It’s been quite some time since Robben Ford graced a Scottish stage. Back in the 1990s, when he appeared here with his own band, the Blue Line, and with Georgie Fame, he might reasonably have been described as a guitarist first and a singer second. These days, though, Ford is a consummate front man, singing with clarity, strength and conviction, as well as playing superb guitar lines that convey a sense of spontaneity and fresh invention while also giving an impression of considered composition.
With a band comprising the inspirational Ricky Peterson on keyboards, creative and forthright upright bassist Brian Allen and a dynamic heartbeat in drummer Tony Moore, Ford brought a wealth of music to the set-list. The New Orleans funk of Allen Toussaint’s Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky was complemented by the Southern soul of Oh Virginia, Bob Dylan’s Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine and the one instrumental, a gospel melody invigorated by Ford’s Wes Montgomery-style double stopping and taken on a glorious Hammond organ adventure by Peterson.
Ford is, at heart, a blues singer and musician, if one with a harmonic depth gleaned from his jazz heroes and the sincere sophisticated phrasing of Sam Cooke, whose Fool’s Paradise provided a marvellous encore. He sings of being on the wrong end of slick capers and the sort of love that rhymes ‘your happiness’ with ‘cash my cheques’. Yet with every song packaged in a neat, smartly executed arrangement, it’s seriously uplifting. If he’s proud of his nephew Gabe, whose Too Much was another highlight, playing drums for Little Feat, you can bet the feeling is reciprocated.
From The Herald, April 30, 2013.
Adrian Legg – Guitar hero on top of his game
There’ll be no need to call for a guitar technician if any of the instruments suffers a mishap on the International Guitar Night tour that’s heading this way. Because there’s a guitar technician in the touring party, playing onstage. Indeed, as well as demonstrating the kind of ability with six strings that turns mere mortals green with envy, Adrian Legg, for it is he, was once known as the guitar doctor among London musos.
It was while setting whole warehouses full of production line guitars on the path to playability that Legg developed the skill that, for this writer, was best summed up by a slightly bewildered chap in a north London hostelry back in the 1980s. Jostling for position at the door of a packed back room of the Rising Sun in Islington while Legg strutted stuff that sounded like the work of a dozen hands, our cultural commentator bellowed to his companion: “Hoi, mate, there’s only one of him!”
How right he was. Legg has been beguiling a small but dedicated army of followers – the Leggheads – on this side of the Atlantic with his unique assimilation of country guitar picking, the Irish ballad and dance tune traditions, Bach, Hank Marvin and all manner of other “misremembered” musical snippets since the late 1970s. His albums Fret Melt and Technopicker, championed by the late, much lamented Alexis Korner on his Sunday night Radio 1 programme, were bought and listened to with awe for the sheer energy they projected and the tangible joy Legg took in playing mesmerising acoustic guitar picking patterns.
“Going into the instrument side of the music industry was great for me,” says the affable Legg whose previous trips north of the border have been few and far between. “Being surrounded by guitars, I was able to work on my own musical ideas while making sure that what the customers were getting would let them do what they wanted to do. I had all day to practise, edit, expand, join phrases together until they sounded natural and still do what I was being paid to do, and it essentially allowed me to develop the kind of things I’d been hearing in my head for years.”
Before taking on this job – a decision that was made after an expensive repair by a Denmark Street shop turned out so badly that he thought he could have done better himself – Legg had been plying his trade as a guitarist on London’s weddings, pub and Irish showband circuit. His parents had been so set against their Shadows- and before that Lonnie Mack-loving son’s interest in anything other than classical music that they’d forbidden him from even bringing a guitar into the house.
A member of the under the bed clothes club, who listened to Radio Luxembourg’s wavering signal illicitly, Legg tried building his own guitars with limited success, then left school, left home and joined a succession of bands including one that also featured Scots fiddler Bobby Campbell, who’d played with Archie Fisher in the Wayfarers, and another whose exploits turned Legg teetotal because he felt, after one particular marathon, that he’d drunk his share. “I have,” he says with the voice of experience, “played the Crown in Cricklewood and lived to tell the tale.”
Despite the best efforts of Korner and a group of guitar music enthusiasts including fellow guitar players who were determined to spread the word, Legg remained pretty much a prophet without honour in the UK, unable to take his own music beyond small, albeit packed pub rooms such as the Rising Sun. America, however, was a different story. When he was invited to take part in the launch of a new amplifier, especially designed for ‘acoustic’ guitars, across the Atlantic, America ‘got’ what he was doing big time.
“I remember years ago someone saying to me, if you haven’t got a category you’ll never get anywhere,” says Legg. “I never thought too much about it at the time but it’s true. If you don’t fit into a handy pigeonhole over here, people don’t know where to put you. The listings in Time Out used to have me under folk music as ‘a completely uncategorisable guitar player’ until I played Montreux Jazz Festival and then they listed me under jazz as … ‘a completely uncategorisable guitar player.’ But in America, they understood what I was trying to do. There’s a circuit there where people just want to listen to guitar music and I was lucky because I fell into that fairly quickly and I began to spend more and more time over there.”
With a sympathetic, supportive – and large – audience in the US, Legg has been able to develop as a composer over the past two decades. If his initial impact was based largely on gobsmacking licks played with an attack you could almost physically feel, there’s been a tendency more recently to use his formidable technique to achieve music that affects the listener on a deeper level. His tribute to the great bass guitar innovator Jaco Pastorius, for example, managed to summon up the Pastorius sound in all its soulful glory, where once the temptation might have been to try for the bassist’s spectacular grandstanding style.
“The best music, for me, is a combination of the technical and the emotional,” says Legg. “I remember being impressed no end by the pedal steel player Weldon Myrick on Skeeter Davis’s Never Ending Song of Love, which is a bit of a drudge until Myrick appears and plays a solo from the heavens. I actually started retuning my guitar after trying to figure out how he did what he did technically. But it was the feeling in what he played that got to me, and that ability to communicate is what I’m after. If someone blows their nose after a tune, then I know it’s worked. We’d all like million sellers but if a hanky comes out on a gig, that’s my idea of success.”
Bert Jansch, who has died after a long illness, was one of the most influential guitarists of the past fifty years. Although he concentrated on his own intricate but naturally rolling acoustic folk-blues style, he had a constituency of fans that extended into the major rock arena.
Neil Young, who invited Jansch to open his concerts on his summer tour of the US last year, famously considered Jansch to be the acoustic equivalent of Jimi Hendrix, and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin openly borrowed Jansch’s arrangement of the traditional song Blackwaterside, which appeared on the band’s first album as Black Mountain Side.
It wasn’t just musicians of his own generation who revered Jansch; Johnny Marr and Bernard Butler, heroes of the modern era, achieved long-time ambitions when they worked on Jansch’s more recent albums including Crimson Moon, and singer-songwriter Beth Orton and nu-folk hero Devandra Banhart acknowledged that they were in hallowed company when they appeared on Jansch’s 2006 album, The Black Swan.
