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Liverpool guitarist settles into life in Bermuda

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New to the island: Niall Kavanagh, the guitar, ukulele, and piano teacher at the Bermuda School of Music, will perform at the 19th Bermuda Guitar Festival, which will be held on March 20, 22 and 23 at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Growing up in Liverpool, England, the birthplace of the Beatles, Niall Kavanagh was heavily influenced by the legendary rock group.

“One of my earliest memories is of watching The Beatles Anthology on television with my family,” the Bermuda School of Music guitar teacher said. “I told everyone I had seen it.”

When he got older he dreamt of being a rock star.

“I told people I would be bigger than the Beatles,” he laughed. “I said I was going to be a millionaire.”

Things have not yet worked out that way. He became a music instructor instead of a celebrity.

“I started teaching at 14 for a charity,” Mr Kavanagh said. “I would help the younger students meet their goals. Some of them were doing grade one music and I would help them out with grade two.”

He had never considered teaching before, but loved it.

“The best feeling is when you give students something that they have been struggling with one week, and they come back the next week and they have nailed it,” he said.

It took him a little while to get teaching down.

“At first I would give students a piece to do, not realising it was too difficult for them,” he said. “I figured that if I could do it, they could do it. Later, I learnt to start small and take things in steps. That worked a lot better.”

He joined the staff of the Bermuda School of Music six months ago teaching guitar, ukulele, and piano.

Later this month, he will be performing in their 19th Bermuda Guitar Festival.

He said: “Myself and Walter Rodrigues plan on playing some classical guitar mixes with flamenco and some of my own original pieces. Walter will also be doing some jazz standards on the guitar.”

Stephen Crawford and Johanna Pino Gonzalez will also be performing in the festival.

Mr Kavanagh has had no trouble transitioning from Liverpool to Bermuda.

“I had been living in a flat with two other guys, and then moved back in with my parents to save for a mortgage, so no, moving to Bermuda was not hard,” he said.

He admitted that when he first saw the advertisement for the post at the Bermuda School of Music, he was not entirely sure where Bermuda was. His job was laying people off, so he knew he had to find something else.

New to the island: Niall Kavanagh, the guitar, ukulele, and piano teacher at the Bermuda School of Music, will perform at the 19th Bermuda Guitar Festival, which will be held on March 20, 22 and 23 at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (Photograph supplied)

“All I knew was that Bermuda was at the end of the triangle,” he said.

Once he researched Bermuda a little, he was impressed. Now, his only regret is having had to sell his car back in England.

“Now I ride around on a bike in Bermuda with my guitar strapped to my back,” he said. “It whacks me in the back of my helmet, a lot. I am thinking about buying a car.”

He fell in love with the guitar at age of 3.

“My father was an organ builder,” Mr Kavanagh said. “He travelled all over, building organs for churches. When I was born, he retired so he could spend more time with me. He became a prison officer instead.”

It was his father who got him interested in music.

“He started teaching me chord shapes and guitar riffs,” Mr Kavanagh said. “I was utterly fascinated.”

When he was eight, he signed up for guitar lessons at his school, but after two weeks the teacher advised him to find a private tutor. He was already ahead of the other students.

“She thought being in the class would just hold me back,” Mr Kavanagh said.

At 15, he was accepted into the Junior Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester to study under guitar specialist Jeremy Bleasedale. He achieved his associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music grade 8 two years later.

He went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in classical guitar performance from the Conservatoire Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. He studied under the Australian guitarist Craig Ogden.

Mr Kavanagh also spent six months learning flamenco guitar at the Flamenco School Escuela Carmen de las Cuevas in Granada, Spain.

He studied different styles and performed with flamenco dancers, singers and percussionists.

He has since played classical and flamenco guitar internationally, and has been a part of many bands.

“I am hoping to set up rock band sessions at the Bermuda School of Music, with students ages 12 to 18,” he said. “We could divide it up into heavy metal and pop. I would get them writing their own stuff.

“Hopefully, after ten weeks or so, they would be good enough to do gigs in the community.”

He said most of those involved would be too young to be paid to play in a bar and a restaurant.

“By the time they are old enough, they would have plenty of experience,” he said.

He said Bermuda has more of a DJ scene than his home town.

“There is not as much live music,” he said. “In Liverpool, every single night of the week you can walk into any bar and there is a band playing. I’d like to get more of that going here.”

He is looking for other local musicians to team up with.

Mr Kavanagh has a YouTube channel where he has recording of himself playing. He also has two pieces available for download on Spotify.

“One of them is Dadaad,” he said. “It is named after the tune of the strings. Then there is another one that I have got on there called Cry of the Dynasty which I wrote when I went to Jordan and Palestine. It has guitar, throat singing, percussion and strings.”

Today, Mr Kavanagh takes a more philosophical approach to fame.

“If it happens, it happens, but I will not be devastated if it does not,” he said.

The 19th Bermuda Guitar Festival will be held on March 20, 22 and 23 at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute. For the full line-up, seewww.musicschool.bm/events. Tickets are $30 available at the Bermuda School of Music and atwww.ptix.bm

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Published March 06, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated March 07, 2024 at 8:12 am)

Liverpool guitarist settles into life in Bermuda

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