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And, for anyone with the interest and patience, here’s the long version…
Born on the 25th of November 1978, I entered the world in the general hospital of Burnley, Lancashire, England.
As a young child my parents soon found that I had far too much energy and, in an attempt to tire me out, decided to send me to gymnastics lessons! Apparently one characteristic of an only child (that’s me) is that they tend to throw all their energy into one thing… so it was that I became obsessed with gymnastics; entering competitions, reading books, choosing the subject whenever I had to do a school project and eventually going to training sessions 4 days a week.
At around the age of 7, whilst still a gymnast, I expressed an interest in playing the guitar – my dad had always played and we would often sing songs together. My parents bought me a child-sized nylon strung acoustic guitar for Christmas and I started taking classical guitar lessons.
I soon found that classical guitar music REALLY wasn’t my thing, but I stuck it out for about a year whilst the obsession with gymnastics still ruled my little world. A little later my parents bought me the coolest looking black kid-sized electric guitar (a Palmer Growler!) to encourage me to play (I’d have classical and electric lessons on alternating weeks!). Still not able to get over my classical guitar experience and wanting to channel all of my energy into gymnastics, I opted to stop my guitar lessons about a year after I’d started. After I’d stopped taking lessons I continued to play what I could on my Growler… always with as much distortion as my little amp would give me.
Fast-forward a few years to high school… I decided that gymnastics was too much for me; it was ruling my life and I’d begun to get a few injuries (for years after, my leg would often give-way when I was running). My parents were concerned about the toll gymnastics was having on my body and the fact that I always seemed to be tired (their initial incentive for sending me seemed to be working a little too well now!) and so I stopped all together. With this all-consuming chapter of my life over, I gave the opportunity for some other activity to take its place.
Around that time, I discovered the guitar playing of Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits and, even though I wasn’t actively playing guitar at that time, I made up my mind that I wanted to become a rock guitarist. I was given a further incentive to act on my career aspirations when my best friend received a guitar for his birthday and started to take lessons with my old guitar teacher. Up until that point, I had always been the best guitarist in my school (as far as I was aware) due to the fact that I was the ONLY guitarist in my school! Frightened by the prospect of loosing my title, I quickly enrolled for lessons with my old guitar teacher, a guy named Dave Duxberry. With the added incentive of competition and with no other interest to take my focus away from the instrument, I set my mind to studying, practising and totally immersing myself in the guitar. Dave’s main method of teaching was simple; he’d give me a different song / solo to learn every week. I’d take it home and practise as much as I could until I’d learnt it; focusing obsessively on getting every single nuance I heard on the original recording. This approach to learning was great for me and Dave soon had me playing all of Mark Knopfler’s songs and solos, I then moved on to Jimi Hendrix; what more was there to guitar playing?!!
Every lesson in Dave’s teaching studio (a magical room in his house on Padiham Road, Burnley) was the highlight of my week. Dave ate, slept and breathed guitars and, so much was his enthusiasm for the instrument that, a 45 minute lesson would often turn into a 2 hour affair! This may sound a little intense, but it gets better… Dave had a full schedule of students every day and so, his enthusiasm for the instrument meant that I would often turn up for my lesson to find the 2 students before me also waiting for their lessons! There was no waiting room – we all simply sat on Dave’s sofa in his magical teaching room and listened to the 2 or 3 lessons before us. For me, this was the perfect way to spend an evening – sitting-in on several lessons (each running way over their allotted length) and hearing all of this cool new guitar music.
One such evening was to change my life, when someone mentioned a guy called Eddie Van Halen. I’d never heard of him and so Dave put on a tape of a piece called ‘Eruption’… what followed is perhaps the single most defining moment in my musical life – I could not believe what I was hearing. Excited, I went out the next day and bought a copy of the album ‘Van Halen’ on cassette and set my sights on learning the whole thing. Shortly after, I ordered the album’s transcription book from a shop in Leeds and, after a couple of agonising weeks spent waiting for it to arrive, I set about learning to play the album… starting with Eruption. A week or so after I’d played him my rendition of ‘Eruption’ I turned up for one of my weekly guitar lessons to be told by Dave that he felt he’d taught me all the material he had on rock guitar and that it was time for me to continue my studies on my own. I was sad at the thought of ending my guitar lessons, but also very flattered; after one precious year of lessons with Dave, I was on my own.
Moving forward a few years to 1995, I decided to study music and music technology (recording) A-levels at Nelson and Colne College where I joined my first band, ‘Gallifrey’ (named after Dr. Who’s home planet!). With Gallifrey I did my first gigs; we played as loud as we could (blowing several speakers and amps in the process), rehearsed, wrote and recorded.
A couple of months after starting my course at the college I met a guitar maker called Brian Eastwood at a ‘Fender Club’ meeting. Brian had just brought out a guitar called ‘The Bender Distortocaster’… as the name might suggest, it was a cross between a Fender Stratocaster and one of Dali’s clocks. I tried out the guitar at the meeting and, a few days later, I received a call from Brian. He said that he really liked what I’d played on the instrument and wanted me to demonstrate the guitar at guitar / trade shows for him.
During my time at N&C college I was introduced to a lot of classical music and, in particular, the romantic piano music of Rachmaninov, Chopin and Liszt.
A couple of years later, in 1997, I moved to Leeds to study for a degree in Jazz at Leeds College of Music. Bizarrely, I really wasn’t into Jazz at the time and only enrolled because all the rock/pop courses I looked at didn’t seem to have much theoretical substance to them. I spent the next 3 years studying there; ‘the long-haired, Ibanez playing rock kid on the Jazz course’! In that time I began to practise A LOT. I would often write out 10-hours-a-day practise plans for myself; in that period I started to develop my tapping technique, which I devised from watching and listening to pianists play arpeggios with apparent ease, using 2 hands.
