Robert Callway: The Great Guitars of Alister Atkin
This is a guest post by Robert Callway, who has his own production company Nilsfilm, which produces corporate promos and documentaries. Also a cameraman and occasional photographer, Robert has shot a number of prime-time award winning C4/BBC documentaries including this year’s C4′s “Battlefront” (Digital Emmy) and BBC’s “Remembrance-A Sikh Story” (RTS Award).
As you head out of the badlands of Canterbury North — past the shopping malls, closed independent petrol stations and through Sturry out to the Isle of Thanet — you reach a stretch of land that was the old coastline a few hundred years ago. It was here that my family had a home in the 1980s.
This part of Kent is where I spent my formative years and is still where some of my school friends live. One of these friends I have known since the tender age of 9 and have always kept in regular contact with because, as teenagers, we were in “a band”.
Alister Atkin is a naturally gifted guitar player and somebody who could have carved out a career for himself in a proper band or as a well sought-after session musician. But his plans were a little different. When he was 13-14 he wasn’t just playing guitars, he started to make them. I just about remember him toying around with materials and that his school project was looking like more than just any other school project.
As we left school and went our different directions in life, Alister enrolled in the London School of Furniture, going on to graduate making these damned guitars. The next thing I know Alister has set up Atkin Guitars, a company offering a bespoke range of acoustic guitars and he is now making his living as a fully-fledged luthier. Alister’s guitars are now sought after by some of the world’s best guitarists/musicians including Graham Coxon of Blur, Chris Difford of Squeeze and Richard Hawley (look at Alister’s website to check that one out!).
When I visited Alister’s workshop recently, he had just been commissioned to produce a special range of guitars for the Buddy Holly Foundation. Two of these beauties had just been finished. They were coolly chillun’ for Mick Jones of The Clash and Sharleen Spiteri of Texas to take them home. Each of the Buddy Holly specials also come with their own hand-embroidered leather jacket and a fret from one of Buddy’s legendary guitars.
Yes I did get to touch it!
For my trip down to Kent I took along my new M9, Summicron 50mm and 1955 35mm Summicron (as old as the Buddy Holly frets) to document what Alister and his team are creating on a non-descript industrial estate near the old Cinque Ports. I don’t think any other digital camera could take shots so easily and stealthily. I managed to shoot pretty well unnoticed as Alister and his team went about crafting these masterpieces.
And as I took the photographs it gradually dawned on me that I have known Alister for the more than 30 years and I know how much heart and soul goes into each one of his guitars. That’s why musicians love them. They know that Atkin guitars are made by someone with as much passion and knowledge of their art as them.