How long have you been playing?

I began playing bass guitar in December 1980, the week after John Lennon died. That first bass was a second-hand Kimbara Jazz copy that I used through an awful 50 watt Synchron amp, but we all thought it was great at the time.
I then bought my first six-string guitar (a Fender F3 acoustic, which I still have) in September 1982.


Who was your teacher?

When I bought my first electric six-string guitar (a Gibson SG) in 1983, the sale included two free half-hour lessons. After these two lessons, which I didn't really enjoy, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by musicians of various standards whom I could learn from and ask questions, so, the circumstances meant that I didn’t get round to having any more lessons.
Consequently and very luckily, I have never had to pay for a lesson in my life.

I also spent many hours studying various players on records and on video, enabling me to copy their hand positions and techniques.

My knowledge of musical theory comes from studying what I could do and investigating why it worked, sort of reverse learning really. It would have been much quicker and easier to learn the theoretical side as I went along.


Yes, to Anna and I have a daughter, Harriet.


Not really, maybe a family full of music lovers, but not musicians.

My Dad used to play a bit of piano and harmonica, but not to any level and his singing was dreadful.
My Mum plays nothing at all, but she never stops singing.
My eldest brother Dave is mainly a big opera and classical music fan, but it’s also from him that I get my love of the great vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald. Despite his love of music he plays no instruments, but like our Mum, he never stops singing.
My second brother Pete used to be into his music and attended the original Isle of Wight festival, back in 1970 (Free, Hendrix, The Who, The Doors etc). Nowadays he doesn’t have the time to take much notice of music and never did play an instrument.
The youngest of my brothers, Chris, played piano as a kid, but hasn’t played for years. He is, however, involved in the theatre and has worked back stage on ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, in Her Majesty’s Theatre, The Haymarket, London since the early 1990s, covering a variety of posts including stage sound.

The most direct musical influence in my family comes from my Auntie June and my late Uncle Jim. Jim played guitar and penny whistle and as a kid I spent many hours with him, arguing about the rights and wrongs of modern music, but also learning a great deal from him during my early stages.
Another of my uncles, Ken, used to play piano accordion and now plays an electric keyboard, but we’ve never had the opportunity to spend any time together musically.

At home nowadays, my wife Anna doesn’t play anything, though we listen to music almost constantly and attend a lot of gigs/concerts.
My daughter Harriet used to play bits and pieces on the keyboard, but didn’t take it seriously, though she was a keen singer. As a child, she sang solo numbers in various small shows and also in The Congress Theatre, Cwmbran, in The Dolman Theatre, Newport and in talent competitions as a trio with two of her school friends (with whom she won the junior music category of the 2002 St. Julian’s School ‘Wannabe’ talent competition singing Feeder’s ‘High’).

I went to Durham Road Infant and Junior Schools, then to St. Julian’s Comprehensive School, which seems to have supplied a huge list of local musicians. Before, during and after my time there, there seems to have been a greater number of quality musicians emerging from St. Julian’s than any other school.

To name just a few that I know of – Hywel Maggs, Mark 'Jonah' Jones, Richard Parfitt, Jeff Rose, Julian Smith, Mike Doherty, Nick Stead, Chris McDonagh, Paul Bale, Tim Chapman, Peter Gough, Mike Cole, Richi Glover, Jon Lee, Simon Gibbs, Paul McCarthy, Mark Goddard, Tim Jones, Toby Evans, etc. etc.

I have 10 GCE ‘O’ Levels, none of which are in music. Musically I have no qualifications at all.

This constantly leads people to ask me the question “How can you teach music if you have no musical qualifications yourself?”

Well, the way I teach is not geared towards making people pass exams, but towards making people understand how music works in a practical sense.
Even though I don’t have pieces of paper to tell you so, I understand music very well and to an un-trained musician, my teaching method makes musical theory much easier to understand than it seems to be when learning through the ‘conventional’ system.
If it is possible for me to simplify a subject by using the already familiar language of English rather than the daunting new language of music I will do so.

Also, I do not teach to any set syllabus, as I believe that every individual has their own way of understanding and their own requirements. Therefore, I make decisions on a lesson by lesson basis as to what I think should come next in each pupil’s development, depending on the feedback I get from that pupil and the order I feel they are ready to tackle new subjects.

Somebody may have many musical qualifications, but this does not necessarily make them a good teacher.
Whilst music can of course be studied as an academic subject, teaching people to play the guitar definitely cannot, as every individual is different.
That’s why you can learn musical information to present to people, but you can’t ‘learn’ a set way of how to improve people’s guitar playing by studying how to in school/college.

