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Andy McKee and Tommy Emmanuel 2007/11/14

Posted by Daddy Dave in fun, Music, nights out, Reviews.
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[Picture of Tommy Emmanuel playing at Glasgow City Halls]The Tommy Emmanuel concert was tonight. It was fabulous — the whole thing was superb!

It is the first time I have been to The City Halls and the Old Fruitmarket in Candleriggs in Glasgow’s Merchant City since it was refurbished last year, and I was impressed with the place — what a lovely venue its Grand Hall is — it seats just a little over a thousand, and Ruth and I did not see an empty seat. There was a serious queue for tickets at the Box Office when we arrived, so although we did not see a “Sold Out”, it most certainly was. We considered the 30 quid or so well spent, even if it was just for watching two guys busking with acoustic guitars! I guess they would have a gross of something in the region of £14500.00 per night to divvy up between the two of them, and amazingly — it’s probably all thanks to You Tube.

We enjoyed a nice dinner, then Mumsie arrived to babysit. We decided to take a car, and the roads were good — we parked quite near George St for free and enjoyed a short stroll to The City Halls. We showed our tickets and climbed the red carpeted stairs, but we were prevented from entering until the support act (whom we could see — but not hear — on a wall-mounted flat panel screen) finished his tune. By the time he’d done that there was quite a crowd waiting to enter the Grand Hall!

We walked down the gentle slope, flopped down into our seats just in time to hear the support guy say that if anyone here knew of him before tonight it would be most likely the result of a video he posted on YouTube — he then started to play ‘Drifting’ — we were stunned. I looked at Ruth and she looked at me. Our jaws dropped; it was Andy Mckee! In the flesh and with hair!

We have his album — and the recorded version of ‘Drifting’ is too fast! Andy played it just like this You Tube version. He followed this up with ‘Africa’ (to Ruth’s delight) mentioning that at 28 he grew up with this kind of 80s music. Tune after tune, he blew us away, he varied his tunings a lot — and I admire the fact that he did not have a lot of prepped guitars to hand. We liked his new stuff from the Gates of Gnomeria — a slightly less percussive and more melodic McKee. He came across as such a nice guy too. He finished with what he described as his half of a duet with Don Ross. It was over all too soon, and after just half-an-hour we were treated to a 20 minute interval!

We nipped out to the Old Fruitmarket to get some cash at the ATM, and then we had a pint in the pub next to The City Halls.

It was all very calm, relaxed and most civilised. We made it back to our seats just before the light dimmed.

Out came Tommy Emmanuel wearing a beat-up acoustic. He plugged it into his amp and went immediately into a high-speed tune. He meant business. This was completely different from gentle Andy McKee — this was more energetic, brasher, louder, and looser.

Tommy Emmanuel is famed for being entertaining. He moves about, talks a lot, interacts when he can, and he is more of a busker and risk-taker than Mckee. What sets him aside from busking or background muzak is his skills level, and his compositions. I adore his tune called Mombasa — and it didn’t disappoint live.

He must have played 17 or 18 tunes, varying from a minute and a half to long-winded items like Classical Gas, a Beatles’ Medley, and the overly long pseudo-aborigine effects-filled noisy affair at the end. Those aside it was a blinder of a gig.

From a musician’s point of view, neither are close to my native style, so it is fun to watch and appreciate much in the same way that one can watch and appreciate a good trumpeter, for example.

I don’t play drums (although Ruth does), so I appreciated most Emmanuel’s percussive stuff — where he slaps and knocks the guitar — and even uses a brush drumstick. I always admire most that which I cannot myself do.

They were not intimidating as guitarists — and while may people including myself may have the ability to play Mckee and Emmanuel, we would be at a complete loss trying to compose in those styles with those techniques. I suppose that’s the key difference — and something that is all-too-often forgotten; there is a huge chasm between playing and composing, between learning a technique and creating or inventively using the technique.

It was an utterly brilliant night out, but if there had to be a downside, if there has to be a balance of at least a minute, small, tiny, eensie-weensy gripe (and it may say more about me than anything else) it would be about Tommy Emmanuel’s attitude or approach, and it’s awfully difficult to explain, but here I will try.

Emmanuel makes a point of saying that he cannot read or write music in any way — that he just plays around on the instrument to compose and to remember his compositions — as if that is in some way unusual.

To my mind, composers have always come up with tunes on the instrument. They might orchestrate or develop the music on paper, in a recording studio or on a computer, and they might seek ways to record in some way it for posterity — I fail to see what Tommy Emmanuel thinks he’s doing differently.

