Towards the end of 1979 I was becoming more and more drawn to music. My brothers were both a little older than me and they were enthralled by a new sound that was hitting the charts: it was loud and proud and its name was heavy metal. Bands like AC/DC, Saxon, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath swirled around our house and, being from the sticks in Cumbria, it seemed to provide a window to another world, one of passion, excitement and energy. Naturally, the younger sibling often falls under the spell of the elder and very soon my Friday nights were spent holed up in my brothers bedroom desperately trying to stay awake for the full three hour duration of the legendary Friday Rock Show. It was here that I discovered a movement called the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and furthered my listening to include such bands as Rainbow, Scorpions and MSG. By the end of 1981 I had only one thing on my mind: I wanted to be a guitarist and so for Xmas I received a junior size classical and I began playing Smoke on the Water and whatever I could work out. Due to my age (I was as only 10 at the time) and going to some boring classical lessons (I wanted to rock!) I slowly started to lose my way and upon going to secondary school, I would temporarily leave the world of guitar and was sucked into other fleeting interests, of which BMX was a pretty big obsession.
I still checked out the odd album my brothers bought but it wasn't until 1985 that the turning point came. A few months earlier a good friend had taken me to see a band at his local school. I can't remember the name of them now or if they were any good but I remember enjoying the night and the thrill of the 'live' performance. My mate had also recently built his own guitar and I found to my surprise, I hadn't played for around two years, that my fingers remembered the dozen or so chords I had learnt and 'that' legendary Deep Purple riff. The scene was set and all it needed was a trigger, something that would unlock my unconscious mind and release my need to make music and it was ironically the very thing I had strayed into upon abandoning my guitar dreams: BMX
One of the top bmxers at the time was Skyways Craig Campbell and I was watching a programme on children's ITV of him doing some aerial stunts. The thing was the stunts were great but they weren't anywhere nearly as good as the soundtrack accompanying his performance. The riff was divine, the sound beyond anything I had heard and the delivery simply stunning. I asked my middle brother who it was and he said it was Unchained by Van Halen. I had heard it before! A friend of ours used to bring his latest purchases around and we would listen to them in my older brothers bedroom and pass critical muster over them. The album, Fair Warning, didn't really do it for me when slapped on the turn table but now it was making total sense. This was quite simply the finest guitar playing I had ever heard and I had to have it in my hands and in my life. That weekend I ventured into my local town, Lancaster, to Ere Ere records and found a copy for the princely sum of £3.25 (that's around 9 pounds in today's money). The record is still one of my top ten albums of all time and shortly after its purchase all the other Halen back catalogue was procured.
One thing was clear: Now I had once again discovered the joys of rock I needed another guitar. Help was at hand. I had lent my old classical to my cousin and she still had it so on my 14th birthday I got the old warhorse back and restrung it with some steel strings (which made it incredibly hard to play) and I was all set once again and this time there would be no quitting. And that's the first lesson of guitar: No matter how hard it gets or how tough it feels, hang in there, good things come to those who wait. Rome wasn't built in a day and patience and discipline is required for those who want to conquer this challenging instrument.
Progress was initially slow but after about a year I had learnt a lot of the basics. Once this preliminary hurdle was overcome I progressed at a more rapid rate and I could play a variety of songs and solos. Regular jamming sessions with my friend helped as we pushed each other along and we shared new insights on a week to week basis. After completing my O levels I had the whole summer free and my practice grew experientially as I strived to better my playing. As I went back to Sixth Form one thing was instantly clear: I didn't belong there and music was now my main focus. I made sure I practiced 2 hours a night through the week and twice as much on the weekend and in the meantime I looked for a music course that would satisfy my needs. Eventually I found one at Newcastle College and on September 18th 1988 I ventured up to the 'Toon' in order to commence my studies in Popular Music. Although the course was a bit poorly conceived it gave me one valuable thing: time to practice and I would regularly achieve 20 to 25 hours a week on top of my studies and rehearsals for college projects. In the first weeks of the course I met a fellow guitarist of the same ilk and we hatched plans to form our own group. By the end of the first year the genesis of my first band XLR8R was born and I was also making regular forays into the realms of song writing. It's strange to think now but I have over 200 songs that I have composed or helped to compose since then. Back then it was all about testing the water and finding what worked. It's one thing to be a guitarist but is another thing to write songs and to be a well rounded musician. All these elements take time, patience and dedication and to succeed at some level of music we must conquer some or all of these divisions.
By the end of my final year XLR8R had found a full line up and we were starting to gig regularly around the Newcastle area. In late 1990 we made our first trip into the recording studio. Once again I found myself learning new things. We were messing around, taking too long over things (remember time is money when you are recording) and there was a general lack of focus so now there are three rules I apply before undertaking any recording project: Preparation, preparation and you guessed it... preparation! Always be ready before any recording. Recordings last a life time so you want to be happy with the results. The demo started to get a good buzz around town (in spite of being a bit rubbish!) and we were packing out everywhere we played. We started to get national coverage and we were tipped to possibly go all the way. We recorded two more demos (one received demo of the month in Kerrang magazine), a session for my beloved Friday Rock Show and in the end we made our own album, which got 5 stars in Guitarist Magazine as well as a feature in Total Guitar but we still couldn't get the break we wanted and after over 100 gigs XLR8R called it a day.
