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Any special music requests for Dan to play on his new CD?

Any special music requests for Dan to play on his new CD?

In 2011, I recorded a solo CD Le Chant des Mésanges. It is a piece of work which remains very close to my heart. The repertoire it contained included several of the classic works for the concert guitarists; pieces battled with and tamed during student years. To purchase this cd click here.

Since then I have been eager to record a follow-up yet other time constraints have made this nigh-impossible. Professionally I have joint and worked with many ensembles in the area and my composition career has taken on a new lease of life. Also, my family life has required me to pass on my masterful football and rugby skills to Sam, my youngest son and support Florence in her development as a dancer. 

I am making recording a new disc a priority for this year. The repertoire is one that excites me tremendously and reflects the way in which I have developed as a musician. It will contain many of my own works, including a duet which I have recorded using the miracle of technology. It will also contain pieces which I have arranged for solo guitar. Many of these are traditional pieces such as The Water is WideThe Wild Mountain Thyme and, reflecting my on origins, Heno, Heno Hen Blant Bach.

I thought it would be fun to ask you, my friends and listeners, to make a request of a piece which I could arrange for solo guitar and include on my new CD. It would be preferable if the piece were out of copyright so anything over 70 years old is normally fine. I am very interested in folk cultures so if you know a melody from exotic locations that you have visited, I would be delighted to hear that suggestion. Maybe you remember a song or piece from your childhood? It would be a joy to hear your ideas. In order to make a request, please email me via the contact form on my website:

Dan is delighted to announce that he is one of the winners of the Indaba Music Tango Composition Competition. 

As a result, his new, extended version of his piece Tango Laurentais has been included in the Indaba Music Catalogue of Works. This gives professionals within the music industry to access pieces in specific styles which may then be placed for use in theatre, television, film or remixing. 

The piece is a virtuosic, chromatic and vigourous dance in the dark key of G minor. It was inspired, like all modern tangos, by Astor Piazzolla but also the rich expressive style of the early 20thC tango tradition.

The new recording of this work can be heard at: It was made in Dan’s home village of St Laurent des Hommes after which the piece was named. Dan was deeply privileged to have been loaned a glorious concert guitar made by his friend, Jean Verly, the wonderful Perigueux-based luthier ( on which he recorded this piece.

The work is suitable for advanced/professional players wanting to add fresh flair to their concert programmes. A score is now available as a pdf download  - here.

Authenticity and Creativity: Comfortable Bedfellows?

Authenticity and Creativity: Comfortable Bedfellows?


Over the past weeks I have made three arrangements of old folk melodies for solo guitar: The Water is Wide, The Wild Mountain Thyme and Heno, Heno Hen Blant Bach. The first sources of these old Scottish and Welsh melodies date back some 500 years which means that they are probably older still. All are very well-known; in France, The Water is Wide is widely sung as La Ballade Irlandaise. 


The question I have been asking myself is to what extent authenticity should influence my arrangements and performances of these songs. The first thing to ask is what we actually mean by the term ‘authenticity’. In a musical sense we can answer ‘respecting the original intentions and spirit of the composer when creating a score or a performance of a piece of music’. 


As a student, I became fascinated by the Early Music movement. Works I had found uninspiring and bland came to life when performed on original instruments with original techniques. My own experience was learning a suite for guitar by Robert de Visée; a necessity for a teachers’ diploma. Unfortunately, I found the piece very dull and, in my ignorance, judged it negatively. When John Mills explained to me that the original Baroque guitar had re-entrant tuning (higher notes at the thumb, like a ukulele) and explained the rasgueado techniques associated with the instrument, it was like an explosion of colour and life for the music. I went home and butchered an old 12-string guitar (best thing for it in my view) to make a knock-up Baroque guitar, learned to read French Baroque tablature and figured bass and threw myself, with the zeal of a convert, into the early music movement. 


Now I have an older and hopefully wiser head, I see that common sense dictates a compromise between the knowledge which early music researchers have given to us and the practicalities of the modern world. Robert de Visée played to an audience of maybe 5-10 people in a world with very little noise. Our modern instruments must respond to a world of smartphones, cars, planes and sirens. A sad trend is that those who are passionate about ‘authenticity’ will often criticise performances which use modern ideas as ‘wrong’ or ‘incorrect’. This verges on being anti-art. 


