Interview with Will McNicol

Will in the shed
Will McNicol is a seriously gifted guitarist who playas and writes his own material. His concerts often include music by other musicians such as Thomas Leeb.
I gave him a couple of lessons when he was preparing for his Fellowship of Trinity College in London, where he was playing Bach’s Chaconne and Sor’s Sonata Op.25.
I was amazed with the facility with which he turned to playing steel string guitar, and the acoustic guitar is now his main instrument.
Will’s playing has won him numerous awards, most recently being Guitarist Magazine’s coveted UK Acoustic Guitarist of the Year 2011, held at London’s Southbank Centre.
Recently, I was lucky enough that he came and played in the shed – we had an evening of beautiful music and a great party afterwards! It was particularly gratifying that his first teacher, Maurice Albin was present,beaming in the front row.
Here is an interview with Will after that occasion, followed by a couple of candid videos.
I first met you when you were a classical guitarist. What prompted you to switch to acoustic steel string as your main instrument?
— I wouldn’t say acoustic steel string is my main instrument, I’d say I now use an equal amount of steel and nylon in my live performances and compositions. They do different things, and offer different tonal pallets which is inspiring for my writing. What I’ve learnt from nylon has definitely influenced my steel playing, and vice versa.
Do you think there is a difference you have to make to your technique to play acoustic guitar?
— Being brought up as a classical guitarist, and still having a great fondness for that particular way of playing, my techniques on both nylon and steel string guitars remain very classical. I suppose the biggest difference is my very rebellious “standing-whilst-playing” technique!
You play standing up – does this have an advantage, or does it cause any extra problems?
— I feel I have more freedom of movement when I stand up which suits my compositions and live performances. That’s not to say I don’t like playing sat down, and it’s certainly not the way I’d tackle something like Bach’s Chaconne…(!)
How important is the use of amplification in your performance?
— Amplification became a necessity in the venues I play in, purely from a volume point of view. Amplification also allows a few different things to be incorporated, subtle uses of effects, and the odd loop pedal here and there wouldn’t be possible without a good tech setup for amplification. I do like to keep the sound as natural as possible, and have spent a long time tweaking and experimenting with different gear to find the right tone.
Your playing is very assured, especially in sections with harmonics everywhere! Do you have any advice on how to practise?
— Practice is a very personal thing, and there are practically an infinite number of ways to approach it. I think the most important thing is to ensure you enjoy the practice you do, and I think the key to that is keeping it balanced. Setting manageable goals, whether it be phrasing a particular passage, or nailing an arpeggio can help. But the truth is, unfortunately, my discipline in practice has got a little lax, and I spend most of my time composing rather than actually practicing what I compose!
Do you move when you play? What does freedom in playing mean for you?
— I move a bit when I play, yes. But I don’t go overboard. I’m not doing somersaults or anything like that. If you’re confident in your ability and believe in the music you’re playing, then you’ll undoubtedly be more relaxed, and that in turn allows you to have more freedom of expression.
Do you play your own music mainly?
— It’s a mixture, but my live sets are dominated by my own material at the moment.
What instruments do you use?
— I play two custom built Fylde guitars as my main instruments – one nylon and one steel. Roger Bucknall (Fylde) makes beautiful guitars and I’m over the moon with their tone and playability.
Did either of your parents play an instrument? Was there music in your home?
— My Dad was a conductor, pianist and double bassist. As a result I was brought up on orchestral classical music which has certainly been a big influence. He also had many stories to tell about his time managing the Albert Hall and Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, all which fed into the melting pot from an early age.
How many recordings have you made now?
— Three albums professionally produced of my own material so far. With a few home-recordings before that!
Was it easy to promote yourself? What social media do you prefer to use?
Do you have any tips for self promotion?
— I’m terrible at self-promotion! But when I have to I use facebook, twitter and YouTube. Engaging with people who enjoy what I do is incredibly rewarding and there’s no doubt social media helps that side of things a lot. I can’t give too many tips as I’m so awful at it…. But I think keeping regular and interesting updates (whether it be about gigs, recording, or writing) is important to keep the base growing and keep people interested.
Do you have an agent?
— I do, and it’s been a great help. From the point of view of branching out to new venues and areas of the country it’s been invaluable, and it’s also a huge help with the promotional side of things.
Have you won any prizes, and have they helped with your career?
— I have, the most notable being Guitarist Magazine’s UK Acoustic Guitarist of the Year in 2011. It has been helpful, and has opened doors. But music competitions are funny things – very difficult to judge when the variety is so vast, and certainly should not be thought of as a necessity for success.
Do you tech? How important is that to you as a musician?
— I use a bit of tech when it comes to live sound, but I try to keep things simple. All I have is a pre-amp, reverb, loop pedal and a tuner. And that’s it!
Where can we hear you next? Do you have an online diary?
— Gigging here there and everywhere! And building towards the next tour in March / April next year. Keep and eye on for gig listings.
What is your preferred type of venue and ambience for plating? 
Did you like the shed?!
— Small and intimate works well for me! I love having a personal connection with an audience and the smaller venues work great for that. Pair that with some nice exposed woodwork for acoustics and you’ve got my perfect venue. And hence, I loved the shed!

The Wakeup- new CD

Guitarist of the Year