While out on the cliffs near West Bay last year, a voice uttered a by now familiar phrase – “Are you Gerald?”.
It was a surprise and great pleasure to see Dan Williams, whom I haven’t spoken to for around twenty years!
He happened to live and have a workshop in Bridport.
The next day, Alison and I visited and were fascinated to see all the instruments he had been making – Venezuelan cuatros and West African Koras as well as fascinating wooden sculptures and artifacts.
We first met when holidaying in France with his elder brother John (the guitarist!) in the 80s.
He had met Venezuelan guitarist and composerAlfonso Montes who features on John Williams’ album ‘El Diablo Suelto’ and became interested in the cuatro through that meeting.
Dan plays as well as makes his own instruments and has a background in film animation and woodwork. He learned to play from his father Len Williams, as did his famous brother.
Dan was about to start work in his first guitar, so I took the opportunity to ask him about his life and how it had taken so long for him to get around to making a guitar!
The HK Classical Guitar Society ca.1981 – Mr.Ho is second from the left in the front row. Also present are Pepe Yeung, Simon Cheong Hing Liu, Edgar Chu, Stephen Kai Leung Chau, Ricky, Wilson, Summer Chan,Ng Ho Yi, Mr.Wong, Ngai Kai Tai Thanks to Bunny Leung for the photo
Hong Kong 1979-85– a group of enthusiastic amateur guitarists which met in a small shop in the Jordan area of Kowloon showed up at my first recital in my home town. They seemed well organised, and were hungry for any information and music that was out there. It appeared that the shop belonged to a Mr.Ho, who allowed local teachers to use it and have their regular meetings. This was the Hong Kong Classical Guitar Society.
They were very kind and also friendly towards each other and towards visitors, so I made a point of keeping in contact on my regular visits and annual concerts. I discovered that there was also a connection with China – the society’s newsletter was sent regularly to contacts and teachers in disparate provinces.
The big name in China was Professor Chen Zhi, who had a reputation for producing wonderful players, but the growing number of classical guitarists in China wanted information – sheet music, recordings, videos…
The HK Classical Guitar Society grew into the HKGIA (Hong Kong Guitar Information Alliance) which involved the burgeoning number of guitar teachers in Hong Kong, expanding the reach of the society to include all types of guitar interest – flamenco, baroque, nail players and no-nail players.
It was in this group that I first became aware of Kenneth Kwan, a student of the erudite Richard Szeto. It was also this group which made the links with Professor Chen Zhi that enabled John Williams and me to visit Hong Kong and China in 1995.
Prior to this visit Professor Chen Zhi organised The First China Artistic Guitar Festival at Zhuhai, China in 1987.
It was a very important event and has had a big influence on the development of the classical guitar in China.
Before this event Professor Chen Zhi had visited the HK Classical Guitar Society (and Mr. Ho) to invite local players to perform in the Festival.
Some HK players performed in the China Artistic Guitar Festival 1987.
None of us realised then what an explosion of classical guitar activity in China would result from John Williams’ and my visit in 1995 which was promoted by the British Council.
Most of today’s guitar professors in Chinese conservatoires were present at the concerts and masterclasses which John Williams and I gave.
Professor Chen Zhi has been instrumental in bringing his students to the west, and some of his ex students (and their students in turn) are now bright stars in the universe of the guitar.
I like to think that it all started in that small shop in Jordan, with a group of likeminded enthusiasts back in the early 80s. It should come as no surprise that we have kept in touch even though we have gone our separate ways.
In a world where thinly disguised self promotion seems to be the norm, it is refreshing to come across true enthusiasts who modestly make things happen which have far reaching implications.
Here is a meeting in a Hong Kong in a coffee shop – a meeting of old friends who hadn’t met up for almost forty years and still don’t know how to stop being enthusiastic!
selftaughtgirl has this to say about this wonderful concert, which most of the known guitar world in the UK at the time attended:
“John Williams gave a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (UK) on 19th July 1989 which was broadcast live on the radio. I was at the concert so a friend pressed the record button for me. I remember JW limping onto the stage as he had hurt himself playing tennis and also him reading the Ponce from the score. I last heard him only a couple of weeks ago playing two concertos at the RFH (the main hall next door to the QEH) and still on fine form.
