The Alibis

In Bed With McVicar – Part 1

Rob is probably the main architect of the Alibis sound, providing as he does the guitar riffs, solos and hooks and writing a hefty chunk of the songs, including long-time favourites like Terlingua, Somebody Somewhere, I Am Japan and Discontented Winter.

He wants you, he wants you, he wants you to be bathed in blue!

To get a bit of an insight into Rob’s guitar-work and how he approaches his role within the band, I decided to have a wee chat with him to get some insight on how he feels about songs, guitars, music and just generally being the sane one in the band.
GFWhat made you want to pick up a guitar in the first place?
RM:  Crikey. It’s probably a similar story for everyone. Always fancied it from a young age I guess. Seeing it on TV or whatever. But Back To The Future probably lit the spark in my head and started me air guitaring.
When my family moved to Scotland and we had a pub, bands would play in the back room and I always watched the guitarist (as audiences always do 😉 ) wanting to be able to play. I was well aware of the hard work involved in learning an instrument, though. And probably well aware that I wouldn’t stick at it. Plus instruments are expensive and we didn’t have a lot of money.
I didn’t seriously do it until high school, though. Must have been about 15 (1992 – Ed). I had got into music a little bit by then (Guns and Roses, U2, pretty mainstream stuff). My friend Bruce had bought an electric guitar and he was mucking around with friends, starting a wee band: I wanted to be involved. I started off wanting to be the singer, that wasn’t gonna happen. When that became clear, I thought I’d give guitar a go. The interest was always there, but now I had the motivation. I started getting pointers from Bruce on how to play chords, etc and asked for my first guitar for my…16th birthday, I think.
GF: What was the first guitar? And did you have lessons or were you self-taught?
RM:  First guitar was a Jim Deacon Stratocaster. Jim Deacon was the own brand by Sound Control. They had a branch in Kirkcaldy. Black body and scratchplate, rosewood (or similar cheap wood) neck. Neck was *so* thin looking back. Like playing on a toothpick.
I took the pointers from Bruce, who continued to teach me more chords. Also borrowed some guitar tab books, the usual ‘Teach Yourself Guitar’ books, etc to get the basics. Guitar magazines, too. Though there was nowhere near as many as there are now of those. So, yeah – pretty much self taught, having been started off. Never had any lessons or anything.
GF: I know you’re a pretty humble guy, and you’d never claim to have mastery over the guitar, but was there a breakthrough point where you thought “hang on – I’m getting a bit better at this”?
RM: There’s one occasion I remember.
I was teaching myself pretty much by ear, playing along with albums (well, cassettes to be precise) to get used to moving from one chord shape to another and everything. I remember specifically I was playing along with One by U2. I managed to pick out the chord sequence pretty quickly and then managed to play along with it from start to finish with no cock-ups. That was the moment I was like ‘bloody hell, I can do this’. Ran upstairs to tell my mum. But she said she wasn’t that surprised as she’d been hearing me steadily improve over those few months.
That’s the thing about learning guitar, though. You get better in such an incremental way, you don’t see or hear the improvements yourself – until you get to a point where you go ‘well, I couldn’t do *that* 3 weeks ago’ or whatever.
Incidentally, I picked up a whole bunch of stuff frmo my mum’s house when she moved a few years back. In amongst it were some old diaries (I was very much the sensitive soul when I was a teenager). Had a flick through one of them and came across the entry in September 1993 which said ‘learnt to play One by U2 all the way through’. Seriously. Guess I knew back then it was a big moment, too.

Rob’s unsuccessful Helium-filled-hollow-body experiment

GF: I’m completely tone-deaf, but am always amazed by you just knowing what chord/key/note something is. Did that come about from playing along to casettes, or was it just something natural to you?
RM: I can’t pick out the key, note or whatever just from listening to something. I won’t be able to hear something and go ‘that’s in G’
I usually have to pick around on the bass strings of the guitar to get a starting point or two. But because there’s a bunch of commonly used chord progressions and keys, once I have got a couple of bass notes for a couple of chords in the song, I can usually figure out what key it is in and where chords are gonna go. You listen to and play enough songs, you’ll see how remarkably similar the patterns they use actually are.
GF: So at this point it’s clear you’re getting better – when did you do your first gig? Was it with Bruce’s band?
RM: Played a few crappy small gigs at school, in the gym and stuff like that.
I think my first proper gig was at the Rothes Halls though in Glenrothes when it first opened up. Proper venue.
GF: Do you remember how it went? Were you playing covers or originals? Name of the band?
RM: Remember it went OK, though I did lose a contact lens on stage. We were playing covers: Pearl Jam, Gun, stuff like that. Name of the band: Suicidal Mushrooms. Still a great name.
GF: How long did the Suicidal Mushrooms last – had you left school by that point?
RM: Until we left school. Though we did do another couple of gigs after being away at uni for a year. But that was it.

The equally unsuccesful playing-without-touching-guitar method