Duncan McKenzie Is No Ordinary Man

Written by Rhiannon Hill
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Duncan McKenzie is perhaps one of those unsung stars who been there and done most of it, but has managed the trick of having a great career in music without too many of the drawbacks of 'sleb' life.


He's a guitarist, singer, songwriter, but has been principally described as one of the finest acoustic guitarists on the circuit today.

Provenance also comes in great measure from his ten years in a duo with guitar legend Big Jim Sullivan and more recently his growing reputation as a solo performer.

I was blown away by the sheer accuracy, virtuosity and fullness of his guitar style, technically he reminds me a little of Nick Harper, but has his own unique blend of influences, notably, for me, an interesting blend of flamenco and British folk styles which is extraordinarily dynamic. In plain terms, that's one man making a helluva nice, big noise. He says himself that he plays a lot of flamenco because of the dynamic power that brings to the music.

Duncan originally made a name as a versatile session musician playing in major studios including the famous Abbey Road.

Armed with a deal at EMI he wrote for radio, TV and films including 'To All You Out There' which was the Radio Luxembourg outro song for eight years. He has done worldwide radio, including a live interview and performance on CMTV which had six million listeners.

Duncan plays major festivals, concerts and theatres throughout Europe sharing the stage with some of the greatest names in the business, has received rave reviews and has just released his second self penned solo album Ordinary Man.

duncan mckenzie rhiannon hill zani 1.He had his first guitar lessons at 12 but took him a while before he realised music could be a career.

I asked him if it's easier or more difficult to be a solo artists nowadays, compared with when he started and if it's harder to have a viable professional career in music. He believes it IS much more difficult now.

'In my day there seemed to be more of a community of artists, whether in LA or London. Things were new and vibrant. Music is not an easy way of earning a living. If it was easy everyone would be doing it. The internet has opened things up and taken the monopoly away from the major labels but on the flipside, with all the downloads, musicians and writers are not seeing their royalties.

What makes him want to perform and has that changed over the years? How important did he think music is, culturally, socially and politically.'

'The need to communicate to play a festival in front of thousands and feel the bond with the audience is fabulous. I simply love playing and singing, it's always been the same, music is vital, on all levels, imagine a film with no music, a life with no music, music transcends social stigma, can be used politically but with caution, gentle 'protest songs' can be powerful. When writing I leave the lyrics open for others to step in and realise they are not alone in the way they feel, I invite them into the songs.'

Duncan believes there are only two sorts of music, good and bad, but in particular he loves latin, celtic rock, folk and jazz, but he's not keen on rap.

I asked, if you ruled the musical world, what would you change?

'X Factor' was the unhesitating reply.

How does Duncan identify suitable collaborations and does he regard his style as being experimental or remain just comfortable in a specific genre niche?

'The chemistry works or it doesn't, never stay comfortable, there needs to be some creative hunger, a desire to move forwards and into different areas.' He is always looking for other people to play with.

I asked if he had any funny or inspiring anecdotes from his career in the music business.

'Too many to mention, but I was amused when I was congratulated on being able to play 'Flamingo' guitar so well!'

In his latest album he has combined a lot of styles he has picked up over the years from many sessions with greats in the session world who have worked with artists like Mike Oldfield, Scott Walker, Van Morrison, Lonnie Donegan, Rod Stewart and Ralph McTell.

One song, Cyndy, which Duncan wrote many years ago, was requested for Tim Hardin but in those days Duncan wanted to keep his music for his own performance. 'I kissed goodbye to a fortune' he says wryly. But high points have been the ongoing masterclass in guitar that playing with Big Jim Sullivan for years afforded him.

Duncan mainly plays acoustic guitars, made by Alan Arnold, he also uses an old Fender Strat and plays bottleneck on a 1932 National Steel Duolian similar to one used by Mark Knopfler.

© Words - Rhiannon Hill

(Rhiannon Hill is a freelance journalist, rock musician and therapist specialising in performance anxiety: www.brightonhovecounselling.co.uk)

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Read 4842 times Last modified on Friday, 08 May 2015 15:28
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