“Awakenings is destined to become a classic. By turns melancholy, mysterious, sweet and true, 21st century lightning fast, jazzy… Declan is always virtuosic and committed, with a stunning sonic awareness. Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Andrés Segovia, Carlo Domeniconi, Eric Roche…his inspirations are many and you can hear them like flecks of foam on the ripples and waves of harmony and rhythm he creates. This is the acoustic guitar you hear in your dreams, stretching the harmonic, polyphonic and percussive capabilities of the instrument far beyond what we’ve come to expect of a guitar in the hands of a solo guitarist.”
“The young Briton shines when playing his own compositions…”
“My colleague Ed Vulliamy wrote a persuasive opinion piece in the Observer last week on the need to break down barriers in music; to end the pointless divisions between “pop” and “classical” (note the labels on this page… ). Young British guitarist Declan Zapala is doing just that, in appearances around the country and on this debut disc, mixing short new compositions of his own and others with Bach preludes and a suite by the Italian guitarist Carlo Domeniconi. Most of it is attractive and innovative, his own compositions particularly exploring the percussive qualities of the instrument.”
“Innovative,” wrote Stephen Pritchard, a reviewer from one of the United Kingdom’s best-selling newspapers, the Guardian. He was describing his own reaction to Declan Zapala’s debut album, Awakenings; whereas I was to measure my own reaction during a concert put on for the launch of that album.
So who is Declan Zapala? It’s not likely that you have come across him in conventional classical-guitar circles, since he chiefly operates outside of them. On the rare occasion you do find him among other classical players, it is because of some special event, such as his work with the Eclectic Guitar Orchestra, which features John Williams, among other celebrity players. No, Zapala prefers to mingle with a different audience. Testament to this was his month’s-worth of sold-out solo concerts at the famous Edinburgh Fringe in Scotland.
Zapala has described what he does as “crossover classical-percussive guitar;” quite a mouthful, but after so many years trying to define his act, this is the best he has come up with. His “percussion” is added completely by his hands. His guitar is a custom instrument made by Stephen Hill for the job: It contains internal microphones to highlight percussion sounds, which can mimic the sounds of snare drums, kick drums, and a variety of other percussion instruments, achieved with the nails, fingers, palm, and whatever else he can throw at the guitar.
His concerts are quite varied, though, and during his Albert Hall show, Bach was featured alongside composers for the acoustic steel-string guitar. But what seems to get most people excited are his own compositions, which carry the signature of many of the other composers he advo- cates. In particular, his rendition of “Crystal” (which has more than a quarter-million views on YouTube) is an audience favorite, as is his version of “Perc-U-Lator” by the Irish steel-string guitarist Eric Roche.
Sitting through a Zapala concert, you might very well ask yourself: “Is this art or entertainment?” Whether or not you believe such a distinction exists, it’s hard not to talk in terms of these broad and over-simplified categories. The reality is that audiences love many of the new colors and
techniques he brings to the instrument, so the entertainment value is high. But whether or not entertainment is a trade-off for art is unclear. It really depends on what pre-existing assumptions you have about music and music performance. But if you can’t bring yourself to call virtuosic displays of guitar percussion “art,” there’s always the Bach.”
“Zapala delivers a great selection of instrumental tracks that shows off his abilities rather well. A stunning musician in the modern vein he uses percussion and other techniques to create his songs. Recording and production by the Stapleford Granary are extremely intimate – ideal for such an album as this. Zapala has a personal style that employs harmonics, tapping and all kinds of light and shade. This balance of power and intimacy adds immeasurably to one’s listening pleasure. Much of the material is self-penned, alongside pieces by Eric Roche, J.S. Bach, and a section by Carlos Domeniconi. While its all lovingly executed we particularly enjoyed his version of Roche’s ‘Angel’. Beautiful playing throughout and well worth seeking out. We’ve also seen Declan play live and he’s a great performer – catch him if you can!”