Not that you’d find the Glasgow-born Jansch crowing about his high profile admirers, even if one of his last songs, Duckin’ and Divin’, was inspired by a night out with Pete Doherty. In conversation he always appeared genuinely surprised that his music had affected these people and as more than one agent and record company executive has remarked, he seemed totally unimpressed by the idea that if he’d done certain things at certain times, he might have been much more commercially successful.
He may well have been put off stardom when he went to his first ever gig, Lonnie Donegan at the Empire Theatre in Edinburgh, and neither saw nor heard the skiffle hero due to the audience’s – he felt – overenthusiastic response. By this time, aged twelve, Jansch had been trying unsuccessfully to build his own guitars for more than half his young life, using sheets of hardboard and whatever else came to hand.
A guitar kit he was given for Christmas around the same time as the Donegan experience proved more successful and having gone to piano lessons for six months, he knew about scales and keys. As was typical with the cheaper guitars of the time, though, the strings were so far off the fretboard that he could only hold down one chord: D major. Finally, having left Leith Academy at sixteen to work as an apprentice nurseryman, on a princely three pounds a week, he was able to buy a proper guitar, only to choose the wrong kind, a Hofner cello model that would shortly have to be exchanged for something more suitable.
The reason for this realisation was an EP he’d come across by blues legend Big Bill Broonzy, whom Jansch tried to imitate. There was also his discovery, in 1960, of a club on Edinburgh’s High Street, The Howff, where the folk singers and musicians of the day gathered and performed, and guitar lessons were available. Among the first people Jansch met there was Brownie McGhee, the guitar playing partner of blind blues harmonica player Sonny Terry.
Jansch watched McGhee at close quarters, asked him to show him something again and by all accounts played it back to McGhee, who was dumbstruck to discover that this teenager had been playing guitar for only six weeks. Having left home after giving up both his apprenticeship and a job with a grocer, Jansch apparently slept in the Howff and worked on his guitar playing by day. With his unkempt appearance, which wouldn’t change much over the years, he was described as looking like an unmade bed. It was a look that attracted his fair share of female attention and as hearts were broken, songs that would appear on Jansch’s eponymous first album began to form.
Before this, however, there was the discovery of guitar prophet Davey Graham, whose guitar pickers’ rite of passage, Anji, became a staple of Jansch’s repertoire, and the allure of hitch-hiking to France, Spain and North Africa. Arriving back in the UK, Jansch started to capture attention in London’s folk pubs and clubs. He fell in with singer Anne Briggs, whose knowledge of folksongs spurred Jansch’s folk-blues adaptations of traditional ballads, and his friendship with fellow guitarist John Renbourn spawned a duo that grew into the original line-up of Pentangle.
Originally convened as a loose jamming vehicle, meeting on Sunday nights in the Horseshoe Hotel in Tottenham Court Road in 1967, Pentangle brought together Jansch and Renbourn’s acoustic experiments with a jazz rhythm section, Danny Thompson (bass) and Terry Cox (drums), and Jacqui McShee’s bell-clear singing and became very popular very quickly. Their third album, Basket of Light, many of whose tracks had soundtracked the popular television drama Take Three Girls, made the top ten and with a virtually non-stop world touring schedule, they became physically drained and imploded in 1973.
Thereafter Jansch would return to the Pentangle format from time to time, with only McShee from the original group, as well as continuing a solo career that promised major commercial breakthroughs – much was expected of his LA Turnaround album, which was produced by Michael Nesmith of the Monkees – but was interrupted by his heavy drinking and natural diffidence. His catalogue of songs such as the harrowingly brilliant Needle of Death, however, continued to attract new listeners and makers of documentaries such as Acoustic Routes, which allowed Jansch to meet up with Brownie McGhee again in 1992, were fascinated by his story.
His appearance on Later … with Jools Holland, during which he performed the title track of his 1996 album, When the Circus Comes to Town, with the host on piano and Blackwaterside with Irish folk band Altan, rekindled interest that led to a new record deal and a final decade that saw Jansch achieve something closer to the recognition his pioneering work deserved. His song Black Cat Blues even made it onto the soundtrack of the successful film Calendar Girls. His Edinburgh Fringe appearances saw queues forming round the block and a reformed Pentangle defied all fears on its 2008 UK tour by playing as if the previous thirty-five years had never happened.
Bert Jansch, musician, born November 3, 1943; died October 5, 2011.
Simon Thacker & the Nava Rasa Ensemble, Nada-Ananda (Slap the Moon)
East Lothian-based guitarist Simon Thacker is a musician who has always seen his instrument as international and his classical training as the portal to expressing a whole world of music. His Camerata Ritmata group explores jazz, Spanish and Brazilian influences, among others, and with the Nava Rasa Ensemble, featuring string quartet alongside Indian masters, bass and percussion, he goes right to the heart of Indian music, in this instance presenting the two works, by Indian composer Shirish Korde and Nigel Osborne, a European with deep Indian interests, that he commissioned and toured in 2009. As with the live experience, Osborne’s piece, The Birth of Naciketas, is rather episodic, if beautifully played, with lovely keening violin by Dr Jyotsna Srikanth. Korde’s Nada-Ananda, on the other hand, is a superb heart-in-mouth experience in the tradition of John McLaughlin’s Shakti, with thrilling unison passages and, on its finale, Joy, a violin, guitar and tabla conversation that could comfortably continue for – oh – another couple of weeks.
He’s a world renowned guitarist now but Eduardo Niebla is remembering how he took up the accordion – to make a better noise than his father made. The family household in Tangiers was a regular meeting place for musicians and Niebla Senior, who loved music and having people round to play, would join in.
“He was dreadful,” says Niebla. “I loved him very much but when he played the accordion, the sound was awful. He played the same bass note all the time, on every tune, and even at five years old, I thought there has to be a better way. I’d been playing the mouth organ for a little while, so I had some idea of what was involved and I more or less took the accordion over from my dad.”
And but for the intervention of General Franco, that might have been the beginning of a lasting squeezebox career for Niebla. Shortly after the young Niebla’s accordion take over bid, in 1960 Franco handed back several Spanish-occupied cities to the Moroccans and word came through that all non-military personnel should leave. Niebla’s father, a businessman, became concerned for his young family – Eduardo is the seventh of eleven children, the seventh son of a seventh child in fact - and arrived home one day from work, telling everyone, “get packed, we’re leaving immediately.”
“We arrived in Girona, in Cataluna, with nothing more than we could carry and it was a difficult time because at first we were all separated from each other,” says Niebla.
Fate was about to intervene, however, and about a year after the family’s move, with the shed that his father built for them to live in up in the hills above Girona completed, young Niebla found his salvation through his second appropriation of a musical instrument.
“My older brother brought a friend home one day who played guitar and wrote his own songs and I was fascinated,” he says. “I heard two chords and thought “wow”. A little while later my brother bought a guitar of his own and I pinched it. I’d watched his friend’s fingers and was able to play those two chords, which was two chords more than my brother, who’s an artist, had mastered. My brother was amazed and after that the guitar and me became inseparable.”
Niebla’s ears were as good as his hand-to-eye coordination. Living among the gypsies on the outskirts of Girona he was exposed to flamenco music and when a piece of flamenco or classical guitar music came on the radio he was able to pick it up and play it very quickly. Soon he was appearing regularly on the radio himself, playing on the local station’s talent show and providing the guitar soundtrack for his sister’s readings of Lorca poems.
