General > John Carnie Interview - December 2009
John Carnie Interview - December 2009
Interview from the Stonehaven Guide Magazine
John Carnie has long been involved in the music scene in North east Scotland - both traditional and blues. Leaving Edinburgh in 1985 to move to Aberdeen, he found himself playing in two well loved groups - Off the Tracks and Desperate Danz Band – both very popular in Stonehaven. These allowed him to draw on his love of playing traditional tunes on the guitar and he recently released a CD of traditional Scottish tunes on the guitar which has been getting good critical reviews.
GMG: Congratulations on your recent CD ‘Far From Home’ There is some excellent guitar playing on the album. How long have you been playing guitar?
JC: Thanks very much – Since my early teens. I had, or still have, an old classical guitar and got some Spanish Guitar lessons at School.
GMG: How did you get started?
JC: Hearing music on the radio and I got into blues pretty early on. I was lucky to go to a Rory Gallagher concert when I was 12. I was only allowed to go because it was a Sunday afternoon 4pm show as the evening show in Edinburgh had sold out! His acoustic playing also struck me as well as the electric stuff.
GMG:When and where did you first play in public?
JC: At school – I put a hastily arranged band together at an afternoon’s notice for a school talent show. We came last – but the next year we won it! Blues rock.
GMG: Who has been your biggest influence in music?
JC: A number of guitarists in particular. Django Reindhardt – the gypsy jazz player. I tend to have favourite players and follow them. I have seen Richard Thompson and Nils Lofgren many many times over the years. Runrig also. I saw Rory Gallagher many times. I’ve also caught Bob Dylan about a dozen times since he first played in Aberdeen in 2000. I listen to a lot of Irish fiddle music and jazz and also jazzy bluegrass guitarists like Tony Rice. Dick Gaughan for flatpicking also. Over the past decade, Dylan would have to the biggest influence. Such an enduring and relevant presence over all forms of rock, blues and folk music over the past 45 years.
GMG: You have played regularly at Stonehaven Folk Club which has been running for over 21 years now. In fact I believe you played at the very first Club night in 1987. Is that right?
JC: There is a funny story surrounding that. When the club first started it was in a wine bar in the town centre and it was with Off The Tracks – with Janice Clark on vocals and Spider Mackenzie on blues harmonica. We did acoustic blues and also some folk stuff but we could all rock out when we wanted to. We were not that loud that first night – although Spider had finished the first set off by jumping up on top of the bar playing his harmonica at full volume through his 100 watt Fender twin reverb amp and then running outside into the street for another solo for good measure as he had a radio mic at the time! In the event the some neighbours phoned the police about the noise. The next thing we knew was that the police arrived at the folk club in the middle of the second set just as Janice had started a 15 verse unaccompanied version of an old bothy ballad from Peterhead. She sang it beautifully and you could have heard a pin drop. Everyone saw the police come in and the officers had to wait around patiently for the 15 verses to end – and I think that if I remember correctly Janice also added an extra couple of long verses at the end. Once the song had finished and the applause died away - the police asked organisers of the club gingerly if they had had a disco or any loud music that night as they had had complaint about noise ? The whole audience burst out laughing ! The two officers were soon dispatched with the firm belief that there would never be any music louder than a bothy ballad ever played at the folk club and warned not to disturb the club ever again!
GMG: And you played on the 21st Anniversary night last year with Spider and Janice?
JC: Yes ,March 2008- 21 years on – It was a great night and not just because the police didn’t come along!
GMG: What has been the best live gig you have ever played
JC: The Stonehaven shows have always been good- both with Off the Tracks and Desperate Danz Band. A recent great gig was earlier this year playing at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. It was the annual UK Rory Gallagher tribute concert and Dave Moir and myself were playing the acoustic spot. We played Rory Gallagher’s jig which is a pipe tune off the CD and which was written by Gordon Duncan. It would be the first time a Scottish bagpipe tune was ever played in the Cavern! The crowd went wild!
GMG: Many of the tunes on your CD would normally be played on a fiddle but the flat picking guitar is very effective. I believe that you are the first person ever to produce a CD featuring Scottish tunes flatpicked on an acoustic guitar. What gave you the idea?
