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.
The Luxembourg Years
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 wonderful 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.
The Arran Years
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 still plays from time to time, mostly for fun, because it is.
In late 2013 Dónal formed the Arran Ceilidh Band and invited me to play guitar with the band, which I jumped at. I played accompaniment mainly, but did the odd song and vocal harmony too. The band broke up in late 2017.
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 practices and it wasn’t long before the band was drawing in the punters and we were taking bookings.
I began playing solo at Fiddlers (now Crofters) when they opened in 2014 and used to have Dónal and Nicola sit in. We eventually formed North Country Winters, playing a mixed bag of country and bluegrass and did weekly gigs in Fiddlers for three years. We disbanded in late 2017.
In late 2017 I started working on my solo set and added a loop pedal to my rig. This has enhanced my set in a big way and it’s a lot of fun.
Check out my guitars past and present over at Sunbane.com, my old blog site.