Category Archives: Articles

New Years Eve 2014

New Years EveIt was great to have the front line of trumpet and sax on this gig, usually the line-up is rhythm section and singers but the brass really adds to the energy of the band. When I started playing in function bands back in the mid eighties most of the bands had at least four brass players as well as 4 singers and rhythm section. Due to economics and synthesisers bands have become much smaller as they are able produce a big sound using keyboards.


Des O’Connor

Having worked with Des O’Connor all over the Uk and abroad it was great to be asked to play in his band recently on a couple of theatre concerts in my home county of Essex.

The first half of the show comprises of Des telling a few jokes with some light piano accompaniment from Ray Monk. The second half features the band playing a mixture of jazz and light pop songs. Des is now in his early eighties but still manages to capture the audience and make them laugh. It never ceases to impress me how one man can go on stage by himself and entertain all those people for more than two hours.

Boat on the River Thames

HMS PresidentA recent gig on HMS President on the Thames was very enjoyable particularly as the singer in the band was the amazing Jacquie Hicks who is featured on two of our Music For Baby early years CD’s (Jazz Nursery Rhymes and Baby Sings Christmas). Swing music was the flavour of music for this event and not only did we received great feedback from the guests, over £4000 was raised for charity.

Concord Club

IConcord Clubt was great to perform at the Concord Club, Heathrow playing strict dance music for dance enthusiasts. When I began my career many years ago as a professional guitarist I regularly played at these style of events. One in particular was the Café de Paris in Leicester Square which held regular tea dances in the afternoons together with featured dance nights like Jump and Jive and swing events. I learned a lot of what I know today playing at these type of gigs. Recently there has been a bit of a revival of this sort of music, thanks to Strictly Come Dancing on the TV which features a couple of colleagues of mine Trevor Barry and Paul Dunn in the house band.

Wimbledon 2014

I always enjoy playing guitar at Wimbledon and I’ve been doing so for about the last ten years. We play Brazilian style music with a slightly unusual line up of trombone, saxophone, guitar, double bass and drums. The audience who are predictably tennis enthusiasts are able to enjoy listening to the band while they sup their champagne and eat their strawberries and cream in the Tea Garden. It’s an outdoor concert so it is rather weather dependant but as yet I’ve not played there when the weather has been too awful. One of the perks of the gig is that we get the opportunity to watch some of the tennis matches. It is often the case as a working musician you get to go and see amazing places through your work and this is one of the events I particularly enjoy.

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra


Back in 1999 I played on several tours in  the USA with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra featuring James Galway and The Three Irish Tenors. Most of the venues were sports stadiums with a huge seating capacity, 15, 20 thousand seaters were not uncommon although I have to say that these events weren’t a complete sell outs. One of the more memorable venues we played was Madison Square Garden, New York where we received positive reviews from the NY press. The repertoire was traditional Irish folk music so was mostly quite and slow, defiantly no loud heavy rock guitar was called for,  just soft gentle acoustic guitar. Playing in an orchestra requires a completely different set of disciplines than say a rock band. Listening and blending in are extremely important as well as following a conductor as there is often movement with the time so no drummer to lean on. Many guitarists never get the opportunity to work with an orchestra as there are limited situations where the guitar is included except of course if you are the featured instrument, for example a classical guitarist performing the Rodrigo guitar concerto.

It has been my experience that playing guitar in a larger ensemble like a big band (20 piece or more) or an orchestra (around 70 piece) usually consists 95% of the time having nothing to play and the remaining 5% pure fright. Typically you end up playing rhythm guitar in the background which can hardley be heard for most of the time and then suddenly you’re the  featured instrument. On this tour the guitar wouldn’t have been missed but for the fact that it was the solo accompaniment for one of the Singers on  Danny Boy. It was as much as I could do to stay awake through the first half of the these concerts as these gentle Irish folk songs played by a large orchestra heavily arranged for string section had the regular effect of making me feel very sleepy. Also there was a lot of time spent travelling from one state to another so by the time you’d checked into your hotel room, got to the venue and done the sound check we were all pretty tired anyway.

