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PIERRE BENSUSAN

Issue #27

Not that you could really describe the French-Algerian guitarist and singer Pierre Bensusan as a traditionalist. His style is absolutely eclectic, drawing on resources from around the world - from Bluegrass (he once toured, as a mandolin player with American Bluegrass banjo legend Bill Keith!) to Middle Eastern and Celtic - and beyond - way beyond, including Hendrix and Steve Vai!
Gary Cooper

PIERRE BENSUSAN

GI has managed to attract some amazing guitarists into the studio in our short (but glorious!) history - none more amazing than Pierre Bensusan. Widely regarded as the master of 'world music' guitar, Pierre has won awards from many of the world's guitar magazines and has a huge following, notably in the USA - always a demanding market. Gary Cooper posed the questions for our interview with Pierre and penned this introduction for readers not already familiar with the work of this consummate modern fingerstyle guitarist.

Regular Quiet Room devotees might be forgiven for thinking that we at GI are dedicated fans of the 'percussive acoustic' style of acoustic guitar playing and that we regard more traditional approaches as perhaps a bit old hat. It's certainly true that we've featured some of the masters of percussive playing and fewer of the traditionalists, but that has more been down to the luck of the draw than our intention. It's been about who we've been able to attract into our studio or catch on tour.  Which is a long winded way of saying that while truly admire the fireworks of Tommy Emmanuel or Jon Gomm (both of whom we've featured) or Don Alder and Maneli Jamal (two of our columnists) we're just as happy listening to players who take a more... let's say, traditional approach to the instrument.

Not that you could really describe the French-Algerian guitarist and singer Pierre Bensusan as a traditionalist. His style is absolutely eclectic, drawing on resources from around the world - from Bluegrass (he once toured, as a mandolin player with American Bluegrass banjo legend Bill Keith!) to Middle Eastern and Celtic - and beyond - way beyond, including Hendrix and Steve Vai!

As his answers to our questions reveal, Pierre Bensusan is a deeply intelligent and thoughtful man. Ask him something that many would answer with a flip sentence or two and he pauses then delivers the sort of considered response that would be worthy of an academic interview. His music reflects the same qualities, as you might expect: it's deep and involved.

Born in Oran, French Algeria, in 1957, Pierre moved to Paris at the age of four and was soon studying classical music. His age and location then put him in the path of the huge Folk revival that was spreading around the world back then and he drew from both sides of the Atlantic, crediting Bob Dylan as an influence, along with renowned guitarists like Davey Graham and Martin Carthy (all of whose influences you can clearly hear in his work - not least via his use of the DADGAD tuning which some credit Graham as having discovered).

That decision to make DADGAD his primary tuning, while not necessarily unusual in Folk-inspired guitar, is something we explore in our interview and it lends itself well to Pierre Bensusan's reflective, often Eastern-influenced playing.

It would be wrong to peg him as a traditional Folkie, however. At various stages of his career, Bensusan has appeared on stage with a battery of electric instruments and effects. His move to strip-down his performances to a solitary acoustic guitar is a relatively recent one and that, too, was something we asked him about. It's also something that is well reflected on his extraordinary 35 performance, three CD set 'Encore' which was released in late 2013 to showcase a long and intricate musical journey over the past 40 years.

With a string of successful albums and thousands of dates behind him, Pierre Bensusan is currently celebrating his 40th Anniversary with a world tour, unusually in conjunction with his guitar maker, George Lowden.  This sort of promotion is more the kind of thing you might expect from a Fender or a C.F. Martin than a small guitar maker from Northern Ireland but there is something about Lowdens that seems to have that sort of effect - a closeness between the artist and his Lowden guitar that is quite extraordinary and yet surprisingly common.

When we tried, and had thus far failed, to get an interview with Richard Thompson last year, it was Lowden asking on our behalf that saw Thompson find time to fit us into his hectic schedule. Jon Gomm came into our studio under the Lowden flag, too - and now we have Pierre Bensusan not just playing his faithful Lowden on tour but crediting the tour itself as 'in association with' the guitar maker. Even more celebrations took place when his original 'Old Lady' Lowden guitar was recreated as a new signature model, which was recently given away in a competition run by the guitarist and his luthier.

There are lots of guitar makers in the world and, at the top end, where George Lowden resides, you'd be hard pressed to find any physical reasons why one maker's work is technically better than another's. But some guitars just seems to have souls and the bond that Lowden artists appear to form with their guitars suggest that George's guitar have that intangible something extra that the very best players crave.

If you are already familiar with Pierre Bensusan's inspirational - not to say spiritual -  music, then we hope you will particularly enjoy our interview with him. If he is a new name to you, on the other hand, you might first want to watch the video performances he filmed in our studio. Once you've heard to the man play, the interview should make a lot more sense!

If Pierre Bensusan's extraordinarily broad and deep style really appeals to you, the guitarist even runs a residential course lasting seven days run at his home in France. The next is scheduled for 2015, so you've still time to book...

Our thanks to Pierre for generously interrupting his tour to visit our London studio and play for us. And our thanks to George Lowden, too, for helping make the arrangements.

More information: www.pierrebensusan.com and www.georgelowden.com

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