Wearside Echoes: Instrument of historical note

Arthur Ramm, of Whitburn, who now owns the guitar played by Paul  Kossof of Free.
Arthur Ramm, of Whitburn, who now owns the guitar played by Paul Kossof of Free.
Have your say

A GUITAR owned by a Wearside man is set to strike a chord with musicians around the world.

The battered 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard was originally the pride and joy of Free guitarist Paul Kossoff, who played it at gigs across Britain and Europe in the 1970s.

Now the guitar, owned by Whitburn musician Arthur Ramm, is set for a return to the spotlight 40 years on – after the Gibson Guitar Corporation announced plans to create limited edition replicas.

“I’m very excited about the idea,” said Arthur, 62, who played guitar in 1970s group Beckett – a support act for Free. “Just to compare the new models to mine will be a treat.

“The plan is to produce 100 replicas with all the dints and marks of my guitar now, and a further 150 copies of it in pristine condition – all to the original specifications. It will be amazing to see that.”

Arthur, the son of a tool-maker, followed in his father’s footsteps after leaving Redwell County Secondary School, South Shields, in the 1960s.

His love of music, however, proved greater than his interest in making tools. After heading off to play at the Top Ten Club in Hamburg in 1969, he went on to join the band Beckett.

“When I got the chance to play at the Top Ten, I jumped at it – as The Beatles played there before they were famous,” said Arthur.

Beckett soon caught the eye of legendary music promoter Geoff Docherty, who had cut his showbiz teeth bringing rock royalty such as Pink Floyd, The Who, Led Zeppelin and T Rex to Sunderland.

After showcasing the talents of the South Shields-based band at the Marquee Club in London, Geoff secured the boys a much-coveted recording contract with Warners.

“My heart raced with excitement,” Geoff later recalled. “Frank Sinatra, Rod Stewart, The Eagles and Aretha Franklin were all on the label, and we were being offered a chance to join them.”

Beckett went on to support Rod Stewart, Ten Years After, Lindisfarne, Slade, Alex Harvey and Captain Beefheart, before touring with Free and releasing a critically-acclaimed album in 1974.

“I left my job and became a full-time musician,” said Arthur. “We played at the Reading Festival in 1974 and supported Free at various gigs, including the Mayfair Ballroom in Newcastle.

“One night, after Paul Kossoff accidentally damaged his guitar on stage, he came to my dressing room and asked to borrow my guitar for the encore. I was delighted, and of course said yes.”

Kossoff enjoyed playing Arthur’s guitar – a 1967 Standard Gibson – so much that he asked to swap it for his own after the performance – leaving the Marsden-born lad “flabbergasted.”

“I told him I couldn’t, as the neck of his was broken, so he offered me his spare instead. I said I would, on the condition that when he got his 1959 one repaired I could swap back for that,” said Arthur.

Months went by, however, without any further deals being done.

“Paul went ahead and had it repaired, but then didn’t want to part with it,” said Arthur.

“So eventually we swapped again, but I just gave him his old guitar back in return for my own.

“That Gibson really was his pride and joy. I have no idea where he acquired, it was probably second hand when he got it, but he started to use it in about 1971 and played it right to the end.”

Arthur’s dreams of owning the guitar were only to become reality after Kossoff’s death in 1976. The guitarist was just 25 when he died of drug-related heart problems aboard a New York-bound flight.

“The idea of having the guitar had intrigued me since our first conversation about swapping. After Paul died, Geoff spoke to his parents and it was arranged that I be allowed to buy it,” said Arthur.

“Paul’s father could have sold it to any of the big-name musicians at the time, but it would have just ended up as a display item. Mr Kossoff wanted it to be played – and I promised I would do that.”

Arthur kept his promise – using the Gibson at gigs up and down the country from 1976 to 1990. Eventually, and reluctantly, he laid the instrument aside after becoming concerned for its safety.

Today he stores the guitar – thought to be worth tens of thousands of pounds – well away from his Whitburn home, but is happily planning to try out one of the Gibson replicas on stage.

“The interest in my guitar was sparked a few months ago, when someone told me that Gibson was thinking of making a copy of another Kossoff guitar, based on one in America,” said Arthur.

“I knew Paul had used other guitars, but I’d always thought this was the one he played most. After talking to friends in the musical instrument business, I got a call from Gibson earlier this year.

“They told me they were interested in using my guitar as the model instead, but I had to provide copies of the sales receipt first – which I had been given by Paul’s girlfriend – as well as photos.”

Representatives from the Gibson Guitar Corporation later flew from America to meet Arthur, taking more pictures, as well as the exact specifications, of the guitar.

“They have lots of models out now based on guitars played by iconic musicians such as Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, and I think the Paul Kossoff one may be one of the last ones,” he said.

“I haven’t been given a date for when the Kossoff ones will be available, but I am very excited. I am just so privileged to have such a wonderful guitar in my possession.

“It is everything to me; it’s just a wonderful guitar. I still play today, as a solo act as well as part of a band, and I’m really looking forward to trying out one of the replicas on stage.”