What was it that first got you interested in playing the guitar, mandolin or banjo?
I never intended to play the mandolin. As a 21st birthday present, I funded my god-daughter to go on a bicycle tour of Italy. She returned with a bowl-style Italian mandolin which she gave to me. I now have 4 mandolins and two ukuleles tuned in GDAE, and it’s my favourite instrument. I would call myself a post-beginner to intermediate player. Definitely not advanced!
How long have you been playing and what’s your motivation to play?
I’ve been playing English concertina for 18 years and the mandolin for about 9. My main joy is playing with others in a largish group.
What’s your favorite lesson on Ben’s site and how has it helped you improve?
Well I’ve only just joined so it’s early days. My wife is a fine singer but I haven’t done much backup for songs. So I’m enjoying the “Exploring Ballad Backup” lessons at the moment. But I’m sure I will find other favourite lessons as I get more familiar with the site.
What’s your goal when playing?
To listen to others in the group and make a good contribution to our overall sound. In our Irish-style sessions we don’t take turns to lead the tune - all the melody instruments play together.
Are there any other instruments or genres of music that you enjoy playing?
The English concertina was originally my main instrument, although I now consider the mandolin as number one choice. I also play the ukulele - but only when tuned to GDAE!
Do you have a favorite technique? What is it?
I don’t really have a favourite technique, although I do enjoy trying to play a good tremolo which adds a distinctive mandolin sound to the slower tunes in the the session.
If you could play in anyone’s band, who would it be and why?
The New Scorpion Band, when Tim Laycock was leading them (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktLpjU8ZbmY). I saw them play, without amplification, in many a village hall in England. If not them then Planxty, the quintessential Irish band (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nt4ySrsBBSQ).
If money was no object, what would be your dream instrument(s)?
I am very happy with my current instruments (Wheatstone Aeola English concertina built in 1916 and my Collings MF DLX mandolin) so am not dreaming of other instruments (yet!).
If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
I would practice my playing at night and leave more time for hiking during the day.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I was born in Tennessee (long story) although I left the US when I was four months old. Maybe there’s something bluegrass/country in the blood! After that I was brought up in Ireland and then spent most of my working life in the UK. I am now retired and live on the Mediterranean Island of Malta. Malta is a tiny island in the Mediterranean with rich musical traditions. Every village has at least one band club with a marching band which plays at the various religious feasts during the year. These bands are full of young people and it is at the band club that many young Maltese get an introduction to playing an instrument. Many of them then move on to playing classical music in an orchestra. Others go into rock music or jazz. There is very little bluegrass or country music. My wife and I run a Celtic music (jam) session with about 18 regular players. We are the only people in the country doing this kind of music. Although we never intended to be a performance band, we have ended up being in quite high demand to play a various events, e.g. St Patrick’s day, weddings, barn dances, Whiskey festival etc. Although we are nominally Celtic, we play quite a range of traditional tunes including for example Turkey in the Straw and Old Joe Clark.
How did you find out about Banjo Ben?
I stumbled on Banjo Ben while searching for mandolin lessons on Youtube. I was immediately taken by his open personality.