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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
JEFF BECK AND HIS BAND Ronnie Scott’s, London, November 27th 2007
Jeff Beck
For those as ignorant and ill-informed as I, Jeff Beck no doubt resides in the history book of time, nestled away on a page somewhere between the cancellation of TSR 2 in April 1965 and the discovery of Donald Crowhurst's abandoned catamaran in the mid-Atlantic in July 1969. During this time he had shone as lead guitarist of the Yardbirds, established his lifelong reputation for being ‘difficult’ and scored an enduring pop hit with ‘Hi ho silver lining’ (mention of which in his presence, or so I’m told, being likely to lead to ‘difficulties’). Interestingly Beck seems to have excised it from his past. The B side of the single that can’t be named was ‘Beck’s Bolero’, played by a prototype of Led Zeppelin, featuring Beck, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Keith Moon – a song widely regarded as opening the door for both ‘progressive’ rock, and ‘heavy metal’. Beck had also formed and disbanded his first Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Nicky Hopkins and drummer Micky Waller, and was on the verge of creating Beck, Bogert & Appice, which to be honest is where I, and I suspect many others left him.
Despite having twenty or so albums to his name, commercial success has never beckoned for Beck (oops), although his standing as a guitarist (and his ‘difficult’ reputation) has steadily increased. I recently read some interesting observations about him in a little book by John Perry on the recording of Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland.
Beck Yardbirds
The Yardbirds with Jeff Beck (second from the right)
Whilst British guitarists such as Eric Clapton were running scared of Hendrix and desperately trying to copy some of his ‘moves’, Beck was actually a source of inspiration for the American newcomer, who studied Beck’s Yardbird recordings closely in order to understand his unorthodox techniques. Beck, says Perry, “was always the quirkiest and least predictable of players. Still is.” Something which is reflected in the variability of his more recent albums, and his flirtations (not always successful) with various musical styles. Consistent however has been the quality of his guitar work – he’s picked up four Grammy awards for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, the last two in 2001 and 2003. And it’s probably true to say that he is a performer worthy of the description, ‘legendary’.
Ronnie Scott So despite my lack of familiarity with his recent work the chance to see him play in the intimate surroundings of London’s famous Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club was too much to resist, even if we broke the Whiskyfun budget to get tickets for the first of a five night residency. Some actually questioned Beck’s jazz credentials – should he be playing on such hallowed ground? And surprisingly not a few quite spiteful reviews followed from dyed-in-the-wool hard-core jazzers.
Well from where I was sitting I would say his set was no more than jazz-tinged – he is at heart a blues player – but that didn’t stop it from being one of the most engrossing sets I’ve seen for a long time, particularly with such a close-up view of a master guitar technician at work. I was even prepared to forgive Mr Beck for his Ronnie Wood hairdo (or does Ronnie have a Jeff Beck thatch?) and ill-chosen waistcoat (skinny arms – ugh!). With him were on drums the rhythmically complex Vinnie Colaiuta (whose recording credits range from Joni Mitchell to Megadeth, with a lot of Frank Zappa in between) keyboardist Jason Rebello (perhaps a tad intrusive I thought), and bassist Tal Wilkenfeld. Wilkenfield is really the surprise package of the night.
I’m sure she must be fed up with people commenting on her youthful appearance, but the fact of the matter is that she looks about fifteen and plays the bass as though she had fifty years’ experience (and she’s obviously a distinguished graduate of the Bass Players Facial Grimaces Academy). Just out-of-this-world playing – and the way that she and Beck are wired together is remarkable to observe.
Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck and Tal Wilkenfield
For all the guitar technician brooded over a rack of axes at the side of the stage Beck played a single Stratocaster all night which he barely had to retune, despite the work he put it though.
He got sounds from every part of his instrument – it was almost as if he was part of it, or it was part of him. He began the set with ‘Beck’s Bolero’ – frankly almost the only tune I recognised all night (I did pick up ‘A day in the life’ at the end), and continued playing a lot of the songs that can be found on his Official Bootleg album, recorded last year with almost the same line-up (well, Pino Palladino was on bass, but beggars can’t be choosers). Buy it now – there’s still time to get it for Christmas. And he spoke only twice: first to introduce vocalist Imogen Heap to the stage for one song then later for encore ‘Rollin’ and tumblin’. That was probably enough, because on this occasion he simply let his guitar do all the talking – and what a conversation it was. And thank heavens no one shouted for him to play you-know-what.
- Nick Morgan.

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