Adrian Legg

Lewes Guitar Festival 2005, Wednesday 3rd August
All Saints Centre, Lewes

Wisely avoiding the Aubergine Enchilladas, the Turnip Bake and the ugli fruit gateau, I arrived in good time to join the small queue at the door for this momentous evening.

I'd seen the man in question playing live in Brighton a mere 23 years before, in the days when the Springfield Tavern not only still existed (now the execrable Open House), but was host to an impressive and thriving Folk Club, where Adrian Legg performed. His show then consisted of one Ovation guitar, one combo amp with the reverb turned up full, and what seemed like 35 fingers. The fingerpicking/Cajun/blues style of the man was vastly impressive; the fact that he'd changed all the machine heads for tuning pegs was weird; his mid-song, full flight retuning of the strings was hilarious, astonishing and little short of brilliant. Slack-jawed, I watched with the sort of awe reserved for performances such as that of Stanley Jordan on The Tube circa 1985 (tapping the fretboard to create tunes over droned chords) and the lightning speed of Al di Meola. I bought the tape immediately and listened intently for months. After a while, I chose to share this wizardry with a well-known Christian musician and brother (and fellow Dunamis team member at the time), and lent him the tape, which, of course, I have never seen again. You know who you are, Tal Fahy. Peace and love, man.

Anyway, 23 years later, I was to see Mr Legg again. We got front row seats, to make sure we missed none of the action, and wondered at the array of knobs, switches, footpedals, accelerators and cabling which lay before us.

Unannounced, Adrian Legg wandered on, muttering something about forgotten socks and plugged his unique unmarked guitar in. Twice. It looked like a solid body, but had a sound hole aiming towards the neck. It had pickups, and some tiny controls, but it also had other pickups (or was it one of those clever dual-purpose bridges?) It had a second cable insertion point, which was neither standard jack nor midi. Best of all, it had tuning pegs where the machine heads might have been.

At first pluck, it was clear that the main things that had changed in the intervening years was his approach to sound enhancement, and to cranial grooming. The finger action was just electrifying, and the tunes clear, catchy and utterly accessible. It took only a couple of numbers for me to recognise that what we had here was an acoustic guitar amplified and soaked in more reverb than you could shake a Grand Canyon at, and also a synthesiser controlling guitar (not a synthaxe, you understand), which was driving organ and string sounds. Foot pedals provided an octaver, echo and a drum machine (mercifully quiet), and the bare-footedness allowed some sly control-adjusting mid song.

'Cheat!' no-one cried, but some thought. But then I watched what he was doing. Guitar tuning never reached standard EADGBE all night; right hand broken fingerpick/pluck; left hand extreme chord shapes and lead licks, plus regular retuning; left foot volume, synth and octaver swell pedals; right foot overall volume and chorus depth swell pedals (including big toe/next one along changing tempo or vibrato rates as we went along). Plus keeping the rhythm going, not forgetting the tune and keeping a straight face despite the monster achievement of it all.

Perhaps two missed twiddles all night long is pretty impressive for any guitarist, and this bloke was attempting some tricky stuff, so he did very well. His 'thank you's were a bit predictable, but his introductions were dry and witty and as well rehearsed as his playing. And only the complications of having to remove his in-ear monitoring, double-unplug the guitar, loosen the strap and wandering about barefoot prevented him from returning to an enraptured, whistling, whooping audience for the much-called-for encore.

My only gripe was that no-one built the man up at the outset: 'Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Mr Adrian Legg' might have been minimal but surely not too much to ask? No-one knew how long the interval would be, until some bloke started shouting in the bar about 'two minutes, now'; and at the very end a man in a tank top (I kid you not) came on, sat where our hero had been until that very moment had been causing startledge and wonderment, and apologised that the tickets for tomorrow were sold out, but perhaps we'd like to come to the all day gig on Saturday?

But this is pish and fie on't. Not only a fine, memorable evening of great music and virtuoso guitar playing, I also managed to have a conversation with another audience member about the validity of allowing women to pray aloud in public prayer meetings, since, this bloke asserted quite strongly, it could be a form of teaching, which amounted to having authority over any men present, and should therefore be discouraged, since the Bible is quite clear on the matter. How did that happen?