Guitar Man

Guitar Man  

© Licentia Morum 

What can one say about him? Nothing. Everything. Private in life. Unwrapping his soul at his muse’s beckoning. A string is plucked. Gently, forcibly, colouristically, sensually. It vibrates, it decays. Undampened, left to ring. To fade like an old candle flickering in shivers of midnight draught. In that moment, scarcely breathed, a resonance of star time between life and death, you meet the man. Listen to him caressing the waist of his instrument, right hand stroking gut and wire, manicured near-feminine fingers oscillating in a dream world between bent and pure pitch, head forward in an imagined kiss, he and the luthier’s art in trembling harmony, and you will know how he loves. A man, it's been said, secluded away in some ‘abandoned empty hall, in the mountains, sitting alone and playing every note almost like a prayer, the voice of the guitar coloured by loss’ *. He’s a solitary being. Rough-grained hessian showmanship, playing the gallery, isn’t his style. Nor parties nor photo-shoots. Intimate projection, reaching for space, silken stranding is. Creating centre-stage masterpieces out of backroom modesty. That the aristocracy and Latin bearing of Stefano Grondona frames his world and values comes as no surprise.

Over twenty-five years, near enough, I’ve pondered him grow from boy to elder-in-waiting, his shoulders rarely free from the weight of the world’s troubles. His Victorian flat is a refuge of books, music, CDs, old German paintings, his great-grandmother’s ageing Blüthner grand, used once to accompany Joachim. In quieter moments, front door locked from life, take-away Indian or Turkish on a card-table, he’ll sit in his favourite chair, curls of tobacco smoke, a solitary lamp casting shadows, Melchior and Silvius at his feet – nonchalant felines of incomparably belligerent glare - a glass of single malt to hand, a book to read. 18th century English literature. Schubert’s poets, Stefan Zweig maybe, Carl Zuckmayer perhaps. George Clare’s Last Waltz in Vienna he’s yet to get down to. Angela Carter. No television. German news on the radio. Lasered music on tap. Baroque theorbo to romantic guitar to Henze and Gerhard. Beethoven to Mahler. Every now and again earthy, raw ‘life lived’ strains of another kind, glimpsing the wilder spirit within that he might once have succumbed to but has always kept on a tight rein. America’s Depression era plainsmen, the hobo-pot-and-bandana generation. Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash fin de vie. The Highwaymen, Bruce Springsteen, heartland rock. Impassioned grit, throbbing rhythms, lyrics of poetry and intensity, the sound and biography of a century. The Travelling Wilburys, End Of The Line. The minimalism of Tom Jones’s Burning Hell ... One Hell Of A Life. Mark Knopfler. The anguish of the deprived.

Once he was a trusting hopeful, wanting to see the best in everyone. Giving, supporting, seeing the best are still fundamental life priorities. But he’s transitioned into a penetratingly questioning being. He’s faithful to old comrades. But is quick to dismiss anyone he perceives as a negative or indifferent force. Compromise does not come easily to him, personally or artistically. Nor forgiveness: once you overstep or short-change, you have to emphatically re-prove yourself to get back into his trust. Cutting a physically imposing presence, guitar or theorbo slung over weathered leather jacket, he sports a beard these days, reminding on rainy days of a Nordic fisherman back from a rough night battling the German Ocean, or perhaps, in different garb, a barbary pirate set on plundering Mediterranean waters. Fantastical elements, fellow travellers, searching after an impossible nirvana, draw him. At emotional cost. Huntresses of the dark hours traverse his life. None stay. Should, though, some Venus of the heavens shine upon his harbour he might lower anchor. Received conventions of pulchritude are not his. His grail, rather, is one of haloed presence, lightness of manner, a sense of floating on air, un certain sourire, a fragrant laugh, eyes that speak softly, thoughts shared without either request or imposition, a commonness of intellect and feathered breath. Woman as enshrinement of Guitar. He’s become a loner, but the capacity to change, one suspects, is never far away. He may yet find his siren. And he will be her knight from an ancient forest.


Jørgen Skogmo

© Laura Bodo Lajber

'We work with our hands. Lyricism, elegance, taking time to phrase. We’re old friends. It’s essential to our stagecraft. We read each other’s body language, every sign, every look. Hands. The touch on the string. The feel of an instrument resonating. It matters.'

