June 2009 News Update
Monday, June 1, 2009
The year was 1972, and I was performing at a folk club in Hythe near Southampton. It was at that concert that a friendship was born between myself and the great guitar maker Roger Bucknall. Roger I believe had recently graduated in Engineering, and was designing tape recorders at a nearby company, he was playing fiddle and mandolin at the club and showed me a guitar he had built. I was mightily impressed and asked him if he would build one for me, this he agreed to do. Thus history was made that night way back in those long lost days of '72 and a friendship that has endured to this day.
I was SO knocked out by that first guitar that Roger made me, that I set about telling everyone about this outstanding young genius of the guitar building world. At every opportunity I would show all the 'name' players I knew this new guitar of mine. When Roger decided a year or so later to go full time as a maker, I sort of acted as an agent for him selling guitars to friends and students from my home in Grove Park south east London. Those were wonderful and exciting times for me and I hope they were for Roger as we were both starting out with our chosen partners and trying to build a life for ourselves and our young families.
Roger's first major workshop was established in Kirkham in Lancashire, but his early instruments were made in his bedroom! I can still remember receiving the first 12 string he ever made for me and I believe his first ever attempt at building a 12 string, the design soon became the Fylde 'Prospero'. The sound of this guitar was SO beautiful to my ears that I openly wept whilst playing it, I was on my own at the time I hasten to add! To give you an idea of how good Roger's guitars were even in those early days, that very guitar still exists and is now owned by my good friend Garry Burnett who had it restored by Roger a few years back. In my opinion that guitar looks and sounds better than the day it was made. The 12 can be heard and seen on my mid 70's albums particularly on From the Four Winds from the Visionary album, and tracks like Empty and Birds of a Feather from my Peacock Party album. In all honesty there is a HUGE part of me that regrets parting with it BUT I know it has gone to a good home where it will be treasured for many years to come.
The sad thing for me way back in the mid to late seventies when I achieved a degree of fame with the hit singles and albums, was the fact that a pickup had yet to be invented that would give an acoustic sound at high volume to compete with a strong rhythm section and keyboards, hence the reason why I had to go down the Ovation guitar road, which saddened and frustrated me at the same time. I SO wanted to use my beloved Fyldes on-stage with the band. The irony being that the Gordon Giltrap from that period was perceived to be an Ovation endorsee. Not true I'm afraid, we paid hard cash for those guitars with no hint of a discount. Little was I to know what a long lasting influence I was going to have over a generation of guitar players that only associated me with bowled back guitars! Don't get me wrong here, Ovation guitars are fine and did the job they were intended to, they just didn't have the sound or soul of a handmade Fylde. But they wouldn't would they!
Some of the finest guitars I have ever owned were made by Roger. My classic piece Heartsong featured TWO Fyldes, a standard 6 string and a high strung model strung with octave strings to achieve that almost perfect 12 string sound. In fact pretty much most of my major albums from that period were recorded on Fylde guitars. One of my favourite Fyldes of all time was a cedar top Falstaff that Roger gave me in the late 70's. Unfortunately, and it was my fault entirely, I insisted that Roger construct it really lightly and in so doing gave it an outstanding sound but didn't really weather the road that well and I foolishly got another maker to put a new top on it. What I should have done was to send it back to our Roger to get the work done. Never mind, it is still around today and is on permanent loan to my friend the famous writer of horror books Mr James Herbert, who declares that it gives him a bit of light relief in between writing all that blood and horror stuff.
I have pretty much lost count of all the great Fylde guitars that I have owned. All of them were fine instruments, some were OUTSTANDING instruments. In fact that cedar topped model I mentioned earlier formed the basis of the current model you can see me playing today. I wisely kept the old top and sent it to Roger to remind him of the strutting. He virtually cloned it but this time made the top a tad heavier to make sure that it wouldn't fall apart on me. This guitar ranks as my desert island instrument. I just love it and used it to record pretty much all the tracks on my album withRick Wakeman on our 'From Brush and Stone' album.
So there you have it, a potted history of GG and Fylde guitars stretching back nearly 38 years, and I'm proud to say that through me the following people at some point in their lives played a Fylde guitar and still do to this very day. Martin Carthy. Steve Howe. Michael Chapman. John Renbourn. Sir Cliff Richard. John James. Nic Jones. Big Jim Sullivan. Ritchie Blackmore. There are probably loads more but the old memory isn't what it used to be. I occasionally bump into people who remind me that they came to me for lessons all those years ago and were turned on to Fylde guitars through my recommendation, and they delight in saying that they still have those guitars and they are still giving good service.
