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Friday, October 18, 2013

James Birkett & Bradley Johnston @ Lit & Phil.

James Birkett (guitar) & Bradley Johnston (guitar)
(Review by Russell/Photo by Jerry)
Bradley Johnston first came to the attention of Bebop Spoken Here at Blaydon Jazz Club  playing a couple of numbers during the interval with James Birkett. At the time Johnston was about fourteen or fifteen years of age. He made a huge impression then, now, three or four years later, something of a veteran, he continues to win plaudits for his fearless, yet sensitive approach to some challenging material. He has enrolled on the BMus degree programme at Sage Gateshead (his tutor is none other than Dr.J.Birkett) and can be heard gigging around town with Birkett or in the company of his fellow students.
This lunchtime date at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle was another marker along the way. A full house, everyone listening intently, the dynamic duo could be forgiven for having stage fright. So, what did they do? They dusted down Dick McDonough’s StageFright! Nerves settled – it looked like there were none – Birkett announced that Johnston would take Joe Venuti’s violin part on Stringing the Blues, Birkett later suggested he himself could be ‘Blind Willie’ Birkett!
The duo played acoustic or (lightly amplified) electric guitars. The material was a delight; Wave, Morris Dance/Fisco Place (Bireli Lagrene), John Lewis’ elegant waltz Skating on Central Park. Birkett, the master guitarist, made brief, informative announcements and then proceeded to play classic jazz guitar – the pioneers of the twenties and thirties, bossa, Hot Club, bop to contemporary hero Pat Metheny. This would have been a solo master class but we had Bradley Johnston sitting alongside him so we got twice the brilliance for our money. Worth every penny.
Birkett took the time to introduce Johnston’s new guitar prior to the Lagrene number. Made by South Korean luthier Jeongwoo Cho, the Maccaferri-style instrument sounded great, as did Birkett’s. The applause said it all. The hour long survey of jazz guitar included a terrific take on Anthropology, so-sensitive lead from Johnston on Farmer’s Trust (P.Metheny) and the finale – Chick Corea’s Spain. It works every time – huge applause.
An after thought…at the Newcastle International Jazz Festival (yes, there was such a thing) and at gigs in the bar of the University Theatre (now Northern Stage) a then young guitarist made a great impression. He went on to play with Ian Carr. His name? Mark Wood. I’d be willing to bet that Bradley Johnston goes on to make a name for himself. For up to date news of Birkett and Johnston gigs check out www.jamesbirkettmusic.com
Russell.
          


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