Guthrie Govan is one of the world’s most renowned guitar players and has worked with artists as diverse as Asia and Dizzee Rascal. His BIMM masterclasses are an end of term staple and after his latest he stopped by the Freemason’s pub for a chat with Chris Middleton about his beginnings and his career so far.
There will be many students reading this wanting to turn their craft and technique into a career. What was the turning point for you?
I was doing an English degree at Oxford but I left that and after a year and a half of McDonald’s it came to me that you have to make your own ladder. The way I did that was ask myself, What is it that comes naturally to me that other people would find more difficult?
And what was it that you realised made you stand out?
This may sound like a stroke of genius but actually it was pure desperation. I thought to myself, ‘Guitar magazines have transcription pages at the back, maybe I could be one of those guys’. So I transcribed the most terrifying thing I could, which was a Shaun Lane solo, sent it off to Guitar Techniques and after that they sent stuff to me every month. Then I met Mike Sturgis who was the head of drums at ACM [Academy of Contemporary Music], who was also the drummer in Asia. He got me some session work and then Asia remembered me when they were putting a touring band together.
Which albums or musicians changed the way you approach playing?
Abbey Road (The Beatles’ 1969 album), that’s the one for me, side two of Abbey Road is as close to perfection as I can think of. It made pop music seem more like a genuine art form and less bubblegum.
Is it more important to be as versatile as possible or to develop a unique sound?
I only have one story which is my story and I can’t say this applies to everyone, but I would say it’s a good idea to be well versed in a lot of different styles and genres but not to sell yourself too aggressively as a person who can play everything.
What advice would you give students hoping to make it in the music industry?
I don’t have a one size fits all answer to that because I haven’t heard them. You’d get a slightly different answer for each player. But I would be tempted to answer that question with another which would be, What do you expect music to give you back? And do you have a specific idea of how you plan to go about it? I think it’s good to have some kind of game plan some kind of vision and some kind of incremental dream with a succession of a few achievable goals.