I remember the frustration of having to play these arrangements night after night very slowly, quietly and with no grooves unbearable in the end. By the end of theses tours I  desperately wanted to play some music with a strong back beat and a fast tempo.The reality of being a freelance session player though is that one day you’ll be required to play a loud rock style program and then the next day you’ll be asked to play quite Irish folk songs with an orchestra.


Concert by Local Guitar Students

A colleague of mine, local classical guitar teacher Amy Bowles is holding a concert of all her pupils at Epping Forest College on Tuesday 26th June.  There will be a mixture of large and small ensembles and solos and their repertoire will include contemporary classics.

The concert is 1 hour beginning at 8pm – it will take place in room 459 on the fourth floor.  If you go into the main reception, you will be directed to the lifts, from there just follow the signs.

If you enjoy listening to guitar, this will be a great way to spot some up and coming talent.

How To Practice

Many of my pupils struggle finding enough time to practice; work, family commitments or school work can make it difficult.  This can lead to a beginner becoming disappointed with their progress and disillusioned.  I always recommend practicing regularly in short bursts, rather than one large cramming session – practicing for two hours on a Saturday morning is not as beneficial as twenty minutes every day.

When time is precious what you practice and how you use your time is critical.  It’s very easy to spend your valuable practice time just noodling (playing anything other than what you should really practice).  It’s worth writing down specifically what you need to practice and how much time you’re allocating each item to help you keep focus each day when you pick up your guitar.

A standard twenty minute practice slot could be for example 5 minutes technical exercises (scales/arpeggios/finger exercises), 10 minutes chords and strumming and then 5 minutes learning a riff.  Practice with a metronome, and/or backing track – this provides you with the disciplines required for working with other musicians in a band and gets you into good habits.

When you practice a difficult piece of music don’t repeat the whole thing again and again. Identify short passages at a time, working towards playing them accurately at a slow tempo using a metronome, then gradually increase the tempo once you can consistently manage at the slow tempo. Once you’ve worked on all the individual passages you can them put them all together and play through the whole piece in one go, again using a metronome and starting a slower tempo to ensure you flow smoothly into each passage.

Make sure you are comfortable and sitting properly – use a chair with a hard back, music stand, foot stool, and adequate light – it’s all too easy to lay on your couch or slouched in front of the TV playing the guitar virtually on your lap, this is often when you get into bad habits which are difficult to undo later. Also you may experience back, neck and shoulder discomfort.

Steady practice yields positive results but sometimes however much you practice you can feel as if you’ve not got any better, or even getting worse.  This is mostly not the case, it’s just the way you perceive it and it’s important to keep focussed, keep with the practice plan and you’ll work your way through the other side.

Guitar Lullabies

Being a father of two small boys (aged two and three) we have always tried to exposed them to good and varied music. Their musical life is very important to us, and hopefully they may play an instrument when they are a little older, possibly even the guitar. The benefits of making music for small children are well documented and include social, emotional and cognitive benefits. When I’m not teaching the guitar or performing I help run a small business (Music For Baby) with my wife.

Music For Baby is a specialist record label producing music for very young children, along with running baby music classes. We have a range of CDs covering different aspects of a child’s development. Part of our catalogue is our music for sleep range which has proven to be very popular.  Sleep is an important issue for every new parent and it can sometimes be challenging to help a newborn settle into a sleep routine.  Research has been proven that using gentle music as part of a routine can help babies settle for sleep, and eventually the music will start to trigger sleep.  Lullabies with their simple melodies together with a steady tempo set about the speed of a resting heart beat are particularly effective in helping to settle baby.  As I am a guitarist I thought it would be nice to record a selection of lullabies on the guitar.

Guitar Lullabies consists of 25 tracks of traditional and original lullabies played by a soft classical guitar duo simply but with all the charm and nuances of the acoustic guitar. Guitar Lullabies can be downloaded from Itunes