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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Living in London UK: the guitarists who came and went - but where have the ones born there gone?

Here is a blog which I first wrote as an article for the London July magazine in 2005. I hope you like it.

The scene is the Bag of Nails Club, near Carnaby Street, London, 1966. Jimi Hendrix is playing his first London engagement in a small basement club. In the audience there is a glittering array of musical talent which includes Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, all of the Beatles and some of the Rolling Stones.

Francesco Corbetta, described in his time as the only man who could make anything of the guitar - image from Manuale di storia della chitarra, Mario dell'Ara

But Jimi wasn't the first guitarist to come to live in London and take it by storm. The first was Francesco Corbetta, who was employed at the court of Charles II in Whitehall, after his restoration in 1660. Count Grammont relates in his memoirs:

" There was a certain Italian at court, famous for the guitar; he had a genius for music, and he was the only man who could make any thing of the guitar. The king's relish for his compositions had brought the instrument so much into vogue, that every person played upon it, well or ill”.

The guitar was all the rage, and everyone at the Royal Court wanted to play like Francesco, just like in a later generation, everyone in London wanted to play like Jimi.

Fernando Sor, darling of the London guitar salons 1815.Image by courtesy of Tecla Editions, publishers of the complete works of Fernando Sor

After the Italian Corbetta, the next guitarist to cause a big impression was a Spaniard. In 1815 Fernando Sor arrived in London, where he composed and published some of his finest works, including the Variations on a theme from Mozart's The Magic Flute Op. 9. He liked London enough to stay 8 years, and London liked him too, appointing him an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music.

Not all guitarists liked the capital. Francisco Tárrega hated it. He didn't like the climate, nor the fog, and missed his home and family in sunny Valencia, Spain - and that was only after a few days! To console himself he improvised a poignant melody on the guitar. From that improvisation emerged his prelude Lagrima - a beautiful souvenir.

Julian Bream, born in London, moved out as a young man - photo courtesy of Nick White, Classical Guitar Magazine

24 years after the death of Tárrega one of the greatest guitarists of all time was born in Battersea in 1933. London can claim him as one of its' own: his name is Julian Bream. He grew up in the city and studied the cello at the Royal College of Music. Another artist who studied there was John Williams. He was born in Australia but came to London as a child with his family, and has lived there ever since.

John Williams, born in Australia, has lived in London since childhood

There are some players who were lucky enough to be born in London. Apart from Julian Bream they include Nigel North, Liona Boyd, Julian Byzantine, Gordon Crosskey and John Mills. For one reason or another, none of them are living there any longer. In London, as any large city, you expect people to come and go. But there remains a puzzle. Are there any guitarists born in London still living there? Try as I might, I can only think of one. He is very close to home, and I know him better than anyone else. There may be others, of course, and forgive me if I have overlooked you.

Carlos in London 2010, photo by Sophie Davidson

The one I am thinking of, of course, is me!

Amended 2011

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Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=192 .
© 2017.

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