Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The flamenco guitarist Paco Pena, 52, was born in Cordoba, in Spain. He taught himself the guitar when he was a small child; by the age of 12, he was playing professionally. He made his London debut in 1967. He lives in north London with his wife and their two daughters. John Williams, 54, was born in Melbourne. He was taught classical guitar by his father; he later studied with Segovia and at the Accademia Musi- cale di Siena and London's Royal College of Music. Married twice before, he has two children. He lives in north London with his partner.

PACO PENA: John says he can't remember when we met, but it was in 1969, when I was asked to take part in a concert at the Round House theatre to support the Camden Committee for Human Rights. As far as I was concerned, I was supporting the cause against racial discrimination - and in those days I didn't speak English terribly well. I arrived to find that John Williams was instrumental in organising this event. I had known of John before and admired him very much. I wasn't dramatically well-known, but I had achieved some kind of name in the solo guitar world. John, however, had been a child prodigy and was world-famous at 18. I had seen him several times in concert and he was my kind of guitarist: complete somehow - with wonderful posture and delivery of music, clean, beautiful, flawless.

I was in awe of meeting this man whose reputation was, to outsiders, rather on the serious side. It was wonderful to discover how "normal" he appeared: one of the most down-to-earth human beings you could meet.

I don't think we hit it off immediately, partly because my English was a problem, and partly because I was more in awe of him then. However, the political and social connotations of this event were a good start to forming a friendship. John is very politically minded, and I don't know if he could be the friend of someone with whom he had violent differences of opinion. This is not to say he doesn't like a good argument: we certainly have lots of those, despite our views largely coinciding. He just loves arguing. He comes from a politically active middle- class family; I am originally from a very simple, poor peasant stock, very much on the end of Franco's dictatorship.

My friendship with John happened at a time when I was becoming more politically aware. John was so outspoken that this struck me forcibly. He was so engaged in things around him - not just the music industry.

We still argue about politics, and the minute John hears there's going to be another election, he rushes off and places a large bet on a favourable outcome for Labour. I rush out and put a large bet on the opposing party, as I always know he will be wrong.

I think my friendship with John influenced how I actually produced the sound of my notes: flamenco is rough and raw, and nobody thought about the quality of the notes. I think that is my one innovation, and I think I learned this from John.

I get on well with John's ex-wives and present partner. He's gone through various relationships while we've known each other, whereas I've always been with my wife. We never really talk about our relationships, and I never advise him in those matters, though it goes without saying that I would support him if I felt he needed it.

John likes competing and games. He loves football and we sometimes play on the side of a mutual friend who is a law tutor at London University, against his students. On such occasions John often wears gloves to protect his nails. You can imagine how disastrous it is for either of us if a nail breaks. I have devised ways of coping with it with Araldite to build up my own nails, as the style of playing in flamenco is very aggressive. John has very good nails, but occasionally I have had to rush to him with the superglue to mend a nick before a performance.

For John, everything comes easily. He's a natural guitarist, and I am not. I need to do lots of work. When we first met I was doing hellish amounts of practice. Sometimes, John gives me the feeling that I shouldn't, and I wonder if this is a perverse influence. He can take things lightly because he's so able; if he's around I tend to fit in with him, have a glass of wine, unwind. I then find my technique slipping away, and this is followed by 24 hours a day of fanatical practising. On the other hand, I reflect, it is people like John who make you enjoy the process of life more.

JOHN WILLIAMS: I was on two or three committees organising concerts in aid of causes such as CND, and I met Paco at one of these concerts - I can't remember which one. He im-pressed me: self-contained, slightly shy but also sure of what he wanted to be. The first time I heard him, I liked his playing; it's to do with natural rhythm. Many good musicians don't have it.

When it comes to playing together, I'm reluctant to compromise what he or I is good at. If I tried flamenco, I wouldn't do it as well as 10,000 other flamenco players, let alone Paco. Paco is game to try anything.

Musically, Paco has developed in his own way. I don't think he's learned from me, or that there's much to learn that he doesn't know already. I've learned a lot from Paco, which I use when I am playing Spanish classical music which uses flamenco rhythms.

Our backgrounds are very different. I come from a free-thinking political family from Aus- tralia, and Paco comes from a generation who grew up in the shadow of Franco. There's no constant factor to our disagreements; our agreements are based on fundamental things which we would both regard as common sense. These are to do with the environment, nuclear energy and waste, social organisation. It's refreshing that someone from a political background like me can form a rapport in a basic instinctive way with someone from a non-political background.

I think Paco as a Spaniard is impressed by the English way of life. I have a rather anarchic, anti-authoritarian attitude to England. I don't see it as a liberal country - only a comfortable country for people with money. The English system is a totally sick, antediluvian system based on royal patronage, and Paco is slightly overimpressed with it all. I sometimes wish he was more curious and sceptical.

I don't think Paco's interest in politics is particularly the result of knowing me; I think he would have developed his political impulses anyway. I just happened to be there at the time. I don't think I could be friends with someone who voted Conservative.

We sometimes lose our tempers a bit, especially if we're discussing in a group over dinner. Occasionally things can get quite het up. But I don't think I'm a controlling person at all, like my father was. I am very competitive at sports, games and arguments and I will fiercely marshal all my resources into making a point, but I am only a team player, not a winner at any cost.

Paco and I have different emotional lives and we naturally keep some things private. It's a kind of mutual awareness that we are slightly different. I'm wary of talking about personal relationships, and I think Paco is, too.

We don't have any rituals like phoning each other once a week. It's a very informal friendship. The other day we had a door-frame renewed and Paco turned up with a saw, cut the old one in half and loaded it into his car with a view to installing it in his conservatory. He's very practical and he doesn't like waste. For years, I was disfigured with a ganglion on my arm - once, after coming back from the West Country, we went for tea at a friend's house, and Paco spotted a huge Victorian clothes mangle which he decided he had to have. The ganglion appeared as a result of the strain in lifting the thing. It was quite humorous. Humour plays a very big part in our friendship. Paco's humour has national characteristics - a bit bizarre, twisted.

Paco has a better social grace than I do. I know at times I am dismissive and remote. I'm not very indulgent when it comes to fans. I don't see the need for signed photos, and wonder what lies behind this desire for a piece of the artist; how far it is from there to John Lennon being shot. Paco thinks I'm hard. But Paco is more indulgent, kinder, nicer really. But that is not to say he is a nicer person than me; nor I, of course, nicer than him. !