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Eric Roche

Hot Picker - Eric Roche

by Graham Lees


The great nimble finger picking style of an acoustic guitarist inflames the body and soul, creating a warm and soothing state of mind. One such guitarist is Eric Roche who is swiftly becoming one of the World's new generation of leading guitarists. Just before embarking on his UK tour that will span the last week of April through to mid-June, Eric found time to give me a little background on himself and his love of the acoustic guitar.

Born in Kerry on the beautiful West-coast of Ireland, everybody played music inEric Roche the rural area that Eric grew up in. He has been playing guitar for over 28 years (starting in 1976). Eric explains; "the first 15 years were mainly classical guitar, kind of formal study with one teacher…lessons every week learning Bach, Handle and all those boys. In the meantime I'm also listening to the likes of the Botty Band and even as a young kid I was going down and playing traditional Irish music with fiddle players and flute players. Then also in the background there is Roy Gallagher and the blues and all that!" There were no real influences to encourage the young Eric to take up learning to play the acoustic guitar, his feelings are; "there was nothing really other than the time and the place. I don't think my parents would have tolerated an electric guitar in the house, which is part of it. The local teacher was a classical teacher, so that had a bearing on things. I'm a firm believer that you're shaped by your whole environment early on, so if I was in a different town in a different decade it might have been a rock 'n' roll guitarist playing."

Moving to London after finishing university around 1990, Eric found that the classical guitar scene was tremendously competitive. Roche states; "I wasn't getting enough of a kick out of it. I wanted to write tunes; I wanted to be more expressive and I wasn't able to get that out of the classical guitar, so I moved over to steel strings. I've always found the electric guitar to be just too different, though I love electric guitar players. But the transition from classical to steel strings seemed to be a lot easier, though it is different again. Different things that you do and different size body…so that is what I've been doing pretty much ever since!" In switching to steel strings, Roche was somewhat encouraged by the influences of the likes of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Roy Gallagher was another performer that drew Eric Roche towards the steel strings: "in the middle of his set Rory Gallagherhe would almost always pick up a Martin guitar and play three or four songs…just a solo acoustic guitar. I looked at that and thought; I could be just that little bit of Roy Gallagher…I could do what he does, but do it for a whole set, so that's what I do now…Roy was a strong influence!"

With many fine guitars on the market Eric Roche has found favour with Lowden guitars at the moment, though Roche says that he is in discussion with Martin who are going build a guitar for him. "Lowden from Northern Ireland very much suits my style of playing at the moment…they have a very wide neck, so just going back to the classical thing, it was an easy transition. They have a big open sound; whereas Martin has a very American sound...they are bit tighter, brilliant for country, bluegrass and all that! But I've been playing Lowden hand built guitars for many years."

Eric has just released his debut album With These Hands on theP3 Music label. 13 tracks of guitar instrumentals with 9 written by Roche together with covers of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground", Van Halen's "Jump", Seals "Killer" and Miles Davis composition "Blue In Green". The album has been produced by award album coverwinning guitarist and composer Martin Taylor. "Martin was a hero of mine years ago. When I was growing up I saw Stéphane Grappelli on the television and Martin Taylor was playing. It was just when Martin had joined his swing quartet and was a very young man then in his early 20's" states Roche. He continues; "there was two things from that TV show that I wanted to be…playing guitar when I was Stéphane Grappelli's age and I wanted to be as good as Martin Taylor." Taylor is well known as a jazz player, but Eric says "he is a very broad musician and has a lot of strings to his bow!" Eric started writing an acoustic column for the international magazine Guitar Techniques a few years ago and got to know Martin Taylor who also writes the jazz column. Further to this Roche tells "I signed a record deal last year (P3) and Martin's on the label as well, so part of the whole arrangement was to get Martin Taylor involved in production. Really he was just overseeing it. There are different styles of production...some people get very, very stuck in, almost to the point that they are playing the instruments themselves, but in Martin's case he Martin Taylor with Ericwas very hands off. He would come into the studio, hid in the control room and just come in. say a few words, give us thoughts on something, maybe try to create a mood or atmosphere and ask a few questions as to what I was trying to achieve with the piece."

Eric Roche has several strings to his own bow. As well as being a leading guitarist and writing his regular columns for two magazines Guitar Techniques and Guitarist, Eric is also head of guitar at The Academy of Contemporary music (ACM) in Guildford. "I've always kept my hand in teaching. Early on it was a way to make money. But I do love it, even though I barely have time for it these days, I still try to keep my hand in there, because I had a great teacher for years in Ireland" Eric declares "I learned to appreciate the importance of passing on what you do! I know some guys are not made for it…I'm not saying they can't teach…far from it, they're not made for it. But when you can, you almost have a responsibility to do it. I was asked to be head of guitar about four years ago…it's only a couple of days a week." The ACM an international college trains all kinds of musicians to a professional standard, particularly in the pop/rock field and also jazz. The ACM offer a degree and there are various diploma courses that fulltime students can take over a year or two-year period, sometimes even longer, covering everything from theory, to performance and the business side of the industry.

As well as his involvement with the ACM, Eric has given music workshops and master-classes all around the world. "I have set them up, or I'm asked to do Ericthem…I guess that is on the strength of my magazine column!" Eric laughs…saying; "the funny thing is that you write for a magazine and people have this perception that you are better than you are! I've been playing a long time and I'd have given it up if I wasn't getting anywhere with it." Laughing again; "but with the magazine you get this extra profile and people hold you up on this pedestal, so I get asked to do some amazing things. This year coming for example I'm going to Iceland, Taiwan…places that I've never been before. I've done workshops in Turkey, Italy, Sweden…it's endless and I feel fortunate that the guitar can take me to these places. It's wonderful!!!"

Always promoting the advancement of the guitar player, Eric Roche has a new book coming out soon. "I've just been to the publisher and it looks like early May. It's called The Acoustic Guitar Bible and has already received numerous pre-orders. A few things fell into place last year with this record company. The book company approached me as well. They just gave me the title… they said we would like you to write to this title, we want 100,000 words. I thought…that's not so bad!" Laughing Eric continues, "The first 2,000 words were fairly easy, but the next 80,000 were a lot trickier!" The book comes with two audio CDs. There are 158 examples of techniques or styles, tunings etc. There are many music examples and photographs. The book covers everything from the history of the steel string guitar, through music theory and technique, how to play and approaches to playing. The book contains chapters on how best to look after your finger nails…an important point for the finger style guitarist. There are chapters on recording, performance and finishes with 10 acoustic guitar tongue-in-cheek commandments in the last chapter.

Like so many musicians who have gone before, with unflickering passion for the acoustic guitar Eric Roche is certainly rich in quality and worthy to become one of the future masters of the acoustic guitar. From my own experience of just listening to his latest CD - With These Hands, Eric Roche is certainly a musical force not to be missed!!!