Michael: Welcome to the 3rd edition of the Melbourne Guitar Festival podcast. We’re here on the couch with Matthew McAllister, ahead of his May 4th concert, for us. I’d just like to say that this concert, big thanks, in particular, Dainton Beer, Delinquente Wine and also the Australian Music Examinations Board, who are helping support this concert. Let’s say a big hello, and warm welcome, to Matthew. Great to have you here.
Matthew: Thanks, man. Thanks. It’s lovely to see ya. It’s a very far away place, Australia. So, I’m amazing that this internet is so great, that we can have a chat before I come out, in person.
Michael: Excellent. That’s great. We do have NBN here. We’re in one of the new estates, so we luckily got fiber to the home. So, we’ve got nice, good internet here.
Michael: So, we’ll dive straight into the questions that our subscribers have submitted for today’s edition. We’ll jump straight in. The first question is, “Matthew. Love your CD, Celtic Collection Volume One. Any news on whether or when there will be a Volume Two?”
Matthew: Yeah. Okay. Good question. As soon as I can learn enough pieces to go on a second collection, and, I guess, just getting out to record that. I record all my albums over in Slovenia, so when I go over there, I try and get a whole project done in one go. So, I don’t think it will be too long. It’s probably gonna be … It might be late this year or it might be recorded early next year, but it’ll be out pretty much as soon as it’s done because Uros and I, the engineer, work fast. We like to do projects in one go, and not let things lag on for ages. It will be sooner rather than later.
Matthew: It’s gonna have a bit of a twist. It’s not gonna be all solo Celtic or guitar music. It’s gonna have some special guests on it. I’m gonna get one of my … Well, Allan Neave, who’s a great Scottish guitar player and teacher, and an old, he was my teacher, he’s gonna play some tracks with me on the album, which will be really nice. Then, my wife, Aisling’s gonna play flute, and I’m hoping to get some violins and fiddle on it, as well. So, it will be a mixture of solo stuff, and chamber stuff.
Michael: Excellent. That’ll be fun. When was your first Celtic Collection released?
Matthew: There’s been at least one album since then. There’s been an American Collection since then of contemporary American kind of repertoire, and that was released two years ago. So, Celtic must be three years old. It feels newer than that, for some reason, ’cause it’s kinda popular, but I think … Yeah, it must be three years old, by now. So, maybe I should have already done the second one. Maybe I’m too lazy. I don’t know!
Michael: How many CDs do you have? Is it 10 you’ve done?
Matthew: Yeah. Must be. I’ve not really even counted them, but it’s at least six, I think, solo albums, and then at least another four or five general music albums. Then featured on other things, like I’ve played on a lot of other … Maybe 11 albums that are like, I’m either the soloist or one of the main featured artists, and then quite a few other recordings where I’d just play on a few tracks for someone, or other things, like singer/songwriter albums. All sorts of things. I’ve done quite a lot of recording.
Michael: Excellent. The second question we have is, “His repertoire choice, or areas of focus, composers, periods or origins.” Obviously, you’ve got a big Celtic connection …
Matthew: Yeah. I don’t really have anything that I dislike too strongly, if that makes sense. If I don’t like music, I just immediately, often kind of instinctively, don’t really enjoy it or like it that much, but it doesn’t make me stay away from any particular era or genre, or anything like that.
Matthew: So, I can have albums that are dedicated to certain styles, like Celtic music, or French music, or American music, and then I have standard guitar repertoire recordings, as well, which can be anything from early release songs for rock music through to classical period, and then late 20th century. More recently, I’m playing a lot more contemporary music, and commercial music. It’s very broad, and very eclectic.
Matthew: I don’t really … I mean, I guess it’s classical guitar … It is classical guitar. I play a classical guitar, but I don’t really think about music in those kind of structures like that. I don’t really think music as classical. I’m much more free with it. I’m open to everything, really, to be honest.
Matthew: I don’t really like reggae. I’m not a reggae fan. I don’t know why, but I’m just not a big reggae fan. That’s it.
Michael: The third question we have is asking about the guitar scene in Scotland. Could you elaborate on what it’s like, over there?
Matthew: Yeah. It’s great, actually. I’m amazed by it. We’ve got a national conservatory, which is where I teach, which is the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and the head of guitar there is Professor Allan Neave, who taught me, and he’s probably … He’ll probably kill me for saying it, but he’s like the Godfather of classical guitar in Scotland, I would say. He’s taught so many people to play, and if you want to play at a really high level, he’s the guy. He’s helped so many people get started on guitar, or took students that were talented and got them to the next level.
