Jan is just about the best in the business


Back in the days when Jan Akkerman played in Focus there were always debates as to who the best guitarist is or was. Whilst these kinds of discussions don't seem to happen so much anymore the subject almost inevitably is raised when a guitarist of the legendary status of Jan returns for a concert tour.

Just for the record, as you may have guessed, I do rate him the best. On his British tour which finished on Sunday, May 20th, I heard a few names mentioned of guitarists who supposedly can "play every bit as good if not better than Jan Akkerman", as one guy whom I spoke to at the gig at the Picture Playhouse in Beverley put it. What I usually find when someone makes this kind of statement is that they mean the person in question is better in whichever area takes their fancy. This guy turned out to be a blues fan and so he named someone who is a better blues guitarist.

Of course you can name a better blues guitarist than Jan Akkerman. Of course you can name a better rock guitarist than him. Of course you can name a better jazz guitarist and of course you can name a better classical guitarist. But can someone name me a guitarist who has such a great command of these and other fields as Jan Akkerman has? If there is such a person around then I haven't heard him (or her!). In case anyone thinks I am overemphasizing the technical aspects of playing, I would just like to stress that all this doesn't mean a great deal if the basic vehicle for delivering it isn't there. By this I mean beautiful tunes and, in my opinion, Jan is just about the best in the business for this. All the above aspects and more of his playing were exhibited during his tour; the last five venues of which I had the great pleasure to attend. We had the fast fingering of his version of "Milestones" which included a section where he abandoned his plectrum and played his jazz guitar with classical technique. I think his best performance of this one was at the stables in Milton Keynes.

Still in the jazz vein there was his superb homage to Django Reinhardt, "Zebra" and the Picture Playhouse in Beverley was the place to be to catch this one at it's best. We also had his beautifully understated playing on the ballads "Cotton Bay", "Am I Loosing You" and "No Hang Up's". His version of the latter at the Stables had a tear welling up in my eye and not just because I had had a few drinks! Neither could I have been alone in my feeling because there was a lady who squealed, "Yes!"

The venue for those who love to hear all the old rock classics had to be the Robin Hood in Brierley Hill where Jan's versions of "Hocus Pocus" and "Sylvia" were, in his own words the following evening, "Blasting away!" Finally, the gut wrenching classic beloved by almost all of his fans, "Tommy", after several versions beset with sound difficulties, was eventually "alright on the night" with a great rendition in Croydon's Ashcroft Theatre.

Praise also has to go to the band, Wilbrand Meischke on bass and Ton Dijkman (the "engine room" of the band) on drums are about the tightest rhythm section you could wish for and Jeroen Rietbergen's keyboard playing seems to get better all the time. It even included an oriental koto-like solo.
I can't wait for July in Alexander's.

Review - Jim Higgins
Photos - Graham Crawford