We’ve met in widely contrasting circumstances. Guildford. Seven Kings. Wapping. Essex rural. Berkshire urban. Embankment breakfasts. Kate Dimbleby’s ‘pain laid bare’ Dory Previn show at Crazy Coqs, Soho. Twenty Mile Zone, Beware of Young Girls, Mythical Kings and Iguanas, The Lady with the Braid … The Trans-Siberian March Band, warping us to a sabre-toothed fantasy wedding feast down some Balkan backstreet, tongued zurna and beaten davul on an adrenalin charge, mountain rakı to wet the throat. Cold spring days in Prague, recording Aux bords du Bosphore in the Rudolfinum. Shrouded Romanticism, late 1850s. Local beer, watery dawns. A late stroll by the Vltava and across Charles Bridge, deserted but for its statues and lovers, lifeless but for sprays of water-bird crazed among the floodlights. Castle and cathedral guarding the night-watch. Through Kafka’s Old Town Square - the ‘little circle’ through which he said his ‘whole life’ was contained - walking slowly back to Parizska and our reveries, 240,000 miles away the crescent of a moon scarcely born. 

Bardic Song

Pearly nostalgia


Weeks of recording in Champs Hill, West Sussex, gardens and art gallery inspiring us, autumn storms disrupting phrases in full blossom. Champs Hill was where we recorded an album of Viennese guitar music by Joseph Kaspar Mertz. Not as a dedicated project but as tracks largely tagged on to other people’s sessions. Fifteen minutes here, half-an-hour there. Ländler, polkas, arrangements, reminiscences, Magyar aromas. The faded lady of the cobbles who’d been the composer’s life companion. The klingt und liebt of a place between Schubert and Strauss the Younger. Spotlight on the player, darkened room, November leaves, March rains, woodsmoke from afar, the ghosts of imagined courtships. ‘The Viennese woman has given sensual colour to the city's life … [inspiring] great music and small music, folk songs and dances'. Trembling, she rises, reaching out. Back arched, neck taut, pulse quickening. At the brink, the moment of yesterday and tomorrow before her, she hesitates, ransoming time. The kiss, enfoldment, delirium. Mertz watercoloured the moment, Wiener Lieblingsduft on the wind. Did we catch his rhythms, his fate-suspending pauses? Who knows. But we tried.

1788. ‘Miss Betsy R-l-ns, No 12, Little Titchfield Street. Just at fifteen the down of nature grew, O'er the soft yielding lips of crimson hue; The wanton fire of love began to play, And on her bosom shew its powerful sway When two more years had ripened every joint, All nature's power did to the centre point ... very rare to be met with amongst the frail daughters of pleasure.’ Lending his guitar and fantasy to such pages of history, stimulating others, seeded a radical Barbican Centre project - Òscar Colomina i Bosch’s theatre cycle setting Harris’s 18th century List of Covent Garden Ladies, authored originally by a drunk Dubliner, Samuel Derrick, Boswell’s ‘little blackguard pimping dog’. Jack Harris. Waiter at the Shakespear’s Head, Great Marlborough Street, next door to Mother Jane’s brothel, pleasure dome of the aristocracy. Publican of the ‘lewd and low’ Rose Tavern by the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. ‘Pimp-General to the People of England’. ‘Miss T-f-n, No 2, Glanville Street [Rathbone Place]. ‘Not above sixteen, rather short; but pretty, having an excellent complexion, with fine blue eyes, light hair, and a very white, and regular set of teeth. Altho' she has not been six months upon the Pave de Londres (having received a complete education, has learnt to dance, speak French, and play upon the guittar; and has likewise been initiated into all the mysteries of the Cyprian school …) she is au fait de tout.’

Bathsheba Piepe


Watching him accompany singers and actors is to perceive a quietly listening, collaborative artist. Slightly stooped. Leaving air and time between numbers. Nothing hurried. Luminiscent eye contact, a faint smile. Compensating for missed rhythms, catching loose entries, shaping cadences. His arpeggiated chords barely touch the uppermost notes, major thirds are suggested rather than emphasised, disappearing in wreaths of meadow mist. We want more, we think, yet sigh for the bloom of what has been dreamily gifted. Standing proud to be tuned, its long neck swan-like, string courses glistening in the light, waiting to be sounded, his theorbo angles skywards,. The gasping semitone ground and repetitive harmonies of Merulo’s Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nanna, interpretatively and dynamically unyielding, drape mother and child in a darkly haunting garment. Venice 1638. A lullaby fading and beginning, fading and beginning. A tale without end, compellingly old, compulsively modern, challengingly minimalistic, left to speak for itself. Ferrer’s De noche en el lago. Barcenona 1888. Balmy Catalan divisions, delivered unfussily, phrasing, curvature and pearly articulation at a premium. Imagery and romance. Beauty of tone, spurning invasive gesture, the high art of simplicity common to both.  JENS FRANKE. Guitar Man.

Isabelle Peters

Henry Lawes ~ Sweet, stay awhile

* Laura Bodo Lajber, 'The breath of  fire', The b-flat Sheep, 23 September 2016.

14 November 2022