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Scottish Guitar Quartet Review – The Bull’s Head, Barnes, London.

Sholto ByrnesINDEPENDENT.  July 2003


“A quartet in jazz usually consists of rhythm section and horn, most commonly piano, bass, drums and sax. A guitar may substitute for piano, or be used instead of drums to provide a foil for another chordal instrument – one thinks of some versions of Oscar Peterson’s trio – but it’s arguable that it has not occupied as elevated a seat as the piano in the great ranking of instruments.

Somewhere between the chop-chop-chop of trad and the meanderings of commercial fusion lies an honourable tradition for the jazz guitar, although if I had to choose between throwing Metheny, Scofield and McLaughlin out of the balloon or just Herbie Hancock, the latter would be safe, despite “Rockit”. The keyboard just seems that much more satisfying.

This prejudice (for, I freely admit, that is what it is) is triumphantly overcome by the Scottish Guitar Quartet, a semi-acoustic group that turns whatever limitations this combination may seem to have into advantages.

For Nigel Clark, Kevin MacKenzie, Ged Brockie and Malcolm MacFarlane there can be no slacking on the rehearsal front – I can’t imagine anyone deputising for anyone in this band – as the group’s success lies in the tightness of arrangements which keep four instruments occupying the same range from crossing lanes, winging each other and ending in a pile-up.

Here is an example of the traffic control: two guitars set a pulse going, on which the others play the melody in octaves; dropping down to one on rhythm, another solos; halfway through the solo, a third adds a riff to the support; a fourth weaves a further line, till the quartet merge on a bridging section and it’s time for someone else to solo.

It all moves with the smoothness of stage-sets being wheeled on, backdrops being added and subtracted while soliloquists or Greek choruses step into the limelight. Or, to take an airborne analogy: a flock of birds, individuals that mass as one but sometimes let loose outriders to foray before returning to the formation.

It is quite mesmerising, and totally unlike any more conventional line-up, and the relative unity of sound allows an enormous variety of composition. Whatever terrain this quartet traverses, from bebop to classical Brazilian, fast funk rock to Firth of Forth, it is still recognisably the same beast, whereas a piano-based trio donning a similar array of clothes would likely find its trousers at half mast or its flies undone during such a journey.

A small venue doesn’t quite do this quartet justice. I would like to hear them in a place where their fresh, clean sound could echo, off cavernous walls or around the nave of a cathedral. If the quartet were to play in the latter, even the most hardened of atheists would find a trip to church had its compensations. They may not want to go every Sunday – this is a concentrated pleasure, and best taken in small doses – but certainly often enough to be recognised by the parson.”




Jim Gilchrist.  THE SCOTSMAN.  April 18th  2005

THE name may suggest a classical outfit, the driving force jazz; but with influences ranging from Celtic to world music and combining improvisation with an intensity of ensemble playing which verges on the baroque, the Scottish Guitar Quartet is no band for pigeonholers.

The five-year-old outfit launches its third album, Landmarks, this Thursday with a concert in Edinburgh. Whatever new listeners may expect, they’re liable to have any preconceptions vigorously tweaked by this foursome of genre-busters, each of whom is an established guitarist in his own right. During a conversation with three of them – Malcolm MacFarlane, Ged Brockie and Nigel Clark (the fourth member, Kevin MacKenzie, is elsewhere) – they sound more than pleased with the new album, recorded by the renowned sound engineer Calum Malcolm in a near-live setup in St Mary’s Church, Haddington.

“We’re absolutely delighted,” says Brockie, who also helps run the Loanhead-based Circular Records which has issued the CD. “You’d think that after eating, sleeping and drinking the album for all these months, it would have lost its edge a bit. But Calum’s production is just unbelievable and we feel the material is really strong.”

The material on the new recording is all composed by the four guitarists, bar one written by occasional collaborator Ross Milligan. It is a typically engrossing and at times dazzling showcase of the band’s work, acoustically based, but with tonal colouring provided by the judicious use of the distinctive Frameworks midi guitars created by master-luthier Frank Krocker – such as the spooky sci-fi gurgling which opens Brockie’s No Longer South of This House. Elsewhere, material ranges from the taut Spanish accent of Clark’s Road to La Mancha to MacFarlane’s orientally tinged East Lothian pastoral, Phantassie Hill.

Ask them to describe what they play, and after some group murmuring, Brockie replies: “I don’t know about describing it, but we’re marketing ourselves under the ‘world music’ category. We don’t want to be all things to all men, women and children, but we’ve gone down the world music route, although with definite jazz influences. It’s a melting pot, really.”

Is there a risk they might deter audiences who think they know what they like? MacFarlane believes not: “Marketing people may have a problem with it , but I think that audiences are prepared to take a chance.”

If their influences are eclectic, the common ground uniting the four tends to be jazz. MacFarlane spent last summer touring with Jamie Cullum and is working on an ongoing musical celebration of places and events of East Lothian, where he lives, two examples of which feature on Landmarks.

Clark’s solo career took a boost a couple of years ago with his signing to New York label Arkadia, while he also plays with the Glasgow-based Russian gypsy-swing trio Koshka and has a long-standing playing partnership with singer Carol Kidd, with whom he has a Far East tour in August.

