Here’s how it begins: two men (pictured above) step onstage in the half-light. They listen intently as they tune their acoustic guitars, solely by ear. An announcement on the PA system reminds the audience of the Pizza Express’s (admirable) “club silence policy.” Stage lights up. The music begins. Francis Bebey’s Sangara. This civilized conversation in music between two of the world’s great guitarists starts quietly and grows steadily. They have different ways of showing the pleasure they get from their unsurpassable craft: Williams expresses it with a wry smile, Etheridge is much more demonstrative. As here:
The rest of first half of last night’s gig built to a satisfying close. Malinke Guitars imitated the multi-layered sound of the 27-string kora, and was followed in conclusion by Ludwig’s Horse. This was a new commission, written for this duo from Paul Hart. Etheridge and Williams appeared to be relishing, lappping up its fiendish, varied technical and musical challenges.
Williams and Etheridge can deliver and win an audience over with the devilishly complex. But they also convince the listener with the simple things. Nobody floats a melody in tenor range with the beauty and line of Williams. I can’t get enough of the subtlety with which Etheridge states the simplest of phrases, and then trades it back and forth. These are joyous sounds. The programme in both sets had astonishing variety.
And as for what one sees, last night my indirect view of the stage turned out to be more of an inspiration than a problem. What I could see from the shadows was refracted through a couple, who were clearly getting on well. They were leaning in towards each other as the evening progressed. Perhaps increased closeness is a natural response to musical dialoguing of this quality.
Just a thought: dating couples, couples who want to communicate better …. ANY people who want to be brought closer together will find inspiration from the duo of John Williams and John Etheridge.
I reckon those three categories include 100% of the population. This was an evening impossible not to enjoy.