|johnfahey.com | Concert Reviews

Queen Elizabeth Hall in London
Saturday, October 2, 1999

by Michael Weare

John teetered unannounced on to the stage with a strange tiptoey gait, sporting what has become his trademark uniform; baggy Hanes pocket tee, floppy shorts, full length hooped sport socks and trainers. Even the famous sunglasses were in evidence despite the darkened hall, although they were promptly removed when he sat down. He plugged in his stratocaster, strummed it twice and with no ceremony at all launched into another of his new trademarks, his biting, grating, twanging, dischordant strums and chord progressions that passes for his new playing style. My friend and I had been joking before the concert about all the chemistry lecturers and assorted left of centre techies attending the show. You could spot them a mile off with their battered cord jackets and bad haircuts. They were as predictable as the syllabuses they teach. But I've followed Fahey for nigh on 30 years and have all his albums, but I could no more recognise his opening number than I can the new guitar syllabus he is trying to promote. His guitar tremored, grumbled, burped and fuzzed nebulously for some ten minutes, with Fahey, his hefty legs crossed, seemingly unaware and unconcerned for his surroundings. I sat there trying really hard to like what I was hearing. I'm not one of those who cannot accept the switch from acoustic to electric, despite the inferior amp he is using - for me it's the new music. With the exception of Juana which is one of his strongest works in years, they have travelled to a dark and angry Belfast backstreet with no beginning, no end, no rhythm, no flow, no sense and no fun. I put my hands up. I just don't get it. This is the same guy that pioneered some of the most important advances for the steel string guitar and crafted a shedload of tunes of lasting quality and worth. He has traded all that in for avant garde electrified fence rattling. The more the concert went on, the more it struck me. Fahey can't play electric guitar. To my ears it's just as 'not right' as hearing Jimi Hendrix's 'Star Spangled Banner' on acoustic guitar. Well, back to the show, and out of the amorphous mass of unannounced twangy sounds came some recognisable work. He visited his Old Fashioned Love album and to give us Shiva Shankarah and Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning. He also did a version of Bola Sete's Ocean Waves, but electric guitar with a busker quality amp fails to do it justice. For all this, you sense that none of the talent or the knowhow has gone. In its place is a petulant refusal to syncopate or let flow with clean melody and strong rhythm in Fahey's new and austere coda. As for showmanship. or attempts to entertain, this is the most sober I have ever seen John. We only got a 'Thank you very much' at the beginning and something mumbled towards the end about him having to go, only to be told by the sound stage management guys that he still had another 15 minutes to play. As is his usual style, he refused an encore, abruptly ending the show on a couple of wilted strums. Sorry John, I'm a lifelong fan, but it's just not good enough. If you want to travel overseas and give concerts at 15 a head you have to be prepared to entertain a little. Develop some kind of rapport with your audience. And better still, if you want to use the tour as an introduction to new work on your new chosen instrument, at least have an acoustic set within your show. I think back to a London show he gave 20 years ago when, after his concert, he played for free and chatted with his audience until five in the morning. Then I really wanted to listen. Last Saturday, I just wanted it to end.                                    

 background art by John Fahey

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