Regular readers of this blog know how much I love music made by men with guitars. I’ve mentioned my admiration for Nick and Roy Harper, Nick Drake, Niels van der Steenhoven, The Allman Brothers, John Martyn, Carlos Santana, Neil Young, Steve Earle and more. But I’ve never mentioned Jeff Beck before, because the last time I saw him live was before I had this blog. But now I can talk about him because last night we went to see him play to an adoring audience at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall.
In simple terms, one might describe Jeff Beck‘s music as a combination of blues, hard rock and jazz fusion. But that over-simplifies it and attempts to categorise something that is as unpigeonholeable, as universal and as beautiful as the music of Nick Drake, but with the power and passion of J S Bach’s organ music.
I love instrumental music; I find vocals often ruin perfectly great music. The music should be good enough stand alone. Happily Jeff doesn’t wreck his music with anything as trivial as vocals. He doesn’t need to. What he gets out of his guitar has more meaning than any verbal language. The sheer variety of sounds he teases out of his vanilla ice cream-coloured Fender Stratocaster is jaw-dropping and takes you through the entire spectrum of emotions. Without over-using effects or pedals he effortlessly breathes out music through his unique touch alone. The results make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck!
Bass player Tal Wilkenfeld and Jeff play a bass duet
And so sitting just three metres away from him up there on stage last night, listening to the sweet, heart-wrenching melodies and powerful riffs was a rare treat indeed. You know that feeling when you stand in a great cathedral and an organist is hammering out, say Bach’s Toccata and Fugue or some other massive Baroque classic, and the sound seems to actually fill your body? Well, it was like that. It doesn’t merely touch you, it inhabits you.
Beck was there right at the beginning of British blues, working with Clapton, Mayall, Page, and many other famous and influential musicians throughout his truly astonishing career. Clapton doesn’t even come close to being god. Beck makes Clapton seem muddy, laboured, tuneless, amateurish and ham-fisted. Beck is THE guitar god.
Photos: Moth Clark, taken the previous night in Brighton