ECLECTIC ARTIST: Guitar maestro Bruce Mathiske will perform at the Clarence Valley Conservatorium this weekend.
ECLECTIC ARTIST: Guitar maestro Bruce Mathiske will perform at the Clarence Valley Conservatorium this weekend. CONTRIBUTED

Guitar great returns to Grafton

GUITAR hero Bruce Mathiske is no stranger to many Graftonians, most discovering the dexterous performer when he enjoyed regular billing at the annual Jazz and Blues Festival that filled the venues around the Jacaranda City in the mid-90s.

It was the first time Mathiske had performed in the Clarence Valley and despite the "fantastic festival” being long gone, his sublime playing still rings out here every few years.

This weekend will be another of those hotly anticipated occasions when Mathiske steps onto the stage with his much loved instrument at the Clarence Valley Conservatorium.

He is well aware of the longevity his music can have on people once they see him for the first time.

"Sometimes the same people come out every time. It always amazes me how many people come up and mention what we like to call the good old days.”

For Grafton music lovers that was only a couple of decades ago and one of his songs that always impressed the festival goers was his original piece Nightmare.

"Oh yes, I'd forgotten about that. It started off slow and then went berserk. I don't play it much any more but I'll see what I can I do,” he said

It's easy to understand how songs might slip off his radar. Mathiske never stops learning and writing new material and he's been at it for a while now.

"Next year is my 50th year of playing guitar and 30th year as a professional so my music comes and goes in stages. I'll perform a piece all the the time and then move onto something else so you can forget until someone reminds you.”

This eclectic approach to playing means Mathiske's style is hard to pin down although he gives it his best shot for the traditional pigeon-holing that often crops up in stories about musicians.

"I'm still finding it hard to define after all these years. I still play music from the swing era, the toe- tappers like I did at the jazz festival. I still do Latin and gypsy numbers, anything with a Spanish accent I really like. There might be something from Morocco, some known guitar tunes as well as my original compositions. Nightmare had a bit of a Spanish accent to it. The style seems to be a common thread to a lot of my other material and when I write pieces that often take on a bit of a classical slant.”

Mathiske said he hadn't come up with a brand or label yet but just enjoyed playing a lot of different styles.

"You could say it's discovery, adventure music almost. I often tell people I'm taking them around the globe. Music that has a dance to it. I'm going to be playing a couple of pieces with the (conservatorium) guitar teachers there which is going to be fun.”

Given he has been playing his beloved instrument for five decades now, when asked how he rated his playing at this stage of his career he wasn't kidding when he said "it felt like it had only become good in the past five years.”

"I do mean that sincerely. I'm finding and learning new things all the time. All the different styles in that time frame have matured into something that's all of my own now. I can't describe it, it just feels right. I'm totally at home with it and my music and my technique is better than ever.”

Mathiske wasn't bothered by the length of time he felt it had taken to reach this point in his career.

"Some guitarists find their groove early like Santana who has been playing the same way all his life because he found it early, but for me it's been as a result of discovering new things along the way.”

With the notion of picking up a guitar and playing every day wherever he is, was there ever a point where it felt like a chore?

"I was born in Mallee on wheat farm. I got a guitar when I was seven, it wasn't even considered that you could do it as a career. I just learned one chord and then I learned another and took lessons and it went from there.

"I've never, ever been sick of playing. The business side of it, yes. But playing, no, I do it every day and I never run out of ideas.”

Occasionally fate might intervene and force a brief hiatus like the one and only time he injured his hand.

"I broke my finger once, walking my dogs. I had two weeks off, rescheduled a couple of concerts and strapped them up. I just adjusted my playing technique for a short time and that's about it.”

Mathiske said the delivery technique he has now is an accumulation of everything that has come before. "I never stop learning and working my hands. As they say if you don't use it you lose it and that applies to all body parts.”

He said after five decades of playing guitar he said "being able to tour the world and play my guitar” is his career highlight. "I've always played the things I love to play. Never once never have I gone on stage and thought I'd better do this or I'd better do that. You quickly lose your love of music from doing that. I do my concerts to lift the audiences, whether that's in Morocco or in Grafton.”

And to prove his passion he is already buzzing about what he had in store for Grafton.

"I'm excited about the set list I have planned, I'm excited to drive up there and do a workshop for the kids and talk guitar and music. And then I get to play. It's as simple and satisfying as that.”

So with half a century under his guitar strap, will Bruce Mathiske be our BB King and play until they have to carrying him off the stage?

"I really hope so. Sometimes you think 'am I supposed to be doing something else now?' because I really don't want to. I still get up every day and love to play my guitar. If there are concerts available and people still want to come and see me play, then I'll still be playing.”

Don't miss Bruce Mathiske live in concert at the Clarence Valley Conservatorium on Saturday night. Bookings recommended. Tickets via the Con's website or 6643 3555

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