Teaching guitar, especially in a one-to-one environment, is very much a ‘people skill’ and, in addition to musical knowledge, requires experience, common sense and communication with pupils, none of which can be ‘studied’.
However much you have academically studied the subject of music, if you can’t communicate with pupils in the right way you cannot hope to improve their playing.

Hence the reason that my lack of musical qualifications has not prevented me becoming a teacher, as I try to concentrate on communicating with each pupil in the best way for them to understand and improve.

Yes I can, but no I don’t.

What I mean is I can read music in as much as I understand musical notation, but I don’t read music because my sight-reading is so slow that it is of no benefit to me whatsoever. I do sight-read chord charts, but not notation.

My understanding of music means that I have a head start before I even begin to listen to a piece of music, but I am much quicker with my ears than with my eyes, so the best way for me to learn a piece is to hear it and copy it, not to read it.
Will I ever learn to sight-read notation? I very much doubt it, as the musical route I have taken has never required me to do so and is not likely to in the future.

Not officially, but I tried to help them out in any way I was able.
I have known Dave McCalden for many years, firstly as a pupil of mine, then as an artist I was hired to do some session work with in the studio, through Community Music Wales. Having become friends, we stayed in touch, so I knew about the idea of Transpose long before it opened.

Being a guitar teacher I have always been in contact with young bands who need somewhere to rehearse and a helping hand towards gigging and recording. I had always said that if I won the lottery, I would buy the old art college in Clarence Place and turn it into a centre for local musicians to rehearse, record and generally hang out – basically a large scale Transpose.
Well, I never did win the lottery, so when Dave approached me to see what I thought about the idea of Transpose, I was eager to help the project.
I already had some ideas through my ‘fantasy planning’ and I was happy to pass these on to Dave.

Once Transpose was up and running I didn’t actually have anything to do with them directly (apart from writing the odd piece for their ‘Moist’ magazine), but I used Transpose to rehearse and I recommended them regularly. I thought Dave did a great job and always gave him my full support if ever he asked for it.

It's a real shame that the original Transpose was forced to close.
Sometimes people just don't know how to treat a place - even when it treats them so well!

I have never been involved with any of the projects that have set up at the same site since.

Did you work for Speed Music?

Not directly, but I did guitar tuition for Speed right from when they opened back in 1990.
When you bought a guitar package that included a free guitar lesson from Speed, the lesson was with me.

I also worked in the shop, but only as an extra pair of hands at busy times.

Also, I used to do all their guitar set-ups and maintenance for them.

Once Speed closed their Newport shop in 2007, I did far less tuition for them, but I still taught for them occasionally, as after all the years I had worked with them, Nick Fowler still continued to support me through Speed's Swansea shop and a very flattering link on their web site ( Thanks Nick!

Are you a member of The Musician’s Union?

Yes, of course and I recommend that every other musician should be too.

Who do you think are the best / worst local bands?

I’m very out of touch with the local scene and I hear constant break-up and reform rumours, so I’m not sure who is still around.
This means I’m not really in a position to answer this question at the moment.

My very out of date answer would be that a few years ago I did like The Fuzz Effect (ex Jettison), Gracie and Stormflies most, though they have all split now.
I also enjoyed Guacamole (though they’re not really local) and The Dead City Icons - though I only saw them once each.

I also enjoyed The Henrees and Back Alley Sally.

I would never say who I thought was the worst.

No, it wasn't an ongoing thing, but I was on two occasions.

In 2001 I judged along with Chris Thomas (South Wales Argus) and Dave McCalden (Transpose Music Rooms) and in 2002 I judged with Jeff Rose (guitarist with Skindred and ex Dub War / Blood Brothers) and Russell Edwards (bassist with Novocaine).

Both times it was good fun.

With which aspect of your musical ability are you most confident?

People tend to ask this expecting me to answer my guitar playing, my bass playing or my singing. However, the actual answer is none of these.
I am most confident in my ‘ear’ – meaning my ability to identify things musically, which very often others cannot hear. This enables me to transcribe music when I’m teaching and to arrange music, especially vocals.

I am very much a confidence player, in the sense that to give my best performance I need to feel confident. I have never been the type of player to reproduce the same performance level no matter what the circumstances.
In a situation such as having to use an amp or a guitar that I am unfamiliar with, I can easily lose confidence and under-perform. However, I never lose confidence in my ear.