To return to my folk arrangements, I found myself preoccupied about how I should handle these. I recognise that there are ethnomusicologists who study this repertoire with passion and record it using a weird and wonderful array of instruments from yesteryear. My own approach though has to be different. I am a composer as well as a guitarist. As I play these melodies, I find my creative mind seeking out alternative harmonisations, countermelodies, modulations and the like. The result is anything but ‘authentic’ but I hope it is a thing of beauty. I know that a folk musician performing in the 1500s would never have imitated the principal melody in the bass at a one-bar interval. I do this simply because I love the sound. 


As I thought about this further I found myself asking what an authentic performance actually could be. Do we have to keep going back and back until eventually we sing the melody in a barely-living language whilst accompanying ourselves by beating a stick one a stone? I am inspired by the arrangements of Emilio Pujol who, in the early 20thC, made many arrangements of Spanish Folk melodies for guitar. They are full of sumptuous romantic harmonies which owe more to Chopin that his own folk culture. The pieces are beautiful and the fact that they are still performed and recorded today says everything. Maybe musicians who are obsessed with authenticity are jealous as they lack some of the technical knowledge required to create such arrangements. Does ‘authenticity’ sometimes disguise incompetence? I don’t know. 


The result is that I am performing, recording and publishing these pieces with joy and pride. Authentic? Probably not. Sincere to what I am as a musician? Absolutely.


The Art of Guitar Making

The Art of Guitar Making

When I was a student in the 1990s, it became apparent that I would need a new, concert-quality guitar. Aside from the financial implications, I remember being faced with a myriad of choice. There were thousands of makers or luthiers active in the UK alone, all fighting to cement an endorsement with a named concert player, and take the hard-earned cash of an ambitious student. 

One Friday morning, our head of guitar, John Mills, welcomed a visitor who wanted to offer some guitars for sale to the RWCMD students. I recall, quite clearly, trying a small E B Jones instrument which he had in his collection. Within moments of playing it, I felt that I had found ‘my guitar’. Some players are quite cynical about this rather mystical attitude but there was something magical about the way it felt in my hands. I wanted to play this guitar and, in an inexplicable way, I felt the guitar wanted me to play it as well. I also remember that the seller gave me a concert programme signed by the Maestro, Andrés Segovia as a gift. 
Now, over 20 years later, this guitar and I have played concertos, made CDs, performed hundreds of gigs, fought and celebrated together. I’ve left it on trains (twice), shut my case on it (scratching the surface), taken it to three continents and played it for the funerals and wedding of those whom I love. I’ve always loved this instrument. 
Last week, it was clearly in desperate need of a service. I could only place this instrument into the hands of someone who really knows his work so I took it to the workshop of my friend, Jean Verly in Perigueux. Jean let me take away his latest guitar as he worked at mine so, for the first time in decades, I had the joyous experience of playing a new instrument for a sustained period. 

What a guitar! Jean has excelled himself. The instrument has been created with an incredible eye for detail. The wood is beautiful in sight, touch and smell. The tone is rich, chocolatey, and almost velvet-like. It was odd to play a larger guitar as I have very small hands and mine is slightly under-sized. A few hours of playing though and it felt very natural. So inspired was I that I took three mornings out to go and record some of the work I have created over the last couple of years. I am planning to release a new album this year and I was delighted at the idea of using more than one instrument for the recording. So, after a few happy hour’s playing, I recorded my 2014 piece ‘Tango Laurentais’ which was the winner of the 2014 composition competition, my arrangement of ‘Heno Heno Hen Blant Bach’ (recorded on St David’s Day) and finally, a new arrangement of ‘The Water is Wide. This final recording is available on my soundcloud page: . I’d like to invite you to listen and enjoy the wonderful sound of Jean’s guitar. 

The luthier is as much a part of the creative process as the composer and the guitarist. The luthier is often underrated, neglected and forgotten. Their art though requires the same amount of training, experience and commitment to the cause as other artists within the discipline. I’d encourage all players, regardless of playing experience to make a relationship with a luthier. It’s a chance to learn about tone production and to understand better the instrument. Luthiers are part of the creative circle and should be recognised as such.

