May 2015 News Update
Friday, May 1, 2015
Memories of John Renbourn
One must always be mindful when writing about a deceased famous musician not to deify that person. John Renbourn like many people (including myself) was a flawed human being with his good points (and there were many) and of course weaknesses. No one is perfect.
This photograph was taken in April 2005. Hilary and I were on holiday in Scotland and was virtually passing John's house so decided to pop in and so glad we did.
The first time I witnessed his playing was at the legendary Les Cousins club in Soho where I would later play on a regular basis myself. He was there with Jacqui McShee, I was so impressed with his image and charisma but of course more impressed with his unbelievable guitar playing. In fact his playing was a complete mystery to me because I had no idea how anyone could play like that and produce so many notes almost plucked out of the air!
He was playing a lovely Gibson J50 acoustic, and in my ignorance I didn't know that Gibson even made acoustic guitars, because up until then I had only seen people play their electric models. I truly was clueless at that time about guitars, technique and even more. I didn't even know that folk could play the instrument with their nails. I thought "how novel to play without using a plectrum". How naive can you get! But I was a lad at the time!
Not long after that I signed with Transatlantic records and secured that coveted residency at the Cousins. I was down there one night playing my heart out and as I left the stage who should come up to me for a chat but John gushing about my playing and suggesting we meet up sometime! Can you imagine how I felt after that, I couldn't believe that this guitar God had even spoken to me let alone paying me compliments about my playing. I took John up on his offer to meet up at his flat in Camden town. John was such a gracious and generous person. I can still remember playing his legendary Gibson and him asking ME what I thought of it. What I thought of it! .......It was the most amazing guitar I had ever played!
Around this time he and Bert had just formed Pentangle and John was entering the world of amplification and pickups and he had bought a piece of kit called a Vox Treble Boost which was surplus to requirements so he asked me if I wanted it. I had that treble boost for years and probably used it with Accolade. God knows what happened to it! I just looked on E Bay and there's one for sale in the States for approximately £250!
Over the years our paths crossed many times, and in 1975 we decided to do a short tour of colleges and universities together. Even then I couldn't believe he would be happy working with me, but I'm thrilled he decided to because I have fond memories of that time, playing a duo version of his sublime composition Lady Nothings Toye Puffe and two pieces from the Frederick Noad book of ancient duets. We rehearsed at his then remote cottage in Honiton where he was living with the American fiddle player the late Sue Draheim. We even recorded those pieces for the Fylde Sampler for Roger Bucknall. The titles were Mr Southcote’s Pavan and Galliard.
We recorded the pieces at Redan studios (sadly now gone) on our Fylde guitars and they still sound good today. Needless to say I was very proud to be associated with this legendary player. We had great times and a lot of laughs on the tour, with John relating many Danny Thompson stories. He was great company and I guess he took me under his wing.
The last time I actually saw John was at a Julian Bream concert in Cheltenham at least five years ago. Since Bert Jansch's death we had kept in touch on a regular basis and I was very touched a few years ago when at the time I hadn't been invited to be a part of Bert's life celebration concert at the Festival Hall. John had decided that if I wasn't invited then he wasn't going to make an appearance either, such was the man’s loyalty to his friends. As it turned out I was invited in the end, but John for whatever reason decided not to be there, which was a real shame because if anyone should have been there it should have been him, but I'm sure he had his reasons.
His loyalty to old friends continued right up until his death when he toured extensively with his friend Wizz Jones. Wizz and John went back a long way and John cited Wizz as an influence. John affectionately referred to Wizz as "the old groaner" because of WJ's dour personality. I have known Wizz for many years and have a great affection for the man, who for me was one of the standout guests at the Bert Jansch concert in December 2013.
The last time I spoke with John was Christmas morning when I rang him at home to wish him Happy Christmas. He sounded in good spirits and it was a joy to speak with him.
Many of you may have read my thoughts on his passing on Facebook where I spoke about regret. I went on to say that fortunately I NEVER lost an opportunity to tell him what a profound influence he had on me. Sadly no one in the media had the vision to make a documentary on John which was a tragedy. In my opinion and I 'm sure that of many players who were influenced by him would be of the same mind.
The picture above shows me playing one of John's many guitars. This beauty was a custom built Larivee guitar.
John in his own way was the equal of Bert in terms of influence, in fact John's influence on this guitarist was probably more so the older I got. I would write a piece and think "I wonder if John would approve of this, and I told him so in a recent e- mail. He never replied to that probably because of his self-effacing nature.
Over the last two years John's life was touched by deep sadness at the loss of one of his sons to suicide. I dread to imagine how he coped with that loss which of course is every parent’s nightmare, but cope with it he did and continued giving us pleasure with his playing.
