Guitar Players in the North & North West: 

Steve McWilliam

Steve McW Playing a Dinsdale guitar - Circa 1981Steve McWilliam (Runcorn): For further information see: SJMcW

How time flies and how 'life' gets in the way. 'Work' and 'being busy' has meant that as at January 2008 I have not played for a few years BUT I have recently re-started to re-learn the old tunes I used to play and am looking forward to transcribing, arranging and playing new tunes before the year is out. This is being helped along by taking on a couple of children for lessons (for free) and being forced to work-up songs and teaching materials. Here we go again - hang on ! I can be contacted via my mail-box at: Steve.

Kieran 'Fish' Carr (Runcorn)

Kieran Fish playing guitarKieran started playing in the late 1960's, and after a period of attempting to teach himself, managed to find another player to help him in his quest to become a guitar player - this 'other player' was Brian - see Brian's Cocaine Blues. Kieran progressed rapidly and then found the "How To Play Blues" LP by Stefan Grossman and Aurora (Rory) Block, which at that early date was out on the Xtra records label, a subsidiary of Transatlantic. If you should like to contact Kieran, he can be contacted via his own mailbox at: - Kieran

His story in his own words:-

Kieran Fish with homemade guitar It was 1968, I think. My girlfriend introduced me to her cousin, he had just been released from prison after serving a sentence for removing lead from church roofs, (funny you don't hear of that anymore). I made some comment regarding how many mail bags he had sewn, "Oh! No we don't do that now; I made a guitar." was his response. "So lets have a look! Can you play it" I said, "No, not really" he replied. I examined it, "A bit big isn't it" I said. For some strange reason, which I fail to understand to this day, he had decided to make it with an extra long neck. It was pointed out to me that, one would need to tie on a 4" nail at the 3'd fret, and it would then be a "normal" guitar. Well, I was allowed to take the beast home, complete with the 4" nail.

After several weeks of torture I was about to give up, when I was introduced to a guitarist called Brian Mills, everybody called him "Milo". I heard him play and was absolutely stunned, this was how I wanted to play, (finger picking). I travelled to Brian's house many times over the following weeks. He told me to throw this particular guitar away. So it was down to Frank Hessy's in Liverpool. I settled on a Framus acoustic, not the best guitar, but a big improvement over the one built in jail. Brian would write out tunes in "Tab" for me to learn, I remember the first tune I ever played was "Railroad Bill". Brian explained that I didn't need to be able to read music, just know how the song sounded. I would go home and practice every day and after a couple of weeks go and see him, and hopefully make a good impression.

I was hungry for more "Tab", and in those days the only books available were "Bert Weedon's play in a day" (say no more). I heard Brian talk about an American guitarist called "Stefan Grossman", who had made a record called "How to play blues guitar", and also produced a booklet with "Tab" transcriptions of all the tunes, but which sadly was now deleted. After about a year of struggle, I was in Dawson's music store, in Warrington one day, and came across the, "How to play blues guitar" album, by Stefan Grossman, on the Xtra label I think. Well this was like winning the lottery, could this really be the same record that Brian talked about? Yes it was! I parted with my money and legged it home, got out the guitar and wore my fingers away. It was this record, more than anything that helped me along the way. Later Stefan produced a series of guitar books on several different guitar styles, from Ragtime, and Blues, to Folk, all with 'Tab' transcriptions. I had to travel to "Colette's" music book store in London to get hold of any of these.

Over the following years Brian became a very good friend, we went to a number of "Folk clubs" in the area where we used get up and play instrumentals, blues, or ragtime tunes (I couldn't sing anyway), it was usually free admission if you performed. Our favourite club was at the "Bluebell" pub in Horse Market Street in Warrington, run by the "Mynah Birds" (Jack, Norman, and, Colin Frogatt), every Wednesday night. It was now about 1972 when I started work at the Dept of Employment in Runcorn, where I met Steve McWilliam. Steve was interested in the guitar and had brought one in to work one day, I had a little play and he seemed impressed, anyway we struck up a friendship which has lasted to this day. Sadly Brian took his own life during the Christmas period of 1975, a dear friend greatly missed by all who new him. I used to go to Steve's house every Tuesday night, (guitar and pub night), we played guitar, attempted duet's, and went for a couple of pints after. Steve worked hard at playing guitar and picked it up very fast, (I know 'cos I seen the blisters on his fingers).

