Tony Chorley has had impaired vision for over 40 years, but that hasn’t stopped him from spending the last two years rocking out on his guitar.
One day in his twenties, Tony Chorley went to work oblivious to the life-changing accident that would befall him.
Back then, Tony ran T and T, a bricklaying firm with his friend Terry. While on a job, he was working high up on the roof of a building before the scaffolding, in the wet and muddy ground, collapsed taking Tony with it.
“That was it. Bang! Detached retina and it’s just got worse ever since.”
After just under 50 years since the incident, Tony, 71, is now completely blind.
“The first couple of years, I couldn’t cope with it at all. I was trying to do the same things I did when I could see, but I couldn’t.
“When you lose your eyesight, your world becomes a lot smaller.
“It’s frustrating! You lose your independence, your pride, your confidence.
“You’re totally reliant on anybody else and I hate it, but I’ve got no choice.”
From living off his firm’s income, moving back in with his ex-wife and working in a bank after a specialist training course, finding employment with worsening eyesight was incredibly difficult for Tony.
Meanwhile, he needed to find a more suitable hobby, especially after retirement. So, Tony finally decided to learn to play the guitar after six years of owning one.
“I can’t play football, darts, or pool anymore and I can’t go down the pub on my own. But then I just couldn’t get a tutor.
“When you ring up and say you want to learn the guitar and you’re visually impaired, you can forget it. They don’t say ‘no, I can’t teach you’, but it goes quiet on the other end of the phone and you think ‘he’s looking for an excuse not to come down’.”
Tony loves music, but only since meeting Dawn Luvin a couple of years ago has he had the chance to learn to play.
“When Dawn started doing my cleaning, she said ‘Oh, you’ve got a guitar there’ and I said ‘pity I can’t play it! She said, ‘My husband’s starting up guitar lessons’ and I thought ‘This is great, he can understand where I’m coming from!’”
Tony learns guitar at The Music Shed in Eccles, which was founded by co-owners Dawn and her husband Dave. Tony was one of the first six students to attend since it’s foundation.
“I can’t see the television properly or read a book or the paper, so music has more or less taken over my life.
“Since I lost the dog, the guitar and music has been my godsend.”
Tony’s main support was his third guide dog of twelve years, Bobby. Ever since he died, Tony has now needed a guide dog for almost two years.
“Your whole life is different with a dog. Your independence is there, your company is there, you’ve got a reason to get up in the morning. A dog is a big chunk of your life.
“I’m down for another one, but it’s very hard to match them. The first couple of months, Bobby just wouldn’t settle down. He was too fast and I couldn’t slow the bugger down.
“People think you just get a dog and you go. You don’t, it’s bleeding hard work. You’ve got to trust it completely and it takes a lot of time to do that.”
Tony’s success with the guitar has been down to his teacher, Dave, being able to build up from the very basics.
“I’ve been coming here for two years and I totally love it.
“Before I came here, I had someone else teach me, but we couldn’t relate to each other. He kept saying ‘do this’ and I’d say ‘where are your fingers, mate, I don’t know where the hell your fingers are. They could be on your nose for all I know! ‘Put your fingers there’, but where the hell is ‘there’?
“I had about a month of him and I thought ‘I can’t handle this, it’s not what I’m looking for’.”
Tony says his previous three tutors just “couldn’t get back to grass roots.”
“They couldn’t just get back to ‘this is a guitar’ and everything. When I was first learning, I didn’t know anything about the guitar. They had played for that long that they couldn’t just go back to A, B, C and D. They expect you to pick it up just like that. They put too much pressure on me, and I couldn’t handle it. I thought ‘What’s the point if I’m not enjoying it?’ I wanna play for pleasure, I don’t wanna play for Las Vegas!
“It’s very hard for people who can see to teach visually impaired people, but I’ve clicked with Dave from day one. He’s been the picture of a saint.”
So how is it that Tony is able to play the guitar without even being able to see it?
“It’s down to Dave, it’s not down to me,” Tony says.
“It’s down to the way Dave explains things. He can go back to grass roots, but some tutors can’t.
“I thought ‘I can handle this, this makes sense’. This is a guitar, that’s a fret, they’re the strings, the top and bottom strings are E, that’s a high E, that’s a low E.”
Since finally finding his start, Tony has been making good progress.
“I’m learning chords now but getting between them is a bloody nightmare! When you’re blind, you completely go by sound and feeling.”
But still, Tony remains optimistic.
“Without the guitar, I would have been snookered. I needed a big shove in my life and playing the guitar was just that.”
Tony can now play iconic hits such as Beatles classics Yesterday and Michelle.
“I’m no Eric Clapton but I just get a big kick out of playing. Even better when I can play a tune and people recognise it.
“I’d be totally lost without the guitar now, I really would.”
Alongside playing guitar, Tony has found another surprising pastime.
“I’ve been going to the art gallery once a month for eight years. My mates still can’t understand. They say ‘You can’t see bugger all, what are you going there for’?
“I go to Making Conversation. There’s a few there that are visually impaired, but the rest can see.
“The woman in charge explains what you’re looking at and the picture just comes alive in my head and I love it.
“I’ve never been to the art gallery when I could see but now I go, work that one out!”
To find out more about Making Conversation at Manchester Art Gallery, visit their website here.