Matthew: He, and another teacher of mine called, Phillip Thorne, they built the program really for Guitar National Conservatory, and it’s become really a place to study. The students come from … We were teaching today, and there was a Belgian guy doing a concerto, there was a French guy doing a concerto, there was an Italian guy made the final of a string competition. We’ve got students from Korea, Venezuela, Australia, America, Canada … It’s so international, and then some great Scottish, young Scottish players. So, it’s a very vibrant scene. It’s around the conservatory, I would say, and then the festival that I run is quite a big event in Scotland. It’s been going for … This’ll be its 11th year. So, it draws a lot of people to Scotland. It draws a lot of really high level international players to come and then the kids that are in Scotland, that come to the festivals can take classes and can see these people.
Matthew: It’s quite a buzzing scene for guitar, if you think of the size of Scotland. Scotland’s not massive, and it’s produced so many good players. It’s a strong scene. I think it’s quite a down to earth scene. I think sometimes people come and they hear about players that have come from Scotland, or whatever, and they come, not as reverential, actually, but it’s quite like, “Ooh,” and then we’re kind of like, “Right. This is good. This is bad. Let’s get going. Started.” I think it’s a fast moving scene. It’s good.
Michael: Nice. Do you have a lot of concert series throughout the year from visiting artists, or is it mainly the festival that you run, which is the real big event that draws the international players?
Matthew: I’d say the festival, the Guitar Retreat, would have about five nights of concerts and then end of concerts. Last year, we had a duo from Germany, with David Russell. We had so many good players, Gabriel Bianco coming back. There’s so much. You’ve got players of that kind of level, in the past, when you had Ana Vidovic. Roland Dyens, Marcin Dylla, I mean, like, really top players.
Matthew: So, that brings a lot of that level, or calibre of players to Scotland. Then we have that, which is in July, and then in November, at the Conservatoire, we have a Big Guitar Weekend. That starts on the Friday, at one, our Friday at one series which is like a regular concert series at the Conservatoire, so it has [inaudible] kind of audience who come to high level classical music concerts every week. Then, we’ll invite, like Göran Söllscher’s gonna do that this year. Then, we’ve got Meng Su coming over from Hong Kong.
Michael: She’s visiting us, this year.
Matthew: Is she?
Michael: At the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music in early August, she’s coming down.
Matthew: Oh, brilliant. She’s lovely. I was hanging out with her in a cocktail bar in Beijing, the last time, which was great for me, ’cause in the autumn, we were thinking about getting her out. She’s great.
Matthew: So, between my festival and the Conservatory, we might have something like 10 gigs in the year, of that higher level of player. Maybe more like eight. Then, around that, what we do is, we have a pretty healthy influx of people coming to do masterclasses, and teaching. Like, Pavel Steidl, the great Czech player, he’s a visiting international fellow, international chair of our department. He’s coming in about a week, or so. He’ll be in Glasgow for three days, and the students just soak up the Pavel knowledge.
Michael: Amazing. He visited Melbourne a few years ago. He gave an awesome concert. I was lucky enough to have a lesson with him, as well, while he was in town.
Matthew: Did you? That’s kind of inspirational.
Michael: Actually, I’ve got a little funny story to share with that lesson I had with him. I was doing a bit of technique work with him, and we were talking about using more of the shoulder, and the back muscle to engage when you’re doing a barre, so you’re not squeezing so much with the left hand. We were doing a bit of an exercise where he was saying, “Take the thumb off the back of the neck and apply the barre with pressure from your shoulder and arm, and support with the right arm, as well, to get that counter balance,” and I didn’t know, but … I’d just gotten a Smallman guitar, back then, and I didn’t know that the neck is actually is not attached on the body of the Smallman, so you can actually remove the neck. It’s really only held on with the string tension, and a retaining bolt inside.
Michael: So, what happened was, as soon as I started to do that, I applied really, a lot of pressure, and all of a sudden, the neck on my Smallman, where it joins the body of the guitar, just went, “Boing!” Like that, and the fret board just kind of see-sawed, and the strings have just gone, “Bwaaa!” as the neck bent right back. I nearly had a heart attack. I thought I’d just broken my new Smallman. I was like, “What the hell’s happening?”
Matthew: Your expensive Smallman guitar.
Michael: I had no idea that they actually did that, and then Pavel’s eyes kind of blew up a little bit. He’s like, “What the hell is happening here?”
