Williams was, is and always will be one of my all time guitar heroes. He was my biggest inspiration as a child learning guitar and it was always my aim back then to become the next John Williams.
Ive recently been having a bit of a JW video and CD fest, listening and watching all the stuff I used to worship as a child, and as JW once said himself in regards to Segovia - "honesty compels me to reassess what he was like" - or in Williams' case still is! By this I dont mean him as a person, but as a musician. Ive met him several times and he's a lovely bloke!
Its been a while since I really listened to him and in that time ive met new people, musicians, had new teachers, been through music college, matured, become wiser, experienced a huge amount of all kinds of music, studied and played with non guitarists etc. etc. and coming back to Williams' after all this has changed my perception of him as a musician.
He has always had a firm, 'punchy' attack - no doubt helped by his strong rhythmic style, RH position and nail shape. However, once he started playing Smallmans in late 80's, whose natural sound accentuated all these features, It seems that he greatly reduced what little romanticism there was in his playing further. Also, having listened to and read many interviews of his, you can see how more and more he becomes almost obsessive over the rhythm and drive of the music, which again you hear in his playing more and more.
Why I find Williams 'curious' is that in these interviews he often talks about musicality and tone, and frankly some of the things he says come across as plain naive or misinformed, but he says them with such conviction you almost feel he's aurally deluded somewhat!?! Things such as declaring Smallmans a more musical and beautiful guitar. In a recent interview with he and Smallman, I remember him saying how he found traditional guitars too percussive compared to Smallmans, when just about everyone would agree the exact opposite. He also said many other uncomplimentary things towards traditional guitars whilst praising Smallmans for features which frankly they dont have. It really was eyebrow raising stuff.
Also, I remember when I was young (and very stubborn and naive!) my teacher played me some Bream. "dont you find it more musical than Williams?" he asked. "Williams is better" I replied like a true teenage fanboy. Of course over the years I learnt to appreciate the genius of Bream and his outstanding musicality, which again cast a shadow of my musical assertions in regards to JW. Doubts about his musical perceptions are further raised when you hear him discussing his playing and interpretations in highly musical terms, often talking about tone colours and phrasing. But then you hear him play it and ask - "well where is any of that stuff John?"
I recently saw him in concert and came out feeling rather sad to be honest. His technical ability and prowess have not waned even a little, which is incredible considering his age. But there was just something about his playing, his over demeanour that seemed to say - 'im just playing for the sake of it now, I don't even enjoy it that much' - which i hope isn't the case, but that's what i got. His playing was so 'matter of fact', like he was just slopping the music on a plate for the audience and shoving it in front of you. Everything was slap, bang, wollop - 'take it or leave it'. And i dare say he has barely changed his programme in over 10 years apart from putting in a few of his own works. I was especially sad as I began to think perhaps my hero should take a break, or even retire (from a purely musical point of view), because my impression was there was little joy for him.
However, being the curious chap he is it wouldn't surprise me if Williams was deliberately playing this way as he considered it 'more musical'.
Im interested to hear your opinions on our greatest ambassador? Please note these are purely my own observations and am by no means attacking JW on a personal level. Merely offering a critique on his musical offerings! thanks
Professional guitarist, composer and performer.