As you drive about 20 kilometres north of Durban, the largest city in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, you pass a lush fertile belt where the rich green shades of the sugar cane meet the turquoise of the Indian Ocean. This is where on the 26th November 1983, guitarist and composer Guy Buttery was born and raised in a small coastal town along the North Coast. This is a place of enchantment, freedom, promise and where the creative spirit takes charge. Besides being introduced to music at an early age through his mother who plays the piano and his older brothers who played guitar, the muse naturally took hold of Guy when he was ten. It wasn’t out of peer pressure, but out of the necessity to liberate the creative whirlwind which was ever prevalent during those early years. Just think about it. As rich as the soil for his feet to stand on, you had local Zulu tribesmen, playing their brand of music known as Maskanda on finger-picked oil drum guitars. They are South Africa’s blues men, or wandering storytellers, which hollered their song into a young Buttery’s heart. Across the valley, the sounds of tabla and sitar could be heard from one of the many Indian Hindu temples bringing a diversity of colour, spirit and enlightenment into such an enquiring mind.
Back in the Buttery household, the sounds of The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Dylan and Bob Marley made their way into the teenager’s songbook. Practicing hours every day on his older brothers ‘hand me down’ guitar, these icons opened doorways and liberated Guy’s spirit. During these formative years, he got an understanding of rock and folk harmonies, almost serving an apprenticeship for greater things to come. When the guitar was put down, the inspiration was continually diverted and fed through the physical. Exploring the lush cane fields and living in the coastal forests, building secret tree houses and surfing the warm Indian Ocean currents only added to the deep well of inspiration. Many a profound event happened during these times. After hearing John Paul Jones’ mandolin on Zeppelin’s, “Battle of Evermore”, Guy acquired a mandolin, and with the influence of Ravi Shankar being so close to home, purchased a sitar from one of the local Indian music shops. At the age of 13, Buttery was introduced to classical harmony through his first guitar teacher, Leandros Stavrou. The quest for new musical boundaries was inevitable, and through friend, guitar teacher and present collaborator, Nibs van der Spuy, Guy was introduced to fingerstylist extraordinaire, Michael Hedges. This only ignited the flame even bigger.
Guy then went on to study Jazz at the Kwa-Zulu Natal Technikon and later on, at the Durban School of Music to reunite with Leandros Stavrou, to further his classical training. Soon after, the boundaries were pushed even wider by hearing the music of Oregon, Ralph Towner, Steve Reich, Egberto Gismonti and John Coltrane to name a few. After opening a concert in early 2001 for well known Mozambican musician Gito Baloi and Nibs van der Spuy, both musicians were dumb struck at the virtuosity coming from the fingers of the 17 year old. Not being able to ignore this enormous talent, it was not long before Buttery sealed a deal with South African World/Jazz label, Sheer Sound. His debut album “When I Grow Up…” was released in late 2002 to great critical acclaim. Comprising of highly original self written acoustic fingerstyle compositions, Guy Buttery was the youngest nominee in the history of the SAMA’s (South African Music Awards) of the same year. He was nominated in both ‘Best Instrumental Album of the Year’ and ‘Best Newcomer for 2002’, at the tender age of 18. After creating such a unique hybrid fingerstyle technique, using both hands on the fret board, creating polyphonic, percussive and harmonic textures, it wasn’t long before he caught the attention of a loyal cult following. This in turn translated into being invited to all the prestigious music festivals throughout Southern Africa. The tapestry of sounds and stylistic influences coming from his guitar, never seem to be exhausted. Just when you think the journey is over, he will start playing a beautiful rendition of one of his favourite South African composers. Be it Vusi Mahlasela, Steve Newman or Madala Kunene, Buttery never loses sight of where he comes from and the rich local influences all around him.