Matthew: Yeah, exactly. He’s probably thinking, “What have I told this guy to do!”
Michael: Snapped his Smallman neck in half! So, that was quite a crazy experience.
Matthew: He’s brilliant. One time, he gave a concert in Glasgow, and it was in our main concert hall at the Conservatoire, and he had the … He was playing on a piano stool, a piano bench, and he had a funny angle. So, he was sitting on a corner, and he had it offset. He was facing down into the audience, and we could all see that one of the legs was clearly bowing. It was gonna break. There was obviously something wrong with it.
Matthew: It was getting worse, and worse, and worse. I was looking around the audience and there were people kinda going, “Oh, no! It’s gonna go and he’s gonna fall.” But he must’ve been aware of it from quite early on in the concert, so when it happened, he was already on his knees, and he just floated off, and kept on playing. Finished the piece. Then, they swapped the chair over, and you’re thinking, “This man is like, nothing can go wrong for this man.”
Michael: No. That’s incredible.
Matthew: Playing the guitar is easy. You can play it without a chair. So, he’ll be here in a couple of weeks, and I’m sure there’ll be more stories.
Michael: Just wondering, do you have guitar society in Scotland, as well?
Matthew: There’s one pretty active society. We’re in Glasgow, which is the central part, central belt they call it in Scotland. So, Edinburgh is only a one hour drive, roughly away. But, up in the north, the north east of Scotland, there’s the city of Aberdeen, and up that way, they have the north-east Scotland Classical Guitar Society, and they’re pretty active. They run some concerts. They would get another, probably three or four good level professional concerts every year. It’s a little bit further away. It’s two and half, three hours north of here. It’s got a pretty good membership, and it’s quite vibrant. A lot of them come down to the festivals and concerts that we run, and they help support young artists and give students a chance to go up and play up there, as well.
Matthew: We have a Glasgow guitar night, which is a recent thing, and it’s everyone getting together and playing in a cafe, so … There’s a lot of old churches, with concert series, and they’ve got lunch time concerts, and the guitarists get involved. They appear in a lot of these things. It’s great. In cities, not just in Glasgow and Edinburgh. They’ll go to Dundee, or St Andrews, and they’ll get around the country, which is great.
Michael: Sounds really vibrant. I noticed you mentioned before, when you were talking about your guitar festival, did you call it a Guitar Retreat? Is it like a winter school, or … is there …?
Matthew: It doesn’t have a competition, ’cause I’ve never been hugely excited by the idea of music competitions. I find music so powerful as an artistic, expressive endeavor, that I feel … I can see why festivals do it, and I think, for young people they’re great, and I did enter some things when I was younger. Did some chamber music competitions, and some of the bi-products of it were really helpful, so I’m not saying competitions are bad. I get it.
Matthew: But, definitely, people can stay in that circuit for too long, and they can spend a lot of time trying to win competitions, and not trying to develop creativity. So, I think there can be a lot of problems around competitions, and people get excited by them, and never then discover the real inspiration or creative side of music, which is what they should be getting involved in.
Matthew: So, I didn’t want to have one with my Guitar Festival, so I called it Guitar Retreat because I was on an island, and I wanted it to have a more … Immersing yourself, and not thinking about the real world, getting on the boat, and just leaving your work, or whatever you’re doing. It’s geared to anyone. You can be a beginner player, you can be really advanced player. There’ll be something for you to do. There’ll be different classes you can take, different speeds of work you can do.
Matthew: I just called it Retreat, ’cause I didn’t want it to be another guitar festival with competition. A non-competitive environment, stuff like that. That was my thinking behind that.
Matthew: Then, some group in Malaysia started a classical guitar retreat, and copied the entire idea, completely. Which I just decided to take as a great thing of respect, rather than get really uptight about it.
Michael: That’s great sign of flattery, isn’t it?
Matthew: I was raging!
Michael: We’ll move onto the next question, and this ties in with two questions. This one is, “the guitars Matthew prefers to play, bracing Luthier strings, etc.” Then, I also just got another email, a couple of days ago from Rick, who listened to some of those mp3 recordings that you sent through to us, which we shared with some of our MGF subscribers, and Rick said, “Matthew has a particularly nice tone in those mp3s, doesn’t he? Just listened to a couple, so far. A traditional cedar sound, would you think?”
Matthew: Okay. I’ve never, ever recorded on a cedar guitar in my life. Sorry. Is that Mike? Sorry, Mike.
