WHENEVER THE name ‘Pierre Bensusan’ is mentioned to a guitarist, guitar fan, or anyone seriously into music, their response is always one of awe, reverence, and enchanted bewilderment at the man’s unparalleled dexterity and creativity on acoustic guitar.
Guitar fans will have a chance to be overawed and impressed once again, when Bensusan makes a welcome return to Galway to play the Black Box Theatre on Saturday May 2 at 8pm.
Pierre is a frequent visitor to Ireland and indeed his associations with Galway go back a long way.
“I remember being stuck on Inis Óirr for a week...and a long time ago, when I was 17,” he told me when I interviewed him in 2007. “I remember seeing a cottage for sale in Connemara for £5,000. I regret not buying it now.”
Pierre was born into a Jewish family in Oran, Algeria, in 1957, before moving to Paris when he was only four. He began formal studies on piano at seven and at 11 began to teach himself the guitar. He released his first album Près De Paris in 1975 and since then has carved a reputation as one of the most innovative guitarists there is, practically unrivalled by any acoustic (or maybe even electric ) player.
Pierre’s music, though highly complex, is defined by melody and accessibility. You can hum a piece by Pierre Bensusan. The melodies lodge in the mind easily as well as make you wonder ‘How does he do that?’
Pierre says this melodic quality in his guitar style is something he learned from Irish trad, and Celtic music generally.
“I was attracted to the sound of Celtic music,” he said. “For me it had elements of Asia in it and a beautiful treatment of melody, detail, and ornamentation. That talked to me - especially slow airs, more than the jigs and reels.
“In a slow air I love the way a melody can be suspended in the air and be held with no apparent tempo or rhythm to keep it there - that appeals to me. Melody should be able to be suspended and need nothing else. This melodic quality is distinctive to Ireland. It’s something that goes beyond understanding. It’s a mystery.”
Pierre is famous for his near exclusive use of the DADGAD tuning (popular also with such guitarists as Bert Jansch and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page ) but in talking about it, he makes the point that his guitar skills, indeed that of any musician, come from sheer hard work.
“DADGAD is just a tuning,” he says. “It is a way of making music, but you can be so self satisfied when playing it, thinking this is enough, that way you will become just like any other guitar player. You have to be able to improvise through it, and really learn to play it.”
Tickets are available from the Town Hall Theatre on 091 - 569777.