South-West England isn't the ﬁrst place that springs to mind when somebody mentions Flamenco. Adam Westcott, 32, is aiming to change that. Westcott hails from Teignmouth, a lovely seaside town in beautiful Devon. Teignmouth is also the hometown of rock band Muse. He worked supermarket and shop jobs to support his music studies through Exeter College and Exeter University, playing gigs at every possible opportunity. There have been countless meetings with labels and promoters, all with the golden promises, but ultimately those promises have been unfulﬁlled. Undeterred, Westcott continues to make his own luck. He has recorded his own album, written a book, and performs around the world as he works to get his music out to as many people as possible. He was also a nominee for the esteemed Mercury Music Prize in 2008, and has performed in the Royal Albert Hall for over 5,000 people.
Westcott's greatest inspiration, and mentor, was virtuoso gypsy/classical guitarist Manitas de Plata. de Plata, who passed away in November 2014, became famous in the 1960s and played for the likes of Pablo Picasso (who signed his guitar), and Salvador Dali, who painted an image of Don Quixote as de Plata played.
I was fortunate to speak with Adam recently and asked him a few questions about YouTube, Muse, Nirvana, and, of course, Flamenco.
You went from having no real interest in music to experiencing a complete turn around as the result of one album - explain how that caused such a shift.
Nirvana were the reason I picked up the guitar. I was 13 when I heard "From the Muddy Bank of the Whiskah" and it was like nothing I heard before. It was loud, angst ridden and I felt that Nirvana were saying exactly how I felt. Even though I couldn't really hear the lyrics, the integrity and passion really connected with me. Listening to them was like a massive relief. It was like "so there is someone out there who has a different voice other than what clean bands like Oasis and Blur were saying." It was pure freedom listening to Nirvana and that made me start playing the guitar. I remember a few friends showing me some chords to "Teen Spirit", "About A Girl" and "Breed". They were my favourite Nirvana songs and I guess I had a naturally good ear because I started to work out other songs on the album. That then lead me to starting my own band, which wasn't very successful!
You mention in your book, "Hurry Up and Wait!" that there was no real diversity in music when you were a teenager. Do you still hold to that, or do you think perhaps that music is just more accessible now?
The music industry now has changed completely. Record companies don't know how to adapt, and how can they? YouTube has destroyed it all. Back in the day you had to listen to your favourite song on the radio. You had to sit by the radio and wait for it. I remember when Muse's Plug In Baby came out and I was at sixth form. We had the radio on all day and when it ﬁnally came on it was like "this is amazing!", but we had to wait for the station to play it. The anticipation was there, the excitement was there, and when it ﬁnally came on, it was all worth the wait! But now, no. Just type it into YouTube and it's there. It's the same with buying an album. The hype, the release date, having to queue up to the shops to get it... but now... just YouTube. Someone has put the music up on YouTube the day it comes out, and that is wrong. That is stealing. Music is no longer a precious gift... people are desensitised to it all. People shouldn't be allowed to upload music that isn't their's to YouTube. There's no longevity in bands anymore. It's like fast food. Make a song, get it out, make some money and out. Muse, again, are one of the few bands remaining who have had a long career, like Coldplay and a handful of others, but they came out in the industry when it was the good days. Apps that allow you to download music from YouTube should be banned. Why should you get it for free? I do understand that YouTube can launch careers. Sure, put one song up or two, but not the whole album. Unfortunately, record companies now just judge how good an artist is by how many views they have on their page. That's wrong. Music is too accessible now.
Growing up in Teignmouth you had musical competition in the form of local lads Muse. Was that an inspiration or a challenge?
It was total inspiration! Muse are several years older than us, so it wasn't competition. They were on another level and we had just started. I've seen them at all stages of their career and it was immense. Teignmouth is small, so everyday that we were like "we can do the same too!" Ultimately we didn't have the songs and other band members weren't as focused as me, so we split up after a few years.
Flamenco is an unusual choice for aspiring musicians. What is it about Flamenco that excites you?
I saw Flamenco when I was 19. It was a revolution! The hands, the speed, the passion and sounds were just phenomenal. It was everything I wanted to be saying. I saw it live in Spain and never looked back after that!
I was surprised to learn that you can't read music. Is it true you taught yourself using guitar tabs and then by ear only? Does that impact on your writing?
I had Flamenco lessons for 6 months and then took it from there. I got to grips with the basic Flamenco techniques and took it from there. Some ﬂamenco can be written in tab and I just listened to lots of music and immersed myself into ﬂamenco. I can't read music and I think that is a good thing. I don't need dots on paper. I need just my heart and soul. I keep listening to music and that's where I can get some inspiration. The more you play, the more creative you are.
I had chills reading about your ﬁrst performance at Royal Albert Hall. How does it feel to know that you've graced the stage of one of the world's greatest venues?
It was something I will never forget. It was out of this world. The biggest icons in the world, musicians, world leaders, have all been on that stage. And then me! It was the only gig where I haven't been nervous. 10 minutes beforehand, yes, but once we were on stage it was pure excitement. Happiness and freedom. 5,250 people... just amazing!
Your mentor and inspiration is Manitas de Plata, and you managed to track him down and play for him. You connected with him and became friends, to the point he asked you to play the guitar he used to play to Picasso and Salvador Dali, making you only one of three people in the world who have played that instrument - tell me why he inspires you so much.
When I ﬁrst heard the music of Manitas de Plata it was like a new door had opened. His techniques, his passion, his stories and the way he played, with such freedom and poetry, aggression and beauty, was something I had always searched for. And now it was there, right in front of me. When I ﬁrst heard his music in 2008, it was thanks to a local lady who told me to listen to him, my life changed, there and then. He was so different. The colours he created and the sounds and thunder was unique, and that's what I was looking for. He toured the world for 35 years, made friends with all of the icons at that time (Bridgette Bardot, Pablo Picasso, the Queen /mother), represented the gypsies in the UN, toured USA and the rest of the world (including NZ) for 35 years and sold 93 million albums playing uncompromised gypsy ﬂamenco. To say that he mentored me and changed my life is unreal to say. Moreover, he was my friend.
What next for you?
I want to do the same as Manitas. I want to play live all over the world and dazzle people with the raw and thunderous sounds of ﬂamenco. I want to get on tour with somebody, so if anyone is out there, please get in touch!
Westcott's homage to Manitas de Plata can be viewed HERE His cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" can be viewed HERE
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