Guitar George knows all the chords – but the fingers keeping his dream alive make masks not music.
The phenomenally talented teenage guitarist returns to an elite music scholarship in the States next week juggling a mix of fear and relief.
He’s fearful at flying straight back into a nation suffering the world’s worst Covid death toll, yet he’s deeply relieved his mother’s sewing skills have saved his amazing against all odds success story.
Because for George Collins all this really ought never have happened. It started with a fitful dream in a small Yorkshire Dales village. Could he just live for music? Spend his life doing what he truly loved?
Teenage kicks eventually dissolve into dull certainty or worse, but George kicked back. He worked to make his own impossible dream into a life he now lives – and loves – each day. He rejected security, the warnings of teachers advising him to find a ‘safe, promising, career…design perhaps?’ and instead George is now acclaimed globally by thousands of knowledgeable followers, earns royalties from tracks he’s produced and landed music industry deals that spell out one huge word: fame.
“Fame?” The smile fades, turns into a faraway frown. “I’m not really into that kind of thing to be honest. Recognition, from people who appreciate what I do…? Yes, definitely. But being famous just for the sake of it..? No. That’s not really the thing for me.”
Accordion was an early choice in a musical family; one of his two older brothers started a music degree and the other “played drums all the time like the frenzied monster from the Muppet Show.” Now while George heads back to Boston’s Berklee College of Music, a notoriously fickle music business and the only certainty that he is doing what he absolutely loves doing, the brothers are on track for the security he ditched. One is set to be an accountant; the monster drummer is training to be a doctor. “He’ll probably still be training when I finish my course in two years’ time,” said George.
Could he have stepped back from returning to the US given the pandemic and the staggering costs of tuition fees and living costs? “It was an option. I’ve got my mum to thank for keeping it all going.”
Mum Gill chats and smiles across the socially distant bar. She has no idea we’re talking about her. “Basically she has been at her sewing machine every day making facemasks for my online fundraising to help cover the costs of getting me back there and being able to complete the course.”
When he does, George can then apply for an extension to his visa to earn fees for live performances and the chance of a breakthrough recording deal. Will that happen? “I really don’t know. I’m not sure I’m good enough; do I have the refined technical skills and competence that others have?”
Try asking the 60,000-strong army of followers George has amassed on Instagram, and the word of mouth buzz that still catches him by surprise. “I was in LA at the NAMM music trade show and people I’d never seen before knew me; they just recognised me and they know my music.”
The frown returns – when it breaks into a smile there’s an instant Buddy Holly moment. But it’s the Blues, jazz, Mark Knopfler, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert King and Berklee alumnus John Mayer, plus a growing interest in Eric Clapton and Tom Misch that drive his tastes now. “Some days I practice for four hours or more and other times I don’t touch the guitar and concentrate just on listening or writing and mixing. It can get quite deep in the darkest places as you search for the lyric, the sound.”
There’s humility, a self-deprecating mix of maturity and awareness. Can this guy still only be 19? So what’s the dream for 2025 George? He returns to the ‘recognition thing.’ The frown’s back: “It does irritate slightly when people talk about you being a prodigy. It’s been very tough; a lot of hard work.
“I started at nine but the big break came at 15 at the Pendle Young Musicians’ Bursary. I was up against classically-trained people doing complex pieces. I just played my guitar and won. Maybe they took a chance; saw something in me.” He could have coasted. Prized places at UK colleges beckoned but once he’d researched, George was set on Berklee. The dream lives on, despite huge obstacles.
“I’ve been home in lockdown since March but there’s been a lot of online tuition which helped.” Now it’s time to go back; to search deep for his own sound, perhaps a jazz-blues-fusion that captures his core. As he packs – mask first – for an uncertain future, George remains sure he never wants to be a celebrity but he’s certain, despite everything, it’s the right moment to say “get me out of here.”