A new start after 60: I quit drinking and learned to make guitars | Craft

When Paul Edwards left school at 15, he headed to the careers office in Salford, Greater Manchester, to speak to the man behind the glass hatch. The careers officer riffled through his little box of cards, and pulled out two. One card advertised a vacancy for a violin-maker’s apprentice; the other for a precision grinder, which is paid twice as much. Edwards’ mother told him there was no choice. He became a precision grinder.

He must have thought about this fork in the road many times since, because two years ago, at 62, he built a guitar. “And the first thing I thought was: Why didn’t I do this when I left school?”

Instead, he hopped from place to place, following work or girlfriends. “I never really had a career path,” he says. He had worked from the age of 12, painting ships alongside his father in the docks at Old Trafford. “You grow up fast when you’re the oldest of six boys.”

Edwards’ childhood home was full of music. “My mum was singing all the time. I can still hear her now. ‘One day my prince will come … ‘ The radio was always on. We had records.” At 13, Edwards saved his wages and bought a £50 bass on hire-purchase. “It was red, shiny and beautiful.”

He had always been good with his hands, so when the precision grinding didn’t work out, he got a job as a stagehand at the Davenport theater in Stockport – his first step into the world of arts.

Further stints in the same vein followed – building sets at Cambridge Arts theater, and working for a company that made structures “for rich people’s parties”.

After he got married at 30, and had two children with his now ex-wife, music mostly faded from Edwards’ life. His childhood bass broke. He did a degree in civil engineering, became a maths teacher in Sussex, and when his marriage ended, it turned to drink: “Two or three bottles of wine with a meal. Then I started drinking spirits,” he says.

He returned to Salford in 2016 to care for his mum. Health problems – “from breathing in sawdust for 20 years” – made it impossible to work. His brother Graham gave him a guitar to fix.

“An old broken Fender,” Edwards says. “He wasn’t interested in Fenders. He liked Gretsches. He said: ‘You can have this if you want.’ It was in bits. I looked at it for a while, and didn’t do anything with it.”

When his mum died in 2018, Edwards’ drinking got worse. Then, two years later, Graham died suddenly in his sleep, and Edwards fell into a deeper despair. “That was just a killer. He was supposed to be coming round the next night. It wasn’t like he didn’t have any plans. I went mad on the booze.”

In the two weeks between Graham’s death and his funeral, “I was waking up on the floor. Occasionally, I’d have two bottles of rum a day. It was so stupid.”

He thought of ending his life. “I thought: Should have been me, you know? Not him. I’m the oldest. He’s 10 years younger than me. I used to change his nappy.” Edwards was always a helpful child. “My mum used to call me her little prince,” he says, and saying the words makes him laugh.

A week after Graham’s funeral, Edwards had a realization. “I don’t know why. Something made me stop. I just thought: This is stupid. I had that Fender he’d given me. So I decided I’d do something about it – basically thinking of him.”

He set about putting the pieces together. “Since then I’ve been hooked on it.” He had other broken guitars lying around. He overhauled his shiny childhood bass, which is now a jigsaw of differently grained woods. Then he thought, “Why don’t I make one from scratch? I’ve got skills. I had the tools.”

Now he has music and craft in his life, and he hasn’t had a drink since 2020. “I’m learning things all the time. Creating new things that I think are beautiful,” he says. The Telecaster that Graham had given him now features a sunburst of grained veneers. He plays along to Bob Dylan or JJ Cale, “and occasionally I’ll find the right key before the song’s finished. I’m not that good,” he says. “But I’m not playing for anybody else. I’m doing it for me. I’m doing it to make me feel nice. And it does. It’s better than any drugs.”

In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123, or email [email protected] or [email protected]. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at befrienders.org.