When my 3 years at music college was up, I realised that I would have to get a job. Whilst Leeds was a great college for tuition, my experience was that their careers advice was non-existent! I remember leaving with the idea that the only thing I would be able to do was to get a collection of private guitar students and start teaching from home; I was not into that at all – I’d never lost my vision of becoming a rock guitarist. One thing I’d always wanted to do was to write for the guitar magazines, so I tried to think about how I might achieve this… I’d heard about a guitar school in the south of England where many of the teachers were the guys who wrote for the magazines. So, in a bid to find work, I decided to enrol on a course there, even though the qualification was way below the degree I’d just finished. The moment I arrived at the ACM in Guildford, I set about trying to sell myself… firstly as a transcriber; showing my transcriptions to whoever would look at them. After a week or two, Bruce Dickinson, one of the school managers, asked me if I could start writing transcriptions for the vocal classes. About a week later, one of the teachers was ill and so I got called out of my class and was asked if I could cover his Saturday class the following day. So it was that, after being there for about 3 weeks, I was both student and teacher at ACM – my gamble had paid off and I was starting to find work. As the term went on, I was given more and more work, meaning I was able to pay off the loan I had taken out in order to pay for my tuition fees. One of my teachers, Jamie Humphries, got me job transcribing and recording songs for a company called ‘Total Accuracy’, I got involved in IGF’s guitar summer schools and, the following year, was asked to move to Brighton to help set-up a new music school (BIMM) with Bruce Dickinson… that then led to being asked to write for guitar magazines – mission accomplished!
Somewhere in amongst all that, I started to gig a lot with function bands – traveling all over the country to play weddings, parties and working men’s clubs; my first experience of gigging regularly in a pro band. The crowning moment of my function band days was supporting Darius (a runner up from one of the ‘pop idol’ type TV shows) at a turning-on of the Christmas lights concert, in Cardiff. It was, and is to date, the largest live audience I’ve played in front of; 30,000 people. Unfortunately the story doesn’t sound quite as impressive if I tell you that I was playing with a band called ‘The Christmas Party People’, dressed as an elf, wearing green tights (I had to wear two pairs to prevent the hairs on my legs from sticking through – nice!)
In November 2003 (I was 24 at the time), still busy teaching at BIMM and writing for guitar magazines, I got a phone call from fellow BIMM tutor, Guthrie Govan, who said that he’d passed on my name for a gig playing with a band. The band in question turned out to be ‘The Carl Palmer Band’ (Carl Palmer being the drummer from Emerson, Lake and Palmer); Carl was looking for a new guitarist after Shaun Baxter (a childhood guitar hero of mine) had developed tinnitus. Shaun had recommended Guthrie for the gig but Guthrie was playing with ‘Asia’ at that time, and so was too busy to accept the offer. I listened to the 2 CPB albums and called Carl to introduce myself, telling him that I was (very) interested in joining the band. When I spoke to him on the phone he explained that he’d already managed to find a guitarist but, if I wanted, I could send him a CD anyway. I figured I had nothing to lose so I contacted a couple of people who had helped me record demos in the past and got them to send me copies of what they had (one track was The Flight of the Hippopotamus and the other was Giant Steps). I compiled the tracks on a CD together with a few things I’d recorded for guitar magazines and sent it to Carl. The following day I received a call from an excited Carl Palmer saying that he really liked the stuff and that, if I still wanted it, I’d got the gig. I then had a couple of months to transcribe and learn an hour and three quarters of the most demanding instrumental music I’ve ever had to learn in my life – I locked myself away for the best part of that period (which included Christmas) before we had a few days of rehearsing followed by a short tour of Italy. This period of preparation, rehearsing and touring was probably the single most intense period of learning I’ve ever experienced and, through it, I felt I was finally being given the opportunity to play the sort of music I wanted.
I’ve continued playing in Carl’s band ever since and, in doing so, have been given the opportunity to tour the world and meet many great people. My meeting of one such great person came about through a 5-and-a-half week tour of the US with the CPB. I discovered prog music when I was at high school and have been a big fan of the music ever since. My favourite prog band, ‘Spock’s Beard’, was a later discovery for me (in my Leeds days) and when Neal Morse left the band I followed his solo career. I knew that Neal was a big ELP fan and so, when I was in the U.S., I sent an e-mail to his website saying ‘Hi’ and asking him if he’d like to come to any of our shows whilst we were there. The message eventually got through to him and he replied saying that he’d heard about the CP band and my playing but unfortunately we weren’t playing within X-hundred miles of him, so he wouldn’t be able to make any of our gigs. We stayed in touch by e-mail and, in one such e-mail, I happened to mention that if he should ever need a guitarist then I’d love to play with him. Sure enough, the following year, I received an e-mail from him with the subject ‘wanna do a gig’!
I’m still playing with Carl and Neal, teaching at BIMM and doing the occasional session. Somewhere amongst all this I’m also writing a book (due out this year) and collecting material for my first solo album.
BIOG (ADHD-FRIENDLY VERSION)
25th November 1978 – Born
1983/1984 – Started gymnastics
1985/1986 – Started classical guitar… got bored… gave up year later.
1990 – Gymnastics knackering my body… quit
1991 – Started guitar again (electric)… in fierce competition with friend
1995 – First band – ‘Gallifrey’
1997 – Studied jazz at Leeds College of Music
2000 – Studied guitar at ACM, Guildford… 3 weeks into term started teaching & transcribing there whilst still a student
2002 – Moved to Brighton to help set up BIMM
2003 – Joined Carl Palmer Band
2007 – Joined Neal Morse Band
2008 – finally got round to getting a website made!