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Guitar heaven

05 Oct 2008 / in music and gigs

My musicfandom was heartily satisfied these past couple days.

As you probably know if you’ve read these ramblings for a while, I’m a big fan of Dutch prog rock band Focus. We go to see them as often as we can, usually twice a year. On Thursday evening they were top of the bill at the beautiful venue of Cheltenham town hall supported by first The Groundhogs and then Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash.

The Groundhogs were awful; the sound was terrible. It was so muddy I couldn’t hear what they were playing and the vocal was like a railway station announcer. I walked out. I feared that the rest of the gig would be the same. Thankfully it wasn’t Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash were great. They played lots of songs from my favourite album Argus, We’d seen the original Wishbone Ash at the Cropredy festival a couple of years ago and they had a very full sound, passionate and rich, but Martin Turner’s band were, we felt, more like a Wishbone Ash tribute band. Enjoyable nonetheless.

Focus were as superb as The Groundhogs were awful. The gig opened dramatically with the red velvet curtains sweeping back to reveal Focus’s Thijs van Leer in the spotlight playing the town hall’s own organ, rather than his own Hammond. Fabulous stuff! The influence of JS Bach on Thijs’s work laid bare. Then Pierre (drums), Bobby (bass) and Niels (guitar) joined him on stage and the gig kicked off in earnest with their massive, colourful tunes. What I really love about Focus, and so many other prog/rock bands, is they understand the need for contrast, tone and variation within a song, underpinned with strong melody and effortless musicianship. Guitarist Niels van der Steenhoven had a particularly good night; he was absolutely loving it and played like a god, the tunes just falling out of him. He knew it too, in his modest way.

I’m afraid I have no photos of this gig due to the vigorously enforced nazi nature of the venue’s photo policy!

And last night my brother Paul and I went to see guitar legend Gordon Giltrap, play at the village hall in the neighbouring village of Cassington, in a gig organised by Live & Local.

In the mid 1970s Paul bought Gordon’s album Visionary and those tunes crept through the bedroom wall into my young teenage brain and never left. Gordon’s music is not classical, and yet it is. It’s not pop, nor rock, nor folk, nor anything else, and yet it is all of those things. It’s just great one great melody after another played with virtuosity and feeling. Who could want anything more? Using a recording loop he played a composition called Dodo’s dream overlaying phrase after phrase to create huge one-man guitar symphony. Marvellous. We loved it.

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