Apart from his record label involvement and solo work, Brockie is involved in jazz education at Jewel & Esk Valley College and also helps devise an education project in film music writing with Hollywood-based composer Hummy Mann.

Meanwhile Kevin MacKenzie flits agilely between the Scottish folk and jazz scenes, playing with traditional outfits such as Keep It Up and the folk-tinged modern jazz trio AAB, while the debut album by his similarly genre-spanning band Vital Signs received an enthusiastic critical reception last year.

All of which must make co-ordinating the SGQ’s movements a tricky business. “You have to keep a beady eye on the diary,” agrees Brockie, who believes that, since it formed in 2000, the SGQ has worked up “a real momentum”. While, so far, they have toured no further afield than the south of Ireland, he sees the overseas market as inevitable. “We’ve been getting inquires about the CD from America and Germany and once the UK distribution of the CD is fixed, we’ll be looking at them, and at Japan.

While Landmarks was released last week, they regard Thursday’s Queen’s Hall gig as very much the launch. “We hope all those who know about us already will come and support us,” says Brockie, “and those who don’t will come and take that chance.”


Top 5 Most Talented Guitarists In History

The Greatest Guitar Players Of All Time

If asked the question ‘Who is the greatest guitarist in the world?’ most avid music fans would have an answer. It is like being asked ‘Who is your favourite Spice Girl?’ or ‘Are you clever enough to read A Brief History of Time?’ For most of us, the answer is just there – we just know. It takes a lot to make a person change their mind once it has been set too.

So, if you have an all-time favourite guitarist, it is time to stick on their CD, get out your air guitar (or your real guitar, if you want to take it to the next level), and join us on this journey through the top five most talented guitarists in history.

The Axe Heavy Countdown

  1. Jimmy Page

The Led Zeppelin and Yardbirds guitarist was not only a great musician, he was one of the finest live performers too. In fact, his picking was remarkable in a lot of different ways – not only were his writing and producing skills incredible, he developed a unique hard rock sound which came to define the music of the era. You only have to look at the riffs on tunes like Bring it On Home and Communication Breakdown to see how skilled Page really was.

  1. David Gilmour

Now the pick of Gilmour over Barrett is a controversial choice, but it is one which makes sense when you really think about it. He stood in as substitute (and those were some pretty big shoes) as the frontman and lead axe man when Barrett was forced to leave the band and he took Pink Floyd from middle of the road psychedelic rock outfit to a truly innovative and genre bending outfit. The riffs on The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon are technically dazzling.

  1. Jeff Beck

Whilst the remarkable Jeff Beck is primarily an instrumental guitarist, he has dipped his guitar into a huge array of different genres throughout his career as a super talented guitarist. As a member of Yardbirds, he pumped out incredible riffs like the ones on Happenings Ten Year Time Ago and did it without looking like much effort was required at all. Is that not one of the hallmarks of a great guitarists? They always make it look so easy.

  1. Eric Clapton

There is a pattern emerging here – Eric Clapton also played in Yardbirds. It might just be that Yardbirds are the most technically proficient band of all time. They certainly saw some of the most talented guitarists over the years. Then again, there has to be a shout out for Cream, if we are discussing Eric Clapton. This astounding guitar player has rocked out to the blues, reggae, hard rock, psychedelica, and almost any other genre you can imagine.

  1. Jimi Hendrix

You might have guessed who the top guitar player on this list would be and you were right. It is a bit of a cliché now to name Jimi Hendrix as the finest guitar player the world has ever seen, but it is cliché for good reason. There is just nobody to compare to this rapid picking, cool strumming, axe burning riff-tastic beast of a musician. We can thank Jimi for reimagining and reconstructing psychedelic rock music and bringing it to the people. With riffs hot enough to melt the face, he never played with anything but his full heart and soul.

The Riff Appreciation Society

So, there we have it – the five most talented guitar players in history. Whilst this is a pretty great selection, it is also true that everybody has their own love affairs with guitar music and their own heroes of the stage. The truth is that it does not matter if you are obsessed with Hendrix, Slash, Joe Perry, or Carlos Santana; as long as the music makes you feel great, you have chosen well.


How to Choose the Best Guitar For You

You have been bitten by the music bug and a for a long time since you were young, you have wished to buy your own guitar- and nothing is going to stop you. Finally, you have decided to join the club of guitar lovers and owners.

Since your mind is made up, you decide to head to the bank or you can trust your branded credit card. Once you arrive at the door of the music store, you head confidently through the aisles to where the guitars are well displayed.

You have finally arrived and now you are slowly moving your eyes left to right as you survey the beauties in front for you. Suddenly you realize, you don’t have a clue which guitar is right for you.

Below Is How To Choose The Best Guitar For You.

What’s You Skill Level?

Before buying that expensive guitar, it is important to be honest about your skills. Are you new to the guitar or are you an intermediate player or an advanced player. Being honest about your skills will help you make the right decision. The best thing about modern technology is that there is a wide selection of guitars suitable for any level.


