Christchurch Folk Music Club

Fingerpicking Delights VII 2022 6th November 2022

Fingerpicking Delights VII Reviewed by Sarah Maindonald In ancient near Eastern and Israelite culture and literature, the number Seven communicated a sense of ‘fullness’. Tony Hale’s seventh rendition of ‘Fingerpicking Delights’ continued his tradition of excellence and a complete musical encounter resulting in a ‘full’ and satisfied audience.

Tony and Kristina Godfrey kicked off the evening with Diamonds and Rust by Joan Baez. A favourite of them both, Tony and Kristina communicated a convincing musical narrative of Joan and her relationship with Bob Dylan. This piece was full of pathos, Kristina recreating the endearing picture of ‘snow in his head’, modulating the intensity of her voice for good effect as we were reminded of the gap between hope and reality. The punchy last line, ‘I’ve already paid’ concluded this synchrony of vocals and guitar. Marcie, by Joni Mitchell, followed. Another version of a woman scorned, this time the culprit Leonard Cohen. Tony explained her open tunings, with their repeated chord patterns and semi-tone slides, as an adaptation to childhood polio which at age nine weakened her left arm. These were well executed and the harmonious dance between the guitar and vocals created a generous contextualizing of Marcie’s story. There was an ease of transitions in the range required in this piece. Kristina’s voice echoed a pleasing lilt, although some transitions appeared easier than others. The images created in our musical imagination of ‘reds and greens, window shopping in the rain’ ultimate testament to the vocal control evident and mood created by the evocative fingerpicking.

A second song, by Mitchell – For the Roses captured again the pain of a failed relationship – this time referring to the ultimate decline of James Taylor under the influence of significant drug use. The guitar transitions again easily synched with Kristina’s vocals in which the disruptions in relationships, reflected in the syncopated rhythm and minor key changes, created a haunting musicality. Despite being a well-loved favourite, there was a freshness to John Lennon’s Imagine, the conclusion to this set. The song of the guitar gave a powerful resonance to the soulful message. Pace and rhythm were masterful although some of the vocal trills were a little superfluous. Although invited to sing along, the audience were a little sombre singing with a steady murmur, perhaps indicative of the state of the world at the moment and the eternal significance of the lyrics. Overall, the ease apparent in Tony and Kristina’s combination is evident as vocals and guitar synced perfectly.

Compere Neil Pickard’s banter quickly lifted the mood, his ‘Neologisms’ hard to replicate! David Smith was very much at ease introducing his selection of classical guitar pieces dating from John Dowland in the late 1500s. His skilful offerings suggested man and instrument had become one. We were treated to Tarrega’s Alhambre, taking us on a playful and unpredictable journey, easily transporting us to the palaces of Spain in the Romantic period. My favourite of the set was Mrs Winter’s Jump. Reminiscent of Elizabethan times, harpsichord and lute appear, ushering us into a world of courtly dances and covert looks. In JS Bach’s Prelude, there is a duality to the lines similar to cat and mouse capers as one line follows the other, ready to pounce. One can lose oneself in Bach. Villa-Lobos’ Prelude #1 took us to Brazil. This piece speaks of passion, deliberate contrasts and suggestive ‘plays’ communicating a night full of promise as swirling flamenco dancers full of colour appeared to dance between the frets.

The anonymous Romanza provided the perfect end to this set with introductory rounds of sound and David’s obvious expertise allowing us to float to a conclusion. Compere Neil kept up the banter, a little risqué at times but always with heart, keeping us connected and with a wry smile. Skilled entertainer and newcomer Sue Galvin was next up. Introduced by Neil as ‘spontaneous and witty’, ‘providing commentary on the human condition’, she did not disappoint. Her banter with Tony was a feminist’s delight. Sue’s warmth and humour was engaging as did reading earlier about her antics with a possum in a past performance and her recounting of a particular performance at Takaka’s Mussel Inn. A rather sobering and yet intriguing introduction.

Sue treated us to a number of pieces expanding on our various and sometimes extreme attitudes to love. This included our 14-year-old selves, full of hope to the more cynical and fear tainted ‘When you are old and grey’ (Lehrer). Maybe it’s her day job as a clinical psychologist, but Sue maintained a tone of cheerful pessimism throughout, entertaining us with a delightful delivery capturing the bravado and necessary self-delusion needed to age hopefully. The trill in her voice created a sense of vulnerability and authenticity which enhanced her performance. Don’t Treat Your Man Like a Dog (Saffire/The Uppity Blues Women) was true to form.