In his late teens he formed a band, Atila, playing symphonic rock music that would bring Niebla to wider public attention – he was rated alongside Paco de Lucia among Spain’s leading guitarists at the time – but first he had to give up his day job with a window and door manufacturer.
“My brother, the painter, had managed to establish himself a bit by then and one day I told him that I wanted to be a musician, not an aluminium frame maker, and he said, Well, if you want to be a musician, it’s like being an artist. If you want to be an artist, you have to paint; if you want to be a musician, you have to be a musician and really devote yourself to your art. So one day I turned up at work and told my boss, ‘I’m leaving. I’m going to Paris tomorrow to be a musician.’ He said, ‘Are you sure? You’re mad.’”
With contacts in artists’ circles supplied by his brother, Niebla and his band moved to Paris and scraped a living playing gigs and working in conceptual art happenings with the painter Jaume Xifra. Atila later toured and made albums that have since become collectors’ items but by 1978 Niebla had struck out alone for London, where he joined hippie-visionary Daevid Allen in Mother Gong and then formed a band with saxophonist Lol Coxhill. His composing talents came to the attention of television film producers who commissioned orchestral works – not bad for an entirely self-taught musician – and he befriended and collaborated with writers and poets including Fran Landesman, Mike Horovitz and the Glasgow-born psychiatrist R.D. Laing.
Another collaboration, with fellow guitarist Antonio Forcione, brought Niebla further acclaim and grew from a busking duo that wowed tourists and office workers in Covent Garden – this writer can attest to their ability to gather a crowd and shift copies of their cassettes – to an international attraction, touring stadia around Europe as support to symphonic prog rockers Barclay James Harvest and playing to 35,000 people at the San Isidro Fiesta in Madrid.
It was also when he moved to London that Niebla was able to realise a long-held ambition to play with Indian musicians. Over the past twenty years, while continuing along the flamenco path and collaborating with the oud master Adel Salameh, he has worked with many of Indian music’s leading practitioners, including tabla masters Sukhvinder Singh and Partha Sarathi Mukherjee, bamboo flute player Deepak Ram and spiritual Indian gypsy singer Paban Das Baul in the UK and in India. His extensive experiences have culminated in the epic India track that closes his latest album, My Gypsy Waltz.
For his latest visit to Scotland, which will feature music from My Gypsy Waltz and other pieces from his vast back catalogue, Niebla returns to the guitar duo format with Carl Herring. Having enjoyed success with this instrumentation over the years it’s something he particularly enjoys.
“For me, a guitar is like an orchestra. It has all the colours of the various orchestral sections and it can be very percussive as well as really mellow and reflective,” he says. “Someone famous, Chopin I think, once said that the only thing that could be better than a concert with one guitar is a concert with two guitars, and I tend to agree with that. I like the communication between two guitarists and we’re able to bring out all the things that my brother, the painter, instilled in me when he talked about a musician being an artist. Music, like paintings, should describe things as the musician sees them. It should have richness and something to say – otherwise it has no meaning.”
When Jerry Douglas talked last week about bringing something different to Celtic Connections he wasn’t indulging in idle chatter – he was plotting the rebirth of bluegrass as a musical genre somewhere between Heavy Weather-era Weather Report and Jeff Beck’s Who Else! album.
Well, these examples played some of the same notes as bluegrass godfather Bill Monroe, as Douglas mischievously pointed out, and for all that his trio got into grooves and atmospheres half a world, in some cases literally, away from bluegrass’s old Kentucky home, Douglas’s grounding in the country style that Monroe nurtured and developed still shone through. It’s what gives his playing such heart and personality.
This Douglas trio is big on these qualities. His bassist and drummer – what inadequate terms these seem for Viktor Krauss and Omar Hakim – may have been consulting crib sheets on what was only the third or fourth time they’d played together but this was a jamming band only in respect of the feeling of immediacy they achieved. The cues, riffs and specific dimensions of each piece were all observed and Douglas was able to fly with devilish creativity, his metal slide finding no end of blue notes, sighs and shivers on both the acoustic dobro and an electric version that he appeared to be taming even as he played.
Chick Corea’s flamenco-dancing Spain and the Weather Report ballad A Remark You Made, the latter segueing into Hakim’s fiendishly musical solo feature, made surprising transitions into dobro-friendly pieces and if other items such as Who’s Your Uncle were more power trio inclined, it was power trio with minimum posturing and maximum wow factor.
Blues guitarists have always made their own instruments. The history of the music is littered with tales of how the great exponents, unable to afford a proper guitar, began by experimenting with fence posts and fishing line or planks from the barn and baler twine.
John Hunt’s experiments have been a sight more sophisticated but his home-made guitars have still emerged from stuff that’s been lying around, like the pile of Melody Makers, the former music industry bible, that went into his first self-build, a papier-mache semi-acoustic, or the solar panel that forms the battery-charging scratch-plate on his latest model.
The Deptford-born, Edinburgh-based Hunt was attending the London School of Furniture in the mid-1980s, studying on its guitar building night class, when the idea of using papier-mache came to him.
“I’d been reading in a book my girlfriend at the time showed me about how the Victorians made furniture from papier-mache and I thought, wow, it must be a lot stronger than I realised,” he says in his husky South London blues singer’s voice. “I had all these Melody Makers in the flat and I used to love reading about the guitars that were advertised. But I couldn’t afford to buy any of them, so I decided to turn these old newspapers into a guitar instead.”
Modelling the body on a Gretsch that he particularly coveted, he added the neck from a Hofner Marauder and knobs and pick-ups from various other guitars that he cannibalised, and presented his handiwork to his course tutor.
“When I told him what I was planning to do, he just laughed,” says Hunt. “So that made me more determined to get it right. Plus, it was the kind of course where the tutor would give you something to do that would take ten minutes and you’d spend the next half-hour trying to get his attention. So over the Christmas and New Year fortnight I put it together, took it in to show him what I’d done, plugged it in, played it and left for good. I’d only gone on the course because I wanted to make a guitar, so I’d achieved what I’d set out to do.”
His time on the course hadn’t been wasted. He’d studied all the different kinds of wood used in guitar building and although the body looks like an old music newspaper – you can still read the chart run-downs and small ads for musicians wanted – it has struts and a sound-post inside (“like a proper guitar”) and was built to withstand the tension that keeping the strings in tune puts between neck and body.
“It’s actually a really nice guitar to play, though I say so myself, and although at first I thought I’d paint it green, like the Gretsch I modelled it on, my girlfriend said, Nah, just varnish it. And she was right because it’s developed a nice patina with age.”
It’s also covered a lot of miles. An artist by day – his brilliantly distinctive paintings of bands and musicians line the walls of Edinburgh’s Jazz Bar – Hunt has moved around in pursuit of inspiration. He spent five years living in a shed on the Isles of Scilly and a similar time in Orkney before moving to the Borders and then, ten years ago, into Edinburgh. His guitar has always gone with him, although he didn’t begin mixing art and music until he found himself sitting in a club in New York watching musicians a few years ago and decided to ditch the landscapes and seascapes that he’d specialised in.
