An Umlanga man who’s ventured far and wide, musician Guy Buttery is a guitar wizard . . . who makes the strings sing with joy. Garth Johnstone asked the questions.
Pictured left, Guy Buttery plays guitar overlooking the North Coast cane fields. Picture by Greg Lomas. Click on picture box to see entire image.
Question: Howzit Guy, it sure has been a long time. What’s changed for Guy Buttery since you released your debut album in 2002?
Answer: Well, a fair amount really. I’ve been fortunate to see a large portion of the world with my music, including tours to Italy, Ireland, the UK, Australia and the US and have just returned from a month-long tour of Europe which was just insane. 2010 has been particularly good for me as I received three national awards in the first half of the year, including a South African Music Award for ‘Best Instrumental Record for 2010’ and a Standard Bank Golden Ovation Award for the best music act at this year’s National Arts Festival. This latter award came from an assessment of more than 4 000 performers, so I was chuffed with that.
I guess it always feels like there’s some new fresh energy and sense of drive when these kind of accolades come along.
Apart from moving around loads and recording three albums since my first album release, not a lot has changed. I’m still deeply in love with the guitar, if not more so, and am still trying to soak up as much music and as many experiences as the world has to offer.
Q: You’re a North Coast boy, where exactly did you grow up? Which schools did you attend and do you spend much time at home? Where’s home today?
A: I grew up in Umhlanga Rocks back when it was a small dot on the East Coast of SA, full of surfers, fisherman and young families. I did time at Crawford College North Coast (laughs, ha ha) which had an ethos I really resonated with . . . this was a very inspiring period of my life. Before that I attended Atholton Primary in Umhlanga which I have very fond memories of.
Home for me today is usually a combination of Durban, Cape Town, various airports, the N1, N2, N3 and some secondary roads which I need not mention.
Q: When you think of the KZN North Coast, what about it makes it so special? I remember you telling me you used to hang out with your mates in the cane fields. Do you still take time to do that?
A: Well firstly, I’d have to say that South Africa is undeniably the most diverse country I have ever experienced, particularly KwaZulu-Natal. Hosting the biggest Indian population outside of India, being the home of the Zulus with all their history and rich tradition, it’s the birthplace of our very own fingerstyle guitar genre, maskanda, as well as having a enormously varied landscape . . .
KwaZulu-Natal really is one of a kind. And you can’t deny its colonial past, with all its beautifully decorative churches and farms along the North Coast. The place screams diversity. And for that exact reason I fall in love with KZN over and over again. Whenever I’m in town, a pilgrimage out to the cane fields is involuntary, if not compulsary. The various nooks and crannies out there are waiting for pieces of music to write about.
Q: Tell me a bit about your background. Do you come from a big family environment?
A: I come from a pretty big family which is consistantly growing in fact. I am now an uncle of three with the fourth baby girl on the way in November. I have two brothers and one sister all of whom are now married (best of luck to the in-laws) and my folks are going stronger than ever.
Q: Does physical environment influence your songwriting?
A: Most definitely. I spent a large part of my youth exploring the local river gorges, discovering forests along the North Coast and wandering ancient Zulu foot-paths, always with guitar in hand. Almost inevitably, the landscape became my most obvious source of inspiration. The insular music-making process and my individualistic outlook on life permitted a personal and hopefully somewhat unique view of our diverse landscape and its cultures.
It also seems all touring musicians have songs about the road and my most recent album, Fox Hill Lane, is full of them. Inevitably there are songs about the longing for home and all the contentment associated with it. I tend to get reflective and try to interpret my connection and understanding of KwaZulu-Natal into song. The album also pays homage to all the diversity and beauty of the numerous people and places that have crossed my path and made me who I am.
Q: What instruments do you play, which are your favourites and what instrument do you rate yourself on?
A: At the end of my European tour this August, my last port of call was a town called Penrith in North Cumbria in the Lake District of England. I was offered an endorsement deal with one of the UK’s finest guitar makers (Roger Bucknall of Fylde Guitars) so I headed up there to test drive a bunch of incredibly beautiful hand-made instruments.
After about four hours of back and forth around the workshop I decided on his Oberon model and am in awe of its projection and tone colours. I already see a well of new ideas developing within one week of playing it.
My other workhorse is my Martin OMC-16E Premium which I bought in New York two years back and my even older Takamine ND-25C which is still going strong. Each instrument holds its own space and has its individual, specialised uses.
Q: When you go on stage what do you think about? . . . are you focussed or are you all over the place?
A: It varies. I don’t often get nervous before a show, provided I have enough time beforehand to warm up and feel confident to play my music without worrying too much about technicalities. I just returned from a festival in Darling where I did 12 shows in 3 days. In those kind of scenarios you just have to take each show one at a time where warming up isn’t always an option.
Q: Your favourite gig ever?
A: The one that that always sticks in my mind is when I performed at this international guitar festival in Italy. I grew up very close to an Italian family in Umhlanga and have always had fantasies and preconceptions about the place. Nothing could really match up to the real thing. Italy is by far my favourite stop in Europe so when I was invited to perform at a festival there with a bunch of my heroes on the bill, I couldn’t say no.
Perhaps it was something to do with the language barrier between me and the audience and how the music had to do the talking, but I walked off stage elated, euphoric in that massive auditorium in Udine. The experience will always be etched in my mind.
Q: Who would you most like to meet and jam with?
A: That’s always a tricky question. I guess a few people like Toumani Diabate, Andrew Bird and Bob Dylan would be obvious choices. However I have been really fortunate to record, collaborate, tour and work with a bunch of incredible people in the last 10 years. My good friend Nibs van der Spuy, Vusi Mahlasela, Tony Cox, Steve Newman, Madala Kunene, Farryl Purkiss, Gito Baloi, Shawn Phillips, Chris Letcher and a bunch of others. Each collaboration has been life-fulfilling and unique.
Q: What’s in your cd player?
A: Sun Kil Moon’s “April” has been on repeat on the CD player. My turn-table has Keith Jarrett’s “Sun Bear Concerts” going down and my iPod is continously on shuffle ranging from Ali Farka Toure to Van Morrison.
Q: What are you reading at the moment?
A: Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins. Surrealism at its most epic.
Q: Do you play or watch any sports?
A: I surf. That’s a sport, right? If its on the tele I’d watch for sure.
Q: When you’re at home what car do you drive?
A: In Durban I still have my old “Green Mamba”. A sea green 1998 Toyota Tazz that continues to roll on. For some reason, he’s always been more partial to dirt roads. Some say if I’d filmed a few of the places I’d been with this car, Toyota would gladly offer some kind of heroic trophy.
Q: Plans for Guy Buttery in the next six months to a year?
A: At the moment I have tours planned for KZN, the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng, but am hoping to take a long break sometime in November to work on new material and get connected with my recently aquired guitar. I will then start planning my next UK and European tours for 2011.
Q: Recording plans?
A: I am currently working on an out-takes release of material from my previous album which will only be available on LP. I hope to have that out by the end of the year. I have also just captured 40+ hours of footage from the last eight years of my career to start compiling a live DVD/documentary on my music, which I hope to have out by mid next year.
For info click here (videos, tour dates, music, pictures, reviews and more).
September 17, 2010 – Hilton Arts Festival, Hilton School. Dining Hall at 9pm.
September 18, 2010 – Open Strings House Concert, Westville. 9 St Georges Drive, 9pm.