(1) At what age did you start playing guitar? Why did you choose this instrument?
When I was about 7. My reason was probably mostly my Dad – we used to sing Beatles songs together whilst he played guitar.
(2) Do you only play guitar or have you ever checked out any other instruments?
I usually tell people that I only play the guitar, although I dabble on piano and am a huge fan of classical piano music – I’d love to play the piano properly, but I feel I need to concentrate on the guitar at the moment.
(3) What’s your musical education? Did you take lessons or did you go to a music college? Or are you mostly self-taught?
I took classical guitar lessons when I was 7… hated them and then gave up after about a year. A couple of years later I started taking electric guitar lessons… another year later, my guitar teacher said he’d taught me all the material he had and so, from that point, I was on my own. I later studied music at A level and then did a degree in Jazz at a music college.
Even though I’ve had a lot of music education, I’d say I’m largely self taught on the guitar – learning what I could from books, albums and videos.
(4) Do you have some daily practice routine to keep up your high level of playing?
Yeah, I try to maintain my playing with a few hours practise everyday. Ask any of the other guys in the band and they’ll tell you that I’m always annoying them with my endless warm-up exercises before a gig!
(5) What equipment are you using live and in the studio?
I have a full gear list at www.paulbielatowicz.com
But, to summarise, I usually use Cornford amplifiers (a small British company), my PRS custom 24 and a whole selection of effect pedals.
For the ‘Sola Scriptura’ DVD concert / tour I borrowed Elisa’s Mesa Boogie amp.
(6) Is Progressive Rock your main thing? Or do you prefer other styles (which ones?)?
Yeah, ever since the first time I heard prog at high school, I felt a strong connection with the music… the 20 minute songs, the complex structures, the virtuosic musicianship, the lofty subject matter… this was music that was going to save the world!!!
My other love is classical music, which is not all that different I guess.
(7) What are your favourite guitarists and influences (also non-guitarists)? Please tell us why you like them. Especially: From where did you get the motivation to develop those outstanding tapping skills? Who’s your biggest influence?
Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) was the guy who made me want to start playing the electric guitar. After him I went through a blues stage; Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, BB King and then Jimi Hendrix. Then I discovered Eddie Van Halen – that was a mind blowing experience and I set about learning as much of his stuff as I could. After Eddie I got into Joe Satriani and Steve Vai and I later started listening to more Jazz orientated guitarists.
As for what I do with tapping, that probably came more from watching and listening to piano players – seeing them play fast arpeggios, effortlessly, using both hands – I tried to develop a way of doing the same thing on the guitar.
Big non-guitarist influences are Cziffra (a Hungarian classical pianist), Rachmaninov, Liszt, Debussy, Chopin, Grieg and Paganini.
Now some questions for you regarding touring with Neal:
(8) How did you get to know Neal and how did you become a member of his European band?
In 2006 The Carl Palmer Band (the other band I play in) did a tour of the US. Whilst I was over there I contacted Neal through his website to see if he wanted to come and see any of our shows (I knew he was a big ELP fan) – he replied and said that we weren’t playing anywhere near him. After that we kept in touch by e-mail and in one such e-mail I commented that if he ever needed a guitar player to let me know. To cut a long story short, a little later I received an e-mail from him with the title ‘wanna do a gig?’.
(9) Please tell us a little bit about how you practice the difficult guitar parts that Neal and his guest musicians (like Paul Gilbert) recorded. Did Neal give you some sheet music or do you figure it out by yourself?
We get a list of songs from Neal and then set about transcribing the parts from his CDs (or if we’re doing a medley, Neal will send us an mp3 of it, so we can see how all the sections fit together). It usually takes about a day for me to transcribe the guitar parts for one of Neal’s epics. As I transcribe the parts, I put them into a score package on my laptop called ‘Sibelius’, so I have professional printed scores for the rehearsals. After all the parts are transcribed I set about memorising them – which takes roughly the same amount of time as it did to transcribe them.
When I came to learn the Paul Gilbert solo at the end of ‘The Door’ I was faced with a dilemma; I knew that if I learnt the solo note for note, I was never going to be able to play it as well as Paul Gilbert (after all, it’s HIS solo!) and, on the other hand, if I just did my own solo I’d be missing an important part of the song. So, I decided to take the form of Paul Gilbert’s solo – certain licks and the overall shape of the solo, whilst incorporating myself into it… for example, when he played one of his signature fast legato runs I played a similar thing using tapping, which is much more in keeping with my style. Hopefully it worked.
(10) How has touring with Neal been so far? Is playing with Neal different from making music with other bands? If it’s the case, please tell us why!
Playing and touring with Neal is musical heaven! There’s not many musicians who are lucky enough to be able to stand on stage and be as excited about playing songs as the most enthusiastic members of the audience are about listening to them! Before playing with Neal, I’d never done a gig where people in the audience were in tears – that happens at every one of Neal’s gigs… a totally unique experience for me.
(11) Most (probably all) of your bandmates are Christians. Do you think that this makes a difference and why/why not?
Yeah, I think it makes a difference. We pray together before we go on stage and we trust that God will take care of everything… and he does.
(12) Do you make music for a living? What’s your job when you’re not on tour with Neal?
Yeah, I play in Carl Palmer’s Band, have a jazz duo with my wife, write for guitar magazines, am writing a guitar tuitional book, do the occasional session and teach at a music college – I keep pretty busy!
(13) Are there other musical projects you are involved in? Where can we find some information? (website link, myspace link, etc.)
The main band I play with is The Carl Palmer Band. It’s an instrumental trio; guitar bass and drums. We do a lot of ELP tunes as well as some arrangements of classical pieces.
(14) Please describe each band member with one sentence only:
Collin is an amazing drummer, fantastic organiser, lovely guy and looks like Morpheus from The Matrix.
Jessica is an excellent singer, patient teacher, has a big heart and likes sheep.
Wilco is a rockin’ bass player, king of on-stage facial expressions, the band’s comic relief and can destroy any stage with one blast of his bass pedals.
Henk is a musical master, a brilliant improviser, Wilco’s comedy sidekick, and has an uncontrollable collection of samples that do what they want, when they want.
Elisa is a fabulous guitarist, great singer, generous guy, and the owner of a very nice Mesa Boogie amp which he kindly lent me for 2 tours.
Neal is ridiculously good on every instrument I’ve ever heard him play, a man of God, humble and has a great sense of humour.
We’re almost done! Just make a few choices:
a) Spock’s Beard or Transatlantic?
Spock’s Beard; I was a MASSIVE fan of the band.
b) “Stairway to Heaven” or “Highway to Hell”?
c) Neal on guitar or Neal on keyboards?
Ah, now that’s unfair… he’s great on both. I guess I get to play more when he’s on Keyboards so, for purely selfish reasons, I’ll go for Neal on keyboards!
d) “We All Need Some Light” or “Bridge Across Forever”?
We All Need Some Light
e) Concerts or worship services?
g) Old Testament or New Testament?
I know I’m SUPPOSED to say New, but I love all the stories in the Old… but then the Gospels are amazing in the New… think I’d have to say both, sorry.