Classical Picking tunes

Picking tunes

They don’t dance, jump around stage or wear funny costumes. They can usually be found alone, perched on a stool in the middle of a small stage, with a guitar in their laps. And when they play, the notes are plucked so delicately, precisely and fast, eliciting a mixture of sounds so unique and diverse that one can hardly believe it’s only a guitar making those sounds.

These are the South African fingerstyle guitarists and several are here at Festival. Steve Newman, Tony Cox, Nibs van der Spuy, Guy Buttery and Gary Thomas have combined a vast amount of influences and styles, including jazz, classical, World music, rock, folk and blue grass flat picking.

These artists are all influenced by one another’s work, and although there are similarities, each sound is unique. “I took elements like improvisation from jazz, picking from classical and strumming from heavy alternative bands,” said Thomas. Indian, African and Spanish musical influences can also be picked up when listening to their work, such as van der Spuy’s use of Maskanda, a type of Zulu folk music.”

When I play in France they have more of an appreciation of what I do. I play in Europe all the time and I get more airplay there. “I think they like it because it sounds different, yet African, yet recognisable because folk is something very recognisable there,” said Van der Spuy.

The artists’ use of unusual instruments and techniques also makes for interesting listening. Guy Buttery can often be seen with his guitar lying flat on his lap, beating it with the base of his hands. “The techniques are predominantly quite unorthodox. I try not to think about the guitar itself. I try to think quite holistically and orchestrally. The guitar can be used as a percussive instrument and is very diverse. No other instrument is as diverse,” said Buttery, who said his style is difficult to pigeonhole. Steve Newman’s custom-made Mervyn Davis Smooth Talker guitar has a scratch patch and imbira on it, which he uses to produce Spanish flamenco-like sounds.

Tony Cox, who’s been playing with Newman for 30 years has his own unique alteration: “I have very strong nails backed with acrylic which gives me the ability to pull a chord like no one else can.
I can play as hard as I want.”

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