“It made more sense to paint musicians,” he says. “Between the people and their instruments you can combine portraiture and still life and at the same time, there’s an abstract quality in the light that they’re caught performing in. So you’re mixing three disciplines.”
Not that he trained in any of these disciplines – he was supposed to go to art college but went to Spain instead, he says – so he’s self-taught in visual art as he is in music.
“My brother, who’s nine years older, got into the guitar in his late teens and I got into it with him,” he says. “I started playing Status Quo numbers but then went back to the origins of the twelve bar blues form, listening to people like John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mississippi John Hurt. For me, that’s what the blues is all about: one person telling his story to a rhythm that bends with the narrative. I don’t have anything against blues bands as such but they can get a bit formulaic. You know what’s coming next.”
On his own gigs he’ll play a 50/50 mix of blues covers and his own songs, all of which develop through time and the telling of the story behind them.
“If you listen to a song like Bottle Up and Go, that’s an old song that somebody’s added a verse to or taken a verse from, changed a word or two here and there, to make it their own,” he says. “I’ll maybe change the rhythm or some of the lyrics every time I play a song, and that’s the way I imagine it was back when you had one guy playing in the corner while there was something cooking on the spit roast and people were dancing all round him.”
The bluesmen and women he’s talking about didn’t have the luxury of amplification or if they did, it was fairly primitive. As well as his papier-mache guitar, Hunt – it’s very tempting to call him Mississippi John – has developed what would have been a boon to his blues forebears, a guitar with a built-in PA system that runs on solar power.
“I didn’t set out to do it,” he says. “It was another happy accident. I started building an electric guitar a couple of years ago and then realised that you get these really good solar panels that are very compact. In fact, I used one for the scratch-plate and it charges the built-in battery pack so that I can play it continuously for fifteen hours. It’s great for playing gigs where there’s no PA and there’s a bit of background noise because I can plug a microphone into it and my vocals will cut across the chatter.”
It sounds like the kind of invention that should be patented but Hunt disagrees.
“I’ve only taken bits and bobs and put them together in a new way, a bit like the songs I sing,” he says. “I think it’s the first of its kind but I wouldn’t want to go into business – the body’s built from a B&Q shelf – and spend four years talking to lawyers. I’d like to build a more hi-tech one because the technology has moved on again since I made it but that would be just for my own use. On the other hand, if Gibson or one of the other big guitar companies wanted to give me a salaried consultancy job, I could be tempted.”
John Hunt plays at the Jazz Bar, Edinburgh every Tuesday.
Larry Carlton Trio/Martin Taylor, Town Hall, Darvel
It must be quite a novelty for Martin Taylor to be the opening act these days. It was even more of a novelty for this internationally renowned guitarist, who used to live down the road, to be opening for Larry Carlton in DarvelTown Hall.
This possible musical coup of the year by Darvel Music Festival was very much a guitarists’ convention, and to judge from the accents present, many had travelled far. Even Taylor, forty years a pro, sounded excited to be prefacing LA session legend Carlton, although he still managed to generate a relaxed feeling of intimacy while producing solo guitar magic including a mind boggling impersonation of pianist Art Tatum playing I Got Rhythm, a steel pan-like calypso and a version of Billy Taylor’s I Wish I Knew that dug deeply into its churchy origins.
Obviously a man for continuity, Carlton picked up the solo guitar baton with a fine meditative piece before his son, bass guitarist Travis joined him in a spiky blues. What followed might have been Carlton’s CV abridged. He saluted B.B. King, honoured Wes Montgomery with crisp soul jazz octave runs and answered the ‘which Steely Dan song?’ question with Josie, wherein the trio sounded like a much bigger band.
Carlton’s touch and tonal range are exquisite and he can play dirty, contrary to his detractors’ ‘smoothie’ accusations, but what impressed above all was the group dynamic, with drummer Jim Coye a muscular but concise presence and Travis playing more like his dad’s twin on unison lines as well as unleashing bass licks that confirmed that the dazzling gene has been passed on.
From The Herald, November 1, 2010.
(Larry C nuts will appreciate the number of my ticket for this gig: 335)
Chris Rea’s ability to fill large theatres like this may be founded on a string of radio-friendly, easy on the ear hits but the core of this performance was the blues he embraced in his youth through Mississippi slide guitar hero Charley Patton and to which he has returned since almost succumbing to pancreatic cancer in 2001.
That’s not to say that he’s ditched the hits in favour of the twelve-bar song form - as the son of an ice cream parlour owner he’s too canny a businessman for that. But while giving the customers what they’ve come to hear, Rea also gives them lots of what he wants to play – and that means much genuinely exciting, stinging and snarling slide guitar allied to a slightly curious, almost bashful showmanship that coordinates dance steps with his strumming action.
It helps, of course, that Rea has a gravelly voice that could make the term “party political broadcast” sound alluring, although even he struggled to toughen the corny sentimentality of Til the Morning Sun Shines on My Love and Me. He also has a band that makes playing rockin’ blues appear akin to driving an automatic car, slipping almost imperceptibly from mid tempo to Josephine’s samba groove to Stainsby Girls’ roadhouse power.
His own voice and guitar talent aside, though, Rea’s greatest asset here was Robert Ahwai, who gave a rhythm guitar master class and whose slinky counterpoint to Rea’s slow-moanin’ slide made Somewhere Between Highway 61 & 49 the sort of deep in the gut, bluesy thrill that sends you home to dig out the album and listen to it all over again.
Jack Bruce, Robin Trower & Gary Husband, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
This was the Homecoming gig that mattered to the capacity audience at the Queen's Hall on Friday, the return of a hero, Jack Bruce, the Cambuslang boy who went off and literally conquered the world in rock music terms. Which Jack would turn up, though? Answer: quite a few of them.
He was Jack the Lad, pleading with blokes going out for a smoke not to leave and mocking his sixties anthem Sunshine of Your Love with peace signs. He was Jack the bass guitarist with the unique presence, playing with an economy that meshed brilliantly with Robin Trower's howlin', articulate, moody blues guitar and drummer Gary Husband's super- efficient combination of thunder and subtlety.
Most affectingly, though, he was Jack the Voice. To describe the Jack Bruce of Cream as a great singer now seems like a glib understatement. This is a man who has sung the words of Samuel Beckett, as well as buckets of blues and the resulting depth of character and sheer tonal range, already huge, appear still to be growing.
His gnawing away at "is this real life?" towards Just Another Day's coda was staggeringly effective and his singing consistently took the trio's sharply focused, hard-edged blues-rock into the realms of high art, even if he mischievously dismissed his stunningly re-imagined Cream song We're Going Wrong, delivered with superbly anguished bewilderment, as "a classic example of Scottish miserablism". The honorary doctorates and degrees conferred by his local seats of learning are the least such a talent deserves but how great, too, to hear it in such a simpatico band.
Jeff Beck, Performing this week … live at Ronnie Scott’s (Eagle)
The guitar hero’s guitar hero, Jeff Beck just gets better and better, forever adding to an exciting repertoire of sounds and techniques and finding new ways to express himself through hard rock, reggae, jazz fusion, soul, funk and techno. Working through all of these styles and more here with his superb road band, Beck remains essentially a blues singer. He may do it on a Fender Stratocaster and be playing an Indian number (Nadia) or even a Beatles song (A Day in the Life), but he’s singing the blues all right – with a passion.
