Walking through Helston in mid-August, you might be fooled into thinking you were in southern Spain, or Baroque-period Italy. Mediterranean guitar music will fill the air during Hellys International Guitar Festival 2022, which takes place at the newly refurbished Epworth Centre from August 18 to 20. Featuring 18 concerts over three days, it unites the cream of international concert performers from Europe and Latin America, offering a huge variety of styles from classical to Brazilian to blues.
In guitar spheres, the line-up is positively stellar: Milanese maestro Andrea Dieci, German guitar superstar Jule Malischke, Brazilian musician Marco Campos, Penwith-based blueswoman Sarah McQuaid. It’s also an opportunity to see up-and-coming players tipped for future stardom, such as Newquay’s Alex Roche or Przemek Hotlas from Poland.
Pulling it all together is Cornwall-based lutenist Ben Salfield, a player of some renown himself with an enviable little black book of contacts and a reputation for enticing foreign performers to the UK.
It’s the first festival since the pandemic, and Ben has been deluged with requests not only from audience members but also from prospective players. As well as classical, flamenco and blues, there will be opportunities to hear less familiar instruments and styles: Matthew Nisbet’s Baroque theorbo with its impressively long neck, for example, or the fast and furious Latin-jazz-rock sounds of The Horsemen of the Apocalypse, featuring Ben himself.
He’s especially proud of this year’s gender balance. Not only are there several female players, but Liverpool-based Eleanor Kelly will perform Latin music by rarely heard women composers. Ben predicts she and German/Belgian prodigy Laura Lootens will soon be household names: “I’ve been lucky to book them while I can still afford them!” he laughs. “Just under half of all guitarists are women, so it’s ridiculous that they don’t seem to get their share of the shows.”
The festival is about more than just performance. There are talks, workshops and lessons for all ages, as well as five of the UK’s best guitar makers to meet. Merchandise will come from Ben’s personal sponsors, include string makers and sheet music publishers.
Ben is passionate about encouraging the next generation of guitarists, so under 18s access everything for free. Complete beginners should not be nervous: even you could learn to play a three-chord song under the watchful eye of Polish ukulele teacher Przemek Hotlas.
In 2023, Ben will return to touring with a series of recitals in Poland, Germany and Italy. But Helston will always beckon. “There are more kids in schools here learning guitar than anywhere else in the South West,” he says. “Helston is a world guitar centre, and is known as such from South America to South Africa.”
For further details and tickets, visit www.hellysfestival.co.uk