I grew up listening to Suzanne Vega on a personal stereo while delivering milk and papers in the early mornings before school. The sound of her voice with an acoustic guitar on her early albums really drew me in, but it wasn’t until catching the Bert Jansch documentary Acoustic Routes at the age of 21 that I bought my first guitar. Both these artists were big influences on my early guitar playing.
On moving to Luxembourg in 2001, I bought my first decent acoustic guitar and was introduced to the music of Tony McManus by a friend. And so began many hours of sitting alone in the flat learning how to play fingerstyle. I started an Internet forum, Celtic Guitar Talk, and met many great players through that, including another firm favourite, El McMeen. In 2004 I visited El at his home in New Jersey for an extended session of lessons and it was a wondeful experience.
I discovered flatpicking at a jam in 2004 and that took me to Steve Kaufman’s Acoustic Kamp in Tennessee for a two-week study course with my good pal Dave Skowron, maker of the wonderful Red Bear picks. It was there that I had the very great pleasure of playing with Tony McManus at the open mic night.
I moved to the Isle of Arran in 2008 and soon met Dónal, a local musician with magic fingers and similar sensibilities when it comes to music. We formed a bluegrass band, The Saggies, to fill a gap in the programme for the Arran Folk Festival in 2009 and the band is still playing regular gigs on the island.
In late 2013 we formed the Arran Ceilidh Band with Dónal, his wife Nicola, Heather and Stuart. We’d all been playing together at sessions for years and it just made sense to formalise what we were doing and turn it into something better.
In early 2014 Dónal and Nicola took on the lease of a bistro in Brodick in 2014 and started the island’s first regular music venue, Fiddlers’ Music Bar & Bistro. The Arran Ceilidh Band started playing weekly sessions as live band practises and it wasn’t long before the band was drawing in the punters and we were taking bookings.
I also have another weekly slot at Fiddlers’ as North Country Winters, playing a mixed bag of country, bluegrass, folk and singer-songwriter stuff with Dónal and Nicola and we’re constantly trying out new songs and improving our old favourites with new lead lines and some great vocal harmonies.
I’m blessed to have music in my life and such good friends to play with.