So I wondered why he brought it up — was he boasting in a strange way, or apologetic in another way? Hmm.

He had just finished telling us that his father always reminded him to entertain, to give his all, and to respect the audience, when a chap shouted out to ask him to occasionally turn to his left so that a section of the audience could see his left hand fingering. Tommy sneered and stated that it would not do the chap any good — and later he made a joke of showing off his fast fingering to that side of the room. So I do not think he was being apologetic for being unable to read or write music — I think he was boasting; he clearly thinks a lot of himself and his ability, it just seemed a bit arrogant, so all I can say is that all this lowered Tommy Emmanuel a wee bit in my estimation, which is a shame really.

A guitar player should just let the guitar do the boasting in my opinion.

On the other hand, he later asked Andy McKee to do a number on his own, which he did using a mad “Harp Guitar”. Then Tommy played a duet with him — and they played one of Andy Mckee’s own compositions, so this helped lift my freshly lowered estimation of Emmanuel again — with my thinking that maybe he’s not so bad after all!

As I said, it’s a tiny thing and no big deal really — possibly my misinterpretation (although Ruth picked up on it as well). I only bring it up here because it has been a long-standing annoyance to have non-musicians talk about music as though it was a competitive sport — who’s the BEST guitarist, is he BETTER or worse than someone else. I mean, how can someone compare Steve Vai with Preston Reed, for example? Who is better when the styles are so different? Segovia versus Joe Pass? It just doesn’t make sense — just as it just doesn’t make sense for a musician to have an attitude. I guess that sometimes it can just be the difference between confidence and arrogance.

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Comments»

1. René Mongrain - 2008/05/02

I just came back from seeing Emmanuel tonight in Montreal. I like your report. McKay is also someone I respect dearly.

Allow me, as a fellow musician, to answer you query:

“To my mind, composers have always come up with tunes on the instrument. They might orchestrate or develop the music on paper, in a recording studio or on a computer, and they might seek ways to record in some way it for posterity — I fail to see what Tommy Emmanuel thinks he’s doing differently.

So I wondered why he brought it up — was he boasting in a strange way, or apologetic in another way? Hmm.”

Having been a player in numerous projects over the past 20 years, and never having written on charts music myself (or reading it for that matter), I know exactly where Tommy is coming from:

Non-reading/writing composers have a bad rep in the musical world, especially when it comes to session musicians. They are often viewed as hacks, as sub par musicians. Many, although not all, musicians that use charts as a primal tool in music creation view themselves as one step above non readers. I am sure Tommy has been a victim of this (to what degree, I do not know), and what he means is this: there is no “right way” to do music, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise; no matter how you achieve your music, as long as it is achieved, you’ve done it.

I would have hoped you would have caught on this, seeing as you’re possibly quite an accomplished musician yourself.

I hope my input as been useful to you, and pardon my somewhat sarcastic tone near the end, although I can tell from your report that you are no stranger to sarcasm yourself! ;-)

2. Tommy Emmanuel Fan - 2008/05/08

@René Mongrain
Hey, I cannot find the query you attempt to answer, nor can I find any sarcasm either! Chill Guy! There is a suggestion of some involvement in music-making, but you confuse composers with session players, you said…
“Non-reading/writing COMPOSERS have a bad rep in the musical world, especially when it comes to SESSION MUSICIANS.”

Session musicians play, but composers compose! And Tommy composes by ear on his instrument just like almost everybody else.

Tommy has NEVER been victimized for being unable to read and write music! And as far as I know he has never worked as a session musician.

Many times I have heard Tommy sneer at people who slavishly want to copy his playing EXACTLY, because even Tommy does not play his own stuff the same every time. He believes that it is the WRONG approach to music entirely. In many interviews he says you cannot get your individual “voice” or express yourself freely and honestly if you are trying to copy exactly using tab or sheet music scores.

Sight reading is alright for session musicians, especially when working in an orchestra, but should otherwise be avoided. Tommy says that you will NEVER be a new Tommy Emmanuel using any form of notation.

One final thing René…. if someone was as you say “victimized” for not being able to read music or tab charts, what is stopping them learning to read and write? There are lots of teachers in yellow pages, and free lessons from the net or even get a book or video from a shop, a friend or public library. You can even go to college. It is easy and can be free, so if you wanted to be a session musician as a career, it makes sense to learn the tools of the trade!!!

