Traditional Irish music has been present in my life since childhood. My Mum had tapes of The Chieftains and Planxty which she played a lot, and my Dad was a huge fan of Christy Moore, whether he was singing old folk ballads or modern songs. When I was very young I heard a lot of tin whistle as my sister was learning it. I was sent for a few lessons with the same teacher, a lovely man called Piaras, but sadly he passed away very soon after I started with him. Perhaps there was something traumatic about that as I put down the whistle then and never played it again. It wasn't until my mid-teens when I began to listen again to traditional Irish music. My Mum spoke often about how much she enjoyed Andy Irvine's songs with Planxty, so one year, for her birthday I bought her a tape of Andy Irvine and Paul Brady's classic album. I ended up listening to it a lot more than she did! I soon started listening to her Planxty and Chieftains tapes and marvelled at The Chieftains almost orchestral version of The Foxhunt. Then, when I went to the Rock School in Ballyfermot after leaving school, I met Ciarán Swift and it wasn't too long before we started playing some trad guitar duets together, with a little help from Sarah McQuaid's DADGAD guitar book. Since then I've spent a huge amount of my life learning about traditional Irish music and playing it. Along the way I've been influenced by some great guitarists who I feature below in my "Celtic Guitars" playlists. My thoughts on these guitarists and their influence on me follows.
Paul Brady is best known as a hit singer-songwriter who has written songs for, among others, Tina Turner. Before he went down that path he was a well known singer and guitarist in traditional Irish music circles. He is one of the pioneers in playing Irish trad on the guitar. I first noticed how good he was when listening to his album with Andy Irvine. On that album he plays some Reels very impressively on the guitar. I'd never heard anyone doing that before and I loved the sound. He also had beautiful guitar accompaniments to songs like Mary and the Soldier and Arthur McBride. I did some research on his playing and found out he was using the same Open G tuning that I'd learnt from some guitar parts that Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page played. I started learning Brady's Open G accompaniments to these songs and I liked the sound so much that I stuck with that tuning to accompany Irish trad, whilst most of my peers were using Dropped D or DADGAD tunings. I don't know anyone else who uses Open G to accompany Irish trad, which surprises me as it works really well.
In the year 2000, when I was 23, a friend of mine asked if I'd like to go to a trad gig at Dublin's National Concert Hall. I'd not heard of the musicians but Barry told me he was sure I'd enjoy it, especially because the guitarist had a really different way of accompanying Irish music. The gig was by Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill and it was a life-changing event for me. Martin's fiddle playing was of course magnificent, however as a guitarist I was really drawn into Dennis' minimalist way of accompanying Martin. I loved the harmonies he used and was impressed by how he would suddenly start playing the tunes every now and again from out of nowhere. It wasn't long before I went to learn directly from Dennis at his guitar classes at the Feakle Traditional Music Festival in Clare. A few years later I went into Martin's fiddle class. Then by 2005 I'd convinced Martin and Dennis to work with me on a new composition which became 'Music for the Departed'. I've worked with them both a lot since then, and even stepped in for Dennis a couple of times to accompany Martin when Dennis wasn't available for Irish Memory Orchestra events. I spent a lot of time in my mid-20s working out how to play like Dennis, so I found it quite natural to write music for him and step into his shoes when needed. Overall I would say my trad guitar accompaniment style is like a hybrid between Paul Brady and Dennis Cahill. Using Open G but a bit more minimalist in the use of chords, rhythms and harmonies than Brady is. Dennis is also a master joke teller, in fact when he speaks with you nearly every second line is a punchline!
