Too many years had elapsed since I’d seen the acoustic maestro Gordon Giltrap in action; but that was a situation that was certainly put right this evening. When I heard a couple of months ago that he was due to play at Fairkytes Live – a venue close to my home – I was of course interested to get down to the gig. I immediately contacted my friend, the guitarist Glyn Protheroe, who I knew would be up for this one.
Fairkytes Arts Centre in Hornchurch, is run by the London Borough of Havering; and its musical wing – Fairkytes Live – has recently hosted gigs by some quite well known artists. These include: ‘The Queen Of Soul’ Mari Wilson; Bluesman Doug MacLeod; and ‘The Rose Of Alabama’ Lisa Mills. Future dates include Eugene ‘Hideaway’ Bridges; guitarist Martin Harley; Jazz trumpeter Martin Shaw; and Punk icon Toyah Wilcox. Quite a variety then. I found manager Tony Matthews to be very welcoming and informative.
Stupidly Glyn and I didn’t realise that the show started so early, and didn’t arrive until near the end of the support act. But as we walked in to the full, darkened and hushed music room, we were very impressed (as everyone else evidently was), by the duet Gary Randle (guitar), and Debbie Carter (vocals). They had just begun performing a very good cover of the Ashley Hutchings song ‘Sway With Me’ – Debbie’s beautiful vocals and Gary’s guitar were both very impressive indeed. Gary finished the set with his excellent instrumental inspired by a trip to the Great Orme in Wales: ‘From Up High’, in DADGAD tuning; which was fittingly very Giltrap-esque in essence – Gary being a big fan of his. I’d already been tipped off by Paul Ballantyne of Romfrord Folk Club that Gary would be playing tonight; and I had a word with him after the gig. He is a local man who began playing the guitar at the age of five. But at thirteen he heard Giltrap’s 1978 hit, ‘Heartsong’; and realised that there was a lot more he could do with an acoustic. Well he certainly couldn’t have picked a more inspiring master to learn from! He has been working with Debbie for about three years now; and also collaborates with Silvi Gonzalez.
Soon the star of the show was introduced by manager Tony. After a little amusing preamble, Gordon began the first half of his set with ‘Maddy Goes West’. Then he talked about his charity work; and announced that he had recently been diagnosed with a non-malignant cancer (‘…the size of a melon!’) and is due to be operated on soon, which will of course keep him out of action for some months. He then continued with ‘Shining Morn’.
After lamenting the passing of some old friends from the mid-60s (‘…that Golden Age of music’ as he described it) such as John Renbourn, Davey Graham, and Bert Jansch; who sadly ‘…had left the crease’; and talking of the erstwhile Folk Club in Greek Street; he then played George Harrison‘s ‘Here Comes The Sun’ – but it was a cover that was inimitably Giltrap through and through. The beautiful ‘Mrs.Singer’s Waltz’ was his next offering, during which he demonstrated his excellent use of a reverb pedal. Next he played a new (and as yet, untitled) piece – apparently composing this one ended an understandable writing block after being told he had ‘…this thing inside me’ (the cancer).
Gordon said proudly that the second album he ever bought was Bert Jansch’s ‘Blue Album’. A tune from this album, ‘Angie’ (originally penned by Davey Graham), was his next rendition; and a fine cover it was too. Again, he made it his own to a large extent. Unusually, our host then gave us a choice of two reverb settings from his Verbzilla FX pedal (‘What a naff title for an effects pedal – it sounds like a disease, doesn’t it?’ he joked). But after giving us a sample of each, my friend Glyn and some others called out in favour of the second setting. Gordon then played his piece ‘Loren’ in honour of Bert Jansch and his wife, who tragically died within weeks of each other.
The finale, and highlight of the first set (and indeed for me, the whole show) was ‘Dodo’s Dream’. This is a piece that I’ve been familiar with for many years. It first appeared on Gordon’s 1980 album Peacock Party; and in my opinion is one of the best things ever written and recorded by him. I’d never heard it played like this before though (although it was reworked in its present form for the Shining Moon album of 2010). For this updated version, Gordon used a Loop Station effect. He explained how this was to be used and joked that this piece would sound like ‘a cross between Pink Floyd and …the Beverley Sisters!’ The effect enabled him to slowly build up several layers of sound to create a wondrously complex aural experience. It was quite a privilege to hear this, and I really enjoyed it.
Thus ended the first half of Gordon’s set. During the interval Glyn and I had a chat with him at the merch table, which was manned by his wife Hilary. I asked him about his finger picking style that he’d referred to during the first half. Apparently he uses a plectrum between thumb and forefinger, supplemented with his little finger; not using the middle two at all. This is of course very unusual, but seems to work nicely for him at least!
Part Two began with Gordon talking about his three-quarter-sized Spanish guitar that he claimed he bought for a fiver at a boot fair! Various modifications have been made to this guitar to make it a unique instrument – including the gaffer tape to cover a damage hole! It sounded great through the reverb pedal though!
Gordon is renown for his use of alternative tunings; DADGAD being a favourite. He joked that he’d been experimenting with a tuning ‘…called FAGBAG. Every time I play it, it just sounds horrible! I had the same trouble with BAGDAD tuning as well – it was a bit explosive!’ He then tuned to DADGAD and played the lovely ‘Isabella’s Wedding’.
We were then treated to some Blues: ‘Five Dollar Guitar’. It was a Blues the likes of which I’d never heard before – Giltrap Blues being like no other form of the genre! Brilliant though. Whilst tuning to Open-C, Gordon then told how he was daunted by finding out that the great John Williams was once in the audience at one of his gigs. Once tuned, he then played ‘Fiona’s Smile’ from his collaboration with Oliver Wakeman, Ravens And Lullabies. From the same album he then gave us ‘Anyone Can Fly’.
‘The Lord’s Seat’ was next. Its a piece inspired by Elizabethan lute music; and very beautiful it was too. He finished the main set with the piece that more than any other made his name: the iconic 1978 hit single, ‘Heartsong’. Before he played it, he told an amusing anecdote about appearing on BBC TV’s Never Mind The Buzzcocks. And on Our Show where he was on a panel sandwiched between Kate Bush and Joanna Lumley – ‘It was Hell, guys!’ he quipped. The number ended to well-deserved applause.
We the audience, were of course not keen to let the show end at that point; and required a final number from the guitarist. So he gave us his well-known ‘Lucifer’s Cage’ – another piece that features fast strumming sections. It is both musically and visually satisfying to hear and see. The piece ended to great and well-deserved applause.
This was a wonderful little gig in a nice little venue. Gordon was on form. He talked as much as he played; but he was at all times interesting and amusing; and I recommend seeing him if possible. I shouldn’t leave it so long before I see him again. He will be out of action for a while due to the aforementioned medical problem, but I hope to see him when he is fit enough to perform again. I’m sure you’ll all join me in wishing him a full recovery and a speedy return to that which he loves – writing, recording, and most of all performing his music. PTMQ
Fairkytes Live: https://www.havering.gov.uk/Pages/ServiceChild/Fairkytes-Live.aspx
Gordon Giltrap: http://www.giltrap.co.uk/