The revival of Les Cousins's spirit in a one-night showcase was obliged to call time early, with a packed house only just about getting its head around the commanding, otherworldly presence of one of the most elusive legends in British folk and blues, the guitarist Davy Graham. It was his first major appearance in years, and it's apt that it was under the auspices of Les Cousins; the original club was on his circuit in the early Sixties.
"He was the person who beat a path for everyone else. He had an astonishing imagination. And he was on his own." This, from Martin Carthy, sums up a man who was a god to the guitar gods of the Sixties - Clapton, Page et al - and whose music reflected travels in the Mediterranean, north Africa and India well before the hippie trail. He brought Eastern concepts to Western folk and blues long before anyone else, and "Anji" stands as one of his generation's signature tunes.
But there was none of that auspicious past here. Instead, we had a very private musician's internal monologue with present preoccupations, spread over two short sets of largely instrumental performances that sounded like 16th-century dances crossed with north African rhythms, with Spanish flourishes.
They came in rapid succession, coalescing and splintering at dazzling speed. Graham's is a world of strange tunings, and they summon up hitherto unknown spirits from his guitar. It sounds as if he's playing several opposing things at once, bargaining with the possibilities of what one hand will do and where the other will go.
He retains an astonishing imagination, still beating a path. Clothed in long, white Islamic-style dress, with his peppery beard and cropped hair framing monumental features, he projects a humorous indifference to his guitar guru status. Part Zen monk, stoned Brahmin and Van Gogh self-portrait, his stony visage seems aged but essentially unchanged from those early album covers. It's not so much a performance he gives, but a stream of consciousness that flashes with moments of edgy genius.
When he plays, it's as if he's battling with conflicting forces rather than just making music. His intense gaze is inward. The creative spirit and volatility of his musical exploration is in a different world altogether to the one the night's other, much younger performers inhabit. All the furniture of a song seems to be pushed aside, the space cleared with teetering-on-the-edge tunings and conflicting rhythmic forces to make intimate, naked forms of music that hold a greater human weight than accomplishment and technique.
If there are more of these Les Cousins revival nights, with Graham in the mood to play, concert-goes are advised to clear their diaries.Reuse content