I can't praise this gifted maker enough really ( he hates being called a "Luthier"). He ranks alongside some of the greatest guitar builders in the world, and his guitars just get better and better. Our friendship deepens as the years go by, and what isn't well publicised is Rogers unending generosity and encouragement to the newer generation of young virtuosos like Tristan Seume, John Smith and Gareth Pearson, and Roger will always try wherever and whenever he can to make his instruments affordable to this new generation of great players. The list of Fylde players these days reads like a who's who of famous, respected and legendary players, like Eric Bibb and my pal Martin Simpson along with the aforementioned Big Jim Sullivan and Ritchie Blackmore and of course the late great Davy Graham. Readers of these pages will remember that a stunning book on Fylde guitars was published last year, a must have purchase for all lovers of beautiful guitars, and Roger's website www.fyldeguitars.com is one of the best anywhere, including a wonderful email newsletter available to all.
One final thing, Roger Bucknall does NOT run a guitar making factory. He runs a small workshop with just a handful of dedicated craftsmen who make each instrument by hand, most of them by the great man himself.
Small is beautiful, so let's keep it that way.
Hilary and I wish Roger along with his lovely wife Moira and their children, long life, peace, happiness and prosperity, probably too much to ask in life's real world but we can hope can't we!
PS. Found a great interview with Roger which tells you more about him online here
On the 13th of last month Hilary and I were invited on behalf of the Grand Order of Water Rats to a special awards lunch for Encore magazine to be held at the Arnham Gallery, Fairfields Halls, Croydon. Myself and old pal Joe Pasquale were the entertainment for this event. The main reason for telling you about this event was the fact that there were a few showbiz legends in attendance!
If you are of my generation I'm sure you will remember Teddy Johnson and Pearl Carr a singing duo that regularly graced our TV screens in the late 50s and well into the 60s. Also at our table was a lady who was in her day a superstar...Her name... Joan Reagan. And does anyone remember the lovely Moira Anderson from the White Heather club? Yes, Moira was there also and what a lovely lady she is, she even loaned Hilary some makeup that she forgot bring, and added to that she even prepared Hilary's hair for her.
Also in attendance was that great character of the tinkling ivories Mr Bobby Crush, and from the airwaves Mr David Hamilton. For me the highlight of the event was meeting David Prowse. Yes, Darth Vader himself who kindly signed an autograph for my son Jamie - a long standing Star Wars fan. My spot along with Joe's was presented by our current King Rat Graham Cole, he of The Bill fame.
So there you have it, a very pleasant afternoon indeed rubbing shoulders with past show biz legends. Can't be bad. On top of that much cash was raised for various worthy charities.
I shall try and recall as many things as possible about my Portugal trip and the many lovely people I met there.
My flight to Porto from Birmingham arrived at about 8-15. Once through passport control and customs I walked out the reception area expecting to be met but sadly no one was there. 'This is a good start' I thought as I sat down and rang the organiser only to find that he wasn't answering the phone. Ten minutes later I looked up to see the smiling faces of Bruna and Dino holding up a piece of paper with my name on it. They had arrived a tad late and were very apologetic. They also explained that we had a two hour journey in front of us and by the time we would arrive at the hotel the kitchen would be closed so it was suggested that we drive a short way to a restaurant that recommended for some food. This sounded fine by me, so within half an hour we were sitting in a restaurant overlooking the ocean drinking wine and perusing the menu. A good start I'm sure you will agree!
The following morning I arrived at the theatre for my 11-am sound check, which all went pretty well apart from my guitar was distorting, we nailed the problem possibly being a weak battery, so off I toddled to find a camera shop and bought a couple of replacements, I was SO pleased to have sorted the problem BEFORE the concert, imagine what I would have felt like if the guitar had died on me during the show. I was travelling pretty light on this trip so couldn't really have taken all my guitars so I settled on my favourite Fylde cedar topped custom and my Armstrong Baby guitar. Believe me I would have loved to have taken all my kit as I'm sure that the Dodo would have been favourably received!
SO, sound check over, batteries purchased and installed it was now lunch time. I made the fatal mistake of eating before the concert and sampling a couple of glasses of their superb local wine, so combining that with being pretty tired from the late night it didn't really bode well for a great concert. By the time I had been on for about 20 minutes I was finally getting warmed up and from there on until 'Lucifer's Cage' it was a standing ovation. I know that I didn't play as well as I would have liked but I guess I was the only one who knew it wasn't up to my usual standard. After the show there were so many lovely comments from audience members to fellow players that it sort of made it OK in the end.