It's 8.35pm and Jeff Beck goes to work. Not as a waiter in the Starship Enterprise dinette, as his all-white rig-out might suggest, but as the supreme being of the rock guitar instrumental.
This won't be about Beck proving he's the fastest gun in the west, although once or twice he does send his fingers up the fretboard in improbable haste while still making perfect musical sense. For Beck, strapping on his Stratocaster is about touch and finding myriad shades between administering the merest tap and applying a crunching kerrang.
Nothing's overblown. There are no 20-minute solos. Beck may not sing - at least not on stage, where in fact, he barely speaks - but these are song-like portions of music, chosen to provide variety of context from the faintly nostalgic opener, Beck's Bolero to his edgy, itchy take on Nitin Sawhney's modern rock raga Nadia.
His band are thoroughly versed in every arrangement subtlety: the powerhouse drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, who adds tablas to Nadia; keyboardist Jason Rebello, a discreet but valued presence who in another life might have been performing down the road at the jazz festival with former boss Tommy Smith; and Tal Wilkenfeld, who belies her girlish stature with muscly bass guitar lines that sometimes finish Beck's statements for him, sometimes bolster them in unison.
A four-handed bass solo between Beck and Wilkenfeld is the one piece of shameless showbiz in a set that offers a masterclass in digital communication, not least on Angel (Footsteps), where Beck plays goosebump-creating slide guitar and A Day in the Life, where the Beatles' soap opera is delivered as a mini, multi-dimensional electronic epic.
John Goldie had a vision. It was no ordinary vision – this one came complete with a soundtrack. It happens often. Some might call it second sight. But Goldie calls it composition. Sitting with his guitar in hand, Goldie pictured a children’s playground that had been trashed in an explosion. The roundabout was still spinning but there were no children anywhere to be seen, just a bedraggled rag doll sitting, going round and round in time to the music that Goldie’s fingers found on his Martin acoustic.
Eleven similar experiences later, the Airdrie-based musician had his latest album, Open 4 Closure, ready to record. It’s an album that’s opening new doors. A few weeks ago, Goldie, who has worked all over the world, doing solo gigs alongside some of Nashville’s greatest pickers, playing second guitar in jazz wiz Martin Taylor’s Spirit of Django band, working in theatre pits and on television shows with Motown stars, encountered his first folk club audience.
“I’d never even been in a folk club before that night in Leith and I hadn’t a clue what to expect,” he says. “But I felt right at home after the first number because I couldn’t believe how responsive the people were. They just seemed prepared to listen to whatever I wanted to play – even when I played my version of that well known traditional song, Smoke on the Water – and that was great for me because I’ve never fitted into a category.”
Smoke on the Water, which was the first tune he learned to play, has become Goldie’s ice breaker. Just before that night in Leith he played five sell-out concerts in Korea, where the Deep Purple classic is still a massive favourite, and given Goldie’s acoustic treatment, it had the Koreans going nuts. After the concerts they would come up and check to see that the lead from the pick-up on his guitar really did feed directly into an amplifier with no pedals, gizmos or any other electric tricks involved.
Goldie started playing guitar at the age of six, picking out Bob Dylan songs as well as Deep Purple riffs, and from then on, he says, he was pretty much in a little guitar world of his own. Records were bought and worn out as he dropped the stylus on to the guitar solos, learning them phrase by phrase in the time-honoured tradition. By his early teens he could hold his own with the guys three or four years above him in school who used to put on lunchtime concerts and parade their Brown Sugars, Freebirds and Allman Brothers numbers.
“Lanarkshire seemed to be full of bands back then,” he says. “You could hang out with musicians at school or in music shops and there were studios where people were actually recording their own songs, guys like Hue & Cry and the Big Dish, who were only a few years ahead of me and were great examples. Here were guys from down the road who were showing that it was possible to go off and be a professional musician – you didn’t have to be from wherever it was that the big names came from.”
Goldie’s first venture into professionalism, with a band kept busy with functions and social club gigs, almost stalled before it started.
“The guitar I had at the time was an old acoustic that doubled as a cross-bow,” he recalls. “The strings were about a foot off the fretboard, so I didn’t bother taking it to the audition and when the guys asked where my gear was, I lied and said my electric guitar had a warped neck and my amp had blown a speaker. These blokes were all in their thirties and they just laughed at this pathetic fifteen year old and told me to use the spares they had. I got the gig, played on a borrowed guitar for about two years and started saving every penny I earned to buy decent equipment.”
Thus began an odyssey that included taking a further education course in chemistry to appease his parents, who didn’t trust the idea of a musician’s life (“I’m not sure they trust it yet,” adds Goldie jovially), and has led to friendships with fellow guitarists including George Benson, Australian showman par excellence Tommy Emmanuel, and of course, Martin Taylor, who is the subject of an affectionate and deeply soulful tribute, An Honorary Scot, on Open 4 Closure.
Benson’s Breezin’ album was one of those records that Goldie wore out in pursuit of learning and he tells an insightful story of meeting his hero at a tribute to jazz guitar great Wes Montgomery in the tiny Zinc Bar in Manhattan.
“A friend of mine, Dave O’Rourke, a guitarist from Cork who now lives in New York, invited me to come and play at this gig he was organising,” says Goldie. “So I was sitting watching as the drummer and bass player, who turned out to be the jazz singer Betty Carter’s rhythm section, set up. I thought, Okay. Then Russell Malone, who at that time was working with Diana Krall, appeared, played a few numbers and was pretty hot. But then, everyone was pretty hot because this was the hard core New York guitar team.”
Goldie noticed that any time he went to the bar, he was given whatever he asked for and told that, because he was a visitor from Scotland, he didn’t have to pay.
“That wasn’t quite the truth but, anyhow, George Benson eventually got up to play and on the first tune, he was on a par with the rest of the players. On his second tune, he probably topped the best player in the room but on his third tune, he opened up this gear box that nobody else has and was just unbelievable.”
When he was sitting in his bedroom back in Coatbridge, trying to steal Benson’s licks, Goldie never imagined he’d ever meet him, let alone be having breakfast with him after the Wes Montgomery tribute – Benson took the entire crew out to eat after the music finally stopped and he’d quietly arranged to pick up the bar tab – or be asked to play for Benson when he appeared at Glasgow Jazz Festival a year or so later.
“I thought, He’ll never remember me from that night in New York, so when he walked right up to me in Glasgow and said, Hi, John, how’re you doin’? I thought either this guy has a fantastic memory or someone’s given him a script. But it was genuine and he’s the living contradiction to the ‘never meet your heroes because they’ll always disappoint you’ rule.”
For a time Goldie tried to have a jazz guitar career of his own, at a slightly more modest level than Benson’s, but he felt he didn’t have enough of his own thing to bring to the guitar, bass and drums format. He loved playing in Spirit of Django and still works on and off with Martin Taylor. But it was while working in a touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s company that he found his own voice as a composer and guitarist.
