Friday, November 24, 2023

Philip Sayce - Oran Mor, Glasgow, 23 November 2023

Philip Sayce comes onstage sporting a fetching hat, and with a scarf dangling from the bottom of the 1963 Stratocaster he calls Big Daddy. He embarks on a bit of star-spangled lead guitar fluttering just to get warmed up, and then bursts into the choppy, neck-snapping, crunking, and frankly irresistible ‘Out Of My Mind’.  He cracks out a couple of hair-raising guitar breaks, then encourages a bit of handclapping, at which point I half-expect him to drawl “Move over Rover, and let Philip take over.”  You know what I’m talkin’ about?  But instead he dives into a grinding riff as the launchpad for a rollercoaster of finger-blurring, sky scraping fretwork, and ultimately a whammy bar cranking close.
You get the picture?  Philip Sayce is a five star, 24 carat axe fandangler, with a Hendrix influence
Philip Sayce - the quickness of the hand deceives the eye
pinned proudly on his sleeve, whose raison d’être is to try and set fire to that venerable ol’ Strat with just his fingertips.  And to anyone who might be inclined to sneer at that, I’d just say this – he does it very, very entertainingly.
Using a grinding blues intro as a springboard for the punchy rock-funk of ‘Powerful Thing’, he bounces around like an excitable puppy to the jabs and thrusts of rock solid drummer Bryan Head and bassist Sam Bolle, evidently having a whale of a time himself.  Then on the rolling stomp of ‘Bitter Monday’ – which, like several other tunes here, has a plenty infectious hook – he squeezes out a squelchy wah-wah solo, before letting loose a big drone of feedback, then fanning the strings with his right hand in a way fit to give him friction burns.
The way that howl of feedback gets a cheer of its own is testament to the healthy quotient of guitar fanatics in the house, and as the set progresses it’s clear their Christmas has come early.  Personally, as our Phil embarks on the slow, spacey blues of ‘Once’, with a whammy-warping opening to his solo, I’m fixated on two questions:  a) does he use a pick?  And b), if he does, where does it disappear to when he doesn’t?  It takes me half the show to be sure that yes, he does put a plectrum to work alongside his apparently double-jointed fingers, and the rest of the set to spot the sleight of hand with which he tucks it away.
But y’know, it’s also only fair to note that the fella has a good voice, showing off great phrasing on an SRV-like reading of ‘Blues Ain’t Nothin’ But A Good Woman On Your Mind’.  And he shows
Big Daddy goes strapless
a handy way with a rhythmic vocal too, on ‘Beautiful’, another chunk of stop-time funk into which they pump a pint of very ‘Hey Joe’-like bassy riffing.
Sayce is capable of slowing things down, as on ‘Aberystwyth’ (named after his birthplace) with its nicely developed themes, and the meditative ‘5.55’.  Bursts of scurrying prestidigitation are never too far away though, much as I might wish he could cool his jets and show a bit more patience at times.  He does show a handy way with some volume controlled weeping on ‘5.55’ though, along with a spell of near-silent picking à la Alan Nimmo of King King.
The closing stretch brings more tough stop-start funkiness in the form of ‘Morning Star’, with its whirlpool of a solo.  It segues into ‘Spanish Castle Magic’ in monster riffing fashion just to underline the Jimi influence, Sayce whipping Big Daddy from his shoulders to scrape the neck off the low ceiling, which really is no way to treat an expensive musical instrument (© Jim Steinman).  Needless to say, the crowd go nuts.
They encore with ‘As The Years Go Passing By’, a song recalled from his days working with Jeff Healey many moons ago, though I’d have preferred him to render it with Gary Moore’s restraint.  But hey, they rock out with ‘I’m Going Home’ to finish on a decisive upbeat note, Sayce even taking a wander off stage – though not far, ‘cause his Strat ain’t cordless, remember?
On one level the whole focus on wang dang guitar wrangling isn’t entirely my thing.  I’d prefer a bit more focus on the songs, and a bit more structure.  On the other hand though – hot damn but Philip Sayce puts on a show.

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