Matthew: Rick. Sorry, Rick. Thanks for saying I’ve got a sweet sound, though, ’cause that’s really important to me, to make a nice sound. So, first thing I think about when I’m listening to music, regardless of what instrument, or singer, or whatever it is, I will stop listening to something pretty quickly if I don’t like the sound. I find it an immediate reaction. So, it’s probably my arbiter of what I enjoy, and what I like. This is it. I decided. So, I worked for a long time to try and produce as good a sound, as possible. It’s a spruce guitar I play, and it’s a very lively, bright spruce guitar. On spruce you to have to work quite hard to maintain that warm, warm sound. The guitar’s made by a Scottish luthier called Michael Ritchie, who is a friend, a really good friend, and also an incredible guitar builder. I love his guitars.
Matthew: He builds at such a high level, and he does in a really traditional style. Very traditionally made, and he studied in Scotland, but he also studied in Spain, in Grenada. He has that Spanish kind of style. Really close to his heart when he’s building, and to travel, I’ve got a guitar he built me in, I think, 2011. It’s just been all over the planet. It’s great. It sounds good in every climate, so far.
Matthew: But, Rick is not a million miles away from something, because he’s building me a cedar guitar, at the moment. I’ve thought about a cedar guitar for a while, maybe just because there’s more travelling, and more playing. Cedar’s a little bit more forgiving, and I don’t have to work quite as hard to produce that nice sound. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks, and I’ll have travelled many hours on a plane, and sure, I’ll be a bit tired, but by the time the gig comes I’ll be truly over my jet lag and ready to go. But, you do sometimes want the instrument to just be easy, and not gonna give you another challenge to get around.
Matthew: Guitarists get so obsessed with this instrument, and I just think about my piano player friends, who arrive at a venue, and just have to deal with whatever the piano is. We’re quite lucky that we just take our instrument with us. It’s not like the voice where you wake up one day and think, “Oh, that just feels terrible. I can’t do the concert today,” or, “It’s gonna sound rubbish.”
Matthew: I think, sometimes guitarists get so obsessed, and I’m just gonna think, “Let’s just calm down a minute. We can do it. We can get it to work.” We can make any guitar sound decent, I think, if we’re a good player. A cedar guitar, Mike is building one for me, and hopefully it will be ready this year, and I might start playing a bit of cedar, but I’ve always recorded, and always played on spruce.
Matthew: I think, some of the mp3, obviously the guys have been listening to more recent albums, and they’re recorded by this engineer, Uros Baric, and he’s just an incredible engineer. He just captures the sound so nicely. That also is part of it, as well. It’s not just me, luxuriously playing to Randall all the time, with lots of vibrato. It’s also the magic that they have, as well, with their nice microphones, and stuff.
Michael: Make sure you do take some credit for the playing.
Matthew: I will, a little bit.
Michael: Regarding bracing, designs of guitars. Have you experimented with many different bracing patterns, or has the luthier, Ritchie experimented with many things?
Matthew: He has, for sure. It’s fine but … He’ll probably kill me ’cause I should know, but I think it’s fan that’s on my guitar. I’m pretty sure it is. I had a lattice braced guitar from Poland, quite a few years ago, which was really good. I’ve had, a guitar before that had a spruce top, but the bracing was all cedarwood, and stuff like that. A kind of mix, you know. So, I’ve tried things and that. I mean, I used to play a guitar for a short bit by Gregory Byers, American/Californian maker. It was lattice braced for sure, and it was a pretty different kind of sound, as well. I listen to Julian Bream, and John Williams, when he played a Fleta guitar, not when he got a Smallman guitar, so I kind of like those kind of recordings. The Fleta has a beautiful sound, and I think also, I like the Hauser/German sound, too, as well. But, I almost think, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
Matthew: I like the sound of the guitar, the traditional Spanish sound of the guitar. I like it to have that sweetness in the sound but also that quite bright, quite quick sound. So, I don’t like these very cedar, very dark … You know how they can have double top Dammann kind of sound, and those kind of guitars. I think they’re fantastic to play, and that’s like your David Russell, sure, of course, that suits him down to the ground, and he sounds amazing on that.
Matthew: For me, I don’t sound amazing on that. I can feel like I sound quite monotone, or mono timbre, so I like to have a brighter sound, and then try take the edge off that brightness, if that makes any sense, and then bring it back, rather than starting dark and trying to work away from that.
Matthew: It’s just my taste would be not to the double top, not to the lattice, but more to the fan.