“We were staying out in the country and I was sharing a cottage with the drummer, who was a real night bird,” he says. “I’m completely the opposite and I’d get up in the morning and take the acoustic outside and play, and that’s where I had my first experience of this visual image with an accompanying tune come into my head. It just seems to be the way composition works for me, as a complete package, and I put a few things together on that tour.”
He sent a demo of these ideas to German guitarist and label proprietor Peter Finger, who was part of country blues picker Stefan Grossman’s acoustic guitar stable in the 1970s, and Finger immediately invited Goldie over to his studio in Osnabruck to make a solo album. Released in 2002, the result, The View from Here, was Goldie’s passport onto the world acoustic guitar circuit. It also marked the beginning of a productive relationship with Nick Turner and Mary Ann Kennedy at Watercolour Music in Ardgour, where some additional tracks were recorded.
A further album, This Time and Place, cemented both Goldie’s reputation as one of the major new voices of acoustic guitar and his relationship with Watercolour, and when he felt ready to work with other musicians on Open 4 Closure, he was able to trust Turner and Kennedy’s recommendations. Enter accordionist Angus Lyon and double bassist Duncan Lyall, who are busy as both musicians and record producers on the traditional music scene. Also, as anyone who has heard Lyon’s magnificent 18 Months Later album in partnership with fiddler Ruaridh Campbell will attest, these are players with open minds and imagination.
“There were sounds I heard in my head for certain tunes and when I described what I was after, Nick and Mary Ann said, We know the very guys,” he says. “And they were spot-on. I got together for a run-through with Angus and Duncan and told them, Just do your own thing because I don’t play your instruments, and they came up with exactly what I was looking for. I’d describe the trashed playground and the ragdoll scenario to them and they had the decency not to burst out laughing, which was nice, and everything fell quickly into place.”
This is an understatement. You’d never know from hearing Open 4 Closure that it was recorded in a day, with drummer Jim Drummond, cellist Pete Harvey and tuba player Andy McKreel fitting in as naturally as Lyon and Lyall. It’s a mixed bag, with funk, soul-jazz, Cajun and folk influences and Goldie going back to the blues playing that occupied much of his teenage years. Goldie’s theme for BBC Scotland’s comedy series Dear Green Place is also included and more soundtrack work would appeal. Such was the chemistry during the recording, however, that it’s continued and Goldie is in danger of becoming a band leader as well as a composer-guitarist.
“We’ve done about half a dozen gigs together since we finished the album and when we played the British Guitar Festival particularly, I felt real potential,” he says. “The guys were really going to town and they can bring their own material, too, although I wouldn’t mind learning it before we play it. When we played as a duo at Leith Folk Club, Angus said, Here’s a couple of my tunes, one’s in E, the other’s in F – but he didn’t tell me which was which.”
A New Yorker in Girvan may not have quite the same romantic ring to it as An American in Paris. Since moving to the town on the Ayrshire coast six years ago, however, guitarist Preston Reed has found the kind of inspiration and support that his artistic compatriots, including Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon from the jazz world, discovered in the French capital.
Much of this has to do with meeting his wife and manager, Catherine Maguire, in a beer tent at the nearby Kirkmichael Guitar Festival. Maguire, a Dubliner with little or no previous experience of the music business, has since applied a tenacious instinct to every part of Reed’s career, resulting in an increasingly busy round of tours, concerts and recordings. Yet Reed simply leaving America has also played a part in this success story.
"America can be a tough place to find work," says Reed, "and the support system, for me at any rate, just wasn’t there. Over here, I feel that what I do has value, and that’s important. Oddly enough, my audience in the States has grown since I moved to Scotland but other territories have also opened up, like Italy and Ireland, which keeps growing and growing. So this has definitely been the best move I could have made."
The best illustration Reed can give of his improved circumstances is his latest album, Spirit. Previously, Reed’s reputation was built on an extraordinary solo acoustic guitar style that involves the fingers of both hands playing percussively on the fretboard, much improbably fluent fingerpicking and the guitar being turned into a drum. One enthusiastic reviewer described the effect of Reed applying this technique to James Brown’s funk classic I Feel Good as "a well above average white one-man band."
To the outsider, such virtuosity might seem daunting. With Spirit, though, Reed got much more personal, much more approachable, more like a classic jazz guitarist. The two hands hovering over the fretboard style gave way to a more conventional approach and the music itself changed from the fiendishly well worked out to a largely conversational song form.
For Reed, whose career hasn’t been entirely devoid of lucky breaks – he made his concert debut at the age of seventeen, supporting beat poet Allen Ginsberg at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, thanks to a friend of his sister – Spirit just wouldn’t have happened had he stayed in America.
"The story behind the album goes back to my meeting my friend Malcolm Cooper, who plays classical guitar and collects guitars of all kinds," says Reed. "When we first met, he was living in Manchester and after a concert at the Royal Northern College, he invited me back to his place to look at his guitars. The first guitar he showed me was a Yahama from the 1970s, a classic, hollow bodied jazz guitar modelled on the Gibsons that Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery used to play."
Reed liked the look of this instrument but because of the history involved with all the jazz greats playing something similar, he found it intimidating. So he strummed a few chords on it and put it down.
At the time, as Catherine will confirm with her eyes raised to the heavens, Reed was on something of a guitar acquisition drive. One by one, a 12 string acoustic, a nylon-strung Spanish model, a Fender Stratocaster and others arrived in Reed’s music room and found their way into his concerts with tunes specially written for each one. The odd one out was a hollow bodied jazz guitar he’d bought that didn’t quite have the ‘play me, play me’ drawing power of the others.
Then friend Malcolm, who by this time had moved to Edinburgh, invited Reed round to see his new house and there in the living room was the same Yamaha from before. This time, rather than being intimidated by it, Reed found that he couldn’t put it down.
"It just wouldn’t let me go," he says, "and after about half an hour, it began to feel wonderful and sound really good. Everything about it just seemed so right. So I said to Malcolm, You know, I’ve wanted to do something with a jazz guitar for a long time and the one I bought doesn’t have anything like the same magic as this one, would you consider letting me borrow it for a week?"
Malcolm made a better offer than that. He told Reed he would give him the guitar to keep if he promised to do something with it.
"He’s very much of the opinion that instruments need to be played rather than displayed," says Reed. "I know that something similar to this happened with Martin Taylor and an American collector but I just couldn’t imagine someone being so magnanimous with me over there. So, anyway, I took the guitar away and spent six months playing it and really becoming attached to it. Then at the end of last year, I had two months off the road and I decided that I should make a CD using just this guitar."
Everything about Spirit was a new adventure. Reed went over to Dublin to record in a studio he’d never worked in before with engineers he’d never met. And whereas, before, every composition would have been meticulously worked out before being recorded, this time Reed only had brief sketches of each piece.
"If the album sounds spontaneous," he says, "that’s because most of the music was spontaneous. I had chord changes to some of the pieces but the actual melodies all came together on the spot. It was quite scary, to be honest, and after about an hour on the first day, I was almost in tears because I couldn’t bring anything out. I told Bill, one of the engineers, I’m sorry, I can’t do this. But he was great, he wasn’t producing me but he got me to relax and try again and we became like a team after that. Maybe you have to scare yourself every so often to come up with something new and worthwhile."