Mícheál O Domhnaill (RIP)
I've never tried to learn how to play exactly like the legendary Bothy Band guitarist Mícheál O Domhnaill. I think this is because he mainly used DADGAD, a tuning I never really took to. Nonetheless I did play along to Bothy Band records a lot when I was younger and learnt some of his chord progressions. I saw him in concert a few times with the brilliant fiddle player Paddy Glackin. They were a magical duo to watch together. Last year I was hugely honoured to play with Paddy Glackin at the Farmleigh Music and Arts Festival. I was very conscious then that I was occupying a space that Mícheál inhabited for many years with Paddy. It was a humbling and wonderful experience. Mícheál's playing is hugely influential to folk guitarists worldwide. He had a strong, innovative strumming accompaniment style which, alongside Donal Lunny and Tríona Ní Domhnaill, drove the Bothy Band's tune players to new heights of virtuosity and creativity in Irish music. He also did some beautiful finger-picking on songs and tunes like 'The Maids of Mitchelstown'. When he teamed up with Kevin Burke as a duo he also moved into jazz-influenced playing on tracks like 'The Promenade'. He passed away suddenly in 2006 aged just 54. A terrible loss for Irish music. May he rest in peace.
Steve Cooney is one of the most unique and gifted musicians in Ireland. Originally from Australia, he came to Ireland after spending time living with Aboriginals. They told him he needed to go to the land of his forefathers and to learn their language, music, poetry and way of life. He took their advice and moved to Ireland in the '80's. Soon after he was invited to join one of the biggest Irish groups of the time - Stockton's Wing. It was his next musical meeting that would really change the face of Irish music, when he teamed up with Kerry accordion player and singer Seamus Begley. With Begley, Cooney changed the nature of accompaniment in Irish music with an energetic, wild style that has proved hugely influential over the years. Steve has many imitators now, but none come close to his musicality. If you listen to him accompanying Martin Hayes on a piece like 'The Crooked Road' it is such a different style to how he plays with Begley. He's also recorded some great music with Tony McMahon, Dermot Byrne, Sharon Shannon, Donal Lunny and many more trad greats. He was even a member of Sineád O'Connor's band for a few years and I once got a gig in his place at the Masters of Tradition Festival, when he got called to play with Sineád instead. Though he is best known for his blistering backing style, he is also a masterful fingerstyle soloist, who has a particular genius for interpreting the harp music of Turlough O'Carolan. A lovely soul and a living legend, I'm glad to have had the chance to chat with Steve a few times and also join him on stage on a couple of occasions. The energy he brings to the stage is incredible!
Arty McGlynn (RIP)
Arty McGlynn was, alongside Paul Brady, a real pioneer of Celtic Guitar playing. He was the first musician to make a solo album of traditional Irish music on guitar, 'McGlynn's Fancy' is a now legendary recording. He also made some great recordings playing Irish tunes on electric guitar, another innovation. He is best known though as a hugely popular accompanist, not only in trad, but also with songwriters as well known as Van Morrison. Arty sadly passed away last year. He was a close friend of some very good friends of mine and though I only met him a couple of times I had huge admiration for him as a man and musician. I've seen him play in numerous concerts over the years with luminaries including Liam O'Flynn, Matt Molloy, John Carty, and his long-time partner Nollaig Casey. I also saw him several times in a completely different guise, playing jazz on a Monday Night in Bogan's Bar in his home town of Omagh. He had a great sense of humour too and his stories, like his music live on. RIP Arty, you're sorely missed.
Ciaran Swift is definitely the most underrated guitarist on this list. Though I count him as one of my best friends, I can safely say he's one of the most influential trad guitarists to me, as it was Ciaran who really got me interested in exploring trad guitar when he told me about Sarah McQuaid's DADGAD book. In the late 90's we started learning tunes from the book together and worked out some arrangements that eventually made it onto my 2006 debut album 'Draíocht'. There are two guitar duets on that album and often people don't realise when they listen that it is Ciaran playing the lead melody on DADGAD steel string and me playing the accompaniment on nylon string guitar. I'm happy to set the record straight here! Ciarán has had a long diverse career working with songwriters like Fionn Regan and Roesy and touring the world in cover bands. He's at his best though when playing trad guitar and, as well as being a great tune player, he's a brilliant accompanist too with a really strong strumming technique as good as anyone on this list!
