Five Old Concert Reviews

Concert Review

Keith James – The Songs of Nick Drake – Lichfield Guildhall April 30th 2005

The songs of one of the countries more mysterious, but revered songwriters were played to a select audience when Keith James played the music of Nick Drake at Lichfield Guildhall.

Support was from Stuart Clarke and Tom Hammond. The guitar and cello duo played a number of their own compositions, which ranged from the dark and mysterious “In the Woods” to the set closer “The Wrong Questions” which showed a certain debt to bands such as Pentangle.

Keith James has been touring the songs of Nick Drake for three years, and this was the last date of their current 34 date tour.  The fact that Nick Drake is more well known and revered now, then he was when he was alive shows the power and influence of his songs.  The wide divergent demographic of the audience also shows the wide spread influence of his oeuvre of songs and music. His influence can be felt in the wistful and gentle melodies and songs of bands such as Belle and Sebastian, as well as in the vocal styling and songs of many of today’s more popular singers.

The set started with “Things behind the Sun” with just vocals and guitar.  Keith James obviously has a great deal of respect for these songs, and the legacy of Nick Drake, who died at the age of just 26, with three studio albums to his name. Keith James caught the eloquence of Drake’s songs, with a vocal performance that sounded eerily like Drake. On a number of guitars, he also caught the vibrancy, and delicacy of Drake’s guitar style which is far more difficult than it might sound.

The more upbeat “Cello Song” also featured Rick Foot on Bass, whose musical prowess was more than a match for Keith James, and the bassist Dave Pegg, from Fairport Convention who appeared on many of  Drake’s songs, particularly the album “Bryter Layter”.  The middle, and most musically accessible of Drake’s albums was well represented with performances of “At the chime of a city clock” and “One of these things first”.

As well as the songs of Nick Drake, the duo also played a well received version of the John Martyn songs “Solid Air” which was written in memory of Nick Drake.  Keith James also played two of his songs, “The Circle Song” and “Living in the Western World”. The duo encored with “Saturday Son”,  “River Man” and “Northern Sky”

Preston Reed – Lichfield Guildhall – 23rd November 2007

Fans of guitar music were out in force when one man orchestra, guitar master and composer Preston Reed played at the Lichfield Guildhall. Many albums into a long and distinguished career, the ground-breaking musician played a number of instrumentals and genres throughout his two hour concert.

Carrying on the tradition of Acoustic guitar as orchestra, or band, his compositions were complex, and rhythmically challenging. Taking ideas from such diverse instrumentalists as Michael Hedges, and Wes Montgomery, he melded them into a style all of his own.

Starting of with the complicated two handed tapping tour-de-force of ‘Ladies Night’, on a custom made long necked acoustic, he played guitar more like a drum kit, with every part of the instrument being hit and struck to provide a percussive momentum. He played a number of different instruments, from his acoustic, a 12 string, a jazz guitar, a Fender Stratocaster, and an electric Baritone instrument. Many of his pieces painted vivid pieces, such as the Italian ballad ‘Love in the Old Country’ and the gentle, melodic piece ‘Valhalla’ that ended in a complicated flurry of notes, that was totally different to, but fitted in well with the mood of the piece.

Other compositions, such as ‘Night-ride’ started of with a gentle bluesy groove, before becoming a completely different and unsettling creature.

The electric slide piece ‘Franzl’s Saw’ with it’s Sonny Landreth type of feel tried to paint a sound picture of the musical saw, and the first time Preston had heard one. Jazz was well represented with the Wes Montgomery like ‘Street-Beat’ and the slightly sinister sounding ‘Half-Life’.

Other pieces, such as ‘Border towns’ ‘Accusfuse’ or ‘Train’ were like film soundtracks. Other compositions, like ‘Hi-Jacker’, ‘Slap-Funk’, ‘Tractor-pull’ and ‘Running’ were groove pieces, while ‘Rainmaker’ was a drum solo that was transposed to Guitar.

The set was closed by ‘Metal’ which was heavy metal for an acoustic audience, while the encore was ‘Spirit’. Reed is seen as one of the finest Acoustic Guitarists playing on the circuit, with a compositional style that borrows from other sources, but which is still his own.

Rachel Unthank and the Winter Set – Lichfield Guildhall – December 14th 2008

Geordie band Rachel Unthank and the Winterset performed to a nearly full Guildhall when they played in Lichfield.