Our approach to Instrumental Study

I was a music student in the 1990s. I attended a conservatoire in the UK for 6 years during which time I studied for undergraduate and master’s degrees. What myself and my peers soon realised was that our biggest obstacle was the mental challenge. We all suffered from performance nerves and it seemed that the more we practised, the worse it got. We would routinely practice alone for 6 hours per day. On top of that we would add ensemble rehearsals and lectures.  It was a wonderful period in our lives but at times, extremely challenging.

I saw friends completely go to pieces in concerts, performance classes, masterclasses and even one-to-one lessons on numerous occasions. It became part of the routine. Solutions were discussed, ideas floated, but the general thinking was that ‘the better you get at what you do, the less nervous you will be’. The answer: do even more practise. There is truth in this but it was an invitation to a whole new catalogue of problems. Tendonitis, focal dystonia and back problems. It seemed that everyone knew that the greatest barrier facing the performing musician was the mental one, but no-one knew quite how to overcome it.

In my third year, I started studying Alexander Technique. This was quite a new programme for conservatoires and I found it immensely helpful. The Technique was met with a degree of cynicism in many quarters though and group classes often turned into discussions as to whether or not he Technique ‘really worked’.
After graduation, I spent 12 happy years working for the same conservatoire. Now, having emigrated, I still mark work for them on-line. This year, I marked a series of essays entitled ‘career strategy’. I was amazed and delighted to see the list of lectures which made up the module: Mindfulness, Alexander Technique, Well-being, Diet, Learning to say ‘No’ and many other progressive and thoughtful subjects. I was also fascinated to see that the recommended daily practise time was 3-4 hours; the emphasis being on quality practise rather than the amount.

I hope that this imaginative, open-minded approach is being echoed in other establishments. Becoming able at an instrument is hard work but it shouldn’t be at the cost of one’s health and happiness. There is a lot of cliché attached to learning instruments, particularly the guitar. Many guitarists are men and the fascination with ferocious technique and loud playing is linked to a ‘blokey ‘macho culture. This goes hand-in-hand with the idea of 8 hours plus per day practise followed by beer and curry.  The violin is known as a ‘hard’ instrument. Therefore, so many players approach it with a negative mind-set. Players need to remember why they approached the instrument in the first place: keep in touch with the feeling they had when they first heard it. It is meant to be a joy rather than a stress. We study to improve rather than to feel defeated. 

Merton Music Foundation

This week end my Family and I went to London. We stayed with my Brother and Sister-in-Law whose son is a gifted percussionist. He, and his sister, who has just started the trumpet, take lessons at Merton Music Foundation so I took the opportunity to go along and see their work. I must say that I was truly blown away by the quality of what I heard and saw: the structure, the attitude of the pupils, the quality of the teachers, the involvement of the parents and, most of all, the music being made. I spoke to the Head who gave me at least 20 minutes of her all-too-precious time. We’d practically organised a tour of the Dordogne for the concert ensembles by the time we’d finished chatting. 

I missed hearing the guitarists as I was keen to listen to the work of my nephew and niece but I learnt that, by odd coincidence, the teacher taught guitar in Bordeaux for many years before moving to London. Bordeaux is where I teach now. All this good work is underpinned by the efforts of those who recognise the value of music in young peoples’ lives. The parents have set up a coffee shop to raise funds. There is talk of selling hoodies as a new venture. 

I have heard from many sources – both official and through hearsay – about the battering arts services are taking in the UK. The sad truth is that without the work of volunteers and staff who are truly passionate about their work, it might well die away and remain as a fond memory in the minds of those who benefited. It seems that in the UK, arts are regarded as a disposable luxury which are forced to take second fiddle to other subjects.  I find it hard to visualise the need for a parents’ group selling muffins to ensure maths provision for their children. It may be difficult to measure the benefits provided by music centres such as MMF in fiscal terms (although UK music sales raise very significant amounts of tax for the country) but the benefits of music educations are those of discipline, teamwork, respect, confidence-building, experience, friendship, tolerance and more.

 All the young people present were out of bed, away from games consoles and employed in fruitful, cooperative, creative activity which will culminate on a concert in the Royal Albert Hall in the summer. In France, Les Ecoles Municipales de Musique still receive funding and the fees which parents pay are heavily subsidised. I suspect that with a right-wing government looming, many of my colleagues will be faced with the same challenges as teachers in the UK. I hope that they, and the pupils’ parents will be able to respond with the same energy and ingenuity as those I saw in MMF.

