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 Len’s school, the Spanish Guitar Centre in London, every Tuesday; from which it was just a step to The Scots Hoose (now The Spice of Life) 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, J. McNaghten, 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—and also to continue my classical guitar studies with Jorge Morel.
After GI folded with the death of its editor George Clinton, I offered my services to Classical Guitar, for which I wrote for 17 years.
I moved (back) to the San Francisco Bay area in 1986, and 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.