Prior to this time I had started teaching guitar on a regular basis, as well as running music workshops, rock schools and playing in the pit for a some theatre musicals, and I found I had a natural affinity for it. With each guitar lesson I gained new insight and I started to build my lesson plans and teaching repertoire. I also formed a new band called Arch Stanton and I shared lead vocals with another band member. I had started doing backup vocals in XLR8R and I decided it was time to have a go at singing lead myself. Stanton only lasted a few years but I wrote many songs in this time and improved my song craft. Fast forward to 2015 and we managed to release our demos plus three brand new tracks as a download only album called The Stanton Files so it was great to get that period of my life out to public. In this period I also found my guitar playing came on in leaps and bounds: without the pressure of being the sole guitarist in the band I was able to develop my playing away from the spotlight and I made strides technically that had somehow been blocked before. You are never too old to learn and although in my late 20's I was, to all intents and purposes, playing better than ever.
With this new found positivity and the demise of Arch Stanton in sight, I started to write some instrumental songs. I demoed four at a friend's studio. I had practiced them over and over and when it came time to lay them down I was ready and without doubt my best playing ever was committed to tape. The recording quality wasn't great but I sent it to Guitarist and I was given a great review. This spurred me on and I wrote enough instrumentals for a whole album. These were recorded and then shopped around several labels and in the end Lion Music came in for them and my first album was born. 17 years after Van Halen inspired me to pick up the guitar again the album Plectrumhead was released and that's the second lesson of guitar: Persistence!
Around this time I decided to up my guitar teaching activities and I took my guitar grades 1 - 8 with the Registry of Guitar Tutors. I was also properly vetted by them and I have been a member since 2002. Incidentally, as a songwriter I am also a member of the MCPS and the PRS and the Musicians Union. With the release of the album, and my more intensive teaching activities, I began to attract more pupils and I also started to enter them for the RGT graded exams. This has been one of the most successful areas of my guitar teaching practice and I have a 100% pass rate on all exams entered. On top of this I started taking my guitar tuition into schools and I now teach at three schools in the Newcastle area. Also, in August 2009, I was invited to provide guitar tuition on the IGF (International Guitar Foundation) Summer Rock School at the Sage Gateshead. This was a fantastic experience and one I look forward to repeating in the near future.
Shortly after the release of Plectrumhead I was asked to do a track for a tribute to Jimi Hendrix album called The Spirit Lives On - The Music Of Jimi Hendrx Revistited/Volume 1. I chose to do Foxy Lady and if I'm honest I fairly butchered it! Sorry Jimi. However, I did manage to turn in a couple of cracking solos and I thought I just about held my own with some of the other players on the album such as Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal (now with Guns and Roses), Greg Howe (a one time guitarist for Michael Jackson and a legendary instrumentalist), Chris Poland (formerly of thrash legends Megadeth) and Richie Kotzen (who had stints in Poison and Mr Big and is now with The Winery Dogs). The problem was the production was too bombastic and I should have got someone in to sing the lead vocals as my voice simply wasn't suitable. It was a fun experience though and as the saying goes - you live and learn!
During the recording of my second album, Moonfudge, I realized that the instrumental format was very limiting.Plectrumhead had been well received and sold quite well and Moonfudge, would do the same but it was clear that I needed to reach a wider audience so I started to write vocal material with a view to singing it myself. This was a fresh challenge as it had been 5 years since I had sung in Arch Stanton and my pipes were very rusty. Another factor was that heavy metal is sung in a higher register than pop/rock so I needed to get stuck in and practice every day. I recruited some band members and we set to work on crafting the songs into shape that I had written and in the summer of 2006 we ventured into the studio to lay the tracks down. I took the producers role for the duration of recording as I've found that I've always been able to get good performances out of my fellow musicians. The key is to being positive and making sure that all criticism is constructive. This also works when teaching guitar.
The album would be released the following year and we elected to call the band Vendetta. Our debut album Tyranny of Minority is the best selling album I have ever been involved in and the band continues to go from strength to strength. Sometimes it is very hard to balance the demands of teaching and the band but I love the challenge and creating new and original music is very invigorating. In early 2009 we recorded the follow up to Tyranny of Minority and the sessions went very well. We also shot three videos for it and a host of other promotional material. Heretic Nation came out in November 2009 and was very well received. We were played on Bruce Dickinson's Rock Show on BBC Radio 6 and we virtually sold out our local venue the 02 Academy. March 23rd 2012 saw the release of our third album World Under Fire and once again it was very well recieved in the Metal community.
Another area of music I have been involved in is journalism as I have been a key contributor to the online guitar magazine All Out Guitar since 2006. This has involved writing instructional columns and album reviews as well as overseeing the worldwide competition Guitar Idol. In 2008 I was one of the judges for the live final at The London International Music Show and in 2011 at the Lick Library Live Show in Islington. I have also played at several guitar shows including the London Guitar Show and the All Out Guitar Festival, where it was great to share the same stage with such luminaries as Guthrie Govan, Andy James, Phil Hilbourne and GOTY winners Simon Lees, Chris George and Chris Francis. All this instrumental guitar judging gave me the motivation I needed to dust off my first two albums and try to improve on them. After several days of careful doctoring in the studio I finished my compilation album Motion Control. I believe these are now the definitive versions of my instrumental compositions and I was glad to be able correct several nagging errors that had been bugging me for years. A song is never finished, only abandoned.
Sadly, in early 2014, we decided to disband Vendetta due to the increasingly complex work patterns of each member. It's incredibly hard to create fresh music when you can't get together in a room with your fellow band members. Bands, like guitar, require practice and commitment and if this cant be nurtured then it can only lead one way. Now I play in a three piece covers band called Ministry of Rock. We do all the old school Metal classics and I love it.
So that's my career so far. Guitar teaching and playing guitar is my passion and I want to communicate that to you, the customer and pupil. So feel free to drop me a line and book in for a guitar lesson as I'm sure there is something I can help you with and I'm sure you can teach me a thing or too because like I said, you're never too old to learn!