John Doyle is, like Steve Cooney, a man with many imitators and unfortunately most of his imitators do a poor job of it! John is a really versatile guitarist, however he's perhaps best known for his powerful accompaniment style with Liz Carroll and the band Solas. He's a fine singer and great tune player also. The main way he influenced me is through his work with Liz Carroll on the album 'Lost in the Loop'. I saw them in concert around the time that was released and I was really blown away by the power and chemistry of their musical partnership. I would have learnt a few of John's chord progressions at the time, without using his Dropped D tuning. Years later I'd have the honour of touring with Liz Carroll and Mairtin O'Connor. On that tour I didn't try to imitate John at all but I was definitely playing some of the chords he used with Liz! He achieved great things with Liz Carroll, nominated for a Grammy and even playing at the White House for President Obama. Their duo ended a few years ago and John moved into playing with American folk singers like Joan Baez and Mary Chapin Carpenter. I'm glad to see he has made it to the big time, however I feel his duo with Liz was his finest hour and would love to see them reunite.
Dáithí Sproule & Mark Kelly (Altan)
For several years, starting in the early 2000s I made an annual pilgrimage to the Frankie Kennedy Winter School in the beautiful area of Bunbeg and Dunlewey in Donegal. It was there I first saw the dynamic band Altan. I got all their albums over the first few years and spent a lot of time playing along to them, learning the chord progressions that guitarists Mark Kelly and Dáithí Sproule laid down with bouzouki player Ciaran Curran. I was never quite sure whether I was listening to Dáithí or Mark as they tended to alternate recording on different tracks. Dáithí usually played with Altan when they were touring the USA, with Mark touring with them elsewhere. However they'd sometimes both be at the Frankie Kennedy Winter School and sometimes they'd share the stage or alternate during the same gig. With Altan they play a similar style of DADGAD accompaniment, alternating between powerful strums and intricate finger-picking. Outside of Altan Dáithí has recorded with many other artists including Liz Carroll, with whom he was in the great group Trian. He's also a fine singer and was a member of the short lived but influential group Skara Brae with Mícheál O'Domhnaill and his sisters Máiréid and Tríona Ní Domhnaill.
It was at the same Frankie Kennedy Winter School that I first saw Seamie O'Dowd when he was playing with the fantastic band Dervish. I think they were really at the peak of their powers at that time and I remember the gig being a very special night and Seamie was on fire. A couple of years later he was back playing another amazing gig, this time with Mairtin O'Connor, Cathal Hayden, Garry O'Briain and the late Mary McPartlan. The same year I was really amazed to see him take the stage at a fiddle recital and he played the fiddle brilliantly too! Seamie is something of a genius multi-instrumentalist, equally good on harmonica, double bass and he's a great singer too. If that weren't enough he's regarded as one of Ireland's best blues rock players in the mould of Rory Gallagher. Seamie is a tough act to follow as I've learnt by playing with Máirtín O'Connor a few times over the years. Mairtin has often asked me to play 'The Road West' with him, and in that I'm directly learning from Seamie as he recorded the great guitar part on that album. I can't play it exactly like Seamie does as I'm more of a finger-style player and he's much quicker with a plectrum than I am. Maybe it's best I do my own version anyway!
I first saw Tony McManus play when John Feeley invited him to do a concert and workshop with his classical guitar students at the DIT College of Music in Dublin. We were all really impressed by his virtuoso way of playing traditional music from Scotland and Ireland on the steel string guitar. It takes a lot to impress a room full of classical guitarists, especially if you aren't playing classical guitar, so that's a testament to Tony's brilliance. A few years later I had a one-on-one masterclass with him at the Dundee Guitar Festival and it was great to spend an hour with him learning about his unique style. He showed me an open E tuning that he uses a lot to imitate the Highland Pipes. I liked the tuning, but instead of imitating it I decided the best thing I could do was forge my own way of playing trad on the guitar by finding my own tuning. Eventually I did by imitating the tuning of an Irish fiddle. One thing he does which I did learn and keep is his way of playing a treble/triplet ornament with his fingers in a way similar to how classical guitarists play a tremolo. Though Tony is Scottish he plays a lot of Irish traditional music and does it very well!
