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InterviewsA Conversation with Guitarist Roy Marchbank

Posted on Wednesday, July 27 2005 @ 19:30:09 CDT by Pete Pardo

Roy Marchbank is notorious for his insane electric guitar technique in the underground world. He was, and still is, very much sought after, not only for his technical ability, but because he plays from the heart. Roy studied at Scotland's Perth Music College and upon finishing, taught guitar privately in Edinburgh. He left soon afterwards for Dublin to play with the group "Bohinta". While in Ireland, Roy played guitar in the pit band for theatre shows such as "Jesus Christ Superstar", "Godspell", and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" . Roy subsequently left Ireland to play with Scottish band "The Iron Horse" touring & recording internationally for almost four years. During this time he recorded guitar for Aine Furey's debut album "Sweetest Summer Rain", "The Iron Horse" for BBC Radio Scotland and participated in a cultural exchange program with the Uzbekistan twenty piece chamber orchestra "Sogdiana" - thanks to the British Council.

When The Iron Horse split in search of there own solo careers, Roy returned to Dublin to record an EP with "Invisible Boss". Roy currently resides in Barcelona and has just completed his first solo album. Roy sat down with Sea of Tranquility's Mike Blackburn to discuss the past, present and future with the long awaited release of his first instrumental masterpiece, Widowmakers Highway.

The history of modern instrumental electric guitar music is marked by three watershed events. In the mid seventies Al Dimeola's stunningly articulate alternate picking and searing scalular runs sent amateur and professional axe slingers scurrying for the woodshed! In the late seventies Edward Van Halen dropped the jaw of the collective community with his mind blowing and ultra modern sounding attack and technique. In the early eighties, Mike Varney's initial US metal attack and the subsequent unleashing of a phalanx of armed and dangerous instrumental six string monsters with names like Malmsteen, Macalpine, Howe and Vinnie Moore on his Shrapnel label gave the famished and eager young guitarist access to previously unimaginable displays of sheer bombastic virtuosity. The players had always been there, they just had previously had no vehicle to display their wares other than hopefully through a successful band experience. The accumulated effect of these events continues to manifest itself in instrumental guitar music to this day, almost three decades later.

There has been a price to pay. Every guitar hero has had to endure the caustic barbs of those infinitely less talented and the economic realities of the musical landscape as did the master classical composers in their time. For every successful slinger there are dozens who have practiced and perfected their craft in the quest for their dream only to be left by the wayside. Yet, as it did during those romantic classical times, the dream continues! It is the dream of leaving an indelible mark on our musical times, of being accepted and recognized as a singular and unique voice within the craft. And of course ultimately, of leaving a definitive statement for all of eternity.

Roy Marchbank has fought this battle, paid the price and he yearns to fulfill this dream! Inspired by artists like those mentioned above, he stands poised, on the eve of the release of his first solo instrumental project "Widowmaker's Highway" to make his singularly unique and definitive statement. Could this be the next watershed event?

Part II Roy Marchbank Biography

Mike: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

Roy: Cresswell, Dumfriesshire in Southwest Scotland 24th June 69, there's a village just outside called Moniaive, most of my early years were spent there.

Mike: Was your family a musical one? What are your earliest musical recollections?

Roy: I would say they have a love for music, but not a passion for it. My parents always sang, my mother used to have a game when I was a kid where she would sing a phrase and I had to finish the last word. I was around 2. It was also I guess, my first music lesson. My dad used to play guitar & sing a whole bunch of traditional Scottish & Beatles songs. He showed me my first chords. A guy I spent most of my youth with "Davyboy", showed me my first bar chords

Mike: When did you get your first guitar and what kind was it?

Roy: I was 5, no idea who made it, it has no mark. Might have come free with a packet of Frosties or something ,lol.

Mike: Who were your major early guitar and musical influences? How were you introduced to those influences?

Roy Marchbank

Roy: When I first heard Big Bill Broonzy and was able to play my first ragtime, it was like magic, I really fell for the guitar after that. Later I was introduced to a friend's record collection, he had stuff by The Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Deep Purple, Motorhead, Van Halen, Gary Moore, Hendrix! It was like walking into a gold mine. About 2 years later, I'd be around 14, I watched a TV documentary on Les Paul, that was the real turning point.

