Remembering Guitar People
Robert Russell was a very talented person with many skills and abilities. He played a range of guitars from his electric and bass guitars (his first instruments), to his classical guitar and lutes. During his musical career he studied the lute under Anthony Rooley and became a Licentiate of Trinity College London as a lute teacher.
Rob’s lesser known interests included potholing, rock climbing, cycling, driving his ‘frog-
He was also an excellent musical instrument maker producing outstanding guitars, lutes and theorboes which demonstrate incredible workmanship. Some of the more unusual ‘historic’ instruments he made were very carefully researched. He would travel to find original existing instruments in museums and private collections which he would measure and examine in the greatest detail. He was always ultra-
As well as standard and, at times, innovative classical guitars, he also made ensemble models including the higher pitched terz and requinto as well as bass instruments. His last commission was a seven-
Rob will be missed as a talented and knowledgeable musician. He will be remembered at the Bristol Classical Guitar Society for his performances of duets and trios, sometimes accompanied on the flute by his wife Nicky, and where some of the guitars he made will continue to be heard.
From the obituary at Rob’s funeral:
“You will be remembered for the enduring gift of music and the legacy of your instruments; for your easy company, intelligence and wit; and for your great depth of knowledge and practical skills. These memories are magnificent hallmarks of who you were. A very special life and such a treasured friend.”
David Godden was born in London in 1943. He originally studied the violin with Elisabeth Rajna and also the piano before turning to the guitar in 1960 when his focus was mainly on commercial playing. He came to Bristol in 1964 to join the Dennis Mann Orchestra at the Grand Spa Ballroom while also appearing on television and radio. During this time he developed an interest in the classical guitar and its repertoire and joined the staff of the Spanish Guitar Centre in 1968 where he taught for twelve years. During this time he played with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra and the orchestra of the Welsh National Opera.
In the early 1970’s his increasing interest in the music of the 16th and 17th centuries led him to the lute and its literature as well as many other instruments of that period including the orpharion and viola da gamba. He gave highly acclaimed public recitals on the Renaissance and Baroque lutes as well as directing his own Early Music Consort ‘Poeticall Musicke’.
On leaving the Spanish Guitar Centre in 1980 he became a free-
In 2002 he moved to Spain where he revived his interest in the classical guitar and began writing for the instrument. He later returned to England where he continued playing and composing until shortly before his death to cancer in February 2017. During this time he gave a number of recitals for the Bristol Classical Guitar Society where he opened our eyes to little known music and composers: “You may not have heard this before …..”
Dave lived for and through his music. He will be fondly remembered in many quarters for his jazz and band arrangements, his playing and public performances, the skill and depth of his teaching, and his wide musical knowledge and ability especially in terms of the guitar, the lute and the music of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. He will also be remembered, of course, as a constant and stimulating friend from whom one never ceased to learn.
Andrew John Britton, esteemed guitarist and scholar closely linked with Bristol, has died aged 64. Andrew worked initially as a language teacher and translator and held various positions within Bristol’s library and museum services. He played both electric and acoustic guitar during his early years, but in 1974 abandoned them in favour of the classical instrument, studying first with Audrey Byard at the Bristol Spanish Guitar Centre, and subsequently with John Edwards, John Mills, Duncan James and Stephen Gordon.
He taught the guitar privately and at Bath Spa and Bristol Universities for several years, tutoring many of Bristol's guitarists, including BCGS Friend Adam Purnell. At the same time, he performed in solo, chamber and concerto concerts throughout South West England, and participated in the master classes of Roberto Aussel, Eliot Fisk, Carlos Bonell, Jonathan Leathwood and others.
