Eric Hill: Gramophone interview, July 1979

Up to the moment when Eric Hill first heard a recording of Segovia, his world had revolved around the electric guitar. He was 17 at the time, and Segovia's playing was a revelation. It had all started when he was 13. His brother, who was six years older, played the guitar in a skiffle group, but Eric only became interested when, one day, he happened to hear Django Reinhardt on Radio Luxembourg.

Eric Hill about the time of this Gramophone interview July 1979
Eric Hill about the time of this Gramophone magazine interview in July 1979

He proceeded to try out his brother's guitar in secret, and gradually familiarized himself with the instrument. Later, he worked on a farm near Datchet in Bucks and with the money he earned bought his own, cheap instrument.

He then joined his brother's skiffle group and was soon recognized to be the better player. He bought an electric guitar, and started to play at weddings, school dances, and debutante parties.

"When my parents brought borne a recording of Segovia I knew that this was greater than anything I had heard before. I was physically carried away by the subtlety of tone, the vibrato, and what seemed to me the most beautiful melancholy sound. The electric guitar appeared so limited by comparison. I immediately went out and bought a classical instrument, and invested in a few lessons. By the time I was 20, it had completely taken over my life.

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I discarded the electric guitar which now seemed to offer no more than the equivalent of an everyday conversation, compared to the poetry of the classical guitar. I continued to enjoy playing jazz which in its way is a creative activity. Certainly, I feel that my jazz background has had a liberating effect on my approach to composed music. It's amazing how many musicians cannot improvise".

My parents could see nothing but insecurity ahead of me if I took up the guitar professionally—my grandfather had been a freelance violinist, and my great-grandfather was Director of the Theatre Royal, Windsor—so I went to Leeds University to read Chemistry

Eric continued to play in bands, and won an award from the Martin Musical Scholarship while still at University. At the age of 28, Erie who was still largely self-taught, won a competition in the 1970 Concours Internationale de Guitare, in Paris. He was also perfecting what is today regarded as a very special, poetic style of playing on the guitar.

"The day after graduating from Leeds, I became a professional musician, and, to this day, I have never used my degree. When you are self-taught, as I am, everything you do comes from an inner love of playing. When you are taught, these feelings come more from (from) the outside.

I could have had a comfortable, well paid job in industry. Instead, I chose the insecure, highly competitive profession that I am now in. I think a lot of guitarists were influenced by Reinhardt. For me, Julian Bream comes close to Reinhardt's musicianship and personality. Bream was my early hero, and subsequently I took a few advanced lessons with him. I think he is the king of guitarists".

It has not been easy for Eric Hill. For one thing, in the beginning, he was not particularly ambitious, and was perfectly happy so long as he was learning and performing. As time went on, he began to realize that in order to be able to pursue his interests, and ma ea living, he would have to develop some kind of career. He proceeded to build up his repertoire and introduce recitals that combined an intriguing mixture of jazz-derived compositions, classical arrangements, Spanish guitar music, and modern works especially written for him.

Hill's own contributions include arrangements of Gershwin, Cole Porter, and a Duke Ellington Suite that has proved most successful, performed alongside classical and Spanish repertoire. His preoccupation with exploring the tonal range of the guitar has resulted in a quality of sound that has variously been described as "ravishing", and "magical in its subtle colouration".

His rapidly rising reputation soon attracted admirers, among them Martin Compton of Saga Records who, to date, has recorded four recitals with the guitarist.

  • "The Classical Guitar" (SAGA5355, 11/74) contains Hill's own arrangements of works by Albéniz, Mendelssohn, Fauré, Schumann and others.
  • "The Virtuoso Guitar" (SAGA5406, 12/75) features the music of Sor, Giuliani, and Ponce— both temporarily unavailable but shortly to be reissued.
  • Another disc of music by Villa-Lobos SAGA5453, 1/78)
  • and the most recent is a recording of music by Torróba (SAGA5462 reviewed on page 234), unique of its kind. "1 have been playing Torróba's music for years", he told me.

"I was in correspondence with Torróba's son who lives in Madrid. He sent me a pile of music from which I selected the best works. A lot of it was written for Segovia, and you can hear his influence in it. To play this marvellous music is to be transported to another world—an escape from personal conflicts".

Eric Hill has also provided accompaniments for the singer Martin Best on three EMI records.

Now that his solo career is well established, and a recent trip to the USA to give a series of concerts at the Lincoln Center has started to open up possibilities for him abroad, Eric Hill is turning his mind to a more ambitious project, that of creating the Eric Hill Consort, consisting of guitar, flute, violin, acoustic steel strung guitar and bass.

We want to do a mixed repertoire ranging from Renaissance dance music to Gershwin arrangements. Our style in the Renaissance dance music might be totally unauthentic, with loads of vibrato, but the idea would be to show people the connexion between dance music of that time and of today - the Galliard juxtaposed with the Fox-trot.

All the players must be able to improvise".

In the meantime, the demand for Eric Hill as soloist and recitalist keeps him busy, and there are plenty of admirers of his distinctive style of playing to support his ventures in the future. CAROLYN Noi-r.