It all started just before Christmas 2002, when bored in the house, Gareth put on one of his Dad's videos of Tommy Emmanuel performing. Gareth recalls, "Tommy was playing Classical Gas, and from that very moment, I knew exactly what I wanted to be in life. Tommy changed my life".
That Christmas, Gareth obtained his first acoustic guitar. The guitar, which his Dad bought from eBay, a K Yairi Gordon Giltrap signature model, was to be heard morning, noon and night. Along with the accompanying "stamp", you could always tell when Gareth was playing the guitar in his bedroom. The first tune Gareth learnt to play was Tommy's version of Windy and Warm. Through Tommy, he then discovered Chet Atkins.
In March 2003, he saw Tommy for the first time at Huntington Hall, Worcester. A concert that again just made Gareth more determined in what he wanted to be. "To see Tommy perform, it's not just about the guitar, it's about being entertained. As you watch him play, you are drawn to his face, and the sheer enjoyment he gets from playing, and you are invited into that enjoyment. So much so, you forget about the guitar playing, and just sit there and be moved by the whole experience"
As Gareth's Dad belonged to the Islwyn Guitar Club, the next step for Gareth was the need to perform. The guitar club proved invaluable for this, and he made his first public performance there in May 2003 in the playaround before the main guest, Bob Evans from Canada. Bob was touring Wales and stayed with Gareth's parents for a couple of days. Gareth recalls, "Just having Bob stay with us, gave me the inspiration to practice even more and I could have spent all day just watching him play". (Bob later that year went on to win the prestigious Winfield Fingerpicking Contest in Kansas. Gareth quotes, "I'd like to think it was a part of my playing which rubbed off on Bob, made the difference at Winfield!!!!). At his first performance, Gareth played Windy and Warm, Mr Sandman and Day Tripper.
As the guitar club meets once a month, Gareth performed there regularly and also at local folk clubs, taking the music of Tommy and Chet to a new audience and even inspiring younger and older players to try their hand on listening and learning from these great guitarists.
In March 2004, Gareth finally got to meet Tommy and talk with him back stage at Ebbw Vale before the concert. "Tommy had me play for him, and then advised me on what I should do to be a better player. I have stuck to his advice from that day to this. His mobile phone went off when I was playing, and he said for me to carry on playing, it's more important".
Later that year in October, Gareth had a phone call to see if he would open for Tommy and Johnny Dickinson at two venues in Wales. The Point in Cardiff, and The Patti Pavilion in Swansea. Just to get him used to playing at larger venues, the organiser arranged for Gareth to open for Southside Johnny and The Ashbury Jukes the week before.
"Playing before such varied audiences does keep you on your toes and its great just getting up there and play some Tommy, Chet and Jerry Reed to people who otherwise, would not get to hear them. At Southside Johnny, a number of people came up to me afterwards and asked about Tommy and Chet. They said that they would be buying tickets for the following week. I felt that my job had been done".
The following week, Gareth opened for Tommy and Johnny Dickinson in Cardiff. It was at this concert, Tommy in front of a stunned audience invited Gareth to the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society(CAAS) held in Nashville. The next night in Swansea, Tommy had Gareth play for Mark Pritcher, President of the CAAS, over his mobile phone in the dressing room.
In between Nov 2004 and June 2005, Gareth supported the likes of Duck Baker and John Renbourn and again opened for Tommy and Clive Carroll. But it was at The TommyFest held in Windsor during March that will always stay in Gareth's memory. He impressed so much during the open mic, that he was officially booked for the 2006 TommyFest. Also, it was at the Festival that Gareth was given his Maton Guitar as a gift by a fan and friend of Tommy's, who was so impressed with Gareth's playing, he thought it right that Gareth should have it.
Since CAAS, Gareth has played at Guitar Festivals and concerts and even private functions gaining invaluable musical experience along the way. His last big concert was opening for Ray Davies at St David's Hall, Cardiff. Ray Davies watched the whole of Gareth's set from the wings, and later invited him into his dressing room.
"He was so gracious with his advice and comments. Just to see him perform would be something, but to open for a legend................."
Gareth stresses, "I have been very fortunate in that - in Tommy - I have a role model as a guitar player, an entertainer and more importantly as a person. Yes, I have been very fortunate!"
Written on Nov 5th 2005. Exactly one year after Gareth first opened for Tommy.