Guitars are expensive and since there are different types available in the market today, they are all priced differently. Before breaking your savings and making a poor decision, you need to budget which guitar you will be able to purchase.

The best way to determine your budget is to window shop around your city. Apart from that, you can also visit music stores online and get to research. This will give you a rough idea about the price range for the kind of guitar you are hoping to buy.

Choose One That Has A Suitable Neck

The neck of the guitar is designed to join the body of the guitar and terminates at the headstock. The fretboard is also fitted at the top of the neck while the back is shaped to accommodate the players fretting hand.

There are two types of guitar necks: the set neck and the bolt on neck. Most acoustic guitars are designed with a set neck while the bolt-on neck is fitted on most electric guitars. When choosing the right guitar for yourself, you need to pick one that has a comfortable neck.

Choose The Right Body

Every guitar is designed with a body and is usually composed of the top or the sound board which is usually supported by bracing. The sides and the back usually form a hollow chamber. The upper part of the body curves are referred to as the upper bout while the lower larger curves are referred to as the lower bout.

What you need to know is that the shape of the body usually influences the sound and playability of the instrument. When choosing the right guitar, choose one with the right body.

Steel Strings Vs Nylon Strings

It is a misconception that a new guitar player should start with one that is fitted with nylon strings. This misconception is founded on the fact that the nylon strings are easier on the fingers. Instead of listening to misconceptions, you need to make your decision according to the kind of music you will be playing.

Nylon strings usually produce a softer and mellow tone. They can be found on classical and flameno style guitars. Steel strings on the other hand create louder and brighter tone. They are common among classic acoustic guitars and are used by rock, country and pop musicians.

Type Of Wood

Every guitar is made from a particular type of wood and it influences the sound produced. If you are looking to buy a guitar for yourself, you need to know more about the different woods. Below are some woods used to make guitars: cedar, cocobolo, ebony, granadillo, koa, mahogany, maple, rosewood and ovankol among others.

In conclusion, when buying your first guitar, you need to consider several things in order to avoid making a poor decision. Some of the things you need to consider include your skills, the budget, the guitar’s neck, the guitar’s body, the type of strings and the type of wood used to make the guitar.


12 Sure Signs Your Struggling As A Guitarist

The definition of a struggling guitarist or musician has changed tremendously over the past two decades at least. Thanks to the internet era that comes with a bundle of advantages like learning as well as reaching out to the public (promotion).

Even though, social media has saved the budding/ struggling musician from the job of travelling through and through to find inspiration, invest money in production and promotion, there is another side to it.

One has to keep in mind the volumes of compositions he or she shares and also the large pool of database public has to choose from for viewing or listing on the web. Hence, no matter how confident you might be in your guitar playing or composition or music, you must watch out for the prominent signs that indicate that you are still a struggling guitarist or musician.

Watch Out Whether Any Of These Holds True For You

Having composed a handful of music notes or played the strings over a variety of platforms, it is time for you to test your waters and improve your performance.

Here is a checklist of twelve signs that assure that you are a struggling musician or guitarist:

-You Release Each Of Your Compositions On Social Media (twitter)

There is no denying the fact every hard workers relish seeing his work flash across at least in his or her social circle. But if you are a budding musician and you upload your compositions everyday on Twitter or other social media, viewers will tend to ignore you.

-You Have Remixed Several Popular Rap Compositions

It is acceptable to come across a remix of an already celebrated number once in a while, but the same artist picking up content from popular raps and adding his own, lesser known, label to it may annoy the people.

-You Name A Remix As A Collaboration

Many budding artists fall in the trap of adding their own notes on popular numbers and later release them as a joint composition of an already established star and him. But here these struggling guitarists and musicians fail to understand the difference between collaboration (where you work with the established artist) and remixing.

-You Keep Patting Yourself For The Youtube Hits And ViewsIt may give you immense pleasure to brag about the ever rising hits you get on YouTube. But you should leave it for others to talk about.

-You Put Unwanted Or Critical Comments In Spam

It is better to accept criticism as nobody can be best all the time.

-You Stoop Down To Involve Twitter Slubshots For Promotion

There is no doubt about the viewership the slubshots enjoy. But being tagged with them will only let down your reputation.

-Keep Poking The Popular Artists On Twitter Too Much

If you do so the annoyed manager may put your account in spam.

-You Personally Request People To Like Or Comment On Your Composition

Reaching out to people on mobile phone or personalised emails, requesting for publically liking your composition on social media is a big no no.

-You Show Utter Desperation To Go Viral On Video Sharing Websites

You should not be talking repeatedly about your desire to see your presence rising on websites like YouTube. This shows you desperate.

-Adding Too Many Unknown People On Social Media

You should filter the followers you add on your account to ensure quality.

-You Are Not Verified On Twitter

Even if you have 50,000 followers on Twitter, it is immaterial until your account is verified.

-You Brag About Famous Stars Retweeting Your Tweets

Never express your joy publically if famous stars retweets you.


It is important to note that countless options over web have made the struggle for a musician or guitarist even tougher, a guitarist of musician must also keep checking and accepting his real level of excellence. One must undo all the above signs by coupling hard with honesty.