Guitar an intimate practice

3 months ago 1374

Graham Wardrop’s 50-year career has involved solo work as well as backing to all sorts of artists, playing at concerts and festivals, restaurants and bars — "you have to do a bit of everything to survive". Now in his 70s he has not lost his passion for performing, finds Rebecca Fox.

He has played with Manhattan Transfer, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Vanessa May and Slim Dusty but guitarist Graham Wardrop is just as happy performing solo to a small intimate audience.

Over his 50-plus-year career he has done plenty of both, having started out playing in bands at the age of 14 while at high school in Dunedin.

"It’s involved in a huge variety — from being solo, through to backing to all sorts of artists, collaborations, travel, concerts and festivals, play in restaurants and bars — you have to do a bit of everything to survive."

His musical education began when his father, who played piano, got him and his sister to sing harmonies for him from an early age.

"I just loved music right from the word go. I learnt the piano for a couple of years and then we got ukuleles."

He was 10 years old when his auntie gave him a guitar and he has never looked back.

"I fell in love. I’m a guitar nut, I’ve got a house full of guitars. I’ve never really done anything but play music, it’s how I’ve made my living."

While it was the folk music of the likes of Peter, Paul and Mary that he played on the ukuleles, it was The Beatles which "really sparked me".

"My sister and I learnt the songs. Because we sang harmonies together we could play The Beatles songs and sing them in harmony. It just all led on."

He played in many bands including Lutha (1971-73) and did two albums with EMI, a good 10 years before Flying Nun Records and the Dunedin Sound came about.

"We were the first Dunedin band to record original music."

Wardrop then headed to Australia where he played guitar in recording sessions, television shows, stage shows and live gigs. Being asked to play guitar for Anne Kirkpatrick led to a long association with the "Dusty" family — she is the daughter of the late Slim Dusty. He wrote sheet music books and played in clubs too.

"When I worked with Slim Dusty we did a huge amount of touring. He’d get in his big purple Ford. He reckoned it was a way to get out and see all his mates, play a bit of music. And I feel the same. It is work but it’s a pretty nice way to earn a living."

When he returned to New Zealand with a young family he began to play solo — something he had not thought of doing previously.

"It was a matter of necessity. I had two children and a mortgage so I had to make some money. So I went out and played the songs I used to sit around the table playing."

While he played electric guitar in those early days, he moved to playing acoustic and adopting fingerstyle technique, which has its basis in classical guitar. Solo he plays a mix of folk, jazz and classical. He was lucky to learn from Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel whom he describes as his "hero".

"It requires a lot of intricate finger work. I wanted to sound as much like a band without drums and bass as I could but I never wanted to use backing tracks. I love the purity of sound you get from an acoustic guitar.

That love has led Wardrop to learn how to make his own guitars. He has built more than 30 instruments.

"It was a fascination with how you get these beautiful sounds out of wood and strings.

"So I got a couple of old guitars that were useless and pulled them apart just to see what was on the inside."

With advice from professional guitar makers, he learnt how to build guitars himself by doing it.

"You can’t really explain the feeling you get from playing music you’ve written on instruments you’ve built. It’s a unique thing."

His career has led to a lot of travel over the years with 11 tours to Canada alone as well as regular tours to Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea as well as Australia and Europe.