Image above: Antonio Forcione; photograph by Anna Kunst
An interview with Antonio Forcione
Antonio Forcione is playing in Chiswick. The world-renowned acoustic guitarist has 20 albums to his name, the last of which, Joy with Seckou Keita and Adriano Adewale as AKA, won the 2019 Global Music Awards Best Album.
Antonio lives in Chiswick but spends most of his time touring. When he’s here it’s usually to recharge the batteries, see friends and family and do the stuff we all have to do. After we met in a local pub he went home to mend the dishwasher. The pandemic grounded him; the result: a half-written book, a nearly finished documentary and time to do a gig for Jazz at George IV on 11 November before he shoots off again.
Antonio’s music is hard to label and he likes it that way.
“I have been influenced by so many types of music and cultures that I would sincerely find it a problem describing my music” he says. He prefers to let the music speak for itself, so the best way to judge is to go and see him perform.
He delights in playing with musicians from different traditions and picks up music from wherever he travels, whether it’s India, Kazakhstan China, Japan or Ireland. He’s played with Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita and Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale on and off for years. They’re all solo artists used to packing out concert halls on their own. When they come together they play as equals, merging the music of three continents.
Antonio’s current obsession is Cuba, where he has spent a lot of time playing and absorbing music.
“Every few hundred yards there’s someone playing in the street. It’s very reminiscent of my childhood”.
Antonio grew up in Montecilfone on the Adriatic coast. He started learning the drums at 11 but when the neighbours complained his father gave him a guitar instead. The freedom of no internet, no phone, just wandering around jamming with anyone and everyone makes him very happy.
With his daughter Maya as videographer, he spent weeks getting to know Cuba’s singer-songwriters. Like the Hairy Bikers touring his home country of Italy sampling and learning about the food, so he does in Cuba, only with music. Perhaps the Hairy Bikers isn’t the best analogy as Antonio is still pretty good looking at 61 and his daughter is model grade stunning. They’ve spent the various lockdowns closeted together reducing hours of footage to the requisite 60 minutes and are in the final stages of post production.
Image above: Maya and Antonio; photograph by Anna Kunst
Starting out as a busker
Antonio has an affinity with street musicians, having spent his first few years in England busking.
“I came here at 18 without a word of English. In fact one of the first English phrases I learned was ‘move on’.”
He played with Spanish guitarist Eduardo Niebla and the police were forever moving them on.
“It was a real triumph when one day I sold a cassette to a policeman” he tells me, laughing at the recollection.
“I liked the English way – people listened and clapped”.
Popularity as regular buskers in Covent Garden Market in the early 1980s led to gigs in pubs. One day a man dropped his card in with the tips and asked him to call. He was a promoter who wanted Antonio and Eduardo to support Barclay James Harvest on tour.
Time Out’s rave review (of their performance, but not Barclay James Harvest’s, which they panned) brought him to the attention of Virgin records, who signed him for his first album Celebration which went global.
He went on to create more albums with the record company NAM, including Acoustic Revenge, recorded and released in 1994 in the same year his daughter Maya was born.
Image above: Antonio; photograph by Anna Kunst
Clown or serious musician?
Antonio has always used charm and humour in his act – even when his English was pretty minimal. Comedian Paul Morocco picked up on his comedic value when he saw him perform at Battersea Arts Centre and asked him to join his comedy group Olé along with Bill Bailey.
By now a reasonably well-known artist with four albums to his name and not one to shy away from trying something new, he decided to accept the challenge, embarking on a path of mayhem and madness which took him to comedy festivals as far away as Montreal and Melbourne, China and Japan, in between gigs as a ‘straight’ musician.
He was dubbed ‘the acoustic Hendrix’ for his antics with a guitar, playing while juggling, using fireworks and generally clowning around. They won the Scotsman Best Newcomer’s Award at the 1991 Edinburgh Festival.
“I love the Edinburgh Festival. I did it every year from 1991 for seven years, doing two shows a day – one comedy and one music, getting changed in the cab between the two”.
Olé won the Golden Nose Award for comedy in Barceolna in 1997; performing with another comedian Boothby Graffoe (who sometimes performs at Headliners in Chiswick) they won the Adelaide Festival Award for Excellence in 2004.
The nineties were a hugely prolific time for Antonio, “writing a lot, touring a lot, composing on the hoof in cafes”, but he found he was regarded increasingly as a just a clown rather than first and foremost as a musician.
“Clowning was affecting my reputation as a serious musician, so I left comedy to dedicate my time completely to music in 1998”.
He won awards and the admiration of fellow musicians, invited by jazz legend, bassist Charlie Aden, to collaborate on an album, Heartplay.
“I worshipped him. I’d listened to him from when I was 18. I’m very proud of the album I made with him”.
That in turn boosted Antonio’s recognition internationally.
Image above: AKA – Antonio, Seckou Keita and Adriano Adewale
A change of pace and scenery
It all came crashing down in 2006. “I had a kind of breakdown”. His dad died; he separated from Maya’s mother Anna, his band split up and all in all it was a pretty terrible year.
“I didn’t play for two years” he told me.
His enthusiasm for his music career was rekindled on a trip to Africa.
“I fell in love with Africa. I guy from Zimbabwe invited me there from the Edinburgh Festival. I was fascinated”.
His various trips to the African continent inspired him to record an album Sketches of Africa with his quartet and musicians from Gambia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Senegal.
Having met Adriano Adewale in 1998 and seen Seckou Keita play in 2004 he decided to hook up with them. After a couple of sell-out gigs in east London they took AKA to the Edinburgh Festival and sold out an 800 seater venue for four nights running, but all busy with their solo careers it was four years before Seckou’s manager took them on and they were able to take their collaboration further.
They brought out Joy in May 2019 and toured for 24 days out of 26 in November of that year. And then just as the World Music Awards Best Album brought them international recognition as a band, Covid hit.
He’s used his time productively, editing the documentary and writing an anthology of his compositions. Most of the music he’s recorded is his own composition and he’s now committing it to print, writing down the arrangements with notes and anecdotes and his own illustrations. (He’s no mean artist, having been to art school before coming to England, as well as being a genius guitar player and a dab hand at mending dishwashers).
Now he’s started touring again. He played in Sofia a few weeks ago and is off to Germany this week, but will be back to perform in the Boston Room of George IV on Thursday 11 November as part of the Jazz at George IV series produced by The Chiswick Calendar and jazz promoter Larry Pryce of Live Music To Go. He’ll be performing with percussionist Dado Pasqualin.
Book tickets: Eventbrite.co.uk
Image above: Antonio with Dado Pasqualin
More informations about the gigs at antonioforcione.
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