It’s been 16 years since ACM tutor and guitar-percussionist Eric Roche sadly left us, but his impact on the music industry is still being felt today. Eric was a pioneer and a performer at heart who gained notoriety for his percussive use of the guitar in his performances. His craft caught the eye of ACM tutor, alumni and industry professional Damien Nolan, who reached out to share more of Eric’s story.

Early last month Damien released a cover of Eric’s groundbreaking arrangement of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, bringing awareness of Eric’s work to the next generation of students and performers. We got in touch with Damien who told us a bit more about his project…

Tell us more about your percussive acoustic cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. What inspired you to recreate Eric Roche’s arrangement?

The main aim of this project was to shine new and old light onto Eric’s work. His career was just before the age of YouTube and digital delivery really took off. I felt like his work was therefore never given its full potential audience. Teen Spirit was a massive hit in itself in the 90’s and when I was studying under Eric his rendition of the song was a massive hit amongst his audience. Many of whom were teenage students whom that track resonated with so strongly. It was always a track I thought would get attention. When I was planning what songs of Eric’s to cover I realised that the original release by Nirvana was approaching its 30th anniversary. I knew there would be a wave of interest and publicity around the landmark so I thought I’d get prepared, record the track and release it around the same time and hope to ride some of that wave. So far the video has reached 20k views in two weeks which surpasses anything I’ve released in the past by a long way. 

Eric Roche is most notable for his percussive use of a guitar. What makes this style of performance so unique? 

When I first heard Eric playing the guitar my whole relationship with the instrument changed. He opened up a whole range of sounds and thought processes that I didn’t know where possible. I had never heard anyone play the guitar like that. As I delved into the style more and I tried to find other guitarists who played with similar techniques I struggled. There were no more than a handful and no one had developed the sound and techniques in the way Eric had. Eric had three cables plugged into his acoustic guitar when he played live. A mic, a pickup and a midi controller pickup. Nigel Kennedy, the legendary violinist, famously said ‘Eric makes the guitar sound like a whole orchestra‘. It was so true. 

What impact do you think this style of performance has had in the music industry? 

Eric taught a number of amazing guitarists who went on to compose and perform some amazing music. Notably Thomas Leeb and Newton Faulkner amongst hundreds more. Eric was the head of the guitar at ACM for many years and so in the education sector alone his teachings and inspiration would have had an impact on people who were joining the industry. That certainly was the case for me. In Eric’s own career he was at the top of his game when he passed away. He had toured the world playing his own music from his three studio albums. Released his book ‘The Acoustic Guitar Bible’ and live DVD which was filmed in The Electric Theatre, Guildford. He was making huge waves in his niche. I have no doubt that if he was around as YouTube and its audience matured then his work would have been going viral. That’s why I’m trying to give his work another lap of honour and hope that new people find Eric’s work through me and old Eric fans enjoy seeing my celebration of his music.

You can find out more about Eric’s work on his website: www.ericroche.com

We’re incredibly grateful that Eric taught with us here at ACM. What impact did Eric’s work and teaching have on students at ACM?

Everyone had great, great respect for Eric. Students and tutors. We were taught by some incredible guitar teachers. Eric was the only one I ever saw with an acoustic. I think his approach may have opened the eyes of some guitar students who were too focused on lead playing. He was an inspiration to many. When he played, he played alone but he created a sound that was as big as a 4 piece band. That was not just down to his percussive techniques and his live sound production but it was down to his arranging. He’d cover bass, harmony, melodic and rhythm parts all at the same time.  

What projects have you got planned for 2021 and beyond?

I’ve got a few projects that I am chipping away at currently. I’m producing weekly YouTube episodes where I explore creative ways of producing, creating or learning music along with a series of interviews I’m producing with various friends of mine from the music industry. I’m interested in people’s journeys, how they joined the industry and how that path has taken them to where they are today. I’m writing a solo acoustic stage show telling my own story. From my first lessons on the guitar to being sat with Sting on yoga balls while he teaches me his songs. Lastly, I’m starting to get down my first ideas for a book on acoustic guitar playing. I’m hoping to have a unique approach as I really don’t know what I’m doing! 

What advice do you have for students returning to the stage after the pandemic? 

Enjoy it! Embrace how things may have changed. Embrace the idea of streaming live gigs and adapt to how the industry and the world have changed. Use your experiences of the last 18 months to feed your artistry. Make that your story, your inspiration, your therapy. Think big. Big thoughts. Leave it all on the stage. 

If you want to find out more about Damien and his work, check out his Instagram and YouTube.


Related content