Around 1995 Andrew developed an interest in historical guitars and period performance, and studied the nineteenth-
The story of how Andrés Segovia caused the world to wake up to the magic of the classical guitar is well known and often told. In his train quite a number of people wished to explore this new delight for themselves. There was an aspiration to emulate at least something of the power of the Spanish master. Where to go for help? Fortunately a very small band of energetic pioneers was on hand to satisfy the requirement for instruments, tuition and material for study. Typically, these were accomplished plectrum guitar players who had been fascinated to discover that the classical dimension was not a whole world away from what they could do pretty well already. First of these on the scene was Len Williams, arriving in London from Australia with his schoolboy prodigy son John. Here he teamed up with another like-
A gifted, determined and amiable character, Mike saw to it that his best intentions were always successfully realised. The Bristol Spanish Guitar Centre, which he established in 1954, remains there to this day, albeit in new premises. Mike has recalled his early years in that city in a memoir which he wrote in 2000:
My mother was a fine pianist so it is not surprising that I was introduced to music at an early age. I became a boy singer and soloist, and learned to play the banjo ukulele at the age of 7 or 8 years. The plectrum guitar caught my interest at about 10 years, when I studied with Lew Carson and later with Reg Bishop. For a lesson with Reg, which then cost 2s 6d, I used to cycle from Bishopston to Brislington with my guitar case on the handlebars.
Mike was also a talented child actor, and the great success of his performance in J M Barrie's The Boy David, in which he played the lead role, resulted in his leaving school in 1938 to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. This led to work in radio, films and theatre, but with the outbreak of war all contracts were cancelled and he returned to Bristol, working for the BBC West Region as a Junior Programme Engineer. He also joined a four-
The meeting of Michael Watson with Len Williams resulted in the planning of the Spanish Guitar Centre (Western Area). All the resources of the London Centre were placed at Michael Watson's disposal, and there is now co-
Len Williams offered Mike full use of the extensive range of printed teaching material used by his London Centre. He had no problem either with the name Spanish Guitar Centre being used with the proviso that (Western Area) was always placed in brackets next to it. Another high point for Mike was his experience of attending Segovia's summer school at Siena, Italy, in 1955. Aside from being received into the presence of the great man, useful contacts were also made with leading players from around the world.
The Bristol Centre was housed in a modest domestic building in Elton Road. Initially Mike had taken a gamble and now it began to pay off. Numbers grew to the extent that he was able enlist help from some of his better pupils. One of these, Gordon Saunders, eventually became a partner in the enterprise, helping considerably with teaching and building up the commercial side of the business, particularly the importation of guitars from Spain. There was private tuition on offer, but the greatest activity was in the evenings when classes were held. At its height, the Centre was catering for around 230 pupils each week.
In 1962, I too was taken on by Mike, the introduction being made after I had met his brother Gordon by chance while visiting Reading. It seems Mike was suitably impressed with my finger-
During the 1960s the first classical guitar summer schools were held at the Elton Road premises with just a few people attending. These were very successful, and as interest grew a more suitable larger venue was found at Cannington College in Somerset. The running of this annual event remained in hands of the Bristol Centre for some years until it was eventually handed over to Jack Duarte. At one time the Bristol Spanish Guitar Centre also operated branches in Cardiff and Swindon. In charge of Cardiff was the very knowledgeable Robin Pearson who first became a friend of the Bristol Centre through his attendance at the Summer Schools. With the blessing of Mike, Robin left Cardiff to establish the independent and still-
With the sound guidance they received from Michael, many remarkable players emerged from the Bristol Centre. Among them two world-
Over all his years at the Bristol Spanish Guitar Centre, Mike continued to enjoy playing jazz gigs and often went over to Cardiff to perform at the TWW TV studios (now HTV). By the 1990s the time came for him to pass the business to another former pupil, Chris Gilbert, who continues the work and ethos of the Centre from new premises in Coldharbour Road. Timothy Royal, a long-
Although his health deteriorated badly in his last years, Mike remained in touch with many of his past musical friends with his mind still keen and his memory intact. He managed to organise care which allowed him to remain in his own home throughout this difficult time, only needing hospitalisation at the very end. He was greatly helped by his former wife Denise, who lived nearby, and his loyal friend of many years, Mary.
Michael Watson is survived by Denise, his son Nick, his grandchildren Tegan and Finlay, his brother Gordon and his sister Joy.
Pat Benham 23/11/2011