The following morning I still wasn't feeling that great and hadn't had as good a nights sleep as I would like. I managed an hours practice before being driven to my workshop/masterclass at the town library. Mention should be made here of Gouveia itself. It is classed as a city but in really terms is a beautiful small town situated at the south east end of the country close to the Spanish border. I had never been to Portugal before and it is a truly beautiful country with stunning views and coastline.
Back to the plot. When I arrived at the library there was a tribute or homage to the late Lars Hollmer a legendary and supremely gifted Swedish composer who had strong links with the festival. A musicologist Thomas Olssen was overseeing the tribute and I was ushered up on to the raised area to sit next to one of the musicians attending the festival who had worked with the great man. For me it was an opportunity to find out about this amazing man who was not only a musical genius but apparently a profoundly wonderful and humble man. To conclude the tribute Thomas played one of Lars' pieces, a beautifully haunting slow piece of music based on a single drone. It was truly moving, and I intend to try and track down some of this great mans work.
It was then my turn to do my thing, which was pretty hard I can tell you. Anyway I managed to convey the fact that I was a self taught musician blah blah blah. It was then pointed out to me that the great Thijs Van Leer was sitting at the back of the room and he had brought his flute with him, and if the occasion presented itself maybe I could invite him up to play on something? No pressure there then I hear you cry. For goodness sake I hadn't even exchanged a single word with the man let alone contemplate us doing something together ! I decided to ease into things by playing 'Maddie Goes West', then 'Five Dollar Guitar'. I then D tuned the guitar in readiness for 'Dublin Day' when it occurred to me that this was indeed the perfect tune for us to play together. So I invited Thijs up to the podium to a resounding applause, we embraced, he took out his flute, quickly tuned to my guitar and with no further ado we launched into 'Dublin Day' like we had played together for years. Believe me it was VERY special and of course the audience loved it but I can assure you, not as much as I!
For me playing just that one tune with this legendary musician was the highlight of my visit and a memory I shall carry with me for some time to come. The remaining part of the workshop was handed over to A question and answer session coupled with reminiscences about the old days of the Old Grey Whistle Test and the number of times that Thijs had appeared on it. All wonderful stuff. The final question was from a young boy who asked me what I called this music of mine, 'Gordon Giltrap Music' I replied with a smile, I couldn't think of a better answer. Bless him he did look a little puzzled by this and I'm not surprised!
There were some outstanding musicians at this festival but sadly much of the music was marred by being FAR FAR too loud. Many people left the theatre during an excellent performance by Premiata Forneria Marconi, probably the finest Prog rock band to come out of Italy, all due to the band being painfully too loud. Such a shame.
I made many friends during my brief stay there and they are making noises about a return visit in maybe two years time, by which time I shall be 63....but remember, you are only as old as you feel.
One of the main things that struck me during this visit was how well I was known there and possibly elsewhere in Europe and the world. How sad then that fortune didn't smile on me many years ago to provide a good agent or manager to help create a situation whereby I could have shared this music of mine with many more people around the world whose appreciation of my music I'm sure would have been there.
Not to worry - I have everything right now. Good health, good friends, a loving wife and fantastic family. What more can one even dare to ask for? But hey methinks it would have been nice had the opportunities been there all those years ago.
My thanks go to Eduardo Mota, Alberto Cardoso, Rui da Eufrazia, Bruna, Dino, Cristina, and all the people who made me so welcome. Beautiful people and a beautiful city.
P.S. Nice to see one of Sue Holton's photos used and credited in the programme. Well done our Sue.
Review of FROM BRUSH AND STONE in ROCK N REEL magazine
Thought you might be interested in the attached review ( at bottom of page) of FB&S which is in this month's Rock n Reel magazine. The new issue is out now (rebranded R2 with Cara Dillon on the cover) The review is written by none other than our very own Trevor Raggatt – well done Trev !
For some time now Hilary has been hinting that I should keep my beard trimmed to a reasonable length. I could never really figure out why she kept saying this UNTIL, I was sent some photos by a fan from my Portugal concert. The lighting wasn't that great, and I was a tad tired, but my God I did look old. 'That's because you are old' I hear you cry! This may be true. Anyway after seeing these pics (in which I looked a little like the late John Thaw in Goodnight Mr Tom) I have trimmed my beard down to the smaller one I sported a year or so back for some publicity pictures to be used on posters, etc. Whether I look a tad younger is questionable, but at least I feel better about it. The lesson to be learned here. Listen to the wife, she does know what she's talking about bless her.