christopher james

Poems and prattle

Tag: acoustic music

A world tour on six strings – Clive Carroll at Haverhill Arts Centre 29 October 2017

To Suffolk on a ghostly October night for another beguiling performance from Clive Carroll. With an eclectic selection of acoustic gems that take inspiration variously from County Clare to the Gulf of Mexico via the Arctic Circle and Argentina, we are treated to a world tour on six strings. It is all the more remarkable for the fact that most of the tunes are Clive’s own.

Endlessly curious, and as adept at classical, jazz, folk and rock, Clive is impossible to pigeonhole and all the better for it. The common thread is that everything is flawlessly played. With a virtuosic style that is somehow simultaneously flowing and precise, there is a gracefulness and humour to his playing that makes the most difficult tune accessible. Kicking off with what sounds like medieval Hendrix, he soon introduces us to an exquisite waltz inspired by Shostakovich, with an entertaining preamble as to why he appears to draw out the timing (to allow the ladies’ dresses to catch up on the ballroom floor it transpires).

The name John Renbourn crops up several times this evening, first as the inspiration to the stately Abbot’s Hymn, which suffers only from being too short. Secondly, the late guitarist is cited, along with Bert Jansch, as one of the foremost interpreters of Charlie Mingus’s Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, which is lovingly rendered by Clive tonight in all its atonal complexity. He’s also remembered as Clive’s mate and musical compatriot: on a previous performance at Haverhill Arts Centre, Clive remembers John ambling back to his dressing room for his capo, making it back only in time to play the final chord.

The vast, echoing, In the Deep, sounds like the soundtrack to a lost Western with a languid melody, redolent of heat haze rising up from desert sands. Meanwhile, the recently commissioned Scottish suite, which closes the first half evokes images of windblown heather and firelight shot through whisky tumblers. Apparently, for its premiere, it was performed by another guitarist, which seems an astonishing waste of Clive Carroll. Very sensibly Clive has now learned it himself and it’s sublimely effective.

As vocal between numbers as he is silent during them, Clive proves himself a colourful raconteur and happily allows a story to run away with itself. A detour to a tumbledown shack on the Mississippi Delta provides the evocative setting for a swampy blues, full of kick and spice. Intriguingly, he takes us to the heart of his compositional technique, demonstrating his drop tuning and multipart techniques on the brilliant Eliza’s Eyes, the nearest perhaps to a hit single in Clive’s expansive repertoire.

The evening concludes in fine style with a brilliant sequence from his album The Furthest Tree that takes its cue from the middle English poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Recreating a duet with the great John Williams by accompanying a recording, he conjures a supernatural vision of a lost, mist-filled England not wholly removed from the Halloween night encroaching at the door. An understated, lyrical version of And I Love Her is the parting shot and enough to keep the ghosts at bay.

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Archangel

This piece is called Archangel – partly because I like the name, and partly because Michael is a name that features quite a bit in my family. Michael the Archangel was heaven’s superhero, muscle-bound, hair in ringlets, sent to quell Satan and that kind of thing. The other Archangels were Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel. Think of them as the Biblical Avengers.

Archangel

My first daughter’s Godfather is called Michael – as generous, funny and kind man as ever you’ll meet (hello Michael!), it’s my son’s middle name and my wife’s two grandfathers were both called Michael, neither of which she met. They were both storytellers and characters and of course without them I wouldn’t have my wife. So this piece is for all the Michaels and all the Archangels.

Far Away Friend

So here’s another song. I was trying to learn For My Father by Andy McKee,  the king of finger-style guitar playing. It’s a beautiful song and I set myself the goal of learning it by Father’s Day. I quickly discovered that this was a little like reading the complete works of Shakespeare by Tuesday. So instead I improvised in the distinctive ECDGAD tuning that McKee uses and came up with this song instead. It takes a while to find chord shapes that work, but when you find them, beautiful sounds are suddenly conjured from your fingertips without you realising quite how.

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Of course none of this noodling is helping me write 69 poems about 1969, but then you can’t work all the time. Happy listening.