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Ben Watt Reflects On Listening To 'Lone Guitar Meditations' In Isolation

Apr 30, 2020
Originally published on April 30, 2020 10:00 am

Our Daily Breather is a series where we ask writers and artists to recommend one thing that's helping them get through the days of isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Who: Ben Watt

Where: London, England

Recommendation: Listening to solo guitar music


I have been in full quarantine for four weeks, deemed "at risk" by the National Health Services from my 27 years on immunosuppression. It means no physical contact, separate bed, different mealtimes. I have faced deprivation before of course; I spent many weeks in hospital at death's door in 1992 with a rare autoimmune disease I still manage today, so you could say I am better prepared that some. Even so, it has taken some adjusting to. But I have enjoyed the journey inwards, as opposed to outwards. I have listened to a lot of music, learned yoga, worn track pants with everything, brushed up on Stoicism and been accepting of circumstance as best I can.

Two weeks ago I made a playlist of lone piano meditations; well known and lesser known solo pieces by Debussy, Albéniz, Tailleferre, Satie. [Listen on Apple Music or Spotify.]

It has helped me a lot, especially late in the evening as I am often the last to bed. I shared it on social media and had a lovely response. Nearly 1,000 people follow it on Spotify now and many have found it very helpful.

My six-year-old infinite mixtape, SpinCycle, has also been popular. It now has approaching 12,000 followers. [Listen on Apple Music or Spotify.]

I have also been playing a lot of guitar in isolation. I like the modest lump of wood on my lap, the length of steel strings that need a human touch to bring them to life. I began by working out some of Coltrane's pentatonic and modal phrasing from recordings like "Equinox," "Lonnie's Lament" and "Alabama." Raw, simple, searching, unadorned explorations. They are among my favorite of his recordings. It was a voice I turned to instinctively in the early days of quarantine.

In the early mornings I then found myself listening to Danny Paul Grody a lot. He is a guitarist from San Francisco who made a beautiful album in 2016 called Other States. Solitary finger-picked guitar — with shades of West African kora -- backed by occasional ghostly synth. I then stumbled across a raw modal piece by Fred Frith called "Light Erases The Thought" and spent several days looking at more modal choices.

I have got a lot of pleasure out of Steve Hiett's recent album too, Girls in the Grass. He was a famous English fashion photographer from the '60s onwards, based in Paris, but in his spare time he made casual private guitar recordings with a friend. They only came to light when he died recently. They are loose and sunny, and have a Sunday lounging kind of feel that has been perfect with all the fine weather we had last week. It reminds me of Vini Reilly (from The Durutti Column ) in places, another guitarist I love. My latest discovery is Dušan Bogdanović, a Serbian-born American guitarist and composer who work covers classical and contemporary. He has recorded with Charlie Haden, and his Unconscious in Brazil album from 1999 is really opening my eyes this week.

All in all, I thought I would make another playlist, this time of lone guitar meditations: solo pieces that I love and have discovered from the worlds of folk, American primitive, experimental, traditional Spanish and modal jazz. Beauty and reflection in solitude. It has really helped me. Hope it does for you too.


Ben Watt's new album, Storm Damage, is out now.

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