A personal review of the Guitar Retreats experience by a regular participant.
As I sit down to write an article regarding my Guitar Retreats experience, I can’t help but think about that scene from the ‘Life of Brian’ when the question was asked ‘What did the Romans ever do for us’ and the answer turned out to be, ‘just about everything’!
Well this just about sums up my article and I could end it right here, but I won’t as I suspect some readers would like a little further information.
Perhaps I should begin by answering the most popular question posed by people considering attending a retreat for the first time ‘Am I good enough? Well the answer is certainly ‘yes’ enthusiasm is more valued than technical ability on a retreat, if you can manage at least two chords you’re there already.
Let me describe my own experiences to explain further, prior to attending my first retreat down in Bude, I had no idea of where I was with my playing, I was a typical bedroom guitarist, learning from the Internet and Guitar magazines and CD’s, never played in front of anyone (too shy) and no one to give me feedback as to how I was doing, or where I needed to improve. I turned up for my first retreat that was billed as a ‘Beginners’ weekend. I had a great time, learned loads and met some really nice people who’s company I enjoyed immensely. As it turned out, I had underestimated my technical ability and was probably the best player there.
Having had such a great experience, I signed up for another retreat, billed this time as a ‘Performance Weekend’ and, to be perfectly honest I didn’t actually know what this entailed, I’d just enjoyed myself so much the first time around, I was up for anything! Yet again I had a great time, learned loads, met some really nice people who’s company I enjoyed immensely, but quickly found out I was the least talented individual there, and without any shadow of a doubt, the worst player! Aaaagh…..I was amongst people who regularly performed in Pubs and Clubs, at Weddings and Bar Mitzvah’s and met one extremely talented Welshman who’s guitar finger style playing was amazing, he was soon to become a regular tutor on Guitar Retreats. (Paul Nicholas) whom along with another tutor Colin Wilson was my inspiration to learn finger style technique from scratch, up to a now reasonable level of accomplishment)
When it came time for me to ‘perform’ a song, I was so nervous finding myself in such exalted company, my voice dried up and my fingers turned to rubber. But what happened next was awesome, everyone, starting with Sharon, (Stuart’s wife and a driving influence behind Guitar Retreats) joined in with my song, supporting me with enthusiasm and encouragement that lifted me up as never before, giving me my biggest boost of confidence just when I needed it.
This attitude of encouragement is a ‘Signature Theme’ with Guitar Retreats and has continued on every retreat I have attended since, and quiet often, I receive as much information, help, guidance and playing tips from my fellow retreaters as I do from the designated tutors.
And so it continued, I now play some finger style, sing and accompany myself on Guitar, I write my own songs, I am full of self confidence when performing in front of complete strangers, (though I hope I never lose that nagging nervousness that lasts right up to the moment I play the first chord, as I have come to recognise it as a pre-cursor to performing well for me).
All of this has come about as a direct result of taking the plunge and attending my first retreat, and I’ve been on a few since!
The course content is always relevant and described in full beforehand, the locations both at home and abroad are simply great, with my all time favourite being at ‘La Perdrix’ Riberac St, Martin in France that deserves a special mention from me. ‘La Perdrix’ is a 13th century converted monastery that is definitely not ‘The Premier Inn’. According to your taste, or sense of humour it can be described either as rustic or ramshackle, for me it is rural France at it’s best and a magical place that sets free your inner muse. I feel totally relaxed the minute I go through the gates!
Johnny and his wife Ingrid and a team of lovely people run the place, and are as much a part of the retreat as the players. Check out the Guitar Retreat website for photographs.
Now some of the more cynical of you reading this may well spot that I haven’t mentioned any negative aspects of a Guitar Retreat, well the simple answer is I personally haven’t come across anything worth mentioning. I do know, that if you deliberately look for the bad in anyone or anything you will find it, as it is there in all of us and everything. Genuinely, Guitar Retreats are a very positive experience and Stuart and Sharon welcome and are receptive to feedback. They do act to remedy any issues that occur either there or then, or as soon as possible after they are made aware.
It can’t be that bad as a good 50% of attendees on a retreat are usually repeat offenders! And that includes me, I think I’m into double figures? (actually its now 20!) Does this make me biased, or am I smart enough to know when I’m onto a good thing? Only one way to find out!
So go for it, any age, any gender, retired or escaping from the kids for a weekend of guitar playing, bring your wife or partner who will be made more than welcome.
Hope to see you soon!
PS. I assure you all, no one paid me to write this but I do expect a beer from Stuart on the next retreat!