Bruce Gaston (violin, musical hands) and Ken Purcell (vocals, keyboard, guitar) are an acoustic duo that has performed together since 1992. They are best known for their presentation of the art of manualism, which consists of producing music by squeezing one's hands together. They have performed at Musikfest, Mayfair, First Night, B104- FM's "Matthews in the Morning", Godfrey Daniel's Coffeehouse, and numerous other venues in the Lehigh Valley, PA. Gaston and Purcell have also been featured on CNN, MTV, Action News of Philadelphia, Fox's, "World's Funniest Videos", and NPR's "All Things Considered". In November of 1998, they were the opening act for Todd Rundgren at the Roxy Theater in Northampton, PA. In February of 2001, Mr. Gaston appeared on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno", with Ben Brenner and Jim Rotondo, in a trio of musical hands players called, "The Three Tendons". This group also appeared on the show, "Thirty Seconds to Fame", on FOX in August of 2002.
In August of 1999, Gaston and Purcell released a CD entitled Mr. Handman--Amazing Feats on Musical Hands". This album has 25 songs and was recorded over the span of three years. It consists of the following instrumentation: Ken Purcell (vocals, guitar, piano, and assorted percussion) and Bruce Gaston (musical hands and violin). Some songs on the CD are: "All Shook Up", "The Star Spangled Banner", "Chicken Dance", "Tequila", "Stars and Stripes Forever", "Irish Eyes", "Can Can", and "The Longest Time". It is believed to be the first full-length recording of musical hands in history.
Gaston and Purcell first met in the late 1970's while working for the same employer. They had talked frequently about making music together but never got the opportunity, except for informal gatherings, until 1992.
Mr. Gaston originally began playing his hands in 1967 after being inspired by a childhood friend who also had this unusual ability. After several years of practice, the two would go about the neighborhood playing songs for people. As a result of this, Christmas caroling took on a completely different twist in Allentown, PA.
The sounds that Mr. Gaston has been able to achieve from his hands are the culmination of over 30 years of practice. His use of vibrato, pitch accuracy, and ability to sustain notes are hallmarks of his performances.
Also known for spontaneous manualist performances, Mr. Gaston has played for such notables as Muhammad Ali, Dave Mason, Nigel Kennedy, and Jim Belushi. Since appearing on CNN in 1996, Mr. Gaston has given performances over the phone to close to 200 radio stations throughout the country. He has also performed in this
manner internationally in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and Guam. In 1995 he received the award "Master of Manual Music" from Action News of Philadelphia's Don Polec.
Mr. Purcell, also known as "Mr. Handman's Right Hand Man", has extensive performance experience in 20's, 30's, 40's, and Irish music. He started his musical studies as a child and lists Leon Redbone as one of his strong influences. He is a frequent performer throughout the Lehigh Valley.
Guest artists on their CD are: Elizabeth Gaston- piano, Brian X. Cunningham-washtub bass, chicken clucks, Laura Murphy-vocal, Jimi Wright-comic voices, and F. Thomas Lichner-drums.
Clearly, Gaston and Purcell have taken significant steps in advancing the rare art known as manualism. What was once a classroom prank has developed into a respected musical instrument.