Guitars on the Beach at Lyme Regis

Last year's record breaking attempt at Guitars on the Beach

Last year's record breaking attempt at Guitars on the Beach - Credit: Archant

Ian Gillan comes home after Deep Purple’s US tour to sing the classic Smoke on the Water by the sea in Lyme Regis. His backing band is a beach full of guitarists

Ian Gillan

Ian Gillan - Credit: Archant

Duh Duh Derr, Duh Duh Da-derr, Duh Duh Derr, Duh Derrrr… Any rocker will recognise this as the guitar intro to Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water, a riff so sacred that, when I was a young guitar slinger window-shopping posh axes in London’s Tin Pan Alley, one store actually had a notice saying that patrons who played it would be asked to leave, (in most shops at that time, playing Smoke... or Stairway to Heaven was a guitar faux pas).

The Smoke… legend gains a new chapter on September 6 at the second Guitars on the Beach Festival (GOTB) in Lyme Regis. Ian Gillan, Deep Purple’s singer and the original voice of Smoke On the Water, will lead Britain’s biggest ever band as thousands of strummers gather on the sands to crank out the mighty riff and attempt a world record for the greatest number of guitarists playing a song together. The British record was secured at last year’s GOTB, when 2,267 players performed Buddy Holly’s Rave On. Though the attempt on the world title must crack Poland’s 2009 total of 6,546, organiser and originator of Guitars on the Beach Geoff Baker is optimistic: “Now that Ian’s involved, we may need a bigger beach!” he jokes.

Gillan lives in Lyme, but is currently on a gruelling tour schedule with Deep Purple: on August 31, the band completes a US/Canada tour of 17 dates in 24 days and Gillan will celebrate his 69th birthday between dates in Nevada and Illinois. Speaking from his studio in Portugal, he says: “I had already booked the date off, because I wanted to see my daughter Grace’s band Papa Le Gal (a Lyme-based samba-funk band, headline act at this year’s GOTB). When I heard of the plan to play ‘Smoke’ with massed guitars, it seemed churlish not to offer to sing.”

Geoff is Lyme Regis born and bred and a music press veteran: starting as a local journalist at 18, he went on to become showbiz editor of the Daily Star and worked as Paul McCartney’s tour PR for 15 years. Geoff’s friend, celebrity chef Mark Hix, asked him to offer a music event as part of Hix’s Food Rocks Festival and Geoff had the idea of a show where “everyone who has wanted to be in a band can for once in their life be in a band. If we pick an easy song, then rather than playing air guitar, we can all play along for real.”

Geoff sought advice on simple song choice from a musician friend, the late Gordon Smith. He recommended Buddy Holly’s Rave On, which is entirely made from the three-chord trick that most guitarists learn first: G, C and D. By ‘a complete fluke’, the first GOTB was held on Buddy Holly’s birthday, September 7. “We got a nice note from Buddy’s widow, Maria Elena,” Geoff recalls. “Whatever we add, Rave On will always be our signature song.”

The project snowballed as its day approached – players joined Britain’s biggest band, in what Geoff dubs: “Britain’s biggest interactive music festival”.

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This is quite a culturally contemporary idea. It relates to philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s prediction that societies would become producers of culture as well as consumers; YouTube, Flickr et al show how true that has become. It also chimes with the growth in accessibility of playing pop music that came about through console game series Guitar Hero and Rock Band in the last seven years.

The mass strum attracts all ages – a three year-old is playing this year, along with guitarists in their 70s – and has a broad social mix. “We’ve got lawyers and fishermen, doctors and carpenters – all walks of life,” Geoff says. There are also bands on stage all day; they have been encouraged to keep the participatory element by including some easy tunes in their sets. Among these is Mark Hix’s band of chefs, The Eatles, with repertoire including ‘The Salad of John and Yoko’.

As well as Smoke on the Water, the festival adds Status Quo’s Rockin’ All Over the World this year and also has an advanced section with four further classic rock songs, venturing fearlessly into different key signatures. Those who play stringed instruments other than guitars are not excluded; you can play your ukulele, mandolin, banjo or bouzouki on the beach too. BSharp, a local music youth project that encourages youngsters to learn an instrument, will be on had to provide crash courses in playing the chords for the songs on the day.

The star and the founder of the event will not be striking guitar hero poses. Ian Gillan would only commit to ‘have a guitar standing by – I don’t play on stage’, while Geoff cheerfully admits: “I cheat! I keep buying guitars in junk shops and I take them to proper musicians to get them tuned to open chords, so I can just pick up a different guitar for each song and play barre chords. I’d recommend it to anyone!”

Well, it’s all for charity of course, so mild cheating is forgivable. GOTB is sponsored again by Fender Guitars, makers of the iconic Stratocaster that was Buddy Holly’s trademark guitar. Fender donates a couple of Strats to be raffled on the day, as well as a sizeable cash sum and is donating 10 acoustic guitars to BSharp’s crash course, which they can keep to continue teaching local kids. GOTB benefits FORCE, a cancer charity for families; Water Survival Box, a charity based near Shepton Mallet which has helped thousands of people by sending out emergency kit to disaster zones; Blood Bikes which couriers blood and emergency medical supplies in Devon; and Lyme Regis Christmas Lights Appeal. Any money left after that will go to the Lyme Regis playground appeal.

Geoff has witnessed hundreds of massive shows when touring with McCartney, but hopes to maintain a relaxed atmosphere at Lyme Regis. “It’s laid back, it’s a thing you can come and do as well going as to the food festival and seeing Lyme. I don’t want it to get all serious and music business like, it’s not fun,” he says.

Not all are relaxed, though. Geoff relates that all the bands are practicing like crazy and recalls that McCartney used to say: “it requires a great deal of inexperience to be beyond the reach of anxiety.” So, head for The Bay Restaurant on the seafront at Lyme for sea, sand, songs, Smoke and a scintilla of stage fright on September 6.

Be a part of Guitars on the Beach at Lyme Regis

Ideally register your interest before the event at where you can also download all the chords for Rave On, Rockin’ All Over the World and Smoke On the Water. Music starts at 11am on 6 September, record attempt starts at 4pm. For latest updates follow on Twitter @guitarsOTB

Food Rocks Festival 6-7 September

Food Rocks is run entirely by sponsorship and volunteers in order to raise money for the RNLI and Fishermen’s Mission. Throughout the weekend there are food demonstrations by Mark Hix, Mitch Tonks, Jack Stein, Richard Bertinet and Rose Prince. The Malthouse at the Townmill hosts an eclectic mix of talks and tastings from foraging to smoking and curing and there will be plenty of local food stalls to graze in the Marine Parade Shelters and on the roof of the Amusement Arcade. Events run from 10am – 4pm, entry is free. More details Follow on Twitter @FoodRocks2014