Monday, 27 May 2013

Jan Akkerman

26th May 2013
Jan Akkerman  - Edinburgh 2013

Edinburgh Guitar & Music Festival

I am decrepit enough to remember Focus’ famed Old Grey Whistle Test performance back in ‘73 or whenever, when a perplexed and slightly amused nation witnessed a yodelling bug-eyed Dutchman producing some breathtaking vocal pyrotechnics. 

Perhaps slightly overlooked amongst all the Hocus Pocus was a lugubrious guitarist (looking not unlike Noggin The Nog’s uncle Nogbad The Bad (ask your Dad, folks) propelling the track along with a killer riff.  This bod was Jan Akkerman, who would leave the band a few years later to embark upon a quite eclectic solo career.

I had seen clips of him recently where he seemed to have found a sort of jazz-rock niche for himself, and been more than a little impressed.  Hence this visit to the 2013 Edinburgh Guitar and Music Festival to catch the man in concert.

The festival, run over four days took place at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange and featured dozens of artists, plus all manner of guitar tutorials and seminars if that was your bag.  There was always at least four or five acts performing at any one time, and one was free to wander in and out of the various rooms where concerts were taking place.

I decided to start with Safehouse, a local eight-strong (three drummers!) blues/rock outfit who were performing an Allman Brothers’ Band tribute set this evening.  With hindsight I wasted too long waiting for them to set up their gear, so missed the opportunity to check out all of the other acts on at the time.  When Safehouse finally got their act together (so to speak) they crashed their way through some extended renditions of AB tunes, only one of which (The Whipping Post) was familiar to me.  They were clearly an octet of very talented guys, but this was not quite my cup of tea.

I had wanted to catch the German guitarist with the wonderful name of Peter Finger, but only managed to track him down in time to hear his last composition, entitled Open Tuning, if memory serves.  There didn’t appear to be whole lot of melody going on with this one, but by jingo could he play jaw-droppingly fast?  Seemingly just whacking and hitting strings at random, Finger succeeded in producing this amazingly structured virtuoso piece.  At the end, I fervently wished I had sought Peter out earlier.

Back down in the foyer/bar area I was then treated to performance by a former Bay City Roller (Ask your Mum, Folks) – guitarist Eric Faulkner showcasing an acoustic set, primarily to a group of middle-aged ladies who hung on his every word.  Looking remarkably trim (although he could have benefited from a haircut), Faulkner strummed through a number of slightly celtic-folk influenced pieces, which were far more listenable than we had any right to expect from a former 1970s teenybop idol.

When I wandered back to the main hall to take in Jan Akkerman’s performance, I was surprised to note the stage was still bare.  The man then wandered in, took out a rather shiny-looking acoustic guitar from a case, and only then did I realise this was going to be a solo acoustic set.  Hmmmm – they didn’t say that on the web site.

Akkerman’s only other bit of kit was a small mixing desk thingy which sat on the floor in front of him – not even a roadie to help him set things up.

We then learned the guitar he was playing, some remarkably-large bodied item, had been launched recently by an Irish company who were using Jan to help promote it.  Well perhaps promote is not quite the correct word, but certainly to road test it, apparently.

Akkerman had only been presented with the instrument a week previously, and clearly was still getting to grips with it.  His first number appeared to be little more than an extended tuning-up session, and the second was littered with those b/dung noises I used to make regularly whenever I attempted to learn guitar – a consequence of failing to nail a string down properly, so I was informed.

Frequent fiddling with the tuning and poking about inside the sound hole followed, before “We’re getting there” quoth the man, although the clearly audible racket from one of the adjacent rooms/venues was irking him.  And the guy from the guitar manufacturer seemed to be getting more than a little edgy at the gremlins.

Tranquilliser, from the Dutchman’s 1976 album Eli sounded fine though, and by the time of the penultimate tune, a lengthy flamenco-style piece, Akkerman was well into his stride. The evening closed with a medley of Focus pieces from which I recognised Sylvia and (with a bit of imagination) perhaps a few snippets of Hocus Pocus.  His work towards the end of this piece was just stunning, and even the ex-Bay City Roller had popped his head in to to pay his respects.

After the performance, I plucked up the courage to have a few words with the Man.  I enquired whether he still worked with a band.  “Of course” he responded.  Then why not tonight?  “When I’m with a band people say I play too much like Focus, so I like to play something different.”

Which was fair enough, I suppose.

Jan Akkerman  - Edinburgh 2013

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