Addendum - My own trad guitar style
I've mentioned how my trad backing style is like a hybrid between Paul Brady and Dennis Cahill, though in fairness to all those listed above, I'd have been influenced by them all in some way to make my style. I'm also influenced by bouzouki and mandolin players like Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine. I do my own thing though really so here's a summary of what I do with different tunings.
Open G - DGDGBD
I always use this when backing trad in sessions and often in concerts too. On record you can hear me use it on my first album 'Draíocht' on the songs/tunes 'The Mad Magician/Mad Magician's Daughter', 'Beautiful Freaks Like Us', 'Stone Walls' and 'The Magical Reel/Cinderella's Slipper'. I also used this tuning when I accompanied Martin Hayes in Irish Memory Orchestra gigs and on tour with Liz Carroll and Mairtin O'Connor. Occasionally I'll add some influences from African guitar styles into my backing, using this tuning.
Dropped D - DADGBE
I use this tuning when accompanying Máirtin O'Connor with the Irish Memory Orchestra on the tracks 'The Cuckoo', and 'Cat Chase Mouse'. On record I use it on the Draíocht tracks 'The Tempest in Mali' and 'The Monument'. When I have two guitars with me in concert, one is my Martin steel string tuned to Open G and the other a nylon string tuned to Dropped D, which I switch quickly to Standard tuning when needed.
Standard - EADGBE
I rarely use this when playing trad, but I use it in the Draíocht track 'Drowsy Maggie/The Coming of Spring' and also with Mairtin O'Connor sometimes.
Dave's Fiddle Tunings - DGDGAE / CGDGAE / BbFDGAE / DADGAE
I developed these tunings in order to play Irish trad tunes with an authentic style derived from fiddle playing and piping. These are the tunings I use on the album 'Contemporary Traditional Irish Guitar'. Each tuning has the top four strings tuned DGAE, this gives the option of playing fiddle ornaments on the same open strings as fiddle players. I change the lower two strings according to the key of the tunes I am playing in. The main reason I developed this tuning though was because I'd learnt how to play a lot of Irish tunes on mandolin/banjo and instead of relearning the fingerings in a more common tuning I figured out a way of tuning the guitar so that I could just transfer the same fingerings from mandolin/banjo, whilst adding in some bass drones like a piper would. These tunings allow me to play ornaments like a fiddle player would. As far as I know, I'm the first and only guitarist to develop these tunings and techniques for Irish trad playing! I've also used this tuning on electric guitar when recording 'Christmas Eve' from my Winter Variations album.
When I was about 14 or 15 I started listening to a tape my Mum owned of the guitarist John Williams called "Guitar Music from Spain, England, Japan, Mexico & South America". Back then I couldn't read sheet music so I started learning some of the music by ear. I'd gradually transcribe it from the tape into Guitar TAB so I wouldn't forget it. The two main pieces I learnt then were Albeniz's 'Asturias' and the Japanese piece 'Sakura Variations' by Yocoh. I still play Sakura to this day, and have even played it on tour in Japan! Hearing John Williams play so beautifully inspired me to begin a lifelong journey with classical music. Below are Youtube and Spotify playlists featuring my favourite classical guitarists and some favourite classical guitar pieces, followed by some thoughts on each guitarist.