Michael: Interesting. Strings, do you have a particular preference for strings?
Matthew: Course I do! I only play, and I mean this, I’m not one of these guys who goes, “I only play my sponsored string,” and then he plays something else. I only play D’Addario EJ45.
Michael: EJ45. So, the normal tension …
Matthew: D’Addario strings are the most standard string ever, and they’re great. They’re in tune. They are really quite thick, which I like. Again, they don’t have any particularly strong characteristic, so therefore, you can do a lot with the sound, but kind of a blank canvas. So, I love D’Addario strings. They’re great.
Michael: Excellent. Our next question is, “Do you have any favourite contemporary composers in the UK?”
Matthew: Yeah. I’m working with a guy right now. A guy called Greg Caffrey. I’m working with his guy a lot. He’s an Irish composer. He lives in Belfast, which is still part of the UK, but he is an Irish composer. His music is really … I really enjoy it. I’m commissioning a series of bagatelles from him. The first one is out as a video already. You can see it on YouTube.
Michael: You did that with Open Strings Berlin?
Matthew: Exactly. So, the guys … They’re great guys, and they’ve got a real eye for kind of like, the style of video that we filmed. It’s amazing. I kind of thought for a while, I’d like to make more music videos of these pieces rather than … You know, those kind of videos that are like, “Here’s the left hand. Here’s the right hand.” They’re a bit too geeky for me, and I wanted to make music videos in different locations that would capture something of the piece.
Matthew: So, the first one’s out on YouTube, on Open Strings, and we did the video for the second one, two weekends ago, in Belfast in Northern Ireland. It was recorded in one of those really cool venues. So, that would be out probably quite soon, ’cause I think the guys are quite excited about the film. Actually, there’s the third bagatelle by this guy, Greg. It’s been written, and I just need to get that learned, and then … They’re kind of reflecting towards Walton’s CDs of Bagatelles. Walton’s Bagatelles for guitar are standard repertoire. They become core repertoire. I think, what’s amazing about them, is they work as a set, but all of them work individually, especially like two and three. I think, that’s because bagatelles are like short, light character pieces. They’re not incredibly difficult, although the first and last of the bagatelles by Walton are pretty tricky. But, they stand alone as pieces, and then they work as a set. I kind of feel that’s what the guitar does well. I don’t really think the guitar pulls off epic 25 – 30 minute huge sonatas. I just don’t know. It’s quite and introverted instrument. It’s quite an intimate instrument. So, I think the bagatelles are really good, musical structure, and vehicle for us to use. And, Greg seems to have nailed it. So, I’m really quite well established with that collaboration with him at the minute.
Matthew: In the UK, there’s other composers. Working in the music Conservatoire, you get composers that are students there, who’ve just graduated who’ll run a piece by you, or ask you to play something. That happens quite a lot. I’ve got a couple of pieces on my stand that I’m thinking about having a look at from younger composers who are upcoming.
Matthew: I love the music of Sergio Assad, and people like that. I love contemporary guitar music, by guitarist/composers, as well. They understand the instrument. It’s a pretty challenging instrument to write for …
Michael: Incredibly challenging.
Matthew: If you’re not familiar with he guitar, it’s so difficult. So, I like those guys, Sergio … And, I love the music of Roland Dyens. I just find that incredibly interesting to play.
Matthew: What else? So, I know they’re not UK composers, but they’re quite standard guitar composers, but those two guys, Sergio and Roland, are great. And, this relationship I’ve got with Greg, it’s really interesting. So, enjoying that.
Michael: Excellent. The next question we have is, your involvement playing with others. Duos, ensembles, and with other instruments.
Matthew: It’s probably … I don’t know … Your output changes over the years. I’ve been playing professionally now for something like 17 years, or something like that. Nearly 20 years, I guess, of playing concerts, and it comes round in patches of what you do. I played a lot of solo guitar in the last two years. A lot of solo, too, then. Then, maybe about eight years ago, that was also the case.
Matthew: But, I have a duo. A flute and guitar duo with my wife, Aisling. Her and I have recorded many CDs, lots of videos and been on tour, all over the planet. That would be the main duo that I’ve had, for a long period of time. We’ve commissioned quite a lot of music for flute and guitar. A flute and guitar repertoire for me, it’s really exciting. It’s maybe one of the most successful groupings of instruments with that.