Villa-Lobos: 5 Preludes
Ponce: Variations and fugue on “La Folia”
Brouwer:Elogio de la Danza, Berceuse, Danza Characteristica
Barrios: La Ultima Cancion, Cueca, Aconquija, Choro de Saudade, Waltzes Op 8 Nos 3 & 4
Piazzolla: Verano Portena (as encore)”
This is a marvellous record of a great performance. Thank you, selftaughtgirl!
A few years earlier, the newly reformed “John Williams and Friends”, of which I was a part, toured the UK, Ireland and Italy. Unlike this concert, there were quite a few hi jinx on stage (including Brian Gulland, taking a break from his bassoon duties,dressed as a chef and making an omelette while JW and I played some duets!).
Joplin: Elite Syncopation
Brouwer: Danza Altiplana, Cradle Song
Joplin: The Entertainer
Falla: Danza del Corregidor
Brouwer: Study #6
It was around this time I went to the ORTF summer school in Arles instigated by Robert Vidal – heady days. We studied modern music (aleatoric and otherwise) with Leo in the morning and Baroque ornamentation with him in the afternoon. We were also part of his ensemble playing a piece by Juan Blanco. Other attendees included Ichiro Suzuki, a very young Costas Cotsiolis, Forbes Henderson, John Taylor, Raymond Couste, Alison Bendy, Steve Wingfield, Ben Verderey and many more.
At Arles I first heard the music of Bussotti, Mestres Quadreny, Ohana and of course, Brouwer, whose Canticum, Espiral Eterna and Parabola I played regularly in the late 70s and 80s. I wonder if there are some photos of the occasion. In the following year, I travelled again to Arles with John Williams.
In March 2014, the University of Surrey will launch the International Guitar Research Centre. The research centre aims to establish an international hub for guitar-centred research in all styles of music.
Surrey has had a strong association with the guitar since the 1960’s when Reginald Smith-Brindle was Professor. In more recent times, the Guildford Guitar Weekend has become a permanent fixture in the annual cycle of significant guitar events in the UK. The University has a large cohort of guitarist PhD students and alumni.
The research centre will work in close affiliation with various partner institutions including the IGF (International Guitar Foundation, King’s Place, London), the IGRA (International Guitar Research Archive, CSUN, Los Angeles, California) and the University of São Paulo (Brazil).
The launch will comprise a two-day event on 29th and 30th March that will include academic papers, seminars, public discussions, lecture-recitals and concerts. Guest artists will include John Williams, Xuefei Yang, The Amadeus Guitar Duo, Bridget Mermikides, Declan Zapala and Michael Partington.
I know there has been rather a lot of Bream on telly recently (just look at the related links below), but if you live in the UK, you owe it to yourself to watch this marvellous programme if you are one of the two or three guitarists who didn’t see it tonight.
The programme consisted mainly of complete performances of music played by Julian Bream on BBC TV over the last 40 years or so and shows his wide influence on the acceptance of the guitar as well as the revival of the renaissance lute. Also, his playing on live TV is magical.
Highlights for me were the 3rd movement of Malcolm Arnold’s concerto conducted by the composer, the Bream consort playing Byrd, Bream and George Malcolm, Bream and Williams playing Albeniz and Bream and Yussef Allie playing Nuages.
Well, OK most of it…
There is also a sense of a passing age seeing the two retired maestros Bream and Williams knocking the spots off most modern duos.
Petroc Trelawney presents the last in his series exploring the great classical stars through the BBC film archive. He spotlights the legendary British guitarist Julian Bream. Now 80 years old, Bream’s life and music were richly documented through regular appearances on television from the 1960s to the 1980s. Performances include Malcolm Arnold’s Guitar Concerto conducted by the composer, duets with John Williams, hot jazz, classical transcriptions and lute music performed with Bream’s own Early Music Consort.
Nevertheless, this site has more information on John Williams the guitarist than you might ever need to know!
An interesting history of JW from his beginnings as a young guitarist to the publication of his biography “Strings Attached”, to his retirement through the most interesting era in the classical guitar’s evolution. A fascinating read indeed.
Low ‘C’ sounds wonderful on the guitar.This recording was made shortly before I joined “John Williams and Friends” – heady days!
Thanks selftaughtgirl who says
“My recording of a live radio broadcast from the 1980s of the first performance by John Williams of the “Stevie” concerto by Patrick Gowers written in 1987. Sorry about the quality of the recording due to the noisy reception and the wobbly tape as well as the few seconds gap at the end as it didn’t quite fit on one side of a 60min tape. Hopefully Mr Williams’ great playing of a great piece still comes through.”