This year is turning into the year of the guitar for me. Most of the music I'll be working on this year heavily involves the instrument that brought me into music and inspired me to begin composing. In my current role as Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Musician in Residence I'm composing a guitar ensemble piece to record with my good friend Ciaran Swift and his students of the Guitar Training Centre in Dún Laoghaire.
As part of the residency I'm sharing a Youtube & Spotify playlist once a week featuring music that inspired me since I first picked up the guitar. The playlists each have a different theme, from childhood pop/rock favourites to classical, jazz, trad, African, Funk, Indie music and my Heavy Metal teenage years! There are some different tracks on the Spotify and Youtube playlists to lend variety and because some tracks on Youtube aren't on Spotify! I start with my childhood guitar heroes.
The Stranglers - Golden Brown
This is the first song I remember hearing as a young child that really caught my attention. I heard it on the car radio and wondered what it was. It took me a while to find out, maybe a few years, we didn't have the internet back then! When I finally tracked down a tape of The Stranglers I played this song over and over and quickly learnt Hugh Cornwell's beautiful, jazzy guitar solo. I also learnt to transfer the main harpsichord part onto guitar. My first transcription!
Dire Straits - Single Handed Sailor/Follow Me Home
Mark Knopfler was my first guitar hero. My Dad liked Dire Straits, so I heard classics like 'Sultans of Swing' and 'Romeo and Juliet'. In 1985, when I was 8, they released the 'Brothers in Arms' album and 'Money for Nothing' propelled Knopfler to superstardom. The album that really stuck with me is 'Communique', which I got on cassette then. It's one of their least known albums, but I love the dual guitar playing, like on 'Single-Handed Sailor' and the hypnotic 'Follow Me Home'.
Paul McCartney (with Dave Gilmour) - No More Lonely Nights
When I was a child Paul McCartney was huge. He was, in my mind at least, bigger than The Beatles, because the only thing I knew of the Beatles was the records in my Mum's vinyl collection that rarely got played. It wasn't until my late teens that I 'discovered' the magic of The Beatles. I loved Paul McCartney's music as a kid and remember when 'No More Lonely Nights' was on Top of the Pops. The guitar solo really stood out to me. I think then I thought it was Paul McCartney but several years later found out it was Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd.
Kate Bush (with Dave Gilmour) - Running up that Hill (live)/Love and Anger
Kate Bush was an amazing artist for a young child to behold in the 80's. Her videos for Cloudbusting and Running Up That Hill were like nothing else. Then I saw her play the track live on TV, little knowing that the brilliant guitarist was the same guy playing with Paul McCartney. Gilmour doesn't play on the album version though, but he does add his distinctive guitar to her song 'Love and Anger' from 1989's 'Sensual World' album. I also unknowingly saw Gilmour playing with Bryan Ferry during Live Aid. Of course then there were also Pink Floyd songs on the radio like 'Another Brick in the Wall' and 'Learning to Fly'. Looking back I can see Gilmour's guitar sound was embedded in my mind long before I knew who he was!
Eric Clapton - White Room (live)/Behind the Mask
Another of my Dad's favourites, I became a big Clapton fan too, though I rarely listen to him anymore. I remember hearing 'Behind the Mask' on the radio when I was a kid and I also remember his Live Aid set with the Cream classic 'White Room'. My Dad brought me to Wembley Stadium to see Clapton in a double-header with Elton John in 1992. 15-year-old me didn't like Elton John's music so I was pretty bored by his set, but when Clapton came on I was transfixed. Funnily enough, nowadays I'm more likely to listen to something from Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road than any Clapton though!
Thin Lizzy - Still in Love with You/Jailbreak (live)
One day my parents brought me to a ballet performance that my sister was in. I had no interest in going, but all that changed when word got around that Phil Lynott was there. My Mum brought me up to meet him, I'll never forget that moment, he had such a kind, generous smile and deeply penetrating eyes. Not long after that we were listening to the radio and heard the terrible news that he'd died. That was my first experience of someone I'd met dying. I listened again and again to Thin Lizzy's 'Live and Dangerous Album' after that. 'Still in Love with You' is a song I used to skip as a child, as an adult though I just love the song and the brilliant dual guitar playing of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson.
Queen - One Vision (live) - Bohemian Rhapsody/Radio Gaga (at Live Aid)
It's hard to underplay the impact Live Aid had on me and so many others. It was an incredible event that my 8-year-old brain cells still remember vividly. Queen's set stole the show of course and I begged my parents to get me their next album 'Live Magic' when it came out. Brian May's guitar playing is so powerful on this live album it surely gave me an ear for the heavier side of rock music that I'd turn to in a few years. I also loved 'Radio Ga Ga' and the Live Aid version is glorious.
Paul Simon - Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes/Under African Skies
My parents both loved Simon and Garfunkel, my Dad's party-piece was singing 'The Boxer'. When Paul Simon made a big comeback in 1986 with his Graceland album it united my family's musical taste for one rare moment! It's difficult to explain to people who weren't alive then how new it was to hear and see a White American singing with amazing musicians from Apartheid-era South Africa. Simon almost single-handedly opened up the world to African music. Years later I would delve deep into the numerous guitar styles that spring from Africa. Graceland was my first taste of those chiming guitars.
Run DMC with Aerosmith - Walk This Way
Hip-hop was quite a fresh, new thing in the mid-80's and Run DMC were the biggest hip-hop group of their day, thanks mainly to this huge hit with Aerosmith. They practically invented a new genre with this mix of rock guitars and rap. This song made me simultaneously get interested in Rap and Heavy Metal and I bought tapes by them both. You Be Illin'!
Fleetwood Mac - Big Love
Fleetwood Mac were another of my Dad's favourites and I would have liked hearing the great guitar solo inThe Chain as a child, without knowing who the guitarist was. Then in 1987, when I was 10, they made a big comeback with the Tango in the Night Album and the wonderfully weird single 'Big Love'. The guitar playing on this track is incredible. In later years I'd really learn to appreciate the talents of Lindsey Buckingham, perhaps the most underrated guitarist in rock music. I've seen him live with Fleetwood Mac twice, he's an astounding performer, as his live solo version of'Big Love' testifies to.