2017, 2017, 2017

I have a long list of creative projects planned for 2017. This is my instinct; it’s what I do. The problem is though, I am forever creating things and then putting them to one side to start the next one. Much of what I do is performed, shared and hopefully enjoyed one or twice but then it sits on the hard drive of a defunct PC doing nothing. I have been putting together a list of compositions and arrangements which I feel are worth sharing which I have completed since the mid-1990s. As you can perhaps imagine, it’s pretty sizeable. I can see how I've developed as a musician; my style as an arranger has, in particular, changed considerably. I recall being somewhat obsessed with authenticity in my highly-opinionated student days. Now though, I am more concerned with effectiveness, playability and ensuring that the arrangement is useful to someone. There is an old saying ‘Those who need a score don’t understand it and those who understand a score don’t need it!’ This means that good arranging needs to take into account voice-leading, linear progression, melody, harmonic tension and all the other elements which are absent from many teaching syllabi nowadays. These must be coupled with a sense of practicality. So, over the next year, I’ll be making available pieces by Satie, Gershwin, Purcell, Folk melodies, Quartets, Trios, Duos, Solos, Chamber Music and much, much more. Aside from this I have a substantial composition project to complete. I am nearing the end of ‘Périgord en Automne’ – a substantial canonic work for 5 guitars, and will complete my own 4 seasons before summer. Finally, I am the author of three teaching methods which I must see are shared more widely for all to enjoy and benefit from in the future. So 2017 must (for my own well-being) continue to be a year of creativity, but I will see that it is a year of practicality too.  

2016, 2016, 2016

2016 was a year when I fulfilled dreams which I have harbored for several years and which has also presented many new opportunities and potential journeys for myself and my family. If I had to pick a highlight, it would be the short tour I undertook with my former teacher and boss, John Mills and Cobie Smit, his wife and also a fine guitarist. John taught me between 1992 and 1998 at The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. When I completed my Master’s Degree I was fortunate enough to have been offered a teaching post at the RWCMD and John then became my colleague and boss. Having emigrated in 2010, I had the idea of bringing John and Cobie to The Dordogne as early as 2011. John is a difficult man to pin down though. He performs regularly across the world and recently, he has been heavily involved in a project with Ramirez guitars. Eventually though, we found a moment, at the end of July when they could come and perform a series of five concerts with me. This enabled us to showcase two of my new arrangements for three guitars: Fauré’s glorious Pavane and a new version of the Scottish Folk Song   The Wild Mountain Thyme.   I will make recordings and scores available in 2017. We married these with John’s arrangements of Vivaldi, some Ravel, Boccherini, Poulenc and Sting. We performed in some breath-taking venues: Bertric Burée, Limeuil, Lot-et-Garonne, my home village of St Laurent des Hommes and Aubeterre-Sur-Dronne. I think the experience of playing in the stunning underground church in Aubeterre is one which will stay with me for the rest of my life. What a place; what a sound. Also, I’ll never forget performing for my friends in St Laurent des Hommes and Bertric-Burée, to packed churches. They were very moving experiences for me. I said that John taught me until 1998 but after this tour, I realised that he still teaches me now every time I hear him touch the instrument. What a guitarist and musician. Another lesson I took from this tour was that the generosity of ordinary people can never be underestimated. Jean Verly, the wonderful Perigueux-based luthier allowed John and Cobie to use two of his stunning instruments for the concerts. What a gift. Also, one of my pupils and friends, Anthony, gave John and Cobie his home to use for the duration of the tour. Finally, we made new friends in the Lot-et-Garonne where we were fed, accommodated and royally-treated by our hosts.

Aside from the tour, I experienced a wealth of wedding days in the glorious chateaux of the Dordogne. It is a real privilege to share these special days with lovely people from around the world. I was very proud of my pupils who presented several concerts over the year. As always, we laughed a lot, panicked, played hard and celebrated hard. There were many gigs with jazz groups. We are blessed with a wealth of extraordinary players in our area and over the summer and autumn, I was thoroughly spoiled, enjoying many laughs and good company. It’s near-impossible to summarise a year in a couple of paragraphs. I am even more excited about 2017. What should be the priority? I MUST record more and share the music I have created with my listeners. That is my pledge! 


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