Mike: Did you have a particular teacher who influenced your musical direction, guitar or otherwise?

Roy: My own mind, but I feel music follows its own course, it has the essence of water, it doesn't stop & think "I've a huge problem in front of me" it goes round, under or over.

Mike: Tell us about your amateur career and bands?

Roy: I don't think there is a kind of music I've not played in the 26 years I've been at this, so many sessions & bands it would take a night to write them all down

Mike: When and what influenced you to make a career in music?

Roy: I am dyslexic and you know, back in the witchfinder general's day dyslexia was something no one knew about or if they did, they didn't talk about it. People thought me stupid, the end result was being perpetually surrounded by aggression because as they saw it, I was lazy, I also had a very odd experience happen to both me and my sister as kids and these experiences continued till I was well over 12. I'm toying with the idea it being electro-magnetic in nature, but can't be sure. So I had to find a window out and well… the rest is history I guess. I also got given an accordion around the same time, jeez, as if things weren't bad enough ,lmao!!

Mike: Give us a brief professional career background from inception until now?

Roy: I had a country band gig when I was around 15 working weekends and during music college I formed a rock and an instrumental band that played the occasional gig. Later I moved to Edinburgh Scotland and taught private guitar for a couple of years and played in various rock bands both local and in other cities before moving to Ireland to join Bohinta. I later played in the pit band for theatre shows such as Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, etc, while simultaneously balancing sessions with other artists. I was also working in bands both original and cover and taught guitar weekdays. I left Ireland for Scotland to tour international and record with Scottish contemporary traditional act The Iron Horse and recorded the occasional session on tour time off. Then I left the UK for Barcelona and started various music projects and my first solo album. I'm currently working in construction in Barcelona with my solo album just completed.

Mike: Tell us about touring with Iron Horse, particularly your Uzbekistan tour.

Roy: We toured mostly Europe when I joined, with the exception of Disney, Orlando, playing festivals and theatre for the better part of 3 years. It was always fun, but there were troubles lurking in the background before I joined in "98" with a certain PETER Nameless, but he planted a dark seed to put an end to what I believe could well could have been a world known act on a major stage. The last tour we had was in Uzbekistan with the Uzbek folk instuments chamber orchestra "Sogdiana". The aim was to build a better understanding from two very different cultural backgrounds and I would say, for the better part, succeeded in doing so in the 2 weeks we had, I felt proud of both Iron Horse and Sogdiana after 14 days of what was one of the most intensive musical moments of my life. CDs and Videos are not available now to my knowledge. But if you're interested Contact the British Council in Uzbekistan

Mike: What ultimately brought you to Spain? You seem to have previously been on a musical quest?

Roy: Well my partner is Catalan and I felt it was time for a big change. I'd experienced everything I really wanted to in music up until that point but wanted to write and promote my own work and of course progress as a musician. Also my style has no clear pigeonhole other than guitar intrumental, so I can forget making a living out of it. Its back to the day job for now, I have no interest in teaching, cover bands & sessions anymore, it's just not my path.

Mike: Tell us how and where you met your Catalan beauty?

Roy: In a telephone box in Malahide, County Dublin Ireland, lol.

Mike: Has that move (to Spain) had any impact upon your music? If so what and how?

Roy: For the most part it's been a positive step, even if initially the first 2 ˝ years were incredibly difficult to settle. I miss my people, but on the flip side I'm growing again as a musician and can once again afford to buy new gear. Anytime I've recorded before, it's been at the expense of someone else's time.

As far as guitar is concerned, I'm living in the land of Flamenco so I'm getting another education, the guitar playing here is of course incredible, make no bones about it, I feel if you want to really learn, you have to go to the culture and be in the environment be it here or elsewhere. In fact I feel a move to Andalucia may happen at some point

Mike: What is your current stable of guitar and amplifiers? How are you set up to practice and work? What recording equipment do you use?

Roy: I work with the basics, fingers, plecks and various guitars for different ways of playing. I have a baby Yamaha APXT-1 fitted with a Fishman Humbucker & spurzel string locks, a custom stainless steel fretless that used to be an old Ibanez 560, my main electric Yamaha 1221, totally overhauled and customized. A standard 70,s Ovation steel string Custom Balladeer and an Epiphone C70-CE classical.