It was Steve who started the Tape n Tab Club". The idea was to sit down and record yourself playing, write down the tune in "Tab" and send the cassette tape in, we met lots of friends all over the country, some beginners and some very fine guitarists, one such guitarist of note must be Mike Martin, I never heard anybody play (and sing) "Blind Blake" tunes the way he did. It was largely due to the efforts of Steve, who encouraged (forced) us to sit in front of a microphone, and record some of our tunes, and also write the stuff down, he was the "organiser", just as well, as a lot of songs would have been lost.

Because of my love and passion for the guitar I decided to have a go at making one myself. I obtained all the books I could on the subject, which wasn't that many, about six I think. I also learned a great deal from a good friend Bill Dinsdale, Bill had studied musical instrument making at the London College of Furniture, and had made some very fine guitars. Steve and myself both have guitars made by Bill. So I set about collecting all the necessary tools, and practiced my woodworking skills. It was 1988 when my first instrument was ready, not bad for a beginner, a year later I built a second one (Rosewood body, spruce top), built out of solid, thin wood, modelled after the "Martin" style of guitars. I still use this guitar today and am very pleased with the sound.

With today's modern technology I now have a computer and am a registered "Tabledit" user. I can now type my tunes into "Tabledit" and have them played back, and sent to friends who also have a computer and "Tabledit".

Kieran Fish - 9 November 1999

M&O Blues and Canned Heat Duet - low quality MP3 - Kieran Fish & Mike Martin

Ian Jesse (Frodsham)

Ian Jesse on Clarinet - circa 1990Ian is both a multi-instrumentalist and a singer (makes you sick), as well as being quite a comedian in his own right. He plays acoustic 6-string guitar (nylon & steel strung), 12-string, electric guitar (an Ibanez), mandolin, penny-whistle, un-keyed and keyed flutes, clarinet, keyboard, and probably others I do not know of. His guitar playing is a style all of his own with the acoustic playing being a combination of strumming and fingerstyle all tied together with electric influences - it makes for interesting listening and watching when he applies this style to old traditional folk material and fiddle tunes.

He composes his own tunes and songs and records them in his home studio. Recently he has been playing as a part of an acoustic rock duo under the name of 7th Avenue; previously he was a part of a blues and folk duo with myself, known as Nobody's Business. Should you wish to contact him, please do so via my mail box at: Ian.

The following was provided by Ian himself:

A Few Words Concerning the Musical 'Career' of Ian Jesse:-

Largely thanks to the splendid music of T.Rex and a class-talk on guitar playing by a fellow secondary school pupil I took up plectrum-style acoustic guitar at the age of eleven(ish). I began fingerstyle quite early, encouraged by the music of Ralph McTell and Steeleye Span (who also introduced me to the world of British Folk Music).

At around the age of fourteen I made my first attempts at writing songs and tunes. At eighteen I wrote the music for a mini 'rock-opera' based on the life of the apostle Paul, for performance by members of the Frodsham Methodist Youth Group. The production was devised by my friend, Youth Group Leader - Dick Carling, who wrote the words and produced the show. From age nineteen into my early twenties I sang, played bass-guitar, and occassionally guitar(!) in various college rock groups: Eric's Dog, Dumb Waiter, Zip Code, and The Pete Walker Band (happy days!).

After leaving college I played with rock groups: The Foreign Office and The Purple Cage, and an R&B group called The Tubesnakes. I also began regular 'floor-spot' appearances at Frodsham Folk Club, developing a repertoire of folk songs and tunes (including my own material), and taking up the mandolin, flute, clarinet and tin-whistle. In my mid-twenties, my boss at the Manpower Services Commission - Julia Hancell - introduced me to Steve McWilliam. We eventually formed a popular ragtime.blues duo: Nobody's Business, in which I sang, played guitar, clarinet, and flute to Steve's stalwart guitar picking (more happy days!).

Meanwhile, in my mid-thirties, I joined former Purple Cage vocalist - Jamie Lowe - in the hard-working, electro-acoustic pop/pub duo: 7th Avenue (singing and playing guitar). My folk music involvement continues and I have recently (1999) joined a new quartet known as - Pigeon English - playing tenor saxaphone, mandolin and clarinet. That's the story to date, so far as I can recollect: it's possible I've missed bits out, but the above chronicles the most significant events - I believe.

Thanks Ian - keep it up !!!

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Geoff Durno (Denbigh, Wales): 

Geoff Durno Playing a Santas Cruz guitar - circa 1993Geoff is an excellent fingerstyle guitarist, and a horticulturalist, who currently (1998) runs the Rhyl Folk Club in North Wales - I think it is in the Bee Hive Pub in Rhyl (forgive me if this info is incorrect Geoff - but let me know).