Matthew: Then, I work in a trio with a tenor singer and a harpist, so harp and guitar. We do folk music, but re-imagined by classical composers. It can be quite contemporary sounding, at times. It can be really quite beautiful. It can be Welsh music, Scottish music, Irish music. It’s a kind of Celtic folk music, re-imagined. It’s nice to work with voice, and following the voice. It’s a very different challenge to following a flute or a violin. I used to play with a violinist a lot, as well. Another Scot, a guy called Fergus. We used to play together a lot. And when we end up with the Celtic Collection Volume Two, he’s probably gonna get a phone call to come and play with me, I’m sure.
Matthew: So, I mean ensemble wise, I play in quite a lot of duos with my old teacher, Allan. We often do a little
repertoires. I do quite a bit of chamber music coaching, as well. So, I’m always thinking about chamber music. I think guitar is becoming more popular in chamber music setting. It’s also becoming more accepted to write for. I think composers get quite excited. It’s not just like writing another string quartet, or writing another piano trio. If you’re around a young composer, you’re gonna write a string quartet, it’s like, “Well, you’ve got a Beethoven cycle, and a Handel cycle, and a Mozart cycle.
Matthew: So, it’s like, you’ve got some pretty heavy weight canon of works there, that have come before you. But, you’re writing for maybe, viola, guitar and voice, or flute and guitar, you can do something quite interesting there, and it’s not treading completely new ground, but it’s a very fertile sort of place.
Matthew: I think it’s good to go on the road with a lot of musicians, and be around other players. I suppose, it was very good for my development as a musician, playing with other musicians early on in my career, because it made me listen. It made me very aware of things that were not evident in guitar lessons, or evident in guitar classes.
Matthew: It makes you come at the music from a different angle. I think that’s essential for guitar players.
Michael: I wonder if you could elaborate on your experiences performing with your wife. Is that any different to performing with other musicians you don’t have that close association with? Is it … How does that work? In rehearsals, and other things?
Matthew: Well, it’s obviously different. It’s not like rehearsing with someone that you don’t live with or spend most of your life with. You’re very ordered with when you rehearse, and it comes and goes. In a way, it probably means we don’t rehearse as much as other groups. With rehearsal, other duos might rehearse, because in a way we know what each other’s gonna do, quite a lot. So, we would talk about the music we’re gonna play, always practice it independently, think of the ideas and then come together for the rehearsals and the concerts.
Matthew: It’s really interesting, I think, because you support and trust in the concerts in a different way that you might do with another professional musician who’s just been booked to play with you. You think about sound a lot, and you really only play music that you both really want to play and believe in. Why would you spend your time doing it otherwise.
Matthew: But, it makes it very special and it makes it very fun, but there’s also responsibility there, and that’s different, too. It has its own challenges. It’s definitely different. But, it’s incredibly rewarding, as well, because if you can imagine like, right now, my wife’s in Ireland, and she’s on tour. She’s working with people over there. I’m here. I’ll be in Australia, she’ll be in London at that time, and all that sort of thing. So, we can be in different ends of the planet all the time, so it’s nice when you can go away together because then you’re taking your life to your work, and that can be whatever it is. Naturally, you can be, as musicians, pulled in opposite parts of the world sometimes, which is not great. So, it’s great to play together, and is the nicest way to give a concert.
Michael: Excellent. The next question we have is regarding your damaged right hand middle finger, and whether this impacts your choice of repertoire, or not. I have a little note here, as well. “Don’t worry. He’s been asked, and/or has spoken about his M finger, on occasions.”
Matthew: Yes. I get this thing. Yeah. Of course I’m happy to talk about it. It’s just basically the tip of the middle finger was damaged when I was quite young. So, basically, the nail doesn’t grow, at all, I the same shape as any other nail, and it kind of grows like a hook. Also, it’s shorter, the M finger.
Matthew: So, essentially, it doesn’t really … It just sounds terrible when I make contact with the string, and it’s kind of an unreliable kind of finger to use. But, I just re-finger everything P-I-A. So, thumb, index and ring finger. I even use my C finger for chords I want to play completely block, and not roll that, or not. And, I do a lot of flippin’ with my thumb, so I jump my thumb quite high, like I’ll keep my thumb up to the treble strings a lot. A bit like Flamenco players sometimes play scales with the thumb and come all the way up, I’ll do that with my thumb, a lot.
Matthew: I do drags with my index finger. So, I drag my index finger rather than … Like, people would go A-M-I. E string, G string, kinda like these descending arpeggios, I’ll drag my index finger and loop it, a lot. So, I have an unorthodox right hand technique. But, I think it becomes a very secure right hand technique, because it’s so unorthodox, so it’s very specialist to my hand.
