Editor's note: Tony is another artist whom I met at Steve Kaufman's Flatpickin Kamp in the summer of 2004. I had the distinct pleasure to share meals with Tony, Beppe Gambetta and others at Steve's great camp. Tony's sense of humor is one that kept me cracking up. Always with a joke, Tony never stopped smiling. His expertise in all things Celtic is impressive. His guitar work is moreso. Known worldwide as a fingerstyle guitarist, Tony is also a flatpicking monster! I hope you enjoy this interview that I had with Tony. There's more to come also, so please check back for some new material.
DS: You are on the leading edge of Celtic guitar music as we know it. You
are a historian. I was very impressed with what you taught in my
particular class in Kaufman's Kamp last summer - about how the upper
left-hand corner of most Western European countries is Celtic. I find
that history to be fascinating. What was it that made you decide to take
on the task of re-writing old Scottish bagpipe tunes for the acoustic
TM: I've always been trying to deal with these two obsessions- guitar and
traditional music. I was drawn to the instrument as a kid but not
exposed to the music you would associate with acoustic guitar in the UK;
Jansch, Renbourn, Kottke etc. Instead I was listening to The Chieftains,
Planxty, The Bothy Band and trying to get that music to work on guitar.
DS: You are as well known for your fingerstyle as you are for your
flatpicking. Do you prefer one style over another or is it a utilitarian
thing - in other words - whatever method fits a particular tune best,
TM: Sometimes it's the musical situation in which you find yourself that
dictates. If I were playing in a big jam session I'd reach for the pick
whereas if I were at home I'd usually noodle fingerstyle. But mostly
it's as you say- whatever suits a particular tune.
DS: The "Men of Steel" project is a fantastic idea. Bringing together
steel-string acoustic guitar players from four different countries is
certainly unique. The four of you; Don Ross - Canada, Beppe Gambetta -
Italy, Dan Crary - USA and yourself from Scotland, play so well together
it is natural. Who came up with the idea?
TM: Originally Dan and Beppe- who were touring a lot in as a duo Germany and
elsewhere- came up with the idea of a travelling guitar summit, having
been involved in several shows with a bunch of guitarists on stage, and
settled on the idea of four very different players from four different
countries working as a unit.
DS: Are the four of you the original members or was someone else involved at
TM: Nope. The four of us met at Dan Crary's place in Oregon in February '03
and basically worked our buns off putting a show together over the
course of a week, did the gig at the local cinema, recorded it, mixed
and edited it (actually Dan and Billy Oskay did that bit) and we had an
album by April.
DS: Are all your shows with MOS the same, or do the tunes and order of
performance change much?
TM: They change and evolve in a natural and beautiful way! For the first
tour we stuck to our guns pretty much as we hadn't much rehearsal time
but the more we play the more flexible it becomes.
DS: How often do you do MOS tours?
TM: When ever the four of us are free! It's a bit of a nightmare trying to
coordinate four musicians, four agents, four managements etc. In theory
we block off time for the band and the relevant agent in the relevant
territory fills in the dates. But often an offer comes in and we then
try to fit other things around it if there's a window for all four of
us. But it's a logistical headache- as is the fact that Beppe and I
require visas to perform in the States at time when those doors are being
slammed in the face of overseas artists.
DS: Do you foresee any studio time in the future of MOS?
TM: I'd hope to do a studio album at some point. The energy of the live gig,
plus the banter between us in stage, is great fun though. We'll see. . .
DS: Where do you see the convergence of the Celtic and the American Folk
genres of music into what is commonly termed "Bluegrass". This is a
topic that I personally find very interesting. I always thought it had a
lot to do with Irish emigration to the USA in the early 19th century,
and their subsequent migration to the southern and western parts of
America. What's your take on it?
