Thursday, April 27, 2006

Heroes

We all have heroes of one sort or another. People who inspire us by their actions or work and their dedication make this world a more wonderful place to live. I am a guitarist, and mostly these days I am playing more acoustic guitar than anything else (although my Van Halen influenced eBaycaster is only a bit of soldering away from whammy-bar dive bomb, overdriven humbucking perfection, but that's a story for another day).

My favourite acoustic guitarist is John Renbourn, a portly, eccentric, bearded, uncle-like cumudgeon of a man, who is the only person I've seen take the stage at The Royal Festival Hall in London and remove his shoes before beginning his set. He played in stocking feet again last night when I saw him share a stage with the also wonderful Robin Williamson. John's 62 now and Robin can't be much younger and yet the energy they infused the Bush Hall with was electric. To see two musicians in total command of their instrument (or multiple instruments in Robin Williamson's case) is both awe-inspiring and also deeply comforting. It gives you faith in humanity that we can create such beauty if we try hard enough, utilise our talents and remain true to our roots. It was said of the great English composer Ralph Vaughan-Williams that when listening to his music, "one is never quite sure whether one is listening to something very old or very new." and I feel that about much of the music I heard last night. There is such a depth to the folk (and I include the blues as a folk music) canon that it seems as if these pieces of music have always existed, that no-one wrote them they have just always been. The performers who can tap into that ancient (seemingly or actual) magic transport us at once to places we seldom get the chance to visit and yet I also feel very grounded and plugged into something deep within myself.

From what I understand John is to retire from live performance soon as his hands are very painful after prolonged playing and even if his fingers are not quite as fleet as once they were the depth of the man's soul and his ability to transmit that to an audience remain undimmed. I'm going to see him again at The Green Man Festival in August which I'm guessing will be my last opportunity to see him perform and I can't wait. I am still giddy from last night's performance and am likely to remain so for the rest of the day.

If you don't know John's work there's some streaming audio on his site and for the guitarists out there he's transcribed some of his signature pieces. I am slowly and ineptly trying to learn "The Hermit" and I'd like to be able to do a passable version of it by year's end. As I said at the end of my Bert Jansch evangelism piece, "Buy all his albums, your ears will love you forever." And the same applies to John Renbourn.

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