ACM Tutor, Alumnus and industry professional Damien Nolan got in touch with us regarding the launch of his new documentary series in memory of the late Eric Roche, who was Head of Guitar School here at ACM. We caught up with Damien to find out more…
Tell us about your career background and involvement with ACM?
“I joined ACM as a student when I was 18 way back in 2000. The first year ACM moved from a very small building and into the Rodboro building. I studied guitar on the Higher Diploma Course. After that I went into the world of guitar session playing. I played for everyone and anyone who would have me and slowly cut my teeth in the London session scene. I ended up working with Pete Townshend, Sting, Skunk Anansie, Katie Melua, VV Brown. As I have gotten older I’ve been spending more time producing music for artists, I developed an events agency which supplies live musical acts, I do a lot of audio engineering for Formula 1 and I record a lot of guitar sessions online from my home studio. Back in 2018 I got a call from Ace from Skunk Anansie asking me if I was interested in doing some lecturing at ACM. Since then I’ve delivered a wide variety of modules including Elite Performer, Composition for Media, Tour Management, Advanced Songcraft and Advanced Stagecraft and Presentation. It was really weird being back at ACM after 20 years and initially I was suffering with imposter syndrome! But being back at ACM was another element that inspired my project dedicated to Eric Roche.”
You’ve recently finished a project in memory of Eric Roche who was the Head of the Guitar department for many years, what inspired you to do this?
“When I joined ACM as a student 20 years ago I made some new friends in the very first week. On one of these first days, I was sat in their house in Guildford and they put on a track which was featured on that month’s Guitar Techniques Magazine CD. It was a track by one of their monthly column authors, Eric Roche. My friend also told me that it was this guy, Eric, who was the head of the guitar department at our new music college. The track I heard completely changed my guitar journey forever. As far as I was concerned I was listening to a multi track recording featuring a couple of acoustic guitars, a percussionist and more. My friend pointed out that this was all recorded live on one guitar by one man. This was Eric Roche.
In short, over the last 20 years I have performed some of Eric’s material and the techniques he inspired all over the world. These performances helped develop my career as a session guitarist immeasurably. I never got to thank Eric. Tragically Eric died in 2005 at the age of 37, leaving behind a wife and two very small children.
So in 2018 I found myself at the age of 37, with a young baby of my own, working at ACM I came up with the idea that I would finally record some of the tracks of Eric’s that he had taught me. I thought I could film videos of them and release them on YouTube dedicating the series to Eric’s memory. Sadly Eric left before this age of YouTube existing. There’s loads of footage of Eric online which has been uploaded by various sources and the quality is varying. I wanted to capture a modern day reflection of his work with the intention of bringing new and old fans of his back to his legacy.”
What was so unique about Eric’s style and teaching, how did his work have an impact on ACM students?
“Eric was a character. You could see it in his face. Mischievous even. As a student it was obvious how well respected Eric was by his fellow teachers. When Eric’s name was mentioned people would smile. I believe this was because Eric was great craic and because he was really, really good at what he did. I mean REALLY good. There was an enormous amount of respect for him around ACM.
As a teacher Eric was patient. He was calm. He was sensitive to people’s varying abilities and personalities. “
How has Eric inspired you as a guitarist and as a tutor?
“As a guitarist, he has inspired me like no other. I can honestly say that my life took a different path the day my friend played Eric’s song on that CD. He inspired me to push the boundaries of the instrument and to appreciate how big the small details matter. As a tutor Eric inspired me to listen. I believe that teaching is a two way street. The best lessons are conversational. I need to listen to a student and understand what they need to learn and, more importantly, how best to help them learn something. This starts with listening.”
Tell us about your documentary series on Eric, what can we expect to see?
“The first episode features Eric’s track ‘Roundabout’. This is the track of Eric’s I have performed the most over the years and it’s a real crowd pleaser live. It was recorded and filmed at Pete Townshend’s studio which is located on an old dutch barge in the centre of London. There’ll be another video released from that session at a later date. Some of the next videos will come from Dom Morley’s studio in Oxfordshire. Dom won a Grammy for engineering Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back in Black’ Album and he has mixed all the tracks from the various sessions. All tracks are mastered by Jon Astley who has a huge list of notable past clients and has mastered a huge amount of The Who’s collection of work. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to work with such incredible people on such incredible work. I am, by far, the weakest link in the chain!
They’ll also be a couple of videos shot on location which I’m really looking forward to. All the tracks will be songs that Eric wrote, arranged and/or taught me. During the planning of this project I’ve chatted to numerous friends and family of Eric’s. Some are very musical, some not, but everyone is interested in my plan to produce a documentary about Eric and his music. This is the longer ‘arc’ of the project which has been slowed down by the pandemic.”
What are your top tips on starting out with Eric’s unique style of playing?
“My top tips would be to have patience. Break things down into small chunks and practice playing things slowly. Contrary to popular belief it can be much harder to play things at a very slow tempo than it is at a fast one. But slowing things down can give you a lot of clarity. Only once you can play a part comfortably at a slower tempo should you then attempt to speed up. I usually build up my tempos in practice in 5 BPM jumps.”
What songs do you feel best represent the style Eric was known for, and are there any examples of ACM student/alumni music that use this style?
“If anyone wants to hear one song that can gives you a great overview of Eric’s playing and techniques then they should listen to Perc U Lator which is the title track from Eric’s first album. This was the track that I heard in my friend’s living room the first week I started ACM in the year 2000.
Eric taught Newton Falknor at ACM a couple of years after me. Newton took a lot of influence from Eric’s playing and has forged a fantastic, long and diverse career since leaving ACM. I’ve recently been in touch with Newton and he’s very keen to be involved in this project. More on that coming soon.”
What is the best lesson you learnt from Eric?
“I’ve had a long think about this one and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to give just one answer. Groove, technique, theory, live production, composition, there were so many areas in which Eric passed on knowledge. The best lesson I learnt was just meeting him.”
Tell us your top career advice for ACM guitar students?
What other projects are you currently working on?
“I always have a handful of tracks that I’m producing for clients. At the moment I am working on an electro-shoegaze track for a Peruvian artist based in Lima and an epic rock ballad for an artist based in Chicago. Alongside those I am recording guitars remotely for various things. In between that I am in pre production of my next YouTube series.”
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