Wednesday, August 5, 2015

'Born To Be A Guitar Star'

We're slap bang in the middle of the silly season and if that's not enough they're already running ads on the telly for this years X-Factor. The concept of it has manifested itself into a sense that is now a given, that training from the bottom up over a period of time to try and get anywhere in the music business has now been parked. Entering in to it's place is the new sense of wellbeing, where dreams are quickly created then crushed into smithereens. For laughs. Here tonight, gone later tonight type of talentless droids. No coincidence in the week that Cilla Black passed either. Anybody who saw the excellent Sheridan Smith (who is brilliant in everything she does) drama on ITV a few month's back will see how it used to be. For any artist that came out of that era, just change the name, their sex and the story follows a similar hard, long path. With added longevity thrown in for good measure. If you can survive the northern clubs in England, then anything is small fry compared to the nightly gauntlet of wheel tappers and shunters.

Luckily though during this down period SKY Arts ran a new talent search show, Guitar Star. Spread over four categories of classical, acoustic, jazz and rock they held open auditions all over the UK and Ireland. The full series is on Youtube, I advise you to check it out. It's a welcome relief to see proper musicians looking to get a chance to prove themselves. No doubting that they are all talented, part of the shows remit was to have them mentored by guitar greats to prepare them for playing in an ensemble and more importantly for the winner, in front of a huge crowd on the main stage at the Latitude festival. A type of environemnt where the also rans are weeded out very quickly. A bit like these football tricksters you see doing a milliom keepy uppies. Put them into a team in front of 40,000 at Anfield and most likely they'll fall flat. So the interaction between their team mates and the crowd is vital.

Borne by nature and nurture, born to do it.

Luckily for us in the Elton world we've got somebody who fits everything I described above. From his journey to stardom, via the apprenticeship route, his ability to play with the best and in front of the biggest crowds imaginable. With staying power. Of course, Elton wears that hat very well but as this post is homing in like an over the speed limit pigeon towards the guitar you know it's only going to be about one man. Taking it as a given that all readers are huge Davey fans, I'll point this out to any waverers. The ones who dilly and dally over whether Davey is the real deal, then, now and in the future take this on board the good ship doubt. Stevie Nicks over a period of 30 years has chosen Davey to play on her solo albums. In her opinion, and who are we to argue, he's as good as the lead guitarist in the band she plays in for her day job. I'll leave that hanging in the air for the time it takes everyone to tune up and get those tones nice and smooth...

When I listen to Davey over the years I hear more than one guitarist, more than one musican. I'm not even going to go into his folk, roots or world repertoire. I'm going to stick roughly to trimmed guidelines of Guitar Star. He could have back in the day auditioned for all four categories and flew out with colours. His ability to play to the fore, aft and in tandem with Elton is incredible. If Elton is the heart, then Davey is one of the veins carrying the music to all parts of the body that are the fans. His harmonising through the various multi tracking techniques he's perfected whilst still allowing Elton to be the main man is truly unique. He found his own voice but never allowed it drown out those around him. Even when a second axe man was in the band rather than retreat to the standard rock star default setting of sulking he found new avenues (his electric playing post Caleb Quaye for instance had Alice in a wonderland and Bats in the belfry all agog to have him on their side) to develop and explore and when John Jorgenson came into the fold his rediscovery of the roots instruments helped bring Elton back full circle to his proper place. Even when an outsider entered the Elton recording world, Tom Moulton, he spotted instantly the hook that Davey's playing on record evokes and pumped it right back up to give the song that extra firepower. Like replacing machine guns with cannons, his sliding the fader up of Davey's guitar lines on Bite Your Lip for the 12'' remix in 1977 showcased his incredible slide playing.  

Fingers and other long bodily parts crossed we'll luckily have a fifth decade in which we'll get to hear another classic guitar solo or several from Davey on disc. If not, there'll be a stewards inquiry. More than the starting pistol will be fired from this end in somebodies pick one or two or a dozen favourites would be impossible. Every album he played on has them. What I want to do is show off some of cleaner sounding examples, without any major effects. Just the melody mixed with the power of message. So with Leslie amp off and the wah wah pedal undepressed, lets go for a straight run through.

I Feel Like A Bullet (In The Gun Of Robert Ford)

This is one of the simplest yet fulfilling lines he's ever done. Emotionally riveting throughout, his solitary single notes are held tight. Almost dying off naturally, his timing is exemplary in bringing them back in. When he comes around again for the final part of it, he does the simple but nonetheless essential rock trick of just upping the notes and in doing so make the plea even more full of desperation. Why desperation? Read the lyrics, as Davey always does first, then you'll  see why he does what he does. He's being used a conduit for the cries of Bernie, being the added voice (alongside Elton) of the words. If it come's from the heart then the authenticity of it can't be questioned or denied. Finishing off with a slight degree of hope, the continuous unbroken spell he weaved for that brief interlude lives on forever.

A Word In Spanish

A while back I asked Davey on his blog what was the hardest solo he ever had to put down and this was the one. One of the most stylish solo's he's ever laid down, unamplified or not. The rhythm in this one is abundant, he's feeding off the lyric again to bring a flamenco flourish that isn't a cliche nor a pastiche. Rodrigo would be proud. Breaking this down from a pure technical standpoint, something on Guitar Star that they banged on about as to whether was essential or not, it oozes a natural charisma. Every time you listen back to it something new pops out. His fingers working the bass notes, seamless changes that need several listens to really get a better understanding of. You can hear his fingers just floating over the strings. It's neither forced or fake, again the heart input makes it genuine.

The two I've mentioned are just randomly picked, I could go and on about many more. All of them in fact. But before we go I just want to revisit one more solo, this time in the environment that ultimately separates the Heinz beans from the has been's. If you have stage presence then you can work the audience like blu-tak. If you can't then you'll sink to the bottom of the blue yonder. 

Have Mercy On The Criminal (live)

Anybody familiar with the 'people's chord' knows that one down stroke of it can drown out the most potent of instruments. But thanks to clever engineering which solved the age old trick of balancing on the point of a needle or in other words getting the balance between orchestra and electric guitar into some sort of reasonable co-existence, Davey was able to deliver one of his all time live solo shots. Making that connection between the music and the audience as one solid bind. As a complete contradiction to what was playing behind him, he just goes for broke on this one. Created by Davey (as are all his solo's), he slices through with the killer axe, slowly. With each swing he digs deep into the very heart of the music, the cuts opening wider as he turns back in on the song. Pure hard rock, the sound is loud, brash and nose to nose. Like embers spreading slowly, the heat is full of intensity even at the start of it. Subtle effects are used to delay and emphasise the crucial lines, at the very end as everyone comes back in and rises up he finds a route out of there that drops down and then vanishes. A star born for the guitar...

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