Chris is an entirely self-taught virtuoso who's been obsessed with the guitar since the age of four, when he badgered his parents into buying one for him. A "brilliant English master of the acoustic guitar" (THE DAILY TELEGRAPH) and a "dazzling player” (ACOUSTIC GUITAR, USA), his work is "nothing short of brilliant" (DIRTY LINEN, USA). He is one of the few guitarists in the world who can be called a master of Celtic, European swing jazz and American bluegrass styles.
“Guitar players don’t come any better than Chris Newman... I’d blithely cross snow-capped mountains and ford raging rivers to see him play” - The Living Tradition (Scotland)
...playing with Mark Cosgrove
...playing with Dan Crary
In the Beginning...
Chris was born into an artistic family in Hertfordshire and began to play folk music on guitar at the age of four. His mother had been a professional actress and performing was in his blood. At fourteen he gave his first paid concert in a folk club. He met the great swing guitarist and humourist Diz Disley in his late teens and played with him in folk clubs the length and breadth of the UK for a number of years. Diz was responsible for re-launching Stéphane Grappelli onto the world stage after a period of relative obscurity, and through him Chris had the good fortune to play with Grappelli’s band for a while. Chris still cites guitarist Denny Wright, then a member of Grappelli’s quartet, as the primary influence on his distinctive and melodic style of improvisation.
Moving to Bristol in 1973, he soon involved himself in that city’s musical life, becoming involved initially in the hugely-popular comedy band Pigsty Hill Light Orchestra and subsequently in a number of other outfits, including a couple of his own projects, the wonderfully-named Overdraft and Fallen Arches. He became a regular on regional TV and radio, and presented BBC Radio Bristol’s Folk Tempo programme for a period. In the midst of all this, he started working with folk comedian Fred Wedlock. Spotting the commercial potential of Fred’s material, he applied his compositional, production and arrangement talents to it, thus launching Fred’s career into the mainstream. Chris received a silver disc for producing Fred’s 1981 hit The Oldest Swinger in Town - to which he also composed the tune and which reached No 2 in the charts in the UK and No 1 in several other countries. As Fred’s Musical Director and bandleader, appearances on such iconic national TV progammes as BBC’s Top of the Pops followed.
In the mid-1980s, Chris was bandleader and Musical Director for the French tours of Cornish singer Brenda Wootton - a big star in France though little-known at home. With her he played on iconic national French TV programmes such as TF1's "Champs Élysées", in iconic venues such as the Paris Olympia and Théâtre de la Ville (where they regularly played sell-out three-night runs) and at prestigious festivals such as the Printemps de Bourges. At this period, when he was spending almost six months of the year in France, he also got to know and perform with the revered Colette Magny and the even-more-revered and then-exiled Argentinian singer and activist Mercedes Sosa.
In this whirlwind of activity, Chris’s own musical interests were not neglected: he produced his first solo album Chris Newman in 1981, followed by Chris Newman Two in 1983.
One day in 1985 he decided he'd really rather play interesting music than pursue interesting paychecks, so turned his back on the commercial world and returned to his folk roots. He has since concentrated on composition and on playing the traditional music of these islands (most particularly that of Ireland) and beyond.
His third solo album Fretwork (1998), a vehicle for his trademark eclecticism, was “A stunning and stylistically-varied album, heaving with good tunes, from one of the UK’s most staggering and influential acoustic guitarists” Folk Roots "Dazzling" Acoustic Guitar (USA) “Nothing short of brilliant” Dirty Linen (USA) “The John Williams of folk guitar…takes the breath away. Newman wears his virtuosity lightly and his music has immense vitality and charm” The Inverness Courier “A veritable feast of immaculate guitar playing - a marvellous achievement… A testament to Newman’s ability to make the guitar grab your attention and never let you go. A great album from a respected and revered folk guitarist” Taplas “Guitar players don’t come any better than Chris Newman.. I’d blithely cross snow-capped mountains and ford raging rivers to see him play” - The Living Tradition
His fourth solo CD Still Getting Away with It is “Amazing… great soul and wonderful feel… from one of our greatest musicians” Mike Harding, BBC Radio2 "An astonishing, joy-filled romp… a must-buy for any guitar player." * * * * Scotland on Sunday “A triumph... I'm fully conscious that I'm in the presence of greatness... one of the top guitarists of his ilk anywhere” The Living Tradition "Beauty and virtuosity from a master craftsman at the peak of his abilities... I couldn’t recommend an album more highly." ****Maverick “The exuberance of Newman's dazzling playing... would leave you open-mouthed if you weren't too busy smiling. A genuinely uplifting album of some of the most remarkable - yet accessible - guitar playing you're going to hear all year.” ***** Rock n Reel
In 2011 he formed a new trio - called Still Getting Away with It - as a vehicle for his music and toured extensively with it.