Geoff used to dabble in Ham radio but has little time to devote to this hobby now he runs the folk club and has a young child to contend with. Jean, Geoff's wife, also plays (a Gibson). If you should like to contact Geoff, please do so via his mail-box - Geoff

Phil Lawton (Liverpool)

Phil Lawton with his leftie TakaminePhil started playing seriously approximately three years ago (circa 1995) after taking fingerstyle lessons from yours truly at Halewood Comprehensive (evening classes). He now plays at a couple of local folk clubs and has formed a local fingerstyle guitar pickers club which meets in an upstairs room of a pub on Tuesday evenings (9:00pm). This has engendered a large number (over 20) new players and the 'torch' is being passed on - well done Phil !! If you should like to contact Phil, please e-mail him on: - Phil.  - below is his story in Phil's own words:

"Like many amateur guitarists I had been trying to play the guitar for many years. I would learn to play the odd Beatles or Eagles song but, because I could not sing, there seemed little point in bashing chords. The guitar stood in a corner gathering dust for months at a time and, just occasionally, I would pick it up, bash it a bit more, and put it down again when I entered a musical cul-de-sac.

In 1996 I saw an Evening "Fingerpicking Guitar Class" advertised at Halewood Comprehensive School in Liverpool. It sounded interesting and I persuaded a friend of mine, Colin Power, to come along with me and to give it a try. The class tutor was - Steve McWilliam - and the first tune he played us was "Candyman" by the Rev. Gary Davis. Colin and I had never heard anything like it before and we were completely blown away. We didn't think that we would ever be able to play this fantastic music but we were completely hooked and determined to give it our best shot. We practised every day and drove our families mad. After three months, or so, our efforts were rewarded and you could recognise that it was "Candyman" that we were trying to play. We were hungry for more tunes and Steve introduced us to more great guitarists including Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Blake, Big Bill Broonzy, and many more. We enjoyed the class so much that we enrolled again for the following year and with Steve's help and plenty of practise our playing continued to improve and we began to learn some of the more complicated ragtime tunes.

At the end of the second year I suggested that we continued to meet once a week throughout the SummerGuitar Club - 1998 Xmas do.  A few members including Phil Lawton, Colin Power, Frank Meehan, Sid Gilks, John, Brian, et al. break so that we could continue to play together and so "The Acoustic Fingerstyle Guitar Club" was formed. Initially there were five members; we have continued to meet weekly at 9:00pm on Tuesday evenings at the Grange Manor Pub on Grange Lane, Liverpool 25, and our membership has grown to a select but committed thirteen. This is a friendly club and new members, of any level of ability, would be and are, made very welcome. Why not come along, have a drink, and see what goes on. The club moved venue in 2009. If you are even remotely interested give me, Phil Lawton, a ring on: 0151-280-4512, or drop me an e-mail at: Phil Lawton, for further details. We would be overjoyed to see and meet you. Phil Lawton - November 1999."

As at September 2000 Phil took over the guitar evening class at Halewood Comp as I had taken on a new job as manager of the new Local Record Centre for the Cheshire region ( which was going to take up all my available time - here is hoping I get time to pick the old box up now and again.

Joe Cainen (Warrington)

Joe, an ex-priest, runs the Bollington Music Weekends and plays a mean acoustic guitar (a Gibson). His main areas of interest lie in the ragtime and contemporary areas but as 'host' of the music weekends he also has a vast repertoire of well known sing-around songs which he can pick and strum as well as a few party pieces to keep the gathering fun and interesting. If you should like to contact Joe, please do so via my mail-box - Joe

Paddy Garrigan (Lancaster)

Paddy Garrigan on guitar and Mandolin - circa 1990A youngish player (just left Uni - as at 1997); I first met Patrick when he was about fifteen. He wanted to learn fingerstyle and proceeded to suck out everything I knew about guitar playing in about 9 months. He is phenomenal on a good night but seems to be gravitating towards playing bass in bands more than anything else at the moment. As well as guitar and bass he is a superb mandolin player and gets by on singing which is more than I can do. If you should like to contact Paddy, please do via his own e-mail-box - Paddy or over at his own web-site.

