Tricky things, expectations. Just look at the US Presidential election debate, where Democrats worried that if Donald Trump managed just to string some coherent sentences together people might think he’d done great.
In the case of Kirk Fletcher, my expectations were set a couple of years ago. The last time I saw him, I felt like I was being dive-bombed by a blues guitarist from another dimension. And I’m not talking meandering jazzy improvisation. I’m talking breakneck twists and turns, solos that shake your body – fireworks.
So the bar was set damned high for this gig, and if Kirk Fletcher didn’t quite hit those heights for me tonight it was still a cracking performance, and one that had an impact on fellow punters similar to my previous experience. And while I only know what the impact is on me as a non-musician, the word is that guitarists in the audience were left speechless.
|Kirk Fletcher - genial and light-fingered|
If ‘Sidetracked’ is a fun opener, ‘Funnybone’ cranks things up a gear and, after a good solo from compadre Dudley Ross, Fletcher bit by bit gets down and dirty in response. On the Latin groove of ‘Congo Square’ Ross takes another solo, before Fletcher shows off some incredibly light chords. Ross underpins this with some organ effects on rhythm guitar, and Daniel John takes a quick drum solo, but the abiding impression is of Fletcher’s lightness of touch, especially with his left hand as it flutters over the fretboard.
Fletcher is a genial, smiling figure, and generous too in the number of soloing opportunities he gives to Dudley Ross, but on ‘Natural Anthem’ Fletcher trumps him by showing off some jazzy moves. I should say that the last time I saw them play together I thought Ross was rather in awe of Fletcher, but tonight he really goes for it.
Things get a bit safe on a slow blues mid-set, and I do wonder whether Fletcher is in his comfort zone too often tonight. But things get revved up a bit by the boogie of ‘Sad Sad Sad’, on which Fletcher gets down to serious business again before handing over to John McKinsey for a bass solo.
Fletcher’s main challenge though, is his vocals. Most of the time he manages something serviceable of an Albert King/Albert Collins nature, but on the slowie ‘The Answer’ his voice wanders off key big time. He’s capable of doing it right, but it certainly needs work, and it’s maybe the prime example of where he needs to get out of that comfort zone. He didn’t become a sublime guitarist without hard work, and the same should apply to his singing.
Whatever, he gets stuck in down the home straight, delivering some pyrotechnics on ‘Baby Baby’, and having a ball working around the rousing riff of ‘El Medio Stomp’, which assuredly gets everyone going. ‘Let Me Have It All’ rounds things off with some great funky interplay between the whole band.
Meanwhile, Edinburgh blues guitar honcho Sandy Tweeddale, often seen revving it up with Blues’N’Trouble, delivers the goods in the support slot with a trio apparently put together that afternoon with minimal rehearsal. So full credit to Will Molleson on drums and Chris Agnew on bass, because the joins were scarcely visible as they scootered through a selection of covers, with Tweeddale showing off a variety of guitar styles along the way.
Highlights include a reading of ‘Every Day I Got The Blues’ that has bags of swing, not least from the rhythm section. Tweeddale goes all country on ‘Jailhouse Blues’, bringing back happy memories of Naayshville. A slide-driven, twangy rendition of ‘Rock Me Baby’ takes a new approach to the song, with great syncopation from Molleson, and on Junior Wells’ ‘Little By Little’ Tweeddale produces a fiery, guttural attack worthy of Wells’ sidekick Buddy Guy. Seeing local musos throw it together with so little rehearsal, to such good effect, is a pleasure.