Zeke Iddon: I
was lucky enough to catch you guys at the Aylesbury
Music Centre, a tiny venue in the British market town of the same name.
Last year you played some massive festivals and large concerts in both
the UK and America - how on Earth did the Aylesbury gig come about?
Did your agent screw up or something?
Not at all. We like to perform anywhere - large or small, and of
course there are some smaller venues with stunning acoustics for
which are a real treat to play in.
Do you the prefer
smaller/larger shows, or is the dynamic different with
Chris Stell: The larger ones you can get really hyped-up for; but
the smaller and
more intimate ones can really produce some of the best performances as
able to concentrate on the music making more. The larger ones also have
excitement of the event with anticipation, nerves and tension and that
can have a
positive effect on the concert!
Both of your
playing is enviably amazing from a technical point of view,
and you each hold teaching positions (including at the Royal Academy of
Music, where you guys met.) Does the academia side of music take up a
lot of your time, and does it hold much sway on your performances?
Chris: I teach at the Royal College of Music and Mark at the
Conservatoire as well as junior Guildhall London. Teaching is an
important part of
our careers and helps with our own thoughts and concepts of musical
Interpretation, as you really have to clarify what you are trying to say
to your students. It's also a lot of fun. It's sometimes tricky but we
fairly well with playing commitments.
You’re a big fan of
the classical and jazz composer Nick Cartledge, also a
Royal College graduate, and have commissioned work from him in the
past. How did that relationship come about?
Mark: We met Nick a while ago through friends and at a teaching
job we both used
to have in London. He's an amazing musician and we got on well so it
happened that he wrote us a piece. He's written a double guitar concerto
whichwe've never performed as it's so hard to get an orchestra to
perform new works.
Are there any other
modern composers you admire and would like to
Mark: We also like composers Errolyn Wallen, Johannes Moller,
Gary Ryan, who have all either written works for us or we'd like pieces
and many more. There are some seriously talented composers out there and
performing new music is an important part of our repertoire.
Do you guys ever
argue over potential pieces one of you would like to play or record? Has
thrown a diva-strop?
Mark: All musicians are mini-divas in some way, but we don't seem
to have any
strops over repertoire as we have to plan ahead so much with what we're
learn and work on that it's not an issue. Tensions can arise over
rehearsals as we
can sometimes be critical about each others playing. You try to be
when there's just two of you it's not worth beating about the bush.
Have you ever
thrown a guitar through a hotel bedroom window? I need
Mark: As far as a rock star lifestyle goes we're pretty tame, but
I have been known
to dance with the odd giant palm tree on wheels on occasion, with
The duo rose to
success fairly quickly and has hit dizzying heights. Were
you aware early on how big this would become, or did it just snowball?
Mark: I don't think that we've hit any dizzy heights! It
certainly doesn't feel like
that. Classical music and the classical guitar world is incredibly down
We've been very lucky to have been invited to perform some big concerts
festivals and had some juicy reviews over the years but we're not famous
terms. We're quite well known in the guitar world generally which sounds
boring but when you consider how many amazing players there are out
pleased we just register on the who's who list.
Where to from here?
Chris: Home for a cuppa! Seriously, we are working on some
projects and a
new CD of Spanish/Catalan music arrangements which are really beautiful.
have a few more duo projects after that including new works which have
written for us and more which should keep us going for a few years! We
perform in the VIDA Guitar Quartet and have a new CD out called 'Love,
Magician' on the BGS label and promoting that with concerts has been a
focus especially over this year.
You’re sponsored by
D’Addario strings, which I'm also fond of.
Could you tell us a bit about your guitar set-up?
Mark: We also love D'Addario strings and very proud to be
artists. We play on the hard tension range J46 either Pro Arte or EXPs
or the composites range. We're impressed with them all. We play
guitars by Christopher Dean and we also ordered new guitars by Muller
which we get this summer.
What do you look
for in a good guitar? Similarly, are there any particular
guitars you’d strangle a puppy just to own?
Chris: It's not essential to play the same guitars in a duo but
having the same
maker has meant we have some kind of consistent starting point when
a duo. Spruce guitars are good for clarity like the Dean instruments but
Mullers will be cedar, so this will be an exciting departure for us.
Mark: I would love a Dietrich but he quite old now and not making
Chris: I'd love to own an old Hauser or Fleta just as a
know if I'd kill a puppy for one. Perhaps a hamster?
It can be arranged.
Quick fire round?
What is your
Mark: 'Fang-Fang' - I know it's two words, but he's our imaginary
when we're on tour with the VIDA GQ. He does everything for us!
Mark: You go a little mad when you're on tour!
What is your least
What turns you on
creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Mark: Tough one! Creative would be just knowing you're performing
communicating well with your audience. Spiritually is when you hear
players performing like at the World Youth Guitar Festival last year.
when you get a huge high after a concert or a great review when you feel
hard work and practice has paid off!
What turns you off?
What is your
favourite curse word?
What sound or noise
do you love?
Chris: Piano - and the guitar, of course.
Mark: String Quartet and my kids singing!
What sound or noise
do you hate?
Mark: Bad guitar tone!
other than your own, would you like to attempt?
Chris: Poet or cheese maker!
Mark: I would like to compose but when ever I write something I
critical of it and press the delete button.
would you not like to do?
Mark: Anything repetitious or mind numbingly boring. I'm very
everyday I do something different.
If Heaven exists,
what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at
the Pearly Gates?
Chris: I’ll put the kettle on.
Finally, do you
guys happen to need a singer? I can make up lyrics and
everything. I’m also cheap.
Mark: Hmm, Can we get back to you on that one?
Guys, thanks so
much for managing to get through this list of questions.
It was tough at times.
Mark: Our pleasure. It was most enjoyable.