For amps a Peavey classic 50, that sounds incredible for rock & blues and a little Roland micro cube for street sessions. For effects, I use a Roland VG-88,V.2 and a Boss GT-6 with a Boss compressor and Korg Pandora PX4 through the fxs loop.

The PC has a Creative SoundBlaster Audigy soundcard & Cakewalk Pro Audio 9 program, not exactly pro-tools, but it works well for recording guitar. Later this year I'll be investing in an Apple G5 w/pro tools, Korg Triton and a Virtual Roland kit to record and hopefully tour my second album.

Mike: How much time do you typically spend practicing and recording?

Roy: If I can, all day, it depends on my day job. Right now I'm lucky if I can get an hour in on the weekdays, the weekends are prime time

Roy Marchbank

Mike: Pending the expected success of your initial album followed by a blossoming and renewed career as a musical artist, you currently work in a very labour intensive and often dangerous construction trade. One in which every day you roll the dice with regard to the well being of your hands and fingers, the very conduits of your musical creativity from your brain to the strings. Doesn't this worry you?

Roy: All the time, but risks sometimes have to be taken, the bills don't get paid themselves, and it's that simple.

Mike: What is the most difficult hurdle facing an instrumental guitar artist in today's musical environment?

Roy: As it's always been, becoming self-actualized

Mike: When I was growing up, my guitar heroes were all in bands that I could see on tour somewhere near my home at some point in their career. Nowadays, guitarists toil in the sanctuary of their own home studios jamming with remote band members electronically or with computers as backing. If you are very lucky geographically, you might possibly be able to catch them performing with backing tracks at a guitar festival or at an instrument supplier's conference or in store seminar. What are your thoughts on this? When I was growing up half the fun was playing live with your friends. That seems to be disappearing somewhat these days, particularly with strictly instrumental artists.

Roy: Its changed days unfortunately, playing along to backing tracks is all very well, but people come for the experience, I still have a lot of faith in that, jam sessions with great musicians are your best bet, check out the local bars that hold them.

Mike: Many of today's players possess astounding technique but often to me, that certain feeling, natural phrasing and timing that comes from hours of playing and discussing what you are doing with others seems to be missing. Also missing is the immediate and honest feedback you can only get from a close friend or band mate. Do you think this is a fair assessment?

Roy: Yip, way too much info on what you should do. The road to self discovery is not handed out in books & video, It comes from within & a lot of hard graft, there is no quick fix. To say one way is THE WAY you have already crystallized a form of work & killed it stone dead, it can't grow because the boundaries have been built. No style as style, now on that path you can progress forever

Mike: What do you see as the next major technological breakthrough for guitar players?

Roy: Guitars with no strings, it's going to be a strange step

Mike: So you see guitar becoming a percussive rather than string instrument with notes being hammered rather plan plucked?

Roy: No I don't think you'll have to change anything technique-wise at all, the only difference will be no string tension problems and the freedom to make a guitar from another material other than wood.

Mike: What are your five (5) indispensable desert island albums? The ones you cannot live without. They do not have to be rock or guitar albums.

Roy: The best of Ben Webster, Stevie Ray Vaughan "Greatest Hits", Art Tatum Group Masterpieces Vol 7, Steve Gaines "One in the Sun" and my Randy Newman compilation.

Part III Widowmaker's Highway

Mike: When was the seed that became WH first planted? When did you start collecting music you had already written or when did you start composing specifically for this project?

Roy: I've been at this since I first picked up a guitar, but never had a vehicle to show it up until now.

Mike: What is the origin of the project's name and the artwork? What is the general musical and creative theme behind the effort. How the tracks mesh together to support this theme?

Roy: There is a road in Nevada desert that is dubbed Widowmaker's Highway by the wives who lost there husbands working with highly toxic and top secret materials, it leads to what the world now knows as Area 51. Janet Frost is one of those women & now seeks compensation from the US government.

The problem is the US government denies its existence. The working man has no rights, he can't get prescribed the proper medication from the doctor because he is sworn to secrecy so the end result is sometimes death.

