Described as the “the best guitarist alive,” by Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin is about to release a new solo album Now Here This. However, the 70-year-old has also diversified into design after creating a pen and card case for Acme.
Q: You grew up in a village near Doncaster, leaving in the early 1960s for London and then America. Do you have any formative recollections?
A: My principal memories of my village are very happy ones. I’d walk out of my house directly into the woods and fields. I’ll always remember this.
Q: The Francophile influence seems to have remained strong and you now live in Monaco so what is the attraction?
A: This influence began many years ago from two of my elder brothers who insisted I learn to speak a little French from a very early age. This carried on through my adolescence, and stuck with me throughout my life. The geographical situation of Monaco is very agreeable in terms of climate. I’m still an outdoor person and being here is good for that. Of course, most people think immediately of “tax exile”, but in my case I pay taxes wherever I play, so there’s no real benefit for me there.
Q: Clearly music is essential to you and the influences have been many and varied but what keeps you playing and writing?
A: It is my personal conviction that music is one of the greatest powers for good, since it “speaks” primarily of love, joy, pain and the human condition which go beyond all religious dogmas. The great Sarod player Ali Akbar Khan once told me that he’d been “saved” by music. I understand this statement perfectly. You have the last question the wrong way around. It’s not what keeps me going, it’s the music which keeps coming to me which keeps me writing and playing.
Q: You have said that going to New York in the 1970s was like going to “paradise” but where is paradise today?
A: As I young man of 27, to arrive in New York at the end of the 60’s and play with Miles Davis and Tony Williams was the impossible dream come true. Now, 43 years later I’ve changed, of course, and paradise can only be found within.
Q: I heard you say that you wanted to be remembered as a guitar player. Now that you’re a “designer” does it make any difference to you, especially as Acme has launched this collection of designs by other musicians whom you know so well?
A: I am no more a designer than I am a plumber. Acme invited me to participate and I have. My pretext is that any money derived from this project will go straight to one of a number of charitable organisations I am associated with.
Q: What do you like most and least about performing these days compared to those earlier days with Georgie Fame or Graham Bond?
A: I loved performing then and I love performing now. However, I’ve had almost 50 years of practice in between, so I have a clear idea of where I go in music today.
John McLaughlin’s pen and card case for Acme is available from Home at Salts Mill, Saltaire, www.thehomeonline.co.uk; www.johnmclaughlin.com