Although it includes a jazz standard, All the Things You Are, Reed doesn’t consider Spirit to be, strictly speaking, a jazz album because he doesn’t improvise in the way that a jazz player does. He is, he says, a composer first and a guitar player second and when he plays them in concert, the songs from Spirit don’t actually stray very far, if at all, from the originals.
"Once I find my favourite way of playing something, I tend not to add new ideas to it," he says. "Because when I’m happy with something, that’s the way I want people to hear it. I tried All the Things You Are simply because I wanted to see what would happen. I’ve always loved jazz, particularly John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Pat Metheny, because they play in such a personal way and that’s what I feel I’ve done with Spirit. It’s much more personal and more intimate than my other stuff."
Since he recorded Spirit, the Yamaha guitar’s pull hasn’t lessened. Reed has never found practising a chore but he’s now playing more guitar than at any time since his teens. During the summer leading up to his debut performance at the Smithsonian, his mother found him a temporary job with the company where she worked in Sweden. Alone for much of the time in a foreign country and in a town where he knew nobody (a Swedish adventure came later, he confides with his hearty guffaw), Reed practised like crazy.
It was, he says, the summer when he rose above the bedroom guitar picker standard that he’d achieved through clandestine experiments with his father’s guitar and began to master the idiosyncratic styles of his early heroes, Jorma Kaukonen of Hot Tuna, John Fahey and Leo Kottke.
"The way I work now is probably more disciplined than back then," he says. "When I’m off the road, I like to get up with a cup of coffee and spend a couple of hours playing tunes from the jazz musician’s Bible, the Real Book. Then I’ll spend a couple of hours working on new compositions and after that, I rehearse my concert repertoire thoroughly because I need to keep on top of that. So, it’s pretty full-on guitar, guitar, guitar most days."
Whether Reed wants to call his new direction jazz or not, he’s already finding a more sympathetic response from jazz promoters and the jazz media. One area of jazz that he would like to explore is having a singer add lyrics to some of the tracks from Spirit as he feels that they could have a life of their own as jazz songs.
"I was aware when they were coming together that a lot of them had a jazz ballad feel, and if having them made into actual songs means my music reaches more people, I’d be delighted," he says.
"It’s up to other people to decide if what I’m doing by myself is jazz. For me primarily what the new stuff I’m doing offers is a good live show. I’m not going out on the road with eight guitars any more. But I’m not going to ditch the two handed acoustic stuff because that’s what will have attracted most of the people to the gig. What we’ll have is the new stuff, where I can sit down and talk about the tunes, do the intimate thing, and then I can stand up and do the high energy stuff, the wow factor if you want to call it that. It makes for quite a contrast."
Of all the many thousands of guitarists who picked up the instrument during the 1950s skiffle boom, nobody took it on a bigger adventure or cast a longer shadow than Davey Graham.
If Graham had stopped after composing Anji, the piece he named after a girlfriend in France in 1959 and that went on to become the acoustic guitarist’s rite of passage (Paul Simon was among those who recorded it), he probably still would have become a legend. Anji, however, was just one milestone on a path that journeyed from the folk music of the British Isles through jazz, blues, Broadway show tunes, Eastern European traditions, Moroccan modes and down into the Indian subcontinent. Sometimes all of the above would combine in a medley.
On the way and to facilitate his musical experiments, Graham invented the DADGAD guitar tuning, which has become as prevalent among folk and traditional guitar players as the standard EADGBE tuning, a contribution whose value can hardly be calculated.
Graham had eclecticism in his blood. His father, Hamish, was a native Gaelic speaker from Skye and his mother, Winifred, born in Georgetown, British Guyana, brought the French language to the household as well as Oriental and Native American blood to the family lineage.
From the moment he first heard Lonnie Donegan, Graham was hooked. He could barely concentrate in school for thinking about the imagery that Donegan’s singing of Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie songs conjured up and when he got his first guitar at the age of fifteen, it became an almost constant companion. He caught the travelling bug early, taking off at every opportunity from jobs as varied as librarian and crate humper for Paris and the Cote d’Azur, travelling on to Greece and being seduced by the sound of the oud, as well as the taste of Maajun (the sticky hashish confectionery) in Morocco.
Travelling as much in his imagination and musical appreciation as he did physically, he somehow developed the ability to hear a Thelonious Monk blues, a Charlie Mingus jazz rumble, a baroque piece or a slow air on the uilleann pipes and orchestrate it – and this isn’t overstating matters – for the guitar in a style that was completely his own.
His first recording, an EP with his sometime musical partner and bandleader, Alexis Korner, featured Anji, a composition all the more impressive considering he’d only been playing guitar for three or four years when he developed something so intricate. By this time he’d also got his first real professional break, accompanying Australian singer Shirley Abicair on a television series and in major concerts, and had already wowed television viewers with his rendition of Cry Me a River for Ken Russell’s BBC arts programme, Monitor. Through his regular solo residency at Nick’s Diner in Earls Court, Graham’s name began to reach record company executives and film producers (he turned up singing and playing the blues in the Dirk Bogarde movie The Servant) as well as awe-stricken fellow guitarists.
If his first album, The Guitar Player … Plus, confirmed Graham’s abilities with jazz and blues standards, it was his next two recordings that really established his reputation, firstly, Folk Roots, New Routes, which pitched Graham together with English rose par excellence, singer Shirley Collins, in daring settings of traditional songs, and in 1965, the classic Folk, Blues and Beyond …, which gathered traditional ballads, Bob Dylan, Leadbelly blues, Mingus gospel shout and a precursor to world music in Maajun into a collection whose original vinyl copies can now fetch hundreds of pounds.
Thereafter, Graham’s recordings were often patchy affairs, given to flashes of brilliance mixed with tracks that might have reflected his willingness to embrace contemporary songwriting by The Beatles and Joni Mitchell but didn’t always convince. For an example of what he could do, the 1997 release of a private recording from February 1967, After Hours at Hull University, is hard to beat. By now, though, he’d led a whole movement of guitarists, including Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Martin Carthy, Jimmy Page, Archie Fisher and Wizz Jones, into previously unimagined realms of virtuosity. He was a hero, a legend, albeit also a fading star.
Part of what Graham referred to as the “ravage” that interrupted his career was due to his insistence on becoming a heroin addict. If being a junkie had, he reasoned, made Charlie Parker an even better musician, then he would try this, too. It didn’t hasten Graham’s end, as it had Parker’s, but he became unreliable and wayward.
In the 1970s promoters and audiences didn’t know which Davey (he’d changed the spelling from Davy around this time) might turn up. It might be the stoned, denim shirted bluesman who, if really inspired, could recreate his best magic. It might be the tuxedo-wearing, dodgy joke telling accompanist to his then-wife, Holly. Or it might be Davey Graham, the classical player, who could conjure Bach pieces from the guitar with extraordinary delicacy and fire but then literally punch out the stage lights.
Later, callers to his London number might be greeted by an answerphone “message” consisting of a recording of an Indian raga – played at its considerable length with no “beep” to speak after. This could have been because he’d disappeared to somewhere exotic or equally because he was busy, as reported, teaching guitar in the West Highlands.