Sue described this piece as ‘harsh towards men’ and yet the bluesy protectionism was ultimately about the female condition, an irony Sue communicated skilfully as we were informed we would ‘never find (love) in a singles bar but rather we go to the pound. Sue managed her vocals and guitar playing with ease, and any stumbles seemed to add to the charm of her delivery. Waltzing with Bears (Suess/Poddany) finished the first half of this Fingerpicking programme. A spirited performance picturing our slightly demented but endearing Uncle Walter as he waltzed with bears. This lovely notion of waltzing with imaginary bears of all sorts invited us into the whimsy and pathos of the flights of fancy that come with old age. Sue connected with the audience, and anyone that can get a room full of people to sing ‘WaWaWa’ on a Sunday evening has true spirit. Sue was well placed in the programme, energizing the audience as we smile in the face of our frailty. After the break, Steph McEwin opened the second half of the show.

A blues and soul singer influenced by Mahalia Jackson, Steph started with the Mamas and Papas hit, California Dreaming, this 60’s favourite resonating with the audience. There was depth to Steph’s delivery and the timbre of her voice was appealing, but there was something a little drawn out about her performance. Her line of introduction ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’ felt somewhat inauthentic, which perhaps coloured my listening to the rest of her pieces. The audience was somewhat lukewarm in their general response. Steph’s guitar playing in the Blind Faith standard, Can’t Find My Way Back Home, was possibly more convincing than the vocals, although the final notes of this song were quite beautiful. I found a certain vocal humming quality throughout a little distracting. Praise the Water – although promising, seemed to ramble somewhat and didn’t quite catch the audience.

Graham Wardrop was the welcome final act. Despite being hampered by laryngitis and choosing not to sing he was extraordinary! His complete set was guitar-playing Decades of being a luthier have enabled an expertise in the dynamics of the guitar technically and structurally which is very evident. A lifetime of passion was evident in the delivery of an Englishman in New York, as magic slid off his guitar with ease. Finesse doesn’t have to be loud but needs to be precisely placed. Graham’s limber dancing fingerpicking presented us with skilful slides interspersed with soundboard tapping. the odd blues note a tribute to New York. The audience were won over and enthusiastic in their response to his expertise. The jazz standard, Don’t Know Why, was next. For the second time in this concert, man and guitar seemed as one. Graham’s fingerpicking presented a whimsical quality in delivery, captivating the audience as they hung on each note.

Tenderly, presented a complex combination of strumming, picking and tapping, and amazingly, simultaneous descant on top of the melody. This generated a carefree and beguiling ease of ‘strolling down the avenue’. Graham used pacing for effect with a harmonic finish delivered by nimble fingers. The emotional highlight for me, a bringing back of times of terror, was Love Lives On. Graham wrote this in preparation to perform for families of Christchurch earthquake victims, a concert ultimately cancelled due to Covid. This brought me to tears, as it captured the exquisite pain of loss and suffering many in Christchurch have endured including those of the Al Noor and Linwood mosques. It also paid testament, however, to the love that enshrines our memories. Graham’s guitar plucked soulfully at our heart strings. His next selection provided something lighter to follow and what better than a Beatles number.

All My Loving brought equilibrium, and it didn’t matter that Graham was ‘sotto voce’ as his guitar sang for him. The audience expressed due appreciation. Vincent, Don McLean’s ode to Vincent van Gogh, could not fail to be a winner, with Graham planting the melody into his rhythm and transferring the colours into notes. This piece captured again the juxtaposition of beauty and suffering. Graham captured the ‘if only’ present in this piece, he entranced the audience with his artistry, and it felt close to perfection. The last note was, simply, miraculous. Classical Gas, which he has performed with the Christchurch Civic Orchestra in a Hagley Park concert, was like hearing it for the first time. Graham’s diverse range of skill was obvious, his guitar communicating glee yet with the softness of silver. Graham seemed surprised by the audience’s hope for an encore. He obliged with Georgia On My Mind with its absolutely stunning string bending, slides and hammer-ons. It seems he has given his life to the guitar. This has resulted in a remarkable gift to audiences of clear synergy and level of skill. Graham was described by the compere as a down to earth, humble and generous person. This generosity emanates through his playing.

Gracious in his spoken conclusion of the concert, Graham acknowledged Tony, Neil and Steve Stern on sound. This was a real tribute to Tony’s selection of artists, teamwork and knitting together of a full programme. The audience were fully present and engaged to the last note of the concert. This is an annual gift to the community where the range of what’s possible in fingerpicking guitar again delighted us.

Photos by Howard Pettigrew

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