I have been very lucky to work with many quality musicians and vocalists and consequently I know many people who I consider to be better guitarists, bass players and singers than I am.
However, I have never worked with one person and experienced circumstances to suggest that my ear is inferior.
Therefore it’s bound to follow that this is the ability in which I have the most confidence.

You hear talk about people having a ‘natural gift’ when it comes to music - if I am lucky enough to have such a gift, it’s certainly that I have been blessed with a ‘good ear’.

During rehearsals for the 1972 Durham Road School nativity performance, one of the shepherds was croaking their way through the songs so badly that each was asked to remain silent for a verse in order to identify the culprit.
Once found, the culprit was allowed to carry the cuddly lamb, as long as he promised not to sing. Fantastically creative bribery and I proudly carried the lamb (in silence) for the whole performance.
Looking back to this incident it has always been a huge family joke that I have ended up not only singing myself, but arranging vocal parts for others too.

It started by accident really. Since a very young age I have listened to quality harmony vocal singing (Beatles, Beach Boys, Queen, Abba, MGM musicals), so I was sub-consciously learning about harmonies long before I ever began performing them. Looking back I realise that I used to sing the harmonies rather than the melody when I sang along to a lot of those old songs.

By the time I started performing music, I was always a musician in bands that I felt needed harmony vocals, so I tried to sing them. As time went on I got better and by the time I got together with Apple Pie and had other harmony singers to work with, I was really able to start singing harmony and enjoy it.

I always took a big part in arranging the harmonies for every band I played with, but I was not officially referred to as a ‘vocal arranger’ until 1996.
I was in Clevedon, attending rehearsals for the new That’ll Be The Day production and some of the vocal parts were going astray. As I could hear exactly what was wrong, I spoke to the Director and offered to sing the required parts. When the harmonies worked, rather than asking other cast members to take over, the Director asked me to continue singing them.
This posed a bit of a problem, as I was only attending the rehearsals as a ‘dep’ on behalf of Robin Hames, so any part that I sang, Robin (who had never sung in the show before) would have to sing too. Luckily he agreed, learnt the parts and the show had an extra voice.
As the rehearsals continued, every time the vocal parts struggled, the Director turned to me and asked my advice, so I ended up having a fairly large input into the 1996 production.

It was difficult at first, as I was stepping into the shoes of Paul Da Vinci
(the wonderful voice of The Rubettes’ 1974 #1 single ‘Sugar Baby Love’) as the show’s vocal arranger and at first I encountered a bit of a problem being accepted by certain members of the cast, who found it difficult to accept that a younger newcomer could do the job better than them.
However, as far as the Director was concerned I must have passed the test, as the following year, when the new show was being prepared for 1997, I was invited to vocally arrange the entire production.

This became my first programme credit and hence the first time that my name was nationally circulated as ‘Vocal Arranger’.

I continued to vocally arrange That’ll Be The Day for the 1998, 1999 and 2000 productions.


Were you a friend of Feeder’s Jon Lee?

Yes, Jon was one of my closest friends.

For anyone who is interested there are three links below that take you to further information about Jon.

1- Memories of Jon Lee

2 - My write up about Jon for Transpose Music Rooms’ ‘Moist’ magazine – February 2002

3 - Jon Lee Tribute Evening, TJ’s, Newport, 5th September 2002


Hanging on the wall of my teaching room are eight picture-frames, containing collages of tickets, kept from almost every concert/gig I have ever been to.
These prompt five very common questions:

What was the first gig you ever saw?
What’s the best gig you’ve ever seen?
Which guitarists have you seen live?
Who have you seen live altogether?
Is there anybody you would like to see live and have not?

Who is the best guitarist in the world?

In the words of Eric Clapton;

“The best guitarist in the world … … there’s one in every crowd”.

I couldn’t agree more, as I also believe that there is no such thing and hence this is am impossible question to answer.
The ‘best’ guitarist is presumably the one you like to listen to the most and we all like to listen to different things. Therefore it figures that we can all have completely different opinions on who is ‘the best’.

The question which I can try to answer is “Who is your favourite guitarist?” though even this is very difficult as I enjoy listening to so many.

For me guitarists can be enjoyable to listen to for their rhythm or lead playing, their ability to create melodies, their tone, their ‘nastiness’ etc.
It’s very unusual for me to enjoy listening to a guitarist simply because of their technical ability and speed.