In Paddy's own words: "I first started playing music in my very early teens. My Gran had just moved into sheltered accommodation, and bequeathed an upright piano to my family. Soon, I was busily attempting to pick out the very latest sounds by Howard Jones, Depeche Mode and Ultravox. Sadly, since the piano itself was in the living room, along with the telly, the stereo, and, most vociferously, my family, I was ultimately forced to take my unexplored 'creative' side elsewhere. Unlikely as it may seem for a dejected teenager, this turned into playing the guitar.

Thrillingly, I joined a rock band the day after I started playing. However bad I may have been, I was the only member of the band to never have been kicked out by the time we split up six months later. By now I'd added slide and bass guitar to my repertoire of instruments I couldn't play properly, a repertoire which was growing bigger by the week. Soon I would be unable to play violin, mandolin, harmonica, tin whistle, autoharp, drums, Jews harp and the accordion. My friends at school envied me, and as the bullies laid into me, saying , "this'll teach you to be so good at music", I could only feel grateful that, finally, someone at school was willing to teach me anything.

By my mid-teens, I was starting to get busy - I was playing rhythm guitar and keyboards in Runcorn's only psychedelic improvisational free jazz-rock band (I would tell you the name, but that in itself would require a separate article), playing bass in my brother's band, and also making my first tentative steps towards playing in folk clubs, mostly accompanying my sister, and also my Dad, on the guitar. It was at this stage that I first became involved in what are now the Bollington Music Weekends. On my first visit, I established something of a trend by playing very little, getting drunker than I'd ever done before, and playing swingball on the front lawn at four in the morning. I believe it caused something of a stir.

Although the portents were not good, when I next returned to the Music Weekends, I had something of a life changing experience. Now the proud possessor of a 25 Hohner Acoustic (it should have been 30 but it was missing a string. Somehow I managed to refrain from breaking the other five strings and getting it for nothing), I was being taken seriously as a guitarist, and was soon under the collective wings (yikes) of Steve McWilliam and Joe Cainen, amongst others, who very generously spent the next few years sharing their considerable collective knowledge of music and also their Tuesday (and frequently many other) nights with me. They also introduced me to Ian Jesse, with whom I have since performed on many occasions, and in just as many diverse situations. I freely admit that it is entirely the fault of the residents of the Music Weekends that I first became interested in English folk music, and subsequently in songwriting, so they have no-one to blame for my career but themselves !!!!!

By now I had taken on the all-important role of bass player in local band 'The Purple Cage', which some people even remember. The range of experiences all of the above-mentioned wonderful people brought me into can only be described as 'character forming', and I'm very grateful for that! Forays ensued in various combinations, leading to many's the enjoyable / terrifying performance - from school barbecues to pub sessions, busking at markets, providing accompaniment for park fetes and madrigal singers alike, right up to full-on Rawk - it was great to be out playing, and to occasionally get some experience of playing on my own. Only occasionally, mind.

In 1993, I left Runcorn and moved up to Lancaster, where, contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, I have lived ever since. Until March 1997, I was primarily involved as bass player, keyboardist, violinist, and later as guitarist and second vocalist in the band The Puma Sutras. Since then, I have been guitarist, vocalist and primary songwriter for The Pier Group, who perform regularly across an increasingly broad geographical base. I have also played as a duo with Rachel McCarron, have played bass guitar with Striding Edge ceilidh band, have played various instruments on sessions by The Wisemen, and continue to perform as a solo act. Lancaster has a tremendous music scene, and I feel lucky to have gotten involved in it - more people should try it! I hope I get to see you all soon. - P. Garrigan - Jan. 2001"

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Mike Martin (Chester):

I first met Mike Martin in Mike Brown's record shop in Oxford Street in Manchester. This shop was situated in the basement of an old 3 storey house up near the University and each floor housed a different community of people. During the day the basement was the Record Shop and on Tuesday evenings it became the meeting place for many of the local acoustic guitar slingers/players and singers to 'show off' their latest tunes and/or compositions. One Tuesday evening, a dark November evening, Kieran Fish and myself attended for the first time and late into the session a young chap fell down the spiral staircase, complete with his Ovation guitar case. It was Mike C. Martin.

Mike was a little the worse for wear having paid a visit to the local hostelry - but - although he could hardly stay atop the three-legged stool on which he sat he played strongly and accurately, with fire and commitment - an astonishing performance throughout the rest of the evening. An amazing player.

Mike can be contacted via his mail box at: Mike.

To read Mike's own story click the link below:

Mike Martin In His Own Words - A Musical Journey

John Gregson (Widnes):

Tony Hayes (Widnes):

Martin Bell (Stoke):

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