TM: I think that's part of it- though only part. To the extent that
bluegrass came out of American Old Time music with its roots in African-
American music there's an element of black culture there too and all the
other stuff that went into the melting pot in the South. Much as I'd
like my ancestors to take credit- the Irish did not introduce the banjo
The Scots and Irish input into American music though is very important
as you suggest. I'm working this week with one of the finest exponents
of Southern Appalachian music around- Bruce Molsky- and in his music
those roots are there to see. He even had a really crooked old tune
called "The Flowers of Edinburg" which he got form an old fiddler in
West Virginia which, when straightened out, was clearly a well known
Scottish reel "The Flowers of Edinburgh". There are loads of examples
in Bluegrass of tunes that are Americanized versions of Scots and Irish
tunes; Red Haired Boy, Fisher's Hornpipe, St. Anne's Reel etc.
One big difference is in the variety of rhythms found in, say, Irish
music that doesn't appear in Bluegrass. When teaching at Kaufman's camp,
for example, I come across wonderfully talented flatpickers among the
students who struggle to comp in jig time, i.e. 6/8. . . then there's slip
jigs in 9/8 . . . help! It is a really rewarding thing to see these guys open
up to those rhythms- because it's not that they've got no sense of
timing- clearly you need a ton of it to play the stuff that they play
already- it's just that, as I often joke, in Bluegrass there are only
two time signatures; 4/4 and The Tennessee Waltz. It's a beautiful thing
because I find I learn as much in the course of one of the camps as the
students do. I have a fine time jamming and learning some great American
------------------------------Now for the usual stuff----------------------------------------------
DS: How old were you when you started playing guitar?
TM: 10 years old. It cost 12(pounds) and came from a pawn shop in Glasgow.
DS: Was guitar your first instrument?
TM: I started with violin lessons when I was seven. . . I really struggled with
bowing (I'm left handed!) but my other hand was not bad- intonation was
fine and I had a good sense of where the notes were. But I'll never be a
DS: I know that you play mandolin as well. When did you start playing that
TM: When my parents couldn't take any more of my violin playing! My dad got
me a mandolin after discovering me with the fiddle on my lap trying to
get chords out of the thing- age 9, I think.
DS: What other stringed instruments do you play?
TM: That's about it. I've dabbled with other things- in the studio for
example, working on other people's music, I'll borrow a bouzouki or
something just for the change of scenery.
DS: How about the Highland Bagpipes - do you play that instrument?
TM: Dear god, no! Pipers are all crazy, to a man and, increasingly, woman!
DS: What's your practice regimen, if any?
TM: There's too much stuff to get through in a day. . . .I rarely do exercises as
such but I'll work on passages that I screw up on a regular basis and
try to stretch myself. Sometimes I'll work with a metronome to get some
discipline into the proceedings- particularly with flatpicking.
DS: What advice can you give to players who want to advance in their
TM: Listen to other players- and not just guitarists. Allow yourself to be
influenced by the way a singer colours a melody. If you are arranging a
fiddle tune be aware of how a fiddle player ornaments things. Practice
the things you find difficult slowly and build up speed when you get it
DS: I see that you are going to be instructing at Kaufman's Kamp again this
year. How did you get into doing that great gig?
TM: Steve heard about me when he was touring over in the UK and checked out
my website and bingo! I'm enormously grateful to Steve for the support
he gives all his instructors. The experience of being around such great
teachers- and such great students- has lifted my game over the last few
DS: What do you see in your future Tony? What are your musical plans?
TM: At the moment I'm working on an album in Paris with French bass player
Alain Genty- he played on my second album and we've worked on many
things together but this is a straight duo project which will be a
little bit more off the wall than my previous albums. We have a long
tour of Australia next spring and there's more Men of Steel stuff in the
US (if the Fatherland Security department deem me of sufficient artistic
merit to let me in) and Canada. I've a concert in Glasgow Cathedral next
month with a String Quartet which should be exciting.
Next recordings- I have had an idea to do an album of duets with various
people from around the world whose music has really inspired me. This is
a long term project and as an antidote to that I'd like to do an album
of just solo acoustic guitar, no overdubs but a bunch of different
I really enjoy working in the studio in other people's projects. I've
recently relocated to Canada and it'll take a wee while for that aspect
of things to build up again but it's starting to happen.
Check out Tony's website.