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INTERVIEW: John Lyon talks to Tommy Emmanuel about his fingerpicking guitar style

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: March 07, 2013

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FINGERPICKERS are taking over the world. Guitarists, that is. And you get the chance to see two of the finest in action when The Colonel And The Governor tour hits Barnstaple next week.

The Colonel is Australian guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel, no stranger to the Queen's Theatre, who amazed an audience two years ago with his masterful technique.

The Governor is Martin Taylor, a multi-award winning performer whose talents earned him an MBE. Born in Harlow, he divides his time between Scotland and California where he teaches at his own academy, as well as performing all over the world.

But not this month. After years of planning, they're out on the road for a 21-date UK tour following the release of The Colonel And The Governor album, a sensational collection of personal favourites. In the autumn they tour China, Japan and Asia. There's no language barrier when two great performers let the instruments do the talking.

"I'm looking forward to playing with Martin, who has a great legacy of music," says Tommy. "When you get him out on stage he really cares a lot and I really enjoy playing with solo jazz performers like Martin, Frank Vignola and George Benson. They're a joy to be around."

Martin's earliest influence was gypsy jazz legend Django Reinhardt from the Hot Club of Paris and the CD highlights his impeccable jazz technique complementing Tommy's unique, utterly amazing but seemingly effortless style. Anyone who saw and heard the Tommy, aka Guitar Wizard of Oz, two years ago knows what I mean. His technical precision and virtuosic improvisations are awesome. Put simply, he uses all ten fingers to create wonderful melodies with rhythm, bass and even drums to jaw-dropping effect. What a backing group.

"There are now so many good young guitarists coming out of the woodwork like you cannot believe," he says enthusiastically. "They love the guitar and there's a bigger presence of acoustic music now because of the internet and they see and hear things they never had the chance to before. They are inspired about getting everything from just one instrument."

But there's nothing new under the sun, you just have to tap into a rich legacy, as Tommy says: "I got all that from Chet Atkins, who got it from Merle Travis, who got it from Ike Everly who got it from Arnold Shultz and so forth. You can trace the line of that style.

"So by the time young people heard me it was a revelation to them. But all I'm doing is handing on to them what I've learned. Now, because of the internet, they think I've invented something new and amazing, but really I haven't.

"I've taken what I learned from the giants who came before me and put my own stamp on it. That's where it comes from. I'm still self-taught and I've begged, borrowed and stolen everything. If you're going to steal you'd better steal from the best. I stand on the shoulders of giants when I stand on stage. I know that and all the people who know me know that, but the younger generation have to discover that music and it's all new to them. I'm always trying to write new songs and give them something new all the time and it's challenging."

So what can the audience expect on the night? If their excellent CD is anything to go by it should be a night to remember.

"We'll start together, do solo spots and then we'll proceed to destroy the house, together," says Tommy, a tad modestly.

Tommy Emmanuel and Martin Taylor are at the Queen's Theatre, Barnstaple on Tuesday, March 12. Tickets £21 or £23 on the door. Box office: 01271 324242.

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