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Nowhere to hide: Insights from singer-songwriters in the 21st Century

Saiichi Sugiyama

This is the first of a series of brief interviews with singer-songwriters, writers who sing the songs they pen. They are judged on their passion, songwriting, the music, and how they come across live, where they have no band in which to hide.

Wikipedia describes singer-songwriters as "...musicians who write, compose, and perform their own musical material, including lyrics and melodies. The genre began with the folk-acoustic tradition. Singer-songwriters often provide the sole accompaniment to an entire composition or song, typically using a guitar or piano."

The first singer-songwriter we speak with is Saiichi Sugiyama, best known for his Saiichi Sugiyama Band, but which also incorporates acoustic music in contrast to the main, big, six-piece band sound.

Why do you play acoustic shows as well as in the Saiichi Sugiyama Band?

"I am a songwriter and a guitarist. Saiichi Sugiyama Band is a rock/soul band that plays my songs and I play blues lead guitar. Mune Sugiyama is the Musical Director who also plays the drums. Monica George takes the lead vocals. The band presents the formal interpretations of my songs.

"Saiichi Sugiyama acoustic shows are just me singing songs that I wrote on acoustic guitars. It is just me and my songs. That was how I got started when I was in my early teens. The sound of Martins was my first love before I got my hands on an electric. I still love the sound of acoustic guitars."

You have acoustic music as part of your band appearances now. How does that work?

"We do that now if we have a full evening show. Our show is also about our songs, after all. A chair is brought out after the first set and I just play a handful of numbers unplugged."

How do you choose the songs in your set for the acoustic appearances?

"Some of my songs work the best in the acoustic context. Horses for courses. I also sing songs that Saiichi Sugiyama Band play, but with acoustic arrangements. Then the idea is not to recreate the band version as a one man band, but to present it in the pure naked form, often as they first came to me."

What are the differences and challenges between appearing in band or acoustic formats?

"As Crosby and Nash used to say, playing acoustic is 'without a net'. There is no hiding place. Also, whilst I am a 'one guitar man', just using the same guitar throughout the set in my electric gigs, I need to use several guitars as I use different tunings in my acoustic set. When I play a full acoustic evening, guitars also need to be retuned during the set to accommodate different open tunings. So, I need a guitar tech helping me with all that."

What is the best comment you've received after an acoustic show?

"When I played studio live at BBC Surrey promoting our performance at Weyfest Main Stage last year, Graham Dene, the DJ, commented that I didn't need to go on with the band. That was kind."

Who are your own favourite acoustic artists and why?

"Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Dave Mason, Joe Walsh, Peter Frampton, Graham Nash, the Japanese group GARO, who were my formative influence. They are rock musicians who rock with acoustic guitars."

What plans do you have for your acoustic music and live appearances?

"I would like to complement band tours and play acoustic tours by myself in-between times. Maybe an acoustic live album in a few years time."

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Words Darren Anthony, Picture Shin Adachi

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