My favourite classical guitarist, by quite a distance, is the English guitarist Julian Bream. The reason I like Bream so much is that he is, first and foremost, a musician rather than being just a guitarist. His interpretative skills are world class. The repertoire he chose to play was also very wide ranging and he was groundbreaking in the way he commissioned new works from leading composers of his time. The classical guitar world has hundreds, perhaps thousands of technically brilliant players, many of whom would have better textbook technique than Bream. However few of them come close to matching Bream's masterful musicality. Bream can bring out so many wonderful textures and colours from the guitar, there are some tones he can produce that no other guitarist can. He seems a very nice chap indeed too in the mould of the eccentric English gent, as evidenced in this documentary. The pieces I've chosen for the playlist represent some of his finest interpretations, from Rodrigo's magical 'Passacaglia', to the 'Five Bagatelles' he commissioned from William Walton and the baroque 'Fantasie' by Weiss. I never got to see Bream live, which is a great regret in life. He's now retired, but he has passed the baton on to a supremely gifted young guitarist who is my newest classical guitar hero. More of which later.
As I mentioned, that John Williams tape inspired me to explore classical guitar seriously. I have seen him in concert a few times and each time was a masterclass in almost flawless guitar playing. Williams is particularly renowned for his perfectionism. Classical guitar is extremely difficult to master and Williams surpassed the legendary Segovia to bring the level of guitar technique to the heights of any classical virtuoso. For that he is lauded the world over. I would say his output is a bit more uneven than Bream's, but when he gets it right he is magnificent, as in the recordings of Yocoh's 'Sakura', Domeniconi's 'Koyunbaba' and Sagreras' dazzling 'El Colibri'. He was the first classical guitarist I saw in concert, at Dublin's National Concert Hall in the mid-90's. Aside from his guitar brilliance I loved the fact that he wore jeans on stage!
In 1998 my Mum and I went to a concert in Dublin's Hugh Lane Gallery by John Feeley, who was advertised as Ireland's finest classical guitarist. By the end of the concert I said to my Mum "He's not just Ireland's best, he's as good as John Williams!". My Mum encouraged me to chat with him about maybe getting some lessons. Being self-taught 'til then I was reluctant, but eventually I contacted him and met him at the DIT College of Music in Dublin where I played for him and he agreed to take me on as a student. I studied with John for the next five years, the latter four being during my undergraduate degree studies. John is a great teacher, very much a musician and a particularly brilliant interpreter of the music of J.S. Bach. John isn't as world famous as some other guitarists on this list, but he should be. In recent years a video of him performing Bach's imposing 'Chaconne' has propelled him to Youtube fame, it has over 3.5 million views! I'm lucky enough to have had John perform some of my compositions and I really enjoyed performing alongside him in the Cosmopolitan Guitar Quartet with Hugh Buckley and Niwel Tsumbu. The Spotify playlist features him playing some music by contemporary Irish composer John Buckley. Dr. Feeley did his doctorate in modern Irish classical guitar music and he is widely regarded as the leading expert in the area having commissioned numerous composers over the years.
It came as a shock to me when Roland Dyens, the great Tunisian-French guitarist/composer passed away in 2016, aged just 61. Dyens was a truly unique guitarist/composer, unlike anyone else in the classical guitar world. In 2000 I travelled to the Nürtingen Guitar Festival in Germany where I spent a wonderful week learning from great guitar masters including Dyens. I was part of the guitar orchestra class that he was conducting. A group of about 30 guitarists from around the world worked together under his direction on a brand new piece called "Suite Polymorphe". Dyens had a wonderful way in rehearsals, incredibly patient and he could speak in about 7 languages so he could communicate to everyone easily. He brought us all for coffee after the last rehearsal and I got the opportunity to speak with him briefly. I saw him in concert quite a few times and always loved his approach. He never announced a programme, always began with an improvisation and moved through the concert spontaneously, playing pieces as he felt might suit the occasion. One of the remarkable things about him was his ability to play jazz almost as well as he played classical music. His compositions rank among the finest 20th/21st Century guitar works. I particularly like his "Libra Sonatine" which I learnt and played in my early 20's.
