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Tony McManus is recognized throughout the world as one of the leading guitarists in Celtic music. From early childhood, his twin obsessions of traditional music and acoustic guitar have combined to produce a startlingly original approach to this ancient art. In Tony’s hands the complex ornamentation normally associated with fiddles and pipes is accurately transferred to guitar in a way that preserves the integrity and emotional impact of the music while sounding completely suited to the guitar.
Self-taught from childhood, with the help of his family’s record collection, McManus abandoned academia in his twenties to pursue music full-time. The session scene in Glasgow and Edinburgh provided the springboard for gigs around Scotland and a studio performance for BBC Radio began to spread the word.
Tony’s first, self-titled, recording in 1996, followed by Pourquoi Quebec in 1999, led to worldwide recognition. However, it was with the release of Ceol More in 2002 that Tony’s stature as a first-class musician reached a new level. Critics hailed the focussed, spell-binding nature of the music, from the plaintive Jewish hymn “Shalom Aleichem” to the ingenious arrangement of the Charles Mingus classic “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” Along with nominations for Tony as Musician of the Year by both the BBC Folk Awards and the Scottish Traditional Music awards, Ceol More made the Album of the Year list in Acoustic Guitar magazine and was named the “Live Ireland Awards” Album of the Year.
Tony’s work has come to represent Celtic music in the guitar world, making regular appearances at guitar-specific events where the sound of jigs and reels played on the acoustic guitar is rarely heard. He is annually invited to the Chet Atkins Festival in Nashville and has appeared at guitar festivals in Soave, Pescantina, Sarzana, and Francacorta, Italy; Frankston, Australia; Issoudun and Bordeaux, France; Kirkmichael, Scotland; Bath and Kent, England; and Bochum and Osnabruck, Germany. In 2004 he appeared at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville in the “All Star Guitar Night” featuring Steve Morse, Bryan Sutton, Muriel Anderson, Béla Fleck, Victor Wooten, and headlined by the legendary Les Paul. His ability to reach audiences unfamiliar with traditional music is remarkable: he is comfortable at predominantly classical events such as the Dundee and Derry Guitar Festivals, the Uppsala Guitar Festival, and even the Bogotá International Guitar Festival where he followed virtuoso Eduardo Fernandez.
Tony’s live work ranges from intimate solo performances to a duet with Italian flatpicker Beppe Gambetta to a trio with brothers Gary and Greg Grainger to the quartet Men of Steel (with fellow guitarists Dan Crary, Gambetta, and Don Ross). He is an enthusiastic collaborator as leader and sideman, and has worked with Dougie MacLean, Phil Cunningham, Mairi MacInnes, Liam O’Flynn, Martin Simpson, Kevin Burke, Alison Brown, Martyn Bennett, Natalie MacMaster, Patrick and Jacky Molard, Mairead ní Mhoanaigh and Dermot Byrne, the Nashville Chamber Orchestra, John Jorgenson, Jean Michel Veillon, Catriona Macdonald, Seikou Keita, Xosé Manuel Budiño, Ewen Vernal, and Andy Irvine. He is also in great demand as a studio musician and has contributed to more than 60 recordings.
His 2009 release The Maker’s Mark showcased 15 of the finest luthier-built guitars in the world. Recording a solo piece on each instrument, the project caught the attention of the mainstream rock guitar press in a way that acoustic work rarely does.
Never one to be typecast, Tony’s 2013 album Mysterious Boundaries stemmed from a challenge from mandolin virtuoso Mike Marshall to learn the Bach E Major Prelude for Violin on guitar. This led to an exploration of classical and baroque music, seemingly very different from the jigs and reels that he grew up with. By examining the boundaries between genres and sticking to his steel-string guitar (rather than the conventional nylon-strung classical guitar) McManus produced a work of great originality and beauty, hailed by his peers as “a masterpiece” (John Renbourn) and “beyond beautiful… it’s perfect!” (Tommy Emmanuel).
His 2015 duet album with Beppe Gambetta, Round Trip, features virtuoso fingerstyle playing, flatpicking, and beautiful songs, recorded on a selection of great instruments.
Whatever McManus plays, the listener is assured a journey into the depths of the music with one of the acoustic guitar world’s greatest talents.
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