Surrey-based Sardinian guitarist GIORGIO SERCI and JONNY PHILLIPS, best known as the guitarist, composer and leader of the Spanish-music influenced F-ire Collective band Oriole, have been friends since they met at a gig in Brixton around fifteen years ago.
At the time Serci, who has recorded and shared stages with Martin Taylor, Jools Holland, Shirley Bassey, Julian Lloyd Webber, Kenny Wheeler, Dr John, Nigel Kennedy, Andy Sheppard, Bill Bruford, Paolo Fresu, and the CBS, BBC Concert and Berlin Philharmonic orchestras among many others, was working in a guitar duo and hearing him play, Phillips thought they’d make an ideal partnership.
Now, they’ve finally cemented their relationship in Guitar Journey Duet. They play the Royal Albert Hall’s Italian restaurant, Verdi, tonight [Friday, November 27] and have their first album in preparation as they begin to fill the diary with gigs including a Scottish tour in March. Rob Adams spoke to them about their individual and collective guitar journeys.
LJN: What was it about Jonny/Giorgio’s playing that made you want to work with him?
JP: I remember thinking wow this guy is a real acoustic player and with great ideas and feel. I still think he is my favourite acoustic guitarist in London. There are many electric guitarists who dabble in acoustic and acoustic guitarists that concentrate on speed and showmanship. Giorgio can do all that but he also has a great touch, sense of harmony and really listens.
GS: I was immediately enchanted by Jonny’s story-telling compositions and playing. I love his open-mindedness in music with its innumerable styles and sub-styles, contrasted with his deep understanding and respect for traditional music from different parts of the world. He is a fantastic Jazz guitarist too, and I love his mature approach to playing, always choosing the most musical pathway over the more flashy one. We have a very similar taste in music and this make it possible to understand each other without having to say much.
LJN: What was the thinking behind Guitar Journey Duet?
JP: The idea is that we play in a variety of styles that vaguely follow some of the evolution of the Spanish guitar. We wanted to arrange our own tunes and write new ones especially for the project but we will also play some tunes from the increasing expanding guitar repertoire.
LJN: What is it you like about the two-guitar line-up?
JP: What’s not to like! I love it. For one thing, it’s versatile and portable. There’s also a lot of responsibility and no safety net and it pushes me to improve as a guitarist. When one guitarist is playing a tune or improvising the other has to hold all the harmony and rhythm. Thirdly, I feel like there are more obvious things left to explore than there are in say string quartet, jazz trio or folk outfit settings and I’ve always loved Egberto Gismonti’s guitar duets as well as Paco de Lucia’s duo with John McLaughlin.
GS: As the genius Chopin used to say: “There is nothing better than the sound of one guitar, except the sound of two guitars”. How could I disagree with him?
LJN: What styles of music particularly interest you?
JP: Folkloric styles in general, Jazz, Latin (Brazilian, Cuban etc) and Flamenco.
GS: Most music styles, particularly those featuring captivating use of melodies, harmony and rhythms and most importantly, making good use of space, silence and dynamics.
LJN: Was there any one musician who made you think when you were growing up, that’s what I want to do (and what was it about this player made you think that)?
JP: I used to go and see guitarists in small clubs that were self-contained, there was a guitarist called Isaac Guillory who sang folksongs from around the world and played guitar very beautifully. I loved the way he seemed to be outside and uncontrolled by mainstream society and yet always had a full room.
GS: There have been a few key figures who have in one way or another stimulated my appetite for knowledge in many music styles and who have helped finding my direction, but one of the first times I had a close encounter with a tremendous guitarist was in my early teens. While camping in Sardinia, I was listening to a friend accompanying himself on guitar and singing some popular Italian songs when a random person passing asked my friend if he could try his guitar. This gentleman started playing and we were all completely blown away. I had never seen anyone playing the guitar in that way, and that made me want to have a go at it myself.
LJN: How did you go about creating a repertoire for Guitar Journey Duet? Ultimately, what are the aims of the duo?
JP: We try to choose a repertoire that follows the path of the development of the Spanish guitar. Through Spain, Africa, South America etc. This the benefit of keeping the sound varied and giving us a direction, literally. Our aim is to constantly develop and therefor never to arrive as such, until our fingers give up working maybe. I also hope we will get to travel around to some nice places.
LJN: What would you like the audience to take away from a Guitar Journey Duet concert (aside from a CD when it comes out)?
JP: A bit of inspiration and hopefully some smiles. We’re going to try to make it an entertaining evening.