I have often found it difficult in recent times to answer the question “What do you do?” Why is this difficult you may wonder? It is difficult when you try to narrow it down to one ‘thing’ only but not difficult I simply answer that I’m a ‘musician’. This is usually followed by a question, that seems logical, “what instrument do you play?”. So…, I’m going to attempt to spell this out along with a few answers to questions I haven’t been asked too much outside but do ask of myself – more on that a little later.
When I first drove my parents crazy to keep playing “Fine Girl You Are!” by the Clancy Brothers over and over (a song better known by it’s real title: The Holy Ground) I can safely say that the thoughts of me playing or singing these songs were not present in me at all.
Air guitar to Hello Goodbye in the late 60s to playing Let It Be on piano (much to the chagrin of my first piano teacher). Then there’s the harmonica on a coat hanger strapped around my neck, held on by tape while I channelled my inner Dylan or Donovan, or Joshua Rifkin playing Scott Joplin, all the folkies on TV like John Denver, Ralph McTell, Planxty, Paul Brady BUT… it was Paul McCartney’s Red Rose Speedway album that captured me. Two songs fell of my fingers almost right away Single Pigeon and When The Night along with the hit single My Love, featuring Henry McCullough’s great guitar solo. Macca led me through my teen years and I still love his sound today but somewhere along the way a change fell upon me. My brother Michael showed me my first few chords and my memory of his musicality is quite strong. He seemed to be able to play anything he tried to, also his ear seemed to be able to pick up anything with the minimum of effort.
Jazz (early days)?
Hearing Louis Stewart on RTE, Irish TV was initially over my head but my father loved his playing so much and would pay special attention when he saw him and over time, it began to captivate me too. Louis The First and Out On His Own, both produced by the late Gerald Davis were a huge, early influence on me.
Hearing Pat Martino for the first time floored me. His tone, touch, lines, taste and concept – everything about him just grabbed me. Soon, I would find myself trying to be like him, use the same strings, stone picks and wondering whether I could ever meet him, hear him live or even study with him! Along with Louis I was also receiving guidance of a local resident, originally from the UK Bert Crosland, a rhythm guitarist in the style of Freddie Greene, playing on an old Gibson guitar, so old, that the name Kalamazoo, not Gibson was on the headstock. Bert scared me in to learning so many tunes, was always encouraging when I would express crazy ideas like wanting to arrange for big band, compose music, write for strings… never once tried to put me off and ALWAYS seemed to try to find ways to help me explore these ideas.
I loved the quality of writing Sinatra seemed to inspire in his arrangers and thanks to Bert and indeed RTE DJs I would learn the name of Nelson Riddle, later in the amazing Robert Farnon via Louis Stewart – Louis was Bob’s guitarist of choice. Linda Ronstadt’s collaborations with Nelson Riddle seemed to please me a lot more than the critics – I always felt Riddle got a different sound on the ballads with her – a darker, more pensive sound in the orchestrations.
So what do YOU do David?
The short answer is I love music so much that I want to experience it in as many different ways as I possibly can. As I move through this path I find the answer changing slightly (sometimes) also radically (also sometimes). I love to play my guitar, write arrangements with and for others, I love composition because of the freedom you experience as you create something., I love conducting these arrangements and compositions and hearing them come to life. Sometimes, writing to existing arrangements or formats for small groups can be a little hard to get the juices flowing but when approached as a different discipline, i.e. a collaborative effort the doors fly open and the creative juices start to flow. From the first guitar lessons I gave to Breffni Murphy after he convinced me to teach through to working with the kids at
So what do WANT to do?
This is a short answer. I would love to score films – the idea of setting music which suggest or assist a scene, create a mood or help tell the overall story would excite me and hopefully there are still some film makers who like to use a composer for that purpose as opposed to the Hans Zimmer approach of having a team write various cues while their names are way down in the final scrolling credits. One of these days I’ll be writing a post on the experience of scoring my first feature film…until then, writing for orchestra, big band and various ensembles while playing guitar will keep me plenty busy 🙂