2005 saw the release of his follow up album, “Songs from the Cane Fields” which was once again nominated at the SAMA’s for ‘Best Instrumental Album’. The music speaks of an unbounded freedom, where the landscape meets the Indian Ocean. The inspiration clearly speaks of anguish, from days gone by, the unleashed joy of new beginnings and spirit of travel along ancient African footpaths. The album is an ode to his rich surroundings, yet ironically, was the creative spring-board that ultimately catapulted him to far away nations, so all could share in such a rich talent. The Globe’s biggest guitar publication, ‘Guitar Player Magazine’ also ran a three page feature, praising Guy Buttery as a unique, fresh creative virtuosic force in the world of finger style players today. It was with that momentum that saw him being invited to perform all over Europe, Australia, USA, Seychelles, Mauritius and the UK. Noteworthy festivals included the ‘International Guitar Festival’ in Northern Ireland, ‘The Madame Guitar Festival’ in Italy, ‘Stamford Guitar Festival’ and ‘Musicport’ in the UK, Rio Loco in France, ‘Big Day Out’ in Australia and ‘The Long Island Festival’ in NY, USA. These ongoing travels abroad and in many regions of Africa saw Buttery collaborate and share the stage with many luminaries, such as; Missy Higgins, Violent Femmes, Martin Simpson, Jethro Tull, Donovan, Shawn Phillips, Piers Faccini as well as some South African Legends; Vusi Mahlasela, Madala Kunene, Valiant Swart, Steve Newman, Tony Cox, Nibs van der Spuy and Farryl Purkiss. The perseverance and the flame never wilted, it became more ignited and creatively more exciting.
Four years in the making after his ‘Songs from the Cane fields’ outing, Buttery released his work of genius, ‘Fox Hill Lane’. This album not only sealed his International reputation, but it made South Africa sit up and take notice. It featured the cream of local musicians and acted as a whose who in the South African music scene today featuring the likes of Dan Patlansky, Madala Kunene, Tony Cox, Syd Kitchen and Nibs vd Spuy to contrast Buttery’s awe-inspiring playing and compositions. It went on to win a major national award for ‘Best Instrumental’ album of the year at the 2010 SAMA’s (South African Music Awards). He also won ‘The Standard Bank Golden Ovation Award’ chosen out of 4600 performers at the 2010 National Arts festival in Grahamstown.
During this time, Guy filmed a live in studio performance with EarthTouch which went onto broadcast on HDTV across the globe which was then picked up by MTV Brazil and was play-listed for many months. He then landed a major guitar endorsement deal with UK’s premier guitar maker Roger Bucknall of Fylde Guitars. Guy sits amongst the following other world class musicians to be endorsed by Fylde: Gordon Giltrap, Davey Graham, Pete Townshend [The Who], Nic Jones, Eric Bibb, Richie Blackmore [of Deep Purple] and KT Tunstall. Following this, Guy’s live version of “The Book of Right On” was featured on a Joanna Newsom cover compilation alongside luminaries such as M. Ward, Billy Bragg and Owen Pallet. The compilation is a project to directly benefit Oxfam America and their continuing work to assist the flood relief effort in Pakistan. As you listen to the creative genius of music-making whirlwind Guy Buttery, you can’t escape the feeling that this extraordinary musician has a mind of a prophet and the musical prowess of a Guru. The road is limitless and exciting for this true South African living legend still in his 20’s.
MUSICIANS GUY PERFORMED, RECORDED OR COLLABORATED WITH:
SOUTH AFRICAN Madala Kunene, Tony Cox, Steve Newman, Nibs vd Spuy, Arno Carstens, Vusi Mahlasela, Valiant Swart, Farryl Purkiss, Greg Georgiades, Kesivan Naidoo, Chris Letcher, Gito Baloi, Landscape Prayers, Syd Kitchen, Perez, Jesse Clegg, Dan Patlansky INTERNATIONAL The Violent Femmes, Jethro Tull, Piers Faccini, Shawn Philips, Martin Simpson, Missy Higgins, Bob Brozman, Dave Matthews
Radio airplay or interviews: SAFM, East Coast Radio, 567 Cape Talk, Fine Music Radio, Classic FM, UCT Radio, MFM Radio, Bush Radio, Red Cap Radio, Algoa Radio, Metro FM, High Veld Radio, Radio 2000, 702 Talk Radio, WNYC, KALW, WSLR and many more. TV Appearances: MNET, E-TV, goTV, SABC 2, SABC 3 [various programs], CueTV, SABC International, HDTV International Newspaper and magazine articles: Die Beeld, The Mercury, Cape Argus, Cape Times, Daily Dispatch, Daily News, Die Burger, The Herald, The Independent on Saturday, Mail and Guardian, News 24, Rapoort, The Star, Sunday Times, Weekend Post, The Witness, The Weekender, The Sunday Tribune, The South African, The South African Times, The London Metro, and numerous community newspapers. The Sunday Magazine, SL Magazine, Guitar Player Magazine, Rolling Stone Magazine, Time Out London, Heat Magazine, Life & Style Magazine, Amped Magazine, and numerous others.