this page updated 18 February 2009
I was born in north London and moved to Leeds when I was sixteen. For as long as I can remember, I had always wanted a guitar and aged eleven was bought my first, an old nylon classic, just in time to be part of the skiffle craze or as Diz Disley famously called it, "The Great Skiffle Disaster!". For two years I played nothing but four chords! Lonnie Donegan was The Man at the time.
Things changed though when on the 6-5 Special I first heard the guitar playing of Big Bill Broonzy and was immediately hooked. I threw away the flatpick and have played fingerstyle ever since. Interestingly, both Lonnie Donegan (the Guv'nor) and Big Bill played the same model of guitar, a Martin 000-28 and that was the beginning of another saga! Over the next few years, I learnt various instrumentals by ear and, at the same time, found another source of inspiration in the American Union records acquired by my father. After the family move to Leeds in 1958, I started going to the Topic folk club in Bradford. The Topic has always been one of my favourite clubs In the very early days I shared the stage with well-known performers, including Alex Campbell, Joe Locker, Richard Farina, Carolyn Hester and a host of other great musicians. All these influences became part of my guitar style.
While at teacher training college at Scraptoft, Leicester, I began to teach guitar as I've always believed in passing the music on. I continued to teach for many years for many years and I was thrilled when The Leicester Mercury did an article on me in which they wrote: "a major influence on folk and blues music in Leicester....part of the folk heritage in the city and as a teacher and guitarist who laid the foundations of the city's current roots music scene". I have lots of very happy memories of this time including opening for the Rev Gary Davis and Ramblin' Jack Elliott at the college. In the late 60's I played for a time in various blues and soul bands (notably, The Boss and The Broodly Hoo - the drummer was Rob Townsend, who now plays with Paul Jones and The Blues Band) and then went back to playing solo in folk clubs, travelling widely across England, Scotland and Wales. The club audiences always seemed to enjoy the fact that I played and sang a wide variety of material, ranging from blues to union songs, celtic instrumentals, traditional material and good-time music. I have always enjoyed making people laugh and love the humorous songs of Miles Wootton and Tom Lehrer and often include them in performances. I occasionally write my own material, mainly instrumentals with a traditional feel but the odd song here and there.
Just about the time that I dropped the flatpick, my brother Chris took it up and the rest, as they say, is history. Chris, known internationally for his astonishing flatpicking and his quality musical partnership with Irish harper Máire Ní Chathasaigh, igreatly influenced me in my developing interest in celtic music which now forms a largepart of club and concert performances. I never took the plunge to become a full-time professional, instead combining my daytime teaching job with a busy schedule of gigs. However, as the responsibilities of teaching developed, it became less easy to commit the time to playing semi-professionally. Retirement from teaching meant that I could change direction and following encouragement from some old friends and players, I am now again playing regularly in the UK and France.
And the other saga mentioned above? Martin guitars. On one of the Union records that was sent to my father, there was a photograph of the two singers, Joe Glazer and Bill Friedland. They were playing these guitars with an odd-shaped black teardrop thing under the soundhole. I had no idea what the guitars were at that time but I wanted one. I had to wait a long time though and for many years played a guitar built by Joe Chamberlain in Leicester. The Rev Gary Davis played this when he did a concert at Scraptoft (have a look at the sleeve of "Stories") so why did I sell it?! Anyway, in 1969 I got in touch with John Pearse about the possibility of buying a 000-28 and as a result of John's help, I bought my first one, a 1946 000-21 (63 years old this year) from a collector in Long Island for £75. I still have it and use it as my main working instrument. It sounds wonderful and ever since I've stayed with the guitars from Nazareth. Over the years I've owned a few, including a wonderful 1983 00-45 and in 2002 I ordered a Custom 000-45 from the factory. Its a fabulous instrument and I only hope that I'm around in 50 years time when its fully played in! In the early 80's in Leeds I met John Coy, a Martin collector, and together we set up The Martin Owners Club long before the factory had the idea! It was a logical step, great fun and provided many owners with opportunities to meet and pick a little. If you'd like a copy of one of the Newsletters that we did, please get in touch. At the present time, I mostly use three tunings, open G, standard and an odd one, DADDAE. I keep the 45 in this tuning and use the 21 for the others.
"...this evening was particularly special....wonderful versions of Blues classics..... faultless and beautiful interpretations of more traditional Celtic pieces....humorous songs....brilliant technique always served the melody of the piece.....a very special evening from a very special player." Swan Folk, Loughborough
|" ....one of the best guitarists on the scene, but has a delightful unassuming style that belies the fireworks coming from the fretboard....." Skipton Folk Club|
|"...amazing range on guitar and dulcimer. Traditional English, American, Irish, Scottish, his own imaginative material, with or without vocals....effortlessly amusing links and anecdotes and a real gift for involving the audience. Brilliant ." Ilkley Gazette|
|"....total mastery of the guitar: Blues, Irish, Trad, you name it - sings too" Grove Folk Club|
|" ....flowing melodic lines played with grace and presence...... thank you for making the evening such a success...." Bonner's Acoustic|
|"Mark's guitar technique is superb ... I can recommend his latest CD, which includes some beautiful renditions of traditional tunes ........Excellent and accomplished" Topic Folk Club|
|"top class guitarist" Ripon Folk Club|
|"...part of the folk
heritage...contributed to the wealth of talent we now have today..."
|"Astoundingly good guitarist.....choice of songs fits his voice beautifully.....Brilliant!" Shreds & Patches|
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PO Box 7, Ilkley, West Yorkshire, LS29 9RY, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1943 602203 Fax: +44 (0)1943 435472