Cuban composer/guitarist Leo Brouwer is a true living legend of the guitar world. His diverse body of guitar works are performed by practically all classical guitarists. Brouwer's music appeals so much because he has run the gamut of modern composing styles, from very avant-garde experimentalism to minimalism and nationalistic folk styles. As a classical guitar student I played lots of Brouwer's music, both solo and in guitar ensembles. I particularly liked his solo piece Cuban Landscape with Bells and its sister pieces for guitar ensemble Cuban Landscape with Rain and Cuban Landscape with Rumba. I've never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Brouwer although I did attend a festival where he was supposed to attend but he had to pull out due to ill health, such a shame! Brouwer was, at one point, a brilliant concert guitarist, but a hand injury forced him to give up his guitar playing and instead he focuses on composing and conducting. Some recordings of Brouwer at his heyday exist and it is wonderful to hear his own interpretations of his compositions and the music of other composers, like his version of Piazzolla's 'La Muerte Del Angel' on the playlists. You can also sense him 'playing' his own music when he conducts a guitar orchestra in "Cuban Landscape with Rain".
Dusan Bogdanovic is a Serbian guitarist/composer now living in the USA. I first heard about him in the early 2000s after getting a CD by Los Angeles Guitar Quartet member William Kanengiser which had his compositions '3 African Sketches', pieces I later learnt and performed in concert. I also learnt his idiosyncratic "6 Balkan Miniatures", which, at the time, made him stand apart from other classical guitar composers due to the complex time signatures inspired by Balkan folk music. In 2004 I attended Bogdanovic's composition masterclasses at the Nürtingen Guitar Festival, which were very informative and also shattered one of my illusions! In 2001 I had a eureka moment as a composer when I thought I'd discovered a new way of composing which I called 'Polymetric Cycles'. During his workshop Bogdanovic produced a book of compositions he'd written in 1990 called " Polyrhythmic and Polymetric Studies for Guitar". Within that book he talked about polymetric cycles and demonstrated how the concept of a polymetric cycle originated in ancient African music styles. So much for my great musical invention! I soon got over that and just enjoyed listening to Bogdanovic's intellectual yet accessible thoughts on music. Later in the festival he played a double-header concert with Roland Dyens. Here he displayed truly virtuosic guitar skills and also shared a wonderful improvisation with Dyens at the end. Quite why Bogdanovic isn't better known is beyond me, he is one of the most original classical guitarists I've seen and an excellent composer.
Pat Metheny playing Steve Reich
Pat Metheny is a jazz musician, not a classical guitarist, but he did premiere perhaps the most important guitar ensemble work by a classical composer of the late 20th Century, Steve Reich's 'Electric Counterpoint'. This hypnotic work, inspired by the Banda-Linda music of Central Africa and Metheny's own brand of jazz fusion, was composed in 1987. It is now considered the definitive piece for multiple guitars. It has been played by numerous classical guitarists and guitar ensembles and it was even sampled by 90's electronic music band 'The Orb' for their hit "Little Fluffy Clouds". Metheny's version remains the finest I've heard, although my friend Niwel Tsumbu performed it a few years ago when Reich was in Cork for a festival of his music and though I wasn't there to hear it, by all accounts Niwel's interpretation could be the best.
Last year I was Composer in Residence at the Classical Guitar Retreat in Scotland. Whilst there I asked two of the students who their favourite guitarist was, without hesitation both of them said Laura Snowden. I had kinda been out of the classical guitar world for about 15 years by then, so I'd never heard of her. Intrigued I decided to watch some of her Youtube videos. It didn't take me long to understand why the younger generation of guitarists were holding her in such high regard. Laura is one of a very rare number of classical guitarists, like those mentioned above, who transcend the instrument and are simply great musicians, not just great guitarists. Laura is the best classical guitarist I've seen in a long time. She is also a great composer and holds another trump card up her sleeve that none of the other guitarists on this list hold, she sings beautifully and sometimes adds wordless singing to her guitar compositions. She also plays trad guitar in a folk group! In 2019 I was curating the Farmleigh Music and Arts Festival and decided to invite Laura to perform at it, for what was her Irish debut. She played solo and also joined Michael O'Toole, David Creevy and I in a new group I put together called 'The Beckett Guitar Quartet'. It was wonderful to play alongside her and I look forward to working with her again in the future. Laura has yet to make a solo album, but I'm sure she is the future of the classical guitar, and none other than Julian Bream has taken her on as his protegé. Though she has no solo album yet, a beautifully produced video of her interpretation of Benjamin Britten's epic "Nocturnal" has recently been released. I put this on the Youtube Playlist.
