One of the world’s most respected exponents of gypsy-jazz guitar since Django Reinhardt, Englishman Robin Nolan’s story began on the streets of London in the early ’90s, before a move to the Netherlands changed his life forever.
You’re playing Ozmanouche festival this year for the first time in four years. What have your experiences here been like in the past?
I was blown away with the open, friendly attitude of all involved with the OzManouche festival and the standard of playing was high too. Also for me it's wonderful to see that gypsy jazz has reached so far in the world.
You’re also teaching a masterclass — is this something you do regularly?
Yes, I usually teach masterclasses or workshops wherever I go. I've been doing this for the past 15 years all over the world: USA, Canada, Europe, Iceland, Israel, Japan, China and Australia too! This music attracts guitar players and they want to learn. I love spreading the joy of this music and showing them that they can do it too.
Tell us a little about ‘Gypsy Blue’ and your relationship with H.O.T Records.
I signed with H.O.T. Records, which is owned by Dhani Harrison, son of George Harrison, and released 'Gypsy Blue' last summer. I was fortunate enough to get to know George and his family in the ‘90s and played many times at his place (Friar Park) in England. He's a huge inspiration to me and my music, and to continue with his son Dhani and release the album through him feels good. There's one song on ‘Gypsy Blue’, which I wrote for George and Ravi Shankar called 'Ravi'.
Do you ever feel like busking back on Amsterdam’s Leidseplan?
Yes! You know the simplicity of getting up and going to work on the square is so refreshing and fun. You play guitar and people enjoy it, buy a CD then we all go home on our bikes. No security checks, no contracts, you're your own boss. Also you get to play a lot more hours on the street and improve your playing. However, now I seem to be touring all over the globe and have two little kids to look after when I'm home. I highly recommend musicians starting out to go play on the street.
What inspired the move towards gypsy jazz?
I went to the Samois Festival near Paris in France with my father back in 1990. It totally blew us away. To see Django's people playing his music was awe-inspiring. It brought dead music to life. I just had to do it. After that festival is when I got hold of a gypsy-style guitar and formed my first band, Trio De Samois. That was also around the same time we moved to Amsterdam from London, so we were playing every day of the week out on the street. The lifestyle is free and this music social and appealing to everyone. It's happy, sexy — got a great vibe.
How do you feel the perception of gypsy music has changed over the years?
I think that gypsy-jazz music was once seen as a kind of Dixieland or traditional jazz and that has changed. It has moved forward so much in the last 20 years with groups like The Rosenberg Trio and my own trio. It's become hip and cool and with the Latin/ flamenco element, more appealing to a wider audience.
Tell us a little about Gypsy Jazz Secrets Magazine.
We started the digital magazine two years ago and it's since become hugely popular in the gypsy-jazz community and beyond. It's cool 'cause you can enjoy exclusive concert footage, lessons and interviews with the best players in the world on your iPad, iPhone or Android device. As I'm a performer myself, I can record great interviews and play with all the guitarists we feature in the mag. Great players like Martin Taylor, Joscho Stefan, John Jorgenson and Jan Akkerman.
How did the move from London to Amsterdam shape your career?
It gave us the opportunity to play every day on the street so therefore honed our playing and act. It also put us close to the gypsy families who live in The Netherlands. I would go visit these amazing musicians and learn from them.
What prompted it?
We wanted to busk in London but couldn't. The laws and red tape was too much so we took the opportunity of piling over to Amsterdam in a Volkswagen van and literally fell out right on the Leidseplein. This would be the place we would make music and release CDs over the next 15 years.
The next year — what are your plans?
I want to carry on reaching more people with the music both live and on the net. I really enjoy teaching and will be developing more programs, books and guitar retreats too. Travel is important and as the great Bireli Lagrene once said to me, "keep it international". I also have an exciting project coming up called Djangus that will be an album of AC/DC songs done in the gypsy-jazz style.
Robin Nolan plays Oz Manouche at the Brisbane Jazz Club on Saturday 29th November. He also plays the Camelot Lounge in Sydney on Sunday 30th November.