My name is Michael Bott and I was born in Douglas, Isle of Man on December 25th, 1954. When I was 6 we came to live in Banbury and eventually settled in a village just outside Banbury called Bodicote.
So I grew up in the Oxfordshire countryside and experienced the delights of education in a tiny village school only to receive rather a shock to the system when I passed the ‘Eleven Plus’ and found myself in a rather straight laced Grammar School (Magdelene College School, Brackley) in which, to cut a long story short, I did not flourish.
Happier days came when I got a ‘transfer’ at the age of 16 to the Banbury Upper School and promptly found myself starring in the school Christmas production of “The Pirates of Penzance”. I had never thought of myself as a singer or performer in any way – even though my father had become a professional actor fairly late in his life – it was the pursuit of a girl I fancied that had me enrol in the school choir. It was around this time that I also picked up the guitar for the first time. Things just seemed to unfold from there …
The few years left at school had me involved in many drama productions (probably at the expense of my studies) and by the time it came for me to leave school it had become pretty clear that I would be pursuing a life in the theatre. At that time my father was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon and I would have to admit to being quite starry-eyed at the prospect of one day following in his footsteps.
I soon moved down to London and became a dresser at the Aldwych Theatre (the London home then of the RSC) and in 1974 I enrolled at the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama. Two years later I began my first professional engagement at the Frinton-on-Sea Summer Theatre and that was the beginning of 25 years as a professional actor working in TV, radio, film. Eventually, the wheel did come full circle and I became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, staying with the company for nearly two years.
While at the RSC I sustained a back injury that forced me to leave the company and rendered me practically invalid for almost six months. I began to wonder what I was going to do next and while I was essentially confined to bed I began to write a proposal for a new television series. Inspired by the success of the BBC detective series ‘Bergerac‘ which was set on the island of Jersey, I conceived of doing what ‘Bergerac’ had done for that island to my birthplace; the Isle of Man.
The proposed series was called ‘Mann’s Man’ and although it never came to production, a full pilot script was written and negotiations went so far with the Isle of Man government, that many of the tax breaks and facilities that the island now has for film production were put in place at that time. The contacts that I made during that time and the skills and knowledge I acquired meant that I found myself placed to be able to realise another of my ambitions; to make films.
As a director of the video production company Illuminated Word, I’ve developed, shot and edited over 50 corporate videos, working with plcs, charities and major companies. Latterly I have been a documentary producer in my own right, making special interest documentaries for video and DVD. My last project was a unique film about the ancient monuments of the British Isles; “Standing with Stones”. (See www.standingwithstones.com). I was also associate producer on the documentary “The Man Behind the Da Vinci Code” for Channel 5.
Which kind of wraps the nutshell history up for now – but in order to paint the full picture I must backtrack to 1983 when I met my wonderful wife, Sharon. The circumstances of our meeting is wonderful story in its own right and some day I’ll tell it in full – but for the moment – it involved public nudity and a seedy pub in Soho! The point is though, we passed our 25th wedding anniversary in May this year and I cannot tell you how blessed I am to have spent half my life with this woman. We have two children – Eliza (shortly graduating from studying 3d product design at the University of Northumberland) and Jonty (about to study music at Warwick College). Sharon and I live in a large village called Wellesbourne – very near Stratford-upon-Avon.
We are independent distributors for Forever Living Products which is the one thing that gives us financial security and fantastic optimism for the future (which is quite something given that neither of us have had proper jobs in the past!). My film ‘Standing with Stones’ still occupies a substantial amount of my time – promoting via the web, Twitter, YouTube – by whatever means I can to make sure this film, of which I am so proud, is seen and enjoyed by its audience.
Picking up the guitar again
Last, but by no means least of course, I play lead guitar with a classic rock/blues cover band that we have named Rockpool. I have always had a guitar of one sort or another throughout my life but it was only a few years ago that my friend James invited me to join a band he was then playing with. Truth is, he just wanted the company – he had found himself as a 50 something year-old drummer in a band of teenagers and was feeling a bit lonesome. I had not played with a band since I was at school. Boy, was it a shock to the system!
The thing was, I never learnt to play the guitar by learning songs. My heros had been the usual suspects of Clapton, Hendrix, Santana, Page, Beck, etc. but I had never appreciated how truly great they were because I had never bothered to break down their playing and really tried to play the notes they did. I was of the very lazy mindset that believes that underneath it all there was some kind of ‘trick’ or muse that would somehow click into play and convert me into an overnight guitar hero as long as I picked up the guitar and ‘noodled’ often enough. Wrong!!!!
The route to enlightenment is through focussed practice. Learning to play to a standard that is acceptable for even an amateur rock classics cover band has been a steep learning curve. It was a shock to discover how limited my knowledge of the fretboard was (and still is, in professional terms) and how my technique needed to shift to another gear.
Happily though, I am confident enough now to stand at the front and carry most of the sound made by my band. I am still in awe of my heroes and I am even more blown away now by their mastery of the instrument than when I was a blasé schoolboy, but I know now that the way to approach their levels is by application, not blind hope. By the way, the guitarist that has most inspired me recently has not been one of the 70’s icons but a 32 year old rock and blues guitarist called Joe Bonamassa. Many of you will already know of him, but some may not and to you I say – check him out! He is a true virtuoso but he plays in a style that is so accessible that attempting to emulate him does not seem such a monumental task. However, behind the apparent simplicity is a technique and musicality that is truly inspiring and rather than daunting my aspirations to reach for such heights, instead continually encourages them.
I love guitars. I would love to collect them. However, my disposable income does not allow me to indulge that fantasy quite yet. I have three guitars – a 40 year old Yamaha FG-200 acoustic that seems to have become my son’s, a 2006 Fender American Standard Stratocaster (see picture) which I absolutely love and a Cort g260 with Fender Cobalt Samarium pickups in the neck and middle and a DiMarzio ToneZone in the bridge. The Cort is going soon – it part -funded the Strat, which I must say, has been a complete eye-opener in terms of what a proper, grown-up guitar is. I will write about my wanderings down the road to the holy grail of tone elsewhere, but for now, I’m very happily powered by a Blackstar Series One 45 Combo.
But enough. Although I do not own any of the guitars celebrated in this blog, I love the artistry and craftsmanship that has gone into making them. For me, it is audio-kinetic art and I hope that this site becomes a useful treasure trove of information for you all about the diversity and breadth of the world of guitars – beautiful guitars.