I suppose I may seem unusual to some guitarists in as much as I regard speed and technical ability to be an almost unimportant requirement towards becoming a great guitar player.
Of course a good basic ability is necessary, but in my opinion it is far more important to play the right note, at the right time, with good intonation and a good tone, than it is to whiz around the fret board regurgitating pre-learnt technical exercises, which are often played so fast that you can’t hear the notes properly anyway.

So, my idea of ‘the best’ is certainly not ‘the fastest’.
Speed is potentially one of melody’s greatest enemies and if overused can all but destroy any melodic content a piece of music my have.
You don’t judge a great painting by how many colours have been crammed onto a small canvas, so why should you judge a great guitar solo by how many notes have been crammed into a small space of time?
A great painting is one in which the colours have been sensibly and creatively used, in context, to create something that is pleasing to the eye.
So surely a great guitar solo should be one in which the notes have been sensibly and creatively used, in context, to create something that is pleasing to the ear.
Just as very few colours can be used to great effect, so can very few notes.

This is not to say that I am anti-speed, as you will see as I go on to mention players by name that this is certainly not the case.
Used at the right time I like to hear and admire fast and complicated playing as much as anybody else, as long as it is used in addition to maintaining the other qualities I’ve mentioned and not at their expense.

So, which guitarists do I like?
Well, I like some of the old rock ‘n’ rollers like Chuck Berry and also George Harrison, as well as the more modern rock ‘n’ roll players like Mark Flanagan (Jools Holland’s Rhythm & Blues Orchestra), Darrell Higham (Imelda May Band) and especially Brian Setzer (The Stray Cats).

For bluesy playing I like Gary Moore, Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, Albert Collins, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Healey, Bonnie Raitt and Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top).

For being rockin’ and nasty I love Slash (Guns ‘n’ Roses), Edward Van Halen (Van Halen), Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne Band), Jake E. Lee (Ozzy Osbourne Band), Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme), Billy Duffy (The Cult), Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Angus Young (AC/DC), Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple/Rainbow), Jason Becker (David Lee Roth Band), Jon Greenwood (Radiohead), Justin Hawkins (The Darkness) and Del Marquis (The Scissor Sisters).

For wonderful rhythm playing I like Paul Simon, James Taylor, Eva Cassidey, Jack Johnson, Marc Bolan (T Rex), Nile Rodgers (Chic), Pete Townshend (The Who), Paul Fox (The Ruts), Malcolm Young (AC/DC), Dave Grohl & Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters), Francis Rossi & Rick Parfitt (Status Quo), Kenwyn House (Reef) and Seasick Steve.

For pure right note at the right time creative playing I love David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Dann Huff (Giant / Whitesnake / Shania Twain / Martina McBride etc), Don Felder (Eagles), Brian May (Queen), Captain Sensible (The Damned), Robbie McIntosh (The Pretenders / Paul McCartney Band), Steve Lukather (Toto), Keith Scott (Bryan Adams Band), Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs / Deep Purple), Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi), Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac), Chaz Jankel (Ian Dury & The Blockheads), Satchell (Steel Panther), Albert Lee and of course Larry Carlton.

Also, though in smaller doses, I can/have sometimes enjoy/ed listening to players such as: Alvin Lee (Ten Years After), Paul Barrere (Little Feat), Lowell George (Little Feat), Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter (Steely Dan), Elliot Randall (Steely Dan), Joe Walsh (Eagles), Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits), Scott Gorham (Thin Lizzy), Eric Bell (Thin Lizzy), Eric Schenkman (The Spin Doctors), Davey Johnstone (Elton John Band), Sonny Landreth (John Hiatt Band), Dave Grissom (Joe Ely Band / John Mellencamp Band), Graham Coxon (Blur), Francis Dunnery (It Bites), Chris Hayes (Huey Lewis & The News), Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine / Audioslave), Adam Devlin (The Bluetones), Josh Farro (Paramore), Mark Yates (Terrorvision), Mike Enziger (Incubus), Mark Tremonti (Creed / Alterbridge), John Emsley & Nick Denson (The Glitterati), John 5 (aka John Lowery - Marilyn Manson / David Lee Roth Band), Jeff Beck, Ry Cooder, Robben Ford, Joe Bonamassa, Chet Atkins, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Donahue, Joe Satriani and (very) occasionally even Steve Vai.

Whilst being unfamiliar with most of their recorded work, I have also enjoyed live performances by Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake), Rusty Anderson (Paul McCartney Band), Dave Kelly (The Blues Band), Dan Smith (Noisettes), Mark Chapman (A) and Kyle Cook (Matchbox Twenty).

