Review: John Etheridge at Crazy Coqs

Dave Gelly sees British guitar master John Etheridge at Crazy Coqs, the new cabaret and jazz venue in London's West End. Photo by Brian Payne

Pat Metheny, Eric Clapton, Martin Taylor and most other world-famous guitarists you can think of sing his praises, because John Etheridge is a remarkable musician. You read every day about musicians “defying  genres” and “breaking barriers”, but Etheridge seems genuinely unaware that such boundaries exist. His CV, almost at random, features Soft Machine followed by six years touring the world with Stéphane Grappelli, a long-standing duo with John Williams (exploring all kinds of things, including world music), and the Zappatistas, devoted to the music of Frank Zappa.

His solo performance at Crazy Coqs on 1 April began with Georgia On My Mind, with an excursion into Up A Lazy River (“because it seemed like a good idea”), followed by I Got Rhythm, with an excursion into the Flintstones theme (for similar reasons), Mingus's Goodbye Pork-Pie Hat, a couple of pieces by Camerounian guitarist Francis Bebey, one by Django – and so on.

In between these, while rummaging around among his various guitars and gadgets, he kept up an apparently off-the-cuff line of chat about music, people he'd played with, and life in general. Anything less like the popular image of a guitar hero it would be difficult to imagine.

The Crazy Coqs being a cabaret room just off Piccadilly Circus, with a cosmopolitan clientele, some of this probably went over a few heads, but it was so amiable that they warmed to it anyway. And the playing, making truly artistic use of technology that enables the player to build up a whole guitar orchestra by overlaying several parts, was quite stupendous.

In the second set, Etheridge introduced a singer, Vimala Rowe, who has a wonderfully expressive voice and outgoing personality. Her extravagant hand gestures take a bit of getting used to, but she already has all the poise of a mature artist.

Towards the end, Etheridge announced that his next engagement was with a reconstituted Soft Machine, aboard a “Prog Rock” Caribbean cruise, headlined by Yes.

You couldn't make it up.

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