Missing a date with John Williams, master of music

Classical guitarist John Williams

As a lifelong fan of classical guitar legend John Williams, he’d always have been at the top of my all-time wish-list of interviewees.

A few years ago, I got to interview him. Cork School of Music guitarist Jerry Creedon set it up, a 15-minute phoner during the Oz-born guitarist’s globe-trotting engagements. This was several months before he would play his second show in Cork in three years, on Apr 11, 2011. The interview went well, and appeared in print a week or so prior to Williams’s show in the Curtis Auditorium, Cork School of Music.

I had also been the reviewer for Williams’s previous show in 2008. This time around, Jerry said ! I could meet up with himself and Williams after the show, and the three of us would take in a trad session or two.

Great stuff. See you there, Jerry, by the steps in the Curtis after the show. You, me and John Williams, the world’s greatest living classical guitarist, he of the legendary shows with Julian Bream and countless orchestras, he of the soundtracks to films like The Deerhunter and A Fish Called Wanda, and at 70-plus still a dab hand at tennis, badminton, chess and table tennis.

It’s not surprising, Williams, he of global hit Cavatina with classical rock group Sky, he of epic work with Kate Bush, Cleo Laine, Paco Pena, John Etheridge and Richard Harvey would like to hear a bit of Irish trad.

This was January or February 2011. So I had plenty of time between then and April to get a ‘classical guitarist’ shirt, manicure and haircut, and get psyched for the trad pub crawl.

!Several months had passed by, and I plain forgot the agreed meet-up with John and Jerry. This was 2008. Were smartphones invented? All I know is that I didn’t own one. Now I have one with a diary that delivers stinging, buzzing cattle-prod reminders.

Forgetful? I have to admit it, I’ve a head like a colander. My wife and kids are constantly telling me I’ve more than a passing resemblance to Fr Dougal Maguire, the character from Father ... eh ... Ted.

Mostly, I like to think of my forgetfulness as charming — but it’s hardly endearing when it costs me so dearly.

How could I forget to go for a pint with John Williams?

Last Thursday, back once again in the Curtis Auditorium, I got to see Williams wow a Cork audience for the third time in six years.

This was quite probably his last performance in Cork. He is winding down his glorious career.

The programme was magnificent. Along with his own compositions, his set featured Bach’s Chaconne, pieces by Fernando Sor, Michael Praetorius, Agustin Barrios, three pieces by Venezuelan harpist Ignacio Indio Figueredo, Japanese guitarist Yukijiro Yoko, along with four of Williams’s own pieces, Stepping Stones, Odd Numbers, From A Bird III and Hello Francis (my favourite on the night). The encore was his brilliant take on the popular Neapolitan song Caterina Caterina.

It’s hard to do Williams any sort of justice in print. Listing off the names of the tunes is pointless. Some are centuries old, others are clearly deeply personal.

It’s hard to explain why he’s so much better than any other classical musician.

Ask anyone who has seen him, they’ll say the same. Generally, you’ll be talking to a music fan who has seen hundreds, maybe even thousands of live shows. As a rule, people will tell you Williams was the best live show they’ve ever seen. Better than Yehudi Menuhin, Miles Davis, Springsteen, U2 or the Rolling Stones.

And he does it with minimal showmanship. He just opens his guitar case, parks his gift on the stage and lets it breathe, then he heads home for a cup of tea.

Unless of course, he’s going for a pint somewhere in Cork with Jerry Creedon and they’re probably whistling a familiar tune by some popular band like The Script.

As you read this, it’s Monday morning. If you’re walking by Cork School of Music today, I’m the red-haired Fr Dougal lookalike at the steps by the Curtis Auditorium. The Man Who Can’t Be Moved.


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