Matthew: So, in a way, I don’t … It sounds like a hindrance, but I don’t think of it as a hindrance, ’cause it’s all I know what to do. It’s how I learned. I think, in overcoming the difficulties of not necessarily using the middle finger, you explore a lot of the power of your A finger, and the speed between the I and your A finger.
Matthew: I do avoid tremolo pieces, I have to say that, ’cause I don’t like to quickly return I and E for a tremolo, so I wouldn’t do any Recuerdos and all these tremolo pieces. Which, to be honest, I’m not missing, so I don’t … It’s like, okay, I might play a gig sometime and someone asks you for Recuerdos de la Alhambra, and I’m like, “Not my gig.” So, I’ve got an excuse not to play it. It’s just very nice when someone asks you to play the cheesiest piece ever, I can say I just can’t do it, you know.
Matthew: But, I do stay away from tremolo, but then I remember Ana Vidovic coming to Scotland to play, and she does a two finger tremolo, I-M, and I was like, “No excuse.”
Michael: You can do an I and A tremolo.
Matthew: Yeah. I guess … I tell you what it has made me think about is phrasing, ’cause sometimes I have to separate voices or roll chords, and I wouldn’t want to do it, for a taste reason, or a musical reason, so I have to really think about how I can do different types of roll chords, and roll really fast. You know what I mean to still make the melody fall in the right parts of the beat, and not be displaced, and things like that.
Matthew: It definitely makes me think quite creatively. An unorthodox way of playing with the right hand. I guess, avoiding tremolo, these are the things that’s been problematic. Maybe, the only other thing is that sometimes I have to do exercises with the middle finger. So, that means, with a mute, when no one is listening, ’cause it sounds terrible. I’ll do like a P-M scale, and I’ll do it really fast, and it’s really only to move the finger and keep the muscles working, so it doesn’t become like a dormant, dead weight on that hand. So I like to keep it going, to keep it moving, basically.
Michael: You said that happened quite young. So, you grew up learning with that?
Matthew: Yeah, exactly, and there was a bit of re-adjustment, ’cause you know when you’re young, and you’re not thinking about sound so much, and I didn’t play with nails for quite a while, so I used it but it sounded absolutely terrible. I think, when I went to get lessons with Allan Neave, he said, “You can’t use this finger. You have to not.” So, I’d had guitar lessons for quite a while, and he was the guy that said, “No. If you’re really gonna go for this, then you need a consistency of sound, and nails and all this kind of stuff.”
Matthew: So, at that point, I had to stop even thinking about it being an option. But, in a way, I was glad I’d been allowed to just try with it, because again it hadn’t become like an elephant in the room situation, like something that was gonna be a big problem. So, I hadn’t really developed any issues like that. So, that’s what I mean. I don’t wake up every morning and go, “Oh, man. I wish I could use my middle finger.” I’m kinda like, “Okay. Whatever.” I don’t think about it.
Michael: I didn’t even realize until we got that question submitted, and I’m like, “Really?” I’m trying to look on your YouTube videos, ’cause you don’t notice it when you play. It just seems normal. Great sound.
Matthew: It’s good. I’ve had comments like that before. I’ve had people come to concerts and sit there, and stare, to see it. I remember, I had a guy in Holland once, and he sat, I had to play this Gigue by Bach, from one of Bach’s Suites, and that’s a really hard movement, where it’s almost ridiculous, in a way, that don’t use your middle finger, because of the way it’s written.
Matthew: And, he was like, “Yeah, you didn’t use it.” He came up to me at the end, and was like, “You didn’t use your middle finger!” And, I was like, “Yeah. I know. I wish I could.” And, he was like, “But, you didn’t use it.” And, I’m like, “I know.” It was like is this the only reason you came to the concert was to watch my middle finger… To see if it’s true. It was crazy.
Matthew: It’s just one of these things. I mean, look at Django Reinhardt. I mean, that’s really a problem. How he managed to do that incredible playing he had, with two fingers that worked, or something.
Michael: For those who don’t know, Django Reinhardt is a gypsy guitarist, and he lost several of his fingers, I think it was in a house fire?
Matthew: Caravan fire, ’cause he was really a gypsy. It was on his left hand. I mean, he had like a stump. He had a bit of a finger, and then he had a whole bit, and he’s a virtuoso.
Matthew: Yeah. Exactly, and all these chordal things, as well. People find all sorts of ways around these things. I don’t think my thing’s such a big deal. It would be hard enough with my left hand.
