Dizzying mix of talent

Angelo Palladino and John Gomm perform at the Guitarfest Villa Marina.

Angelo Palladino and John Gomm perform at the Guitarfest Villa Marina.

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dESCRIBING the line up to this year’s Guitarfest felt more like describing a World Cup rugby fixture than a musical extravaganza, with one half of the line up hailing from Australia & the others a veritable British Lions team of virtuoso talent.

The contrast on offer didn’t just end with the players’ nationality though.

The styles and blends of music on offer over the weekend were dizzying and offered something awe-inspiring and inspirational for all who witnessed it.

Angelo Palladino kicked things off on the Friday night, bringing his own raw mix of blues rock ’n’ roll, with a voice drenched in cigarettes and whiskey, followed by the sheer musical sorcery of the multi-talented Jon Gomm.

That’s a heady mix right there in itself, the Rolling Stones-esque figure of Palladino playing some of the best authentic, ferocious hard-edged blues you’re likely to hear, followed by a one-man symphony, fusing so many different strands of music together and straddling the gulf between blues and drum ’n’ bass, western rock ’n’ roll and Asian influences to create something unique and captivating.

A truly sumptuous feast for your ears, and yet this was only the start of the weekend.

Saturday brought a classical masterclass from the Australian Craig Ogden and the Brit Gary Ryan.

From the seat-of-your-pants soloing and riffing of the night before, the crowd was treated to an altogether different beast, the impressive discipline of the classical guitarist.

Taut and precise, and yet still flowing with musical elegance, Ogden and Ryan played together at first, creating something almost orchestral between just the two of them, before each performer played their own solo spots.

Yet another night of stunning musicianship which left the audience in rapture.

And yet, that was not all. Sunday, the last night, brought us the Australian guitarists Derrin Nauendorf and Jeff Lang.

Nauendorf played songs from his last couple of albums, including Shipwrecked, the song which had a lot of exposure on Radio 2, and for the most part the songs were soulful and sparse, and backed up by his stunning guitar playing.

Blues and roots combined with his Springsteen/Dylan-esque songs made for a very forceful show.

However, the night belonged to the enigmatic Lang.

Dressed in a flat cap and playing a custom built lap guitar, which he christened ‘The Coffin’, Lang took the crowd down some very dark roads with his haunting slide guitar work and songs of death and lost hope.

As these things tend to go, the darker the song, the more immersed you seem to get, and by the end of the night, Lang had everyone hanging on to each long, drawn out note, drowned in sorrow and remorse.

So caught up in the set was I that during one song I didn’t take note of the title, it had pauses and silent gaps so exquisite and gut-wrenching that you could almost hear people breathing in between them, and at its climax it wasn’t so much ending a song as breaking a spell. Stunning stuff.

Last year’s festival introduced me to the remarkable Dan Arborise, which left me touched beyond words with the quality and depth of his music.

This year, I thought that nothing could really top that for me, personally, only to witness something as intense as Jeff Lang.

I can only wonder what next year’s festival will bring. Roll on 2012!

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