The man who invented the long guitar lead so he could roam about and produce his guitar histrionics. He was the ultimate showman and way ahead of his time!! In the 1950s he was a real pioneer. Just listen to that ‘Space Guitar’ from 1954 – the reverb, echo and effects.
I remember buying John’s first album way back in 1966. He and Bert Jansch and Davy Graham were leading the British contemporary Folk scene. I used to go up to Les Cousins and Bunjies to see them. Mesmerising.
A little later, when Pentangle were off the ground, I used to go to the basement of the Three Horses pub on Tottenhan Court Road, where Pentangle would meet up for a free concert. Fabulous days.
John was a master guitarist and a charming, self-deprecating man.
I went to Leeds to see Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and John was there. After the gig we were both standing in line to get albums signed and I was chatting to him. He was in awe of Jack. A little while later I went to see Roy Harper at the Royal Festival Hall and John was one of the many performing guests. As I was coming out I bumped into him and we had a little natter about Jack and Roy. Shortly afterwards he sadly died.
Today I will play some delightful music by John and think about the good times.
I love guitar playing. When it comes to guitar playing I have seen all the greats up close playing in small halls – from Jimi Hendrix to Bert Jansch, Jimmy Page to Peter Green, Davy Graham to Eric Clapton; but there is one who stands out for me. The sheer brilliance is beyond anything else I have seen. What Nick can do with a guitar is magical.
The strange thing is that the bending of the strings, the tuning and retuning of strings within songs, the creation of new upside down chords and even the surround sound delay is never a gimmick. It isn’t showing off. It actually works to create great music and the tricks are integral parts of the songs that always add to the composition. Nick expands upon the possibility and generates extensions of improbability.
I have only ever seen one person capable of such a thing and he was Jimi Hendrix. Nick’s limitation, as with Jimi, is merely the extent of his imagination. It goes without saying that Nick’s imagination is of the scope of galaxies. It is phenomenal.
I have been fortunate enough to observe these prodigious talents develop over decades and I never get tired of the crispness and range that those fingers tease or pound out of that instrument. He can make the guitar thunder or trill with delicate melodies. Nick produces music you can get lost in.
If it were only the guitar playing it would be wonderful but limited. But it is so much more. Nick marries this instrumental genius to a voice that is incredible in range and texture and a song-writing ability that is up there with the best. He now has a catalogue of brilliant songs that would challenge any great songwriter of our time barring only a few. The content is both poetic and meaningful. What more could you possibly ask for?
Nick’s live performances are impressive. He is a showman who deploys with and cutting humour along with sharp observation. He is a warm, sensitive but forceful man whose sensibilities are complex and always intelligent and forthright. You never get short-changed at a Nick gig. He puts everything into it.
The one mystery surrounding Nick’s career concerns the level of success he has so far achieved. It boggles me to think that he has not risen to the heights, received the recognition and walked away with the awards. He surely deserves it. His time will undoubtedly come. Skills like his do not go unnoticed forever.