Michael: Just the last question that we have. Are there any pieces that you’re performing which have an interesting story related to the life and times of the composer?
Matthew: When I come to Australia?
Matthew: Right, now. Let me think. So, it’s kind of three different programs in Australia. The program for you guys in Melbourne, you guys and girls in Melbourne, is quite heavy on Celtic music, just because I think it’s gonna go down very well in Melbourne. We discussed bits and pieces about the program, so there’s quite a lot of early Scottish music, and different things. All of those pieces have stories. All of this Celtic music is quite romantic, and melancholy in a beautiful … It’s usually about death, or I think, unrequited love. Like really gloomy stuff, but beautiful.
Matthew: Then, I’m also gonna play some French music by Couperin, which is really elegant and sophisticated. Even music by Barrios, and all these kinds of composers. So, I think, I wouldn’t even want to say one particular story, ’cause I’m gonna play some of those bagatelles that I was talking about when I go to Sydney, to the Conservatory, and I’m gonna play some Lauro in Brisbane, ’cause the guy asked for it.
Matthew: I think, I’ve said to people, “What do you want, really? And I’ll play it.” So, within reason. I’ll probably play some of the ‘Aquarelle’ by Sergio Assad, which is this great piece of guitar that I’ve been playing a lot again, recently, and probably ‘La Catedral’, you know ‘The Cathedral’ by Barrios and stuff.
Matthew: So, I mean, I don’t think there’s any one piece that has such a strong narrative, a strong story, that I would want to highlight it, but I am drawn to that kind of thing. I love pieces that are … You can have a visual image, or a narrative. I think singers are very good at this. They have text and they have context text, and they have this, you know, sing the words.
Matthew: I think instrumentalists often, because of the nature of the writing, or just the nature of the playing, they maybe switch off from that element of expression, a little bit. When they think so much about their instrument. I’m always thinking about storytelling. It can be quite spontaneous, even in the introductions to the pieces that are spoken, I can get quite spontaneous, so I think, all of my music is often got a narrative, and I’m attracted to that kind of stuff.
Michael: Well, I look forward to hearing about how you introduce those pieces during the concert. It will be really great to hear. Just before we sign off, I’m just having a quick look to see if we have any comments on the livestream. I’ll just read them out to you …
Michael: Rick, he was the one who mentioned about the cedar guitar, he’s watching. He said, “I loved the tone, Matthew. Glad to hear the type of guitar it was.” He also commented, “Interesting point about starting with the brighter sound, and bringing it back.”
Michael: Here we go, we’ve got a family member, Thomas McAllister, my nephew …
Matthew: Oh! Well, golly! That’s great.
Michael: My nephew, “Great to see him finally getting here to Melbourne and meeting all his cousins, and family. Looking forward to the concert.” So, you do have quite a large family in Melbourne.
Matthew: I know, well, yes, that’s what my uncle told me, so that’s my Dad’s brother, emigrated to Australia, so I have a whole family there. Cousins, and I think, quite a few people will come to the concert in Melbourne, which is amazing, because sometimes you travel to places all over the world, and you don’t really know anybody or meet anybody, and it can be quite an anonymous kind of thing. But, this is very special for me, actually, to come to Melbourne, to see that side of my family. So, I’m really looking forward to it. Hi, Tony!
Michael: And, here we go, my wife, Amy. She says, “Thanks for the interview.” She’s watching in the other room, at the moment.
Matthew: No, worries. Hi, Amy!
Michael: That’s great. So, actually, I think half the tickets that have been purchased have been from your family members.
Michael: So, you’re going to have a huge contingent there. Family and friends. So, that’s really good. We will be sold out for your concert, I’m sure, by May 4th. Our last two concerts have sold out, and our ticket sales for this one are actually tracking higher than the previous concerts, so I’m sure it will be sold out very soon.
Michael: So, for those who haven’t purchased a ticket yet, be sure to head on over to the Melbourne Guitar Festival website, and reserve your seat before we are sold out. After the concert, you’re invited to join us, and we’ll have Matthew McAllister there chatting with everyone. Do a meet and greet, over some complimentary beer, wine, and cheese, as well. Which will be really nice. We know how to do good hospitality at MGF events, so we’ll look after you.
Matthew: Ah, that’s great. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s gonna be great fun.
Michael: Excellent. So, I’ll just sign off on the livestream now, so thanks for joining us, and we’ll say bye to Facebook.