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Friday, 7 September, 2001, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Blair plays the blues
Tony Blair plays the guitar alongside Andrew Cragg, 15, at Dyke House School in Hartlepool
Blair used to play guitar for the Ugly Rumours at Oxford
His guitar case has often been photographed as its travels in and out of Downing Street but only now has Tony Blair shown the British public their prime minister still has his musical talent.

Mr Blair strummed a borrowed Fender Telecaster guitar in an impromptu blues-jam session as he joined an ensemble of young musicians during a school visit in Hartlepool on Friday.

That doesn't happen every day - the ruler of the country coming in and playing your guitar

Mark Folland
19-year-old guitarist
While he played guitar with band the Ugly Rumours in his student days at Oxford, the prime minister has only returned to the instrument in the past year and this is thought to be his first public performance in office.

His part in playing an unnamed 12-bar tune with students from Dyke House School drew praise from surprised teenagers.

Impressed teenagers

Mark Folland, the 19-year-old who lent Mr Blair the instrument, was impressed by the prime minister's performance.

"That doesn't happen every day - the ruler of the country coming in and playing your guitar," he said.

Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson on Friday
It was first time the pair have been photographed together since Mandelson's resignation
"He was pretty good and this is something to tell people about."

There was a similar reaction too from Dyke House pupil Jonathan Galbraith, 14, who had written the tune played by the prime minister.

"It was a tremendous honour. It is not every day that the Prime Minister of the country plays one of your pieces."

Mr Blair himself likened playing the guitar to riding a bike - a case of once taught, never forgotten.

Pleasure of music

He told students at the school, where he opened a new £1.2m City Learning Centre: "You get so much pleasure out of it. It will stay with you all your lives."

It remains to be seen whether he will follow former US President Bill Clinton, who has played his saxophone on television.

Mr Blair was accompanied on the visit by Peter Mandelson - the first time the pair have been photographed in public together since the Hartlepool MP resigned as Northern Ireland secretary over the Hinduja passport affair.

Also alongside him was Western Australia's new Labor premier, Geoff Gallop, who as an old university friend of Mr Blair might have reminisced about the prime minister's earlier outings on the rock stage.

Mr Blair used the opening of the school's new facilities, which include a computer suite with 51 work stations, a cyber café and recording studio, to underline the need for centres of excellence across Britain.

Education priority

"It is very obvious education is the future," he said. "It is a truism to say that everyone accepts that now.

"All these people here will not live by brawn but by brain. The link between what you learn and what you earn is great now and is getting greater."

In a dance hall at the learning centre, Mr Blair and Mr Mandelson earlier watched a gymnastics display, which topically tried to portray the plight of refugees.

One of the dancers, 13-year-old Carly Hallett, said: "It was an honour. I was surprised to see the prime minister but it was great to perform before him."

The BBC's Krystyna Gajda
"You've heard of air guitar - this is Blair guitar"
The Westminster Hour's Andrew Rawnsley
talks about the relationship between Peter Mandelson and the Prime Minister
See also:

16 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Blair weathers UK holiday
27 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Leaders love to be interesting
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