My favourite of these?

Due to my wide taste in guitar players, it changes day by day for me, depending upon which mood I am in and what I've listened to most recently, but the one who consistently ends up top of my list is David Gilmour.

In terms of pure technical ability, speed, accuracy and astonishing use of a guitar, whilst still maintaining melody, the best I’ve ever seen is Steve Morse.

In terms of being blown away by someone’s live guitar sound, memories that stand out are hearing Brian May with Queen at Live Aid in 1985, David Gilmour with Pink Floyd at Wembley Stadium in 1988, Francis Dunnery with It Bites at The Newport Centre in 1989, Nuno Bettencourt with Extreme at The Newport Centre in 1995, Jon Greenwood with Radiohead at The Brixton Academy in 1997, 'John 5' with Marilyn Manson at the Reading Festival in 2001, Billy Gibbons with ZZ Top at The Hammersmith Apollo in 2002 and Gary Moore just about every time I saw him.

This list is obviously full of famous names, but just to show how widespread I believe fantastic guitarists are - two guitarists based in my home town of Newport, Rob Davies and Hywel Maggs, both of whom I have been lucky enough to play alongside, can in my opinion compete with all of those mentioned, in terms of being brilliant in their own field.
Just think how many others there must be around the world!


Now I’ve stopped laughing I’ll try to answer this one.
No, of course it’s not true. Bass guitar is an entirely different instrument.

Every guitarist can pick up a bass and get a simple tune out of it, whereas bass players can’t do the same in reverse and play simple chords on guitar as they have never had to learn them. So, a lot of guitarists mistakenly assume that the bass is a far easier instrument to play.
However, getting a simple tune out of a bass is very different to playing it properly, like a bass player.

As I was initially a bass player, who moved onto guitar at a later date and have continued to play both I hope I’m in a position to compare the two impartially.

In my opinion, when guitarists who are not experienced bass players pick up a bass, they often tend to play it like a guitarist. What I mean is that the rhythmical side of bass playing is sometimes very different than that of guitar playing and guitarists have a habit of completely missing that difference and often over-playing.

It is one thing playing the bass ‘correctly’, so that all the notes fit - it’s another thing playing it ‘well’, so that all the notes still fit, but also rhythmically accompany the drums in driving the band along.

Being a good guitarist certainly doesn’t automatically make you a good bass player, as when it is played well, the bass guitar is a difficult instrument to play in it’s own right.

Outside music my two main loves are cricket and travel.

I have played club cricket since I was 10 years old, starting my youth cricket at Newport C.C. and keeping wicket for the county (Gwent) at both schools and club youth level from the age of 14 up to 19 (1980-81: seven Under-15 caps; 1983-1985: fifteen Under-19 caps, two as captain).
I began playing senior club cricket for Whiteheads C.C. (for six and a half seasons), eventually captaining 1st XI, then moved on to Croesyceiliog C.C. (ten and a half seasons), where I captained the 2nd XI and to Caerleon C.C. (four seasons), before arriving at Pontymister C.C. where I have played since 2003 (as well as having played one season there in 1996).
I was capped 23 times by the Newport and District Amateur Cricket League (nine as captain) between 1985 and 2000 and I am a qualified youth coach.
These days being busy prevents me from playing much and a bad back and knee have stopped me keeping wicket, but I still bat (badly) and enjoy the games I get chance to hobble around in.

A lot of my travelling has also been governed by my love of cricket, having been to Australia three times and to New Zealand, South Africa, India and the West Indies as a spectator of international cricket.

Aside from the cricket tours, I also like to travel to new countries, areas of natural beauty, archaeological sites, palaeontological sites and music based destinations, taking me (outside Wales and England) to Scotland thirteen times, U.S.A. nine times (mainland eight times, plus The Hawaiian Islands - covering 23 states), Germany seven times (twice to West, once to both West and East and four more times since unification), Italy six times (five to mainland and once to Sicily), Spain six times (three to mainland, plus The Canary Islands twice and Majorca), France six times, Holland three times, Northern Ireland three times, Belgium three times, Canada twice, Mexico twice, Thailand twice, Hong Kong twice, Brazil twice, Slovenia twice and also to Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, The Cook Islands, The Maldives, Japan, South Korea, China, Malaysia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Jersey, Romania, Croatia, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Luxembourg, Austria, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, Portugal, Hungary and The Republic of Ireland.

Nick Brown - Guitar Tuition, Newport, South Wales.