Playing this invisible instrument is not easy. But here in New Plymouth, we have a champion. Ben Greaney, 24, has won the air guitar national championship twice, the second time last weekend beating nine others.
Usually competitors have to qualify for the nationals by winning a regional final, but New Plymouth didn’t have a competition this year. It was cancelled for some reason.
“So I managed to get a wild card straight to the final because of my past accomplishments.”
There was no big cheque for the winner. Playing the air guitar has not been a lucrative career for him, he says. And, unlike in 2006, he didn’t win tickets to the worlds in Finland in August.
The rules changed. The prize was flights to and accommodation in Canberra to compete in the Australian air guitar championships. The winner of that wins air tickets and accommodation for the worlds.
2010 New Zealand (NZ) Champ: ‘Ben Greaney’ aka ‘The HellmuTT Experience’.
Age: 24 / eternal. Occupation: unemployed / free spirit. Preferred playing hand: Right.
Free Round song: ‘Power To Love’ by ‘Jimi Hendrix’.
Air Guitar Style: face melting watchamacallit
Musical influences: Psycodelic rock blues
Rock quote: ‘Even though you can’t experience and enjoy the pleasure of being hellmuTT, you can still enjoy the pleasure of the hellmuTT experience.’
There might be two Ben Greaneys. There is the quiet Greaney, who is shy when it comes to talking about himself. He works doing “heaps of different things” at an aluminium place in Bell Block and wears jeans and a T-shirt with Guinness written across the front. He has a bit of rocker look going on, with shoulder-length unruly blond curls and bit of facial hair.
And then there is the other Ben Greaney, the one who rocks to Jimi Hendrix and Angus Young wearing bright yellow and black tie-dyed tights, big furry boots and a colourful shirt.
The one who calls himself The Helmutt Experience.
He is not entirely sure, so he reckons, about how the name came into being. It had something to do with having a few drinks and wearing a beer box on his head.
Knowing how to play an actual guitar, helps in playing the air guitar, he says. It helps him play in time to the music.
Some people ask him why doesn’t he play the real guitar.
“They say, You don’t have any skills compared to someone or other who plays the guitar.”
But, he says, he has a whole different skill set.
Greaney has come full circle in his air guitar career, having gone back to what he was doing originally. And he did a riff off last weekend, which he had never done before.
A riff off is where the competition ends in a tie and the finalists go on stage together and play to music they haven’t heard before.