May 2003

The Brook

Southampton’s “The Brook” was well packed for Jan Akkerman’s gig on 2 May. The host introduced Jan as his favourite guitarist….well, favourite Dutch guitarist….well, favourite Dutch guitarist called Jan! He noted that not everyone present had seen Jan before, and that, joking aside, there were no words he could say that would do him justice. Jan and the band were then given a loud and enthusiastic welcome to the stage.

The opening piece, Jan deliberated, was called “Between the Sheets” or “Between the Sheep”. Then, with an aside to “Abandon Sheep!” (which works very well in a Dutch accent), the music began. The second piece took its title from Jan’s recent “I’m In The Mood” tour. These two opening pieces, which I’d not heard before, had immediate appeal and let Jan rip with some dynamic, fluid soloing: a clever mix of jazz with some crunchy rock licks.

These were followed by the beautiful ballad “Cotton Bay” and then a dramatic change in tempo and some dazzling fretwork for “The Zebrah”.

In closing the first set, Jan treated us to an extended rendition of “Tommy”. This also started with a soft jazz feel, but suddenly opened up with the most jaw-dropping rock guitar playing I’ve ever heard. Of all Jan’s performances this, for me, was the most impressive and gratifying. He later explained to me that the extended version had originally been written for Focus, but never got recorded.

The second set featured Streetwalker, Blues Root, Heavy Treasure, Mercy, mercy, mercy and Sylvia/On The Table. Even accepting that we were in the presence of a master guitarist, Jan ‘s playing was consistently brilliant, dynamic and superbly structured. Personal highlights from the set included an outstanding keyboard break by Coen Molenaar on “Streetwalker”, an inspired and impressive drum solo by Remco van der Sluis (On The Table), and a virtuoso bass break by Wilbrand Meischke on the encore (Pietons/Hocus Pocus). On the last few chords of Hocus Pocus, the E string on Jan’s guitar snapped and was quickly discarded without affecting delivery of the grand finale. Jan and the band left the stage to thunderous applause.

Modest and approachable as ever, Jan seemed genuinely flattered to hear that this inspired gig had “recharged my batteries”. An added delight of the evening was acquiring his new Live CD “I’m In The Mood”, capturing performances from the recent Dutch tour. This recording is pure class: combining the rich Jan Akkerman guitar sound with simply great music. Track 8 “No Wonder” is a truly phenomenal piece of solo work drawing on Jan’s awesome armoury of techniques.

As for the discarded E string, this now has pride of place in my collection of guitar memorabilia, alongside the autographs of Jan himself, Andres Segovia, Allan Holdsworth and John Williams. I’ll never forget that incredible version of Tommy, played by Jan using that very string!

Review - Steve Moore