JC: I've absorbed a lot of influences over the years and even taken up the fiddle to give a deeper understanding of fiddle tunes. Many great guitarists have been flatpicking jigs and reels for years and I wanted this one to have an entirely Scottish feel to it. The tunes come from the treasure trove of reels, pipe tunes and harp tunes that form the backbone of the Scottish musical heritage.
The CD features 12 tracks and 29 individual tunes of Scottish traditional music played in the flatpicking style on the guitar and hopefully showcases just what a powerful instrument it can be when playing jigs, reels and slow airs. It has had some very good reviews and good radio coverage. The Iain Anderson Show on BBC Radio Scotland has played around a dozen tracks alone.
GMG:Did you have to do additional finger exercises to cope with that speed of playing.
JC: No, not really. There are a lot faster guitarists around. Practising slowly and building up speed and watching the fingering is important.
GMG: How did you arrive at the title ‘Far From Home’
JC: Far from Home is a popular reel originating form Shetland. Some claim it to be Irish or even American and that's what is great about traditional music - it moves around and evolves. In particular this tune could be found comfortably at home in an American bluegrass session or in a small pub on the west coast of Ireland as well as throughout Scotland, England and Shetland. It highlights the common feel for the repertoire and the fact that much traditional music has travelled far and wide over the years. The sea also connects the music and having close family connections with fishing and the sea on my father’s side from Newhaven and on my Mother’s side from Leith and Shetland, I thought that Far from Home would be an ideal title for the CD.
GMG: Where was it recorded?
JC: It was recorded at Castlesound studios near Edinburgh. I had heard a lot of stuff that they had done – Runrig, Tony McManus , Martin Taylor- and it has a really nice warm sound. I brought in a double bass player – Brian Shiels who has recorded with Martin Taylor and is a real jazz player. It gives the album a bit of a sophisticated feel! Dave Moir plays some guitar and Spider Mackenzie adds some blues harmonica bits. So it is not all straight trad stuff. It rocks out!
GMG: With Christmas fast approaching, I would have thought your CD would be of interest to the many Scots abroad. The Stonehaven Guide website gets a lot of visitors from all over the world so what is the best way for them to buy your CD.
JC: Through my website and there are a number of good on line sites including Stonehaven’s own Celtic Chords.
GMG: Do you have any live shows planned in the near future as that is usually a good way to promote your CD
JC: We have just finished a short tour with Dave Moir on guitar.
GMG: Do you have any plans to produce another one in the near future?
JC: I am concentrating on some live shows just now .
GMG: What about teaching. Do you have any plans for guitar courses for flatpicking acoustic guitar?
JC: I have taught flatpicking at the SC&T classes in Aberdeen. I am in the process of producing a book on playing Scottish traditional tunes on the acoustic guitar. It will have an emphasis on flatpicking the tunes in standard tuning. It should be of interest to all guitarists who would like to develop a good technique for playing traditional tunes on the guitar - be they Scottish or Irish tunes.
GMG: You seem to have concentrated fully on guitar playing. You do a bit of singing as well?
JC: Well the album is all instrumental, but I have always sung and the singing has definitely got stronger over the years. I have stretched out from blues – which I have always sung to more traditional and folk songs.
GMG: Are you likely to be performing in Stonehaven soon?
JC: We are hoping to play in 2010.
GMG: John, I would like to thank you for your time and for the fascinating insight into your guitar playing and I hope many young people just starting to learn guitar will get some inspiration from your success. Do you have any advice for a complete beginner wanting to learn flatpicking guitar?
JC: Rhythm playing is very important. In Scottish and Irish traditional music circles, the guitar is usually found as rhythm accompaniment to the tunes. There is no long history of it in the tradition and there are even some folk purists who say the guitar has no place in the music! Don’t be put off however – many top guitarist have been playing flatpicking jigs and reels on the guitar for many years now around the world – listen to them – Tony Rice, Dick Gaughan, Tony McManus, Norman Blake. Also listen to jazz and particularly the Django type players. Fiddle players also love to hear a guitarist playing their tunes! There is a wealth of material out there. Not all fiddle tunes are suitable – pick the ones you enjoy. Stick in. With the acoustic guitar there is no ‘faking it’ and it is a great instrument to play traditional tunes on!
GMG: Many thanks again and the best of luck with your CD ‘Far From Home’
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