Peter Green / Guildford Folk & Blues Festival

There is no smarter move in the music business than getting out while still at the top. By accident rather than design, Fleetwood Mac's founder Peter Green did just that in 1970 after three years, during which his creative spark took the original line-up of the band out of blues clubs in back-rooms of British pubs and into the concert halls and pop- singles charts of the world. Sadly, rock stardom damaged Green.

Drug-related health problems and tabloid myths have plagued him since. Depending on your choice of reading matter, he's been reported as mad, bad and dead in the past 20 years. Inconspicuously, he returned to the stage in the early 1980s, but for the rest of the time, didn't even own a guitar.

Not surprisingly, the 6,000-strong crowd at Guildford was ecstatic at the prospect of his return, and it duly erupted as he sauntered on stage with an unassuming gait. Dressed in black and wearing a bandanna, he was in Van Morrison's league in terms of girth, but the charisma endures.

The sound could have been better for the first number - an Otis Rush blues track called "It Takes Time" - and it took most of this for the mixing desk to get their act together. When they did, Green's vocal sound was still rich but now also invested with a real feeling of laidback world- weariness.

Co-guitarist Nigel Watson was a sympathetic sparring partner, who took most of the solos in the first few songs, presumably to allow Green time to settle into the performance. When Green soloed, the tone of his black Gibson jazz guitar was lighter and thinner than the fat sound he coaxed from his old 1959 Les Paul. He does not bend notes more than a semitone now.

After a slow but slick version of "Black Magic Woman" came a Watson song, "The Indians", featuring some neat Eagles-ish hooks. But the performance really got into gear with a speedy version of Jimi Hendrix's "Can You See Me", Green noticeably chilling out on a pale blue Stratocaster.

A two-number acoustic spot followed. Watson and Green duetted on Robert Johnson's "From Four 'til Late" before Peter switched to harmonica and sang "Steady Rollin' Man" faithfully. When there's no need for his voice to strain, its pitching and subtle vibrato is now more accurate and interesting than in the Fleetwood Mac days.

The 1996 version of "Albatross" was not quite as serene as its forebear, but the evening's moment of greatest poetic resonance was reserved for "Green Manalishi". Just as the day went to sleep on the festival site, the guitarist hammered out the opening chords to the song that marked the beginning of a prolonged and real dialogue between Green and his demons.

The encore was Freddie King's "Goin' Down". As Green took several solos, you'd have been pushed to find a guitarist more happily engrossed in his instrument, which, in itself, must be one of the happiest musical spectacles of the year.

MARTIN CELMINS

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