As a classical guitar student in my early 20's I spent a lot of time playing the music of Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo. There was a documentary I saw on TV about Rodrigo which featured Pepe Romero as the main guitarist. He displayed a really deep understanding of Rodrigo's music that was inspirational to me. I found an old cassette of him playing Rodrigo's guitar works in Dublin's Ilac Centre Library. The tape wasn't available on CD then, so I transferred the tape to a blank CD and listened to it many times. Pepe Romero is one of Spain's greatest ever guitarists and he is also part of the great guitar quartet Los Romeros with some of his family members. I've never seen Pepe Romero live, but his recordings are wonderful.
If you study classical guitar you will inevitably study the music of Brazil's greatest composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. Villa-Lobos is one of the very few guitarist-composers who is spoken of in the pantheon of the great 20th Century classical composers. He has a huge body of works and his piano, cello and orchestral music are played the world over. Though Villa-Lobos was never a concert guitarist, recently released recordings of him playing two of his famous guitar works are revelatory as they reveal a way of playing these works that no other classical guitarist had considered. The recordings are old and crackly private tapes, so they can be difficult to listen to if you're not used to such things, but if you can move beyond the snaps, crackles and pops you will surely enjoy hearing the man himself play his beautiful music. As a student I played all of Villa-Lobos' music. In recent years I've started playing a few of them again and I try to bring some of what I've learnt from Bossa Nova and Samba music to it, as I can hear in Villa-Lobos' playing of his Choros No.1 that the rhythm is very connected to Bossa and Samba. They are all rooted in Brazilian folk music. Beyond his own recordings the definitive recordings of Villa-Lobos' music are surely by Julian Bream, who met Villa-Lobos as a young man and gave the British Premiere of Villa Lobos' Guitar Concerto. Villa-Lobos, who was self-taught, unusually used the little finger of his plucking hand, something that classical guitarists generally don't do. Segovia was baffled by this technique and told Villa-Lobos that other guitarists couldn't play his music that demanded the little finger. Villa-Lobos' response was "If you don't use it, then cut it off!" Coincidentally I naturally learnt to use my little finger a bit when teaching myself and I've composed some pieces which call for the use of the little finger, including "Four Etudes for Five Fingers", commissioned by the late Charles Postlewate, a pioneer in Five Finger technique.
Other Guitarists, including Segovia
The guitarists above are just my personal favourites, there are many other wonderful classical guitarists worth exploring, some of whom would, in the eyes of classical guitar aficiandos, be technically better than some of those mentioned above. I will list a few other guitarists who I have enjoyed seeing, hearing and sometimes learning from, to give some more options.
Scott Tennant, David Russell, Manuel Barrueco, Sharon Isbin, The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Ana Vidovic, William Kanengiser, Zoran Dukic. Benjamin Dwyer, Avril Kinsey, Charles Postlewate, Nikita Koshkin, Pavel Steidl.
You may notice that the famous Andres Segovia isn't on my list. I did try to get interested in Segovia's playing when I was a guitar student. I bought some Segovia CDs and listened to them, however I never felt an urge to go back to them very often. Maybe his style sounded old-fashioned to me at the time. I also am put off by Segovia's very conservative attitudes which led to a famous encounter with Igor Stravinsky. When Stravinsky asked Segovia "Why have you never requested I write music for you?", Segovia responded "I do not want to insult your music by not playing it!" With those snide words Segovia robbed guitarists of a potential masterpiece from one of the most important classical composers of all time!