John like myself was part of the Bert Jansch Foundation, and there were vague plans to meet up this year and do one or two fund raising concerts. Sadly of course this now won't happen. I was so looking forward to seeing him again.
Very recently I dedicated my piece Quest for Nonsuch in Acoustic Magazine to John. He sent an e- mail that simply said "thanks for keeping the faith". I shall continue to "keep the faith" for as long as I can because he was a very special musician and composer and wrote pieces that truly touched the soul.
Sadly time and circumstance won't allow me to attend his funeral in Scotland, but Clive Carroll will be there and has been asked to play. He will I know do us all proud, and John would have liked that.
John along with Bert left a wonderful legacy of influence.
We shall miss him.
4 Parts Guitar tour
I could go on for ages about how well the tour with Ray, Clive and John has gone. As I write this we still have several dates to go, but I know that they will continue to be as much fun as all the other gigs thus far.
Being on stage with these great players is truly the most fun I have ever had on stage in a long time. This doesn't in any way diminish from all the fine players I have known and worked with over the years, but what is so unique and special about this quartet is the spontaneity because we truly have no idea what will happen in the second half of the show, and somehow the audience join us on this fun journey.
I have a little dream that may just come true and that dream is to perform EXACTLY what we do on the stage of The Symphony Hall in Birmingham!
Watch this space and see if happens. In the meantime a huge THANKYOU to all who attended our concerts throughout April.
The new 4 Parts Guitar CD Guitarmageddon is ONLY available for sale at our live shows. The CD includes a cracking quartet version of Heartsong, along with new GG pieces Sadie In May, Ania's Dream and Loren. Old favourites like Maddie Goes West and A Dublin Day are on there plus cracking new solo and duo pieces from John, Ray and Clive.
Review by Andrew Davies
I will remember Saturday 11th April 2015 as the night of one of the best, if not the best, concerts I have ever seen. The venue was The David Hall in South Petherton, Somerset, and I had gone to see 4 Parts Guitar. I am a long-standing aficionado of Gordon’s music but whilst aware of Messrs Etheridge, Carroll and Burley I have had much less exposure to their music.
The concert started with each of the performers coming out and playing three solo pieces each in turn. Gordon was in his favourite open C tuning; Ray played three pieces from the classical repertoire; Clive entertained with technical melodic brilliance; and John infected us with his jazzy enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment. Pieces such as the lyrical Julia Florida, the poignant Loren, the irresistibly foot-tapping Route 73, the frankly astounding M’Sanduza and many more captivated the audience. Each of them very obviously enjoyed their spot and the pieces they had chosen to perform. The audience was equally appreciative and soaked up the music; the whole atmosphere was one of jaw-dropping appreciation for what was being played.
During the interval I took the opportunity to become the proud owner of one of the new 4 Parts Guitar "Guitarmageddon" CDs. With only 500 having been produced I briefly wondered whether it should remain the elusive "rare, unsigned copy”…nah.
The second half of the concert saw all four guitarists on stage playing together in duos, trios and a quartet. It was obvious that they were all having a lot of fun and this was demonstrated by the spontaneity of the little figures played between pieces, the jokes and the completely relaxed feel of the show. There had been little rehearsal time for the tour but if anything that added to the sense of fun and made the experience more memorable for that. The pieces included Maddie Goes West, a 4 Parts arrangement of Heartsong, Dublin Day, Tailor Bird and a beautiful piece called Water and Wine (Agua e Vinho) by Gismonti arranged by Ray as a duet for him and Clive.
There were far more pieces played throughout the evening but for me the lasting memory is not what was played but the way the concert flowed and the interactions between the players. I have been to many concerts in venues large and small all over the UK, with acts from solo artists to rock groups to orchestras. To see these four virtuoso guitarists in a great little venue all having a great time, showing it and engaging the audience was unforgettable and beats pretty much anything else I have experienced.
This is an interesting one this month, but worry not I do have a beautiful new guitar to tell you about next month.
This month I want to let you see this cracking violin that I bought on whim about two years ago and had lovingly restored by Turner violins in Nottingham who said it was a fine instrument and worth having the work done which was a new fingerboard, bridge tailpiece and tuning pegs.
When I bought it I was under the impression that it was an Italian violin, but was informed by Turners that it was in fact a turn of the century Dresden made German instrument.
It needs to go to a good home and anyone seriously interested in buying it should contact Sue Holton for more information. I will accept offers over £800 as this is what it cost me all in all.
This must be the first time in these pages that I have blatantly sold an instrument.
I have it on good authority that it really is a fine instrument and would suit a beginner or aspiring orchestral player.
Get in touch with Sue via the form on the Contact Page if you are interested.