The reason it is top secret is because they have, and this is a fact! A new form of science that would revolutionize the world as we know it. A form of energy that would put an end to fossil and nuclear energy forever, but…..they don't," whoever they are" want to put an end to a multi-trillion dollar war & energy industry. The head chief staff director for the CIA & national security under President Clinton couldn't get access for crisakes. So here we have a government taking orders it would seem, from a rouge Cabal, black special op, kind of Mafioso that is hell bent, on what could well be steering us into WW3 .

The tracks are just stages of my life, I've had a deep burning sensation, that can best be described like a knot in my stomach to find out what it was that I witnessed with my sister so long ago and it's brought me here, wherever that is.

Mike Let's now discuss each track individually. The origin, theme, key technical aspects, equipment used and any other important or relevant point information:

Widowmaker's Highway

All the versions and the original work including all solos, were written using various unknown open tunings, except Widowmaker's Highway which is DADGAD and Feels Like Home, DGDGBD, then translated back to standard pitch and recorded. Using this idea, I am left with only technique, all I've learnt is forgotten and I'm free to bypass straight to the heart and later use theory to arrange. It's my way, not The Way you understand!

Widowmans Highway

Siempre Amore: The backing track was recorded by Invisible Boss and originally called Dave's song. I had a solo written before called Papyrus of Ani which by chance happened to fit exactly, so I called the boys up and asked if I could use it for the album. I recorded all the guitars with a Yamaha 1221 to a Boss cs3 compressor sustainer into a Digitech 2101 with a Korg PX4 & bass parametric eq pq-3b running through the fxs loop out direct into the pc. The name Siempre Amor is a somewhat sarcastic title, translated in Spanish "always love" .

Blue Bossa/Phoenix Street: B.Bossa is written by Kenny Dorham, although this version is a twisted form of what Emily Remler taught on video. Phoenix Street is a basic jazz chord prog I wrote to support some kind of solo work. Originally I thought to have a violin solo, but got talking to Paul Clark via the good peeps at Talk 2 Joe/Joe Satriani site and thought, would be different to have a no holds barred dual guitar solo between myself on clean guitar and ol Clarky on filth, so I opted for that idea and this is the end result with Juan Carlos from the band Foundation Tony Manero on bass. I recorded direct with no effects using a semi acoustic Yamaha for the backing and beginning slide and my 1221 for the clean parts after.

Flymans Knuckle: A term used by the crew that "fly" the scenes backstage in the theatre when the hands become swollen.

After my first visit to Barcelona, I started a lot to think about life and travel, its joy and heartbreak of arrival and departure and the walking of that fine line between the two without loosing your decorum .

I recorded with an Epiphone classical direct to disk and my 1221 through a Digitech 2101.The drum programming, synth AND overall master track was done by Graham Watt .

Widowmaker's Highway: As mentioned in the interview. Again recorded direct to PC with the Yamaha semi-acoustic tuned to DADGAD

Autumn Leaves: After 2 years of living in Barcelona, I landed a few gigs along with bass player David Salvadore playing standards in restaurants. Autumn Leaves and Bolivar blues were 2 that we recorded during a 6 month period.

Both were recorded direct to PC,using a fretless custom guitar, Fender telecaster, Yamaha semi-acoustic, Yamaha 1221 & Epiphone c70 classical through a Boss cs3 compressor

C-prelude: Bach/The Hungarian Gypsy Airs no No1"Zigeunerwiesen Op.20/Pablo de Sarasate: Probably the most complex guitar parts I ,ve ever played and recorded to date,a real challenge to write a solo for the Bach chord section and the translating of the violin part to guitar for the Gypsy Airs. The chord section at the end was by far the hardest of the entire piece to record clean, sorely underestimated but lesson learnt!

Mike: Tough to fit the title on the CD sleeve as well lol!!!

Egyptian Psycho: Because she was,nuff said, recorded the same as Siempre Amor and written with the midi file 10 years ago, but I needed better string samples and programming. Graham Watt to the rescue again

Feels like home: Sitting in a friends flat looking out the window on one of those rare sunny days we get in Scotland and written in under 10 minutes. Recorded the same as Widowmaker's Highway except for the DGDGBD tuning

Mike Blackburn

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