Duo with Máire Ní Chathasaigh…
In 1987 he established a duo with Irish harper Máire Ní Chathasaigh (they made their début at the 1987 Cambridge Folk Festival) and together they’ve played in twenty-one countries and given TV and radio broadcasts on four continents. Of their six albums together, The Living Wood (1988) was one of the Daily Telegraph’s top ten Folk Albums of the 1980s; Out of Court (1991) was "stunning: one of the most refreshingly innovative releases in recent years" Folk Roots; The Carolan Albums (1994) was “a masterpiece of virtuosity” The Daily Telegraph; Live in the Highlands (1995) was “Music of fire and brilliance from the high-wire act in traditional music” The Irish Times, showcasing their “blazing guitar and dancing harp” Dirty Linen and “capturing the essence of these remarkable performers in a rare and priceless way - absolutely essential“ Folk Roots; and Dialogues was “Terrific: brilliant, beautiful, rich, virtuosic, delightful, classic, perfect! ****” The Sunday Tribune (Ireland).
Of their sixth CD, FireWire, the critics said: “Dazzling virtuosity... guitar-playing to be marvelled at” The Daily Telegraph “An eclecticism and spirit of adventure that is quite thrilling" The Times “Brilliant, innovative harping and guitar-playing of astonishing virtuosity and versatility” Songlines “Album of the Year” Live Ireland “Best Celtic Instrumental Album” 2009 Just Plain Folks Music Awards Nashville, Tennessee.
Quartet with Máire, Arty McGlynn and Nollaig Casey…
In 2008 Chris and Máire recorded a quartet CD, Heartstring Sessions, with two of the most important names in Irish music, legendary guitarist Arty McGlynn and Máire's sister, virtuoso fiddler Nollaig Casey. “Inspired... a contender for album of the year” fROOTS “Traditional music at its very best” The Irish Times "An amazingly eclectic mix... Astounding" The Ulster Herald "Magnificent... Virtuosic... Outstanding" The Scotsman “World-class” Irish Music Magazine “Two of the mightiest pairings in current folk combine to give a tour-de-force of breathtaking order. Classic.” The Living Tradition "Exceptionnel… brillant…" Le Peuple Breton "Attention - chef d'œuvre! Bravo!!!” TRAD Magazine (France) “A dream quartet - the sweetest and most exciting music to emerge for a long time. Amazing virtuosity matched with sheer good taste.” Dirty Linen (USA)
In addition to his work with Máire, Chris toured for three years until August ‘97 as a member of Celtic band Boys of the Lough in the USA, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Estonia, Denmark, China and Italy. The Scotsman said of his performance with them: "His fluid, wonderfully assured expansiveness produced a burst of quick-picked harmony here, some dense, resonant undercurrents there and flashes of snazzy, jazzy syncopation all over the place"; "His brilliant grasp of the idiom and swingy, authoritative playing give a tremendous rhythmic and dynamic lift". As a respected record-producer and arranger in the field of traditional and folk music, he’s been responsible for such ground-breaking albums as Brendan Power’s New Irish Harmonica, band-mate Christy O'Leary's critically-acclaimed solo release The Northern Bridge and the classic Of Moor and Mesa by Steve Tilston and the late Maggie Boyle.
Chris has been principal guitar tutor for Newcastle University’s Folk B.Mus course since its inception and many of his alumni form the new wave of British acoustic guitarists currently to be seen gracing festivals around Europe. In addition, has been a visiting tutor at the University of Limerick, the University of Ulster and the Carl Nielsen Academy of Music in Odense, Denmark. He is a regular flatpick guitar instructor and performer at Steve Kaufman's Acoustic Kamp, held annually in Maryville, TN.
More praise for Chris Newman…
“Newman is the John Williams of folk guitar” - The Inverness Courier
“Chris is one of the best flat picking guitarists in the UK, with a remarkable sympathy and feel for traditional music” - fRoots (UK)
“Guitar players don’t come any better than Chris Newman” - The Living Tradition (Scotland)
“Newman is a real treasure of a string player” Dirty Linen (USA)
“Stately Carolan tunes, jazzy Django-ish numbers, dazzling Doc Watson style flat picking fliers, driving Irish dance tunes - he can nonchalantly do the lot. Guitar players applauded and went sadly home to burn their instruments!” - The Belfast Telegraph (Ireland
“His blinding technique, sizzling Irish reels and hot jazz improvisation brought an extended standing ovation… Newman has the great gift of being informative and hilarious simultaneously” The West Australian