The multi-awarding band played songs from their two albums, Cruel Sister, and The Bairns, led by singing sisters Rachel and Beccy Unthank, and accompanied by violinist, accordianist and singer Niopha Keegan, and pianist and singer Stef Conner.

Their set ranged from the traditional songs of the North East to Robert Wyatt’s Sea Song. A version of Nick Drake’s River Man featured Beccy’s bravery in using a more vulnerable singing style that wouldn’t have worked for a lesser singer.

The group is well known for its more experimental side, with a sequeway of I wish and Blackbird featuring the piano strings being played to bring a haunting sound to the song, which also featured cello and accordian in its minor chord soundscape.

The gig started with the ballad On a Monday Morning and Blue Bleezing Blind Drunk, with exact vocal harmonies dovetailing perfectly with the instrumental accompaniment. Felton Lonnin featured a delicate melody, as did other songs such as Fair Rosamund, My Lad’sa Canny Lad and Bonnie at Morn.

Niopha Keegan sang a touching accapella gaelic song which used both English and Gaelic words to tell its story. An audience participation song The Greatham Calling on Song closed the concert, and an acappella gaelic song, which the four singers performed unamplified served as a fitting encore.

Ralph Mctell – Lichfield Garrick Theatre – April 8th 2005

English folk stalwart Ralph Mctell attracted a sell out audience to his recent concert at Lichfield Garrick Theatre. A favourite for West Midlands music fans, this was the latest Lichfield concert for McTell, but his debut performance at the state of the art venue.

A thirty plus year career has given the singer-songwriter a wide range of songs to call from, without dipping too much into his older catalogue. He bravely started the concert with a new song, while two more songs received only their second public outings. The country strum suited the narrative tales of ‘Round Cape Horn’, while ‘I’m not quite blue’ used a complex chord progression, while owing quite a debt to the McGarrigle sisters, as Ralph himself pointed out.

The rich resonance of  McTell’s voice was ably matched by some flawlessly inventive guitar playing. A ragtime piece ‘That’ll do Babe’ was an instrumental tour-de-force that owed much of its inspiration to McTell’s early blues influences. He also played protest songs, such as ‘The Lost Boys’ which pointed out the futility of war, and the high price that is paid to maintain peace.

The most successful song of McTell’s career ‘Streets of London’ was played halfway through the 90 minute set, with the audience joining in. Although the song was released in 1974, it is still sadly poignant.

After this, he played a selection of his more famous songs, ranging from the narrative of ‘Tequilla Sunset’ ‘Mr Connaughton’ before finishing with ‘Micheal in the Garden’

Concert Review –

Salsa Celtica – Lichfield Garrick – July 14th 2007

The Lichfield Festival was closed by a storming concert by Scotland’s best known Salsa/Folk fusion band.

The 10 piece band played between them three types of percussion, piano, accordian, bouzouki, low whistles, Uilleann Pipes, fiddle, bass guitar,vocals, banjo and tenor and soprano saxophone. As well as fusing elements of Salsa and Celtic music, the band also hinted at Jazz with elements of the Jan Garbarek ECM label sound, as well as sections of atonality, and a rhythm section that was at times reminiscent of Santana in their 1960/1970’s heyday.

The group, led by singer Lino Rocha was truly international, including musicians from Ireland, Scotland, and Spain, and in the twelve years since the band first formed in pubs in Glasgow and Edinburgh, they have gained many fans, and much critical acclaim, as this sold out concert was testament to.

The slower movements of songs such as ‘Esperanza’ and ‘Fuego, Alma y paz’ were rich in emotion and depth of feeling, while the purely Celtic pieces such as Agua de la Vida (Uisge Beatha, The Water of Life),and Ave María de Escocia Medley (Hail Mary of Scotland Medley)featured tight unison playing from Banjo player Eamon Coyne, piper and whistle player Ross Ainslie and fiddler Chris Stout. The musical fireworks of these three were underpinned by the piano and accordian playing of Phil Alexander, the solid, virtuoso bass playing of David Donnelly, and the three man percussion section of Eric Alfonso on Timbales, congo player Dougie Hudson, and Ricardo Pompa on percussion and vocals.  The saxophonist Steve Kettley also worked hard, adding brassy interjections to the salsa rhythms, but also playing soprano saxophone during solos and the groups slower songs.

The audience were encouraged to join in with the party atmosphere, with members of the audience invited to join the group on stage. The two hour concert passed by with demonstrations of incredible musicianship, and an infectious sense of fun, and an encore that had the assembled throng on their feet.


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