Thursday, 22 September 2011

The music we played...

It was always a mélange... Pat says that he started out playing under the influence of Rambling Jack Elliot but also had a lucky encounter in Paris with Ian Bennetts:

'… Ian Bennetts... was a shithot flatpicker... very good at playing American folk and who occasionally did some busking although it wasn't his main livelihood. He was one of three brother - the Bennetts – who were all guitar players. I knew Ian and John. (Les Bennetts, of course, was the guitar player in Lonnie Donegan's band1). My hero Jack Elliott had been in and out of Paris quite a bit in the previous two or three years and Ian had watched and learned from him. To the extent that he became every bit as good, which was saying something – Jack was a master. I was transfixed watching Ian playing all these flatpicking riffs and tantalised because I couldn't work out how he did it. I practised and practised and kept watching, trying to unlock the mechanics of his right hand technique – which was probably one of the complications I found because I'm left handed. .. Finally I asked him if he would consider giving me a lesson, which he did. I was surprised but grateful and he charged me a thousand old francs, which in today's money is about twenty quid. He showed me the right hand positions for regular guitar players, the essence of what flatpicking was all about.'

Don Partridge's father had been a jazz guitarist in a dance band, Django style, but like Pat, Don looked more to the folk world initially for guidance:

'I had asked my dad if he would show my the rudiments on guitar but he said that he would only do it if I studied properly and learned music. Which was no interest to me – I just wanted to learn enough to start me off and figure the rest out for myself. So I went elsewhere. Bought myself a guitar and had a few folk guitar lessons from a teacher called Peter Grauner who showed me some basic finger style playing.'

Me? Started out trying to play jazz piano then got a guitar for its portability – and also because I was also becoming interested in folk music:

'A folk club had started up in Loughborough, run by three art students. One of whom was the mighty Dave Evans,1 a few years older than most because he had been a merchant seaman before he came to do an art degree. Dave was a phenomenal guitarist already and he kindly showed me some fingerpicking techniques and tunings which helped me to make a quantum leap in my guitar playing... a mighty stroke of luck. The piano was cumbersome, the guitar the ideal portable instrument for a naïve, would-be troubadour who had suddenly experienced wider freedoms through his hitch-hiking adventures. So: time to be a traveller and a busker... '

Despite mastering finger-picking, for busking you needed a strong, rhythmic plectrum style in the days before portable amps became prevalent. I learned a lot watching at Keene and Don when they played together and Alan Young, another gifted player and busker, Don's best friend and frequent sidekick. Despite our common origins in folk music, this wasn't the only source of the street repertoire. Skiffle was one, the others blues, American bluegrass, various pop songs of the day, old jazz standards like 'Bill Bailey,' and by 1966 – Beatles/Rolling Stones/Animals. Whatever worked. Everything got blended into your style...

1 Lonnie Donegan 1921-2002. 'The King of Skiffle,' Donegan left his gig as banjoist/guitarist in Chris Barber's Jazz Band to go on his own and sell a lot of records during the 'Skiffle' craze and onwards. Les Bennetts played lead guitar in his band for a time.
1 Dave Evans - one of the true greats of acoustic guitar, Dave never quite got the recognition accorded to his contemporaries: Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Davy Graham etc. Dave has lived in Belgium for many years, where he makes pots and ceramics, living in a converted brewery.

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