In the Beginning…
Chris was born into an artistic, bohemian and left-wing familiy 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 short 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 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 spent a lot of time at the BBC in Bristol, mainly behind the scenes as a session musician, but spent a while in front of the microphone as presenter of BBC Radio Bristol’s Folk Tempo programme.
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 4 in the charts in the UK and No 1 in several other countries. A six-month stint with Fred on Noel Edmonds’ Sunday morning BBC Radio 1 show followed - as composer-in-residence of tunes to topical ditties!
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 playing the traditional music of these islands 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
Still Getting Away with It is his fourth solo album.
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
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 they recorded a 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 1997 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.'
More press comment…
'In the virtuoso class' - The Guardian
'Took the place by storm… 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
'A brilliant English master of the acoustic guitar' - The Daily Telegraph
'Newman is a real treasure of a string player' - Dirty Linen (USA)
'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
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