3. Rob White - 2008/12/01

I absolutely positively agree with Rene’ Mongrain. Musicians who do not read or write music are definitely looked down upon by most of those who do. Probably most do not later educate themselves to this craft as they discover that they are more creative and intuitive without a piece of music sitting in front of them restraining their feel for the instrument. Add to this the fact that most non-music reading/writing accomplished musicians are proud that they have reached their level completely on their own. As far as Tommy Emmanuel…I could not carry his thumb pick, however, I feel that he probably is very very proud of the fact that he got to his realized talent today without the help of the conventionally accepted wisdom that most music theorists and teachers exude. His came from listening to recordings over and over and over and over again. Developing an ear for what he played and heard, then going through the “school of hard knocks” which is to say learning completely on his own through repetitive exhausting hours of practice without the benefit of an educator examining his every technique and judging with a raised eyebrow the creative style he was developing. It would be wonderful to sit down and read a chart and play it note for note. But the true gift is to be able to hear it, play it and interpret it from within. Most musicians that do not read or write music could (given dedicated study) learn this worthy craft. However, I have unfortunately been around many technically effective musicians that are completely lost without a piece of paper sitting in front of them.
Now to be fair, there probably is a fair amount of pride in both schools of thought. Many intertwine the two. But for those that have reached their pinnacle being viewed as nothing more than a “waterboy” throughout their journey by the first string team (educated musicians) but became accomplished in spite of this like Tommy Emmanuel, well that is a hero and role model in the making. I absolutely admire the learned musician with his understanding of theory and great ability to read and write beautiful and moving pieces. But, there is another way. Tommy Emmanuel is a shining example of this. We are proud of him. He is one of us!

4. Micah - 2009/08/31

Just ran across this discussion… I’m one of Tommy’s publicists.

Tommy uses the title C.G.P. after his name ever since Chet Atkins officially dubbed him a “Certified Guitar Player.” I could be wrong, but I think some of Chet’s rationale in coming up with such a thing was to create a similar prestige to having degrees after one’s name. Whether or not one had been to school, they had proven themselves in Chet’s eyes. The two men were very close and Tommy’s education was far from traditional, so I know he prized Chet’s opinion. This is not to say that he isn’t trained, as you will hear if you ever watch one of his instructional videos. He teaches the tools of the trade.

Tommy’s a man, not a god. He falls down. He makes terrible jokes. He’s unusually gifted in one area and he knows it. It would be hard not to. However, he is also a perfectionist and I would venture a guess that his awareness of his own shortcomings as well is what makes him so voraciously intent to overcome them.

To clarify for someone above, Tommy did quite a bit of session work in Australia and still does some for fun in the US. Check out his “True Stories” feature on Youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cn2F3E-ZiEE

cheers from Nashville,

Daddy Dave - 2009/09/01

I am always amazed at the good ol’ internet; and I really appreciate the time some people take to voice their opinions here, I really do.

If you look at lots of stuff on YouTube, you see idiotic comments about guitarists — especially when it comes to who’s best. I just don’t think it works that way, nor that there is anything ever to be gained by all that.

It’s all just a bit old for me; for decades I have grimaced while someone who cannot read notation whines about those who can, saying that they think they are superior. Chip on their shoulder or what?

I have set my jaw against those who cannot read notation and who feel superior to those poor sods who need to have scribbles in front of them to function.

I am well fed up hearing guitarists who use notation to learn tunes lording it over those lazy slobs who take ages to learn parts.

Mind you, I cannot ever recall hearing anyone wishing that they could not use notation.

And quite frankly, I have never met a guitarist who doesn’t know the rudiments — the chord names, chord shapes, inversions, basic transcribing (even if it is adding a capo), and maybe even scales.

At the end of the day, it is just about getting to the same end point by whatever route best suits you — write the lyrics and add the chord name above is a great way to learn a song — you are playing by ear, but noting it down.

Similarly, tab is superb for learning techniques — lead solos to finger picking tunes. Old-fashioned music notation is a bad fit for technique-filled guitar wizardry, but it is the base standard for all instruments, so it’s pretty handy.

Sorry to all those who commented here, but as far as I am concerned, I think all those arguments just do not make any sense. Even CGP seems somewhat silly to me; I really wish he didn’t do stuff like that! LOL, it’s only music — and only geetar at that — almost everyone in the universe plays the damn thing these days anyway. Chill.

5. Hawley Good Time « devine - 2009/10/13

[…] was just like the Andy McKee/ Tommy Emmanuel gig at City Hall — we strolled along to a nearby pub for a relaxing pint, grabbed something to eat, and […]


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