Then, with the new century, came word that Davey Graham was back and reproducing his form of old – and when he appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe, with Bert Jansch, in 2005, this seemed plausible. Though obviously nervous, he played a brief set that was typically eclectic, including a devilish Eastern European dance tune. But when he returned to Edinburgh for a full concert of his own a few weeks later, though still able to summon up his eccentric colonel in reduced circumstances persona, musically he was a sad shadow of his former self and subsequent visits didn’t exactly enhance his reputation either.
By his own admission, he found it difficult to live up to the legend but perhaps we should just be grateful that he created music worthy of his legend status in the first place because Folk, Blues and Beyond … even now, can still induce goose bumps.
Davey Graham, guitar pioneer, born November 26, 1940; died December 15, 2008.
Ron Moore, who has died at the age of eighty-six, was a Glasgow guitar guru with a global constituency. His circle of friends, contacts and admirers included leading names in jazz, classical and pop music and through his former pupils he could point to his influence on Grammy-winning classical guitarists and session players who helped to shape George Michael hits alike.
The man who became a hugely respected Glasgow legend and whose music room played host to jam sessions involving some of the most prized fingers in the business was born in Huddersfield and during World War ll served in the Fleet Air Arm, occasionally entertaining his colleagues with his guitar on bases in Malta, among other postings.
At the end of the war he went to London and studied with Britain’s first guitar hero, Ivor Mairants, but on returning to Yorkshire, Moore found there were no paid outlets available locally for his newly honed talents. He played in restaurants in Manchester and around the north of England before, in 1954, deciding to try his luck in Scotland.
Arriving in Glasgow, Moore joined the house band at the Piccadilly Club in Sauchiehall Street, adding the occasional broadcast and session work with bandleaders Joe Loss, Lou Prager and Geraldo, and when the skiffle and early rock’n’roll eras heralded a boom in guitar sales, he opened a teaching studio in St Vincent Street.
It was his next moved that made Moore, if not a household name, then a household face. In September 1957, Scottish Television began broadcasting a lunchtime variety show, The One o’clock Gang. Fronted by Larry Marshall and featuring a cast including Dorothy Paul and Charlie Sim, the show proved an instant hit and every week from Monday to Friday long queues formed outside the Theatre Royal hoping to be part of the audience.
Sitting in the house band, a quartet led by drummer Tommy Maxwell, Moore became one of a select group of guitarists. Publisher, photographer and jazz guitar enthusiast Gordon Wright, who later became a friend of Moore’s, remembers running home in his lunch hour to watch Moore. “There was only really Bert Weedon and Ron playing guitar regularly on TV in those days,” says Wright. “So if you wanted even to see a guitar, Ron’s spots on the One o’Clock Gang were a must.”
Jim Mullen, the Glasgow-born guitarist who has worked with many of the top names in jazz (singer-poet Terry Callier calls Mullen “God”) and later played a significant role in Moore’s career, recalls watching his friend with envy. “Ron always had these marvellous arch top guitars from America that nobody else in Glasgow could lay hands on,” says Mullen. “But what I also admired about him was his melodic improvising style. It was very clean, nothing fancy harmonically, but he could often surprise you with the twists he took.”
The One o’clock Gang ran until December 1964, with Moore appearing alongside young emerging pop stars including Lulu, who later said that while hit records, national tours and playing prestigious venues gave her a thrill, she really felt that she’d made it when she appeared on the show. When the gang disbanded, Moore concentrated on teaching and playing gigs with his jazz trio. He also composed, both jazz tunes and classical pieces including his 1999 Clyde Suite, a series of four portraits of Scottish islands, which his former pupil, internationally renowned guitarist David Russell recorded on his acclaimed Message of the Sea album.
Also among Moore’s innumerable pupils were jazz guitarist Ian McHaffie, Gordon Sellar, who played with 1970s rock band Beggar’s Opera, and top session guitarist Hugh Burns, who acknowledges Moore’s crucial part in setting him on the right road as a professional guitarist and whose credits include the Jack Bruce Band and the distinctive guitar solo on Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street as well as George Michael’s Careless Whisper.
Moore himself didn’t record until, at the age of seventy-nine in 2003, he was lured into Cava studios in Glasgow by Jim Mullen to record their CD, La Ronde, the title track being one of Moore’s own compositions.
A warm, friendly character with a gentle, ego-deflating sense of humour, Moore continued to teach at his home until quite recently and it was there that friends such as Martin Taylor would drop in for a tune or to give Moore a preview of their latest recordings. Taylor, one of the world’s most revered jazz guitarists, refused to release a record without Moore’s approval and such was the value he placed on Moore’s opinion that he consequently returned to the recording studio many times to change something or to make improvements on Moore’s advice.
“Once you were in that music room, it was difficult to get out again,” says Jim Mullen. “Because Ron never lost this fantastic enthusiasm that he had all the time I knew him. That’s what I’ll remember him for above all, his sheer love of the guitar and his reluctance to put it down once he’d picked it up.”
Ron Moore is survived by his daughter Karen, his wife, Margaret, and daughter Amber having predeceased him.
Ron Moore, guitarist, born June 16, 1923; died December 17, 2009.
Who says you need bad attitude to rock? Nick Harper is one contented guy. He's just put all his considerable energies, an amazing singing talent, great guitar playing ability and songcraft into celebrating the things that are dear to him and produced his best studio album to date. Shameless love songs, a heartfelt tribute to the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, a hymn to simplicity, and a kind of medieval talking blues are all borne on masterful guitar patterns, with occasional keyboards, bass and drums, and some swashbuckling acoustic guitar solos that wrap Zappa, flamenco, Django and bluegrass into one blistering style. Ten minor miracles, no beginner.
Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
Now, why might Twinings, purveyors of the finest Earl Grey and many another delicate brew, be especially fond of The Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go? If you’ve reached the second verse in your mental run through, you may just have twigged: “It’s all tease, tease, tease” runs that stanza’s opening line.
You get used to such punning introductions as the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain rearrange whole swathes of the pop canon – sometimes running up to a dozen unlikely bedfellows into the same chord sequence – to fit their own designs. It’s not just pop, either. Before this fifty-grins-a-minute experience was five minutes old they had swung Dixieland jazz favourite Tiger Rag into good health, had introduced the finer points of gospel-styled call and response to Hawkwind’s Silver Machine and were on their way, via My Way and Born Free transposed onto David Bowie’s Life on Mars, to celebrating the Irish classical composer “Saint Sean”.
If it took a beat for that particular penny to drop, Danse Macabre by Saint-Saens wasted no time in confirming that for all their malarkey, including routines that transform Anarchy in the UK into a swaying Scout camp singalong and recast Cathy from Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights into a South Yorkshire-brogued Mack the Knife, the eight-piece orchestra are seriously good players on an instrument that’s too often a figure of fun. They’re also a decent a cappella choir, as their sea shanty-fication of Pinball Wizard proved, and a convincing groove machine, and although Grace Jones or Wheatus (Teenage Dirtbag was a masterstroke) might not agree, they’re entertaining lyric interpreters par excellence.