- Miles Hedley
ADRIAN LEGG at Mycenae House
Any gig featuring a true virtuoso is going to be a treat. But sometimes the musical virtuosity is mirrored by a gift for story-telling and the result is an evening of sheer joy, as guitar genius Adrian Legg showed when he played Mycenae House.
Over the course of one evening, we were treated to an exhibition of incredible musicianship and song-writing interspersed with laugh-out-loud stories about chicken tikka masala, sentimental parenting, American music, tea and custard creams, the history of the waltz, prostitution in Georgian London, cambered stages, adolescent hormones, church choirs, Wittgenstein, clog-dancing and Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was as if Bert Jansch was in a cabaret double-act with Peter Ustinov.
No matter how good the stories were, however, it was the 14 self-penned songs that really made this a night to remember.
Enhancing his superlative innate talent with a customised guitar and an effects board, Legg showed why so many other guitarists rate him as the best in the business, dazzling us with the speed of his left hand, the dexterity of his finger-picking, the subtlety of his harmonics and the extraordinary way he would use the tuning pegs mid-song to create the sound of a bottleneck. It all conjoined to conjure up a sound of almost preternatural richness and purity.
Many of the tunes were inspired by his love of American vernacular music, so we were given the grand tour of the country from Hawaii to the Deep South with tunes such as Cajun Interlude.
His own early experience of playing in Irish pubs and clubs in Kilburn was also a major influence on compositions like the glorious Siobhan Kapoor and Paddy On A Train.
He then recalled a brief spell of teaching in the surprisingly jaunty Hacked-Off Boogie, celebrated a formidable headmistress in the elegiac Mrs Jack’s Last Stand, paid a moving tribute to Karen Carpenter for her version of Please Mr Postman in a song simply called Karen and “fondly dedicated” The Doorbell Song to the wandering Watchtower brigade.
Legg said he loved the blues but had never really be able to get to grip with it because his life just wasn’t that bad – “dead guinea pugs don’t cut it”. Instead, he gave us Not Remotely Blue which wonderfully captured a sense of the genre without parodying it.
The development of multi-track recording meant Legg was able to make albums featuring himself playing any number of instruments. He was too embarrassed to say that on the record sleeve so he invented an imaginary band, including a bassist called Horst Schadenfreude.
Far from getting the joke, though, some musicians thought Horst was real and even credited him on their own albums. So Legg wrote a song creating a back story in which Horst married Wittgenstein’s granddaughter Helga and became Bavaria’s clog-dancing champ before being killed by a tram and haunting Helga by dancing all night in her attic. In many ways the track is the perfect synthesis of Legg’s skills as a musician, composer and raconteur.
His own family have always inspired his compositions and Legg combined this with a lifelong love of the waltz on the beautiful A Waltz For Leah, written for a granddaughter when she was feeling sad.
He ended the show with The Elderly Jig, a gorgeous tune about the development of the waltz which brought a fabulous evening to a fitting end. The gig was a triumph for Legg - and also for Sonic Promotions and the Mycenae House team.