I was born in Gravesend, Kent, and moved to Hillingdon (which was in Middlesex before it got engulfed by London) ten years later. My first love was Folk Music, and I borrowed a guitar from a friend (Tony Kempster, Where Are You Now?) and started to learn. But I got interested in classical guitar, also. And when one of my friends said “Well, I’m going to John Williams’s father for lessons”, I thought: If he can do it, I can too.
So (still a schoolboy) I badgered my mother into buying me a classical guitar, and went to the Spanish Guitar Centre in London every Tuesday; from which it was just a step to the Scots Hoose (now vanished) in Cambridge Circus to listen to people like The Young Tradition and Bert Jansch. Around this time I also bought an old mandolin in a junkshop for (what would now be) £3.25 and a banjo in pieces for £1.50, and got Clifford Essex to repair and put them together. A discussion with the editor, A.P. Sharpe, led to my being invited to write a regular column on Bluegrass for B.M.G. (Banjo, Mandolin, Guitar) magazine.
Those were the days when a record shop would play you a bit of any album you asked for; one day I was with some friends, and they asked to hear The Fantastic Guitars of Sabicas and Escudero. It was like the road to Damascus: in that moment I decided to learn Flamenco as well.
A girlfriend told me of the classical and flamenco guitar on weekends at the Coach and Horses Pub in Ickenham, and there I met wonderful guitarists and marvellous people, some of whom are still among my best friends—including, in particular, Paco Peña, in 1963.
When Paco returned to England in 1967, I asked him to teach me, which he did; and we’ve been friends ever since. I also studied at that time with Julian Byzantine, who had taken over from John Williams at the Royal College of Music.
After reading Maths at university, I became a computer programmer/analyst, which enabled me to live and work in many different countries, something that had always been an ambition. In the late ’60s I played mandolin and banjo with The Riggers, the residents at Nic Jones’s folk club in Chelmsford.
In 1980, while working in Cincinnati, I offered to write a review for Guitar magazine (which later became Guitar International), leading to my becoming a regular contributor. Shortly thereafter I moved to the East Coast, where I was able to meet my first flamenco heroes, Sabicas and Mario Escudero, and to take lessons from Mario.
When GI folded with the death of its editor George Clinton, I offered my services to Classical Guitar, for which I wrote for 17 years.
In 1989 I met my wife Pam in a flamenco guitar course at which I was the guest lecturer. Finding out that she also played violin, I introduced her to folk music, to which she took like a duck to water. We both now play with Hamewith, the folk group led by the well known Scottish fiddler John Taylor.