Live Review: Holywell Music Room

As Oxford descends on the RAG Ball, I head to the Holywell Music Room, for a demonstration that acoustic guitar virtuosos come in many shapes and sizes, and indeed that they can play in groups of one, two and four.  Gordon Giltrap’s distinctive brand of blues particularly delights; Ray Burley’s performances range from Bach to Brazil; John Etheridge somehow manages to bring the sound of steel pans out of the only electric guitar of the night, and Clive Carroll shares compositions of Renaissance and Celtic influence, as well as others that sound impossible to pin. 

How John Etheridge differentiates what I’ve just heard from classical music is in no small part down to roots.  Ray Burley “is pretty much a proper classical guitarist, Clive was trained as a proper classical guitarist but then he went native, Gordon and I have no training at all.”  As far as Etheridge is concerned, “Clive covers it all”, in part due to a move to steel strings, as they better suited the solo guitar pieces he was writing alongside orchestral works, and in part due to influences that “can be anything from a 12th Century Round right the way through to Sigur Rós”. 

Carroll has a First Class Degree in Composition and Guitar from Trinity College London, and technique which often dazzles, indeed making a huge impression on the 16 year old me, but isn’t interested in being ‘flash’ – “I just would like to play what I hear.”  One piece, ‘Eliza’s Eyes’, is inspired by capturing the sound of a mellow rock band on solo guitar, and everything he writes is committed to paper before being played on the instrument. 

If you chose RAG on Saturday, which I’m sure was very different to (but just as excellent as) this show, and you want to hear creative and virtuosic guitar playing, where do you start?  Clive gives me his top five introductory albums: Intuite – Pierre Bensusan; Aerial Boundaries – Michael Hedges; Friday Night in San Fransisco – McLaughlin, Di Meola, De Lucia; Bert and John – Bert Jansch, John Renbourn; and One Quiet Night – Pat Metheny.  Happy listening!