Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal was kindness itself with the children and smiled as one of them played with his long beard, which was wrapped tightly in chains. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Guns N' Roses rocker charms children at Dubai autism centre

DUBAI // Children at the city's autism centre were delighted today when Guns N' Roses lead guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal treated them to an exclusive live performance.

The youngsters crowded onto the staircase at the Dubai Autism Centre to watch him appear with Nikhil Uzgare, lead singer of the Dubai band Point of View. One little boy rested his head on Uzgare's shoulder as he sang Set Me Free, a track from his band's debut album Revolutionize the Revolutionary. Thal then played the Pink Panther theme on acoustic guitar.

The American musician, who in true rock and roll style arrived 40 minutes late, looked every inch the wild guitar hero in his patched-up jeans and black leather jacket. But he was kindness itself with the children and smiled as one of them played with his long beard, which was wrapped tightly in chains.

He said afterwards that he had enjoyed meeting the youngsters, and added: "Things like this, they change you. They make you sort of re-evaluate what's important. You start thinking about what you can do."

His concern for people with autism grew out of his upbringing in New York City.

"One of the boroughs, Staten Island, has a very high autism rate," he said. "Everybody there is connected to someone who has something to do with it."

Hayula Mourad, the centre's head of communications, said the youngsters benefited from such visits.

"Children with autism like routine, they do not like change," she added. "So this is an opportunity for them to break their routine and to introduce them to new faces, new people. With all the excitement, they get to learn to live with such a change in their own environment."

Thal visited the centre after performing at Wednesday night's launch of Point of View's album at the Hard Rock Cafe at Festival City. The centre was one of the partners for the event.

Thal and Uzgare struck up a friendship by email after the singer was among the thousands who flocked to the 2010 Guns N' Roses concert at Yas Island.

Thal encouraged Point of View as the five-piece band worked on their album, praising their music and promising to fly over from the US for the launch. He was as good as his word, and he met Uzgare in person for the first time after landing at Dubai airport on Tuesday with wife Jennifer.

Uzgare said: "He gave a huge push to our confidence level and reinforced our faith that we could produce an international-standard product from Dubai."

He said Thal's support had given a boost to the whole rock scene here, and revealed that Point of View planned to visit the autism centre regularly to play for the children, some of whom take part in music therapy sessions.

Thal adopted his nickname, Bumblefoot, after coming across the word while helping Jennifer to study for her veterinary exams. It is the name of an infection found on the feet of birds of prey.

Though married to someone whose band has sold more than 100 million albums, Jennifer still works as a vet. She said: "I fill in for doctors who are on vacation, I work when I want to work and then I go on tour with Ron, so I have the best of both worlds."

Guns N' Roses are about to start a residency at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, and after that they will tour India. Thal shared an on-stage secret when he was asked for his best anecdote about legendary frontman Axl Rose.

"When we're taking our solos during the show he takes a break, he goes into a back room and he has a microphone that only we hear," he said. "So as I'm taking the solo and doing my thing, the whole time he's telling me all these corny jokes in my ears.

"I'm trying not to laugh and stay focused and not screw up, and he's telling me these ridiculous jokes."

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