian refugees. Their set is remarkable... in a way. They are bottom of the bill and very bad indeed – but far more embarrassing than that is the fact that the band’s name has (possibly not mistakenly) been printed as “Chalk Stripe” – “a far more appropriate title for three elderly City slickers, one with a Gucci guitar”, jokes Michael. Dynamo is not amused.

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