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Richard Durrant kicks off summer at Ropetackle

Local musician and Ropetackle regular Richard Durrant delighted the audience on Thursday night with a life-affirming summer concert.

After cycling 1,500 miles from St Magnus Cathedral in Orkney to Sussex, Richard came home to roost at Ropetackle and served up an evening of original music to kick off the summer holidays, including gems from his latest double-album Stringhenge. He was joined on stage by special guest Howard Beach, from Red Priest, (Harpsichord, Organ & BVs), who contributed to the album, Stephen Hiscock, (Percussion and Drums), and Robert Andrews (Bass & BVs.)

After the show, Richard said: “This gig was the perfect way to celebrate the completion of another 1,000 miles of cycling music around Britain with great friends both onstage, backstage and in the audience.”

Stringhenge – a review by Martin Allen 

There are moments, as rare and precious as the discovery of the perfect pearl, when artistic excellence and a compelling voice find sublime confluence. And here, with the release of Richard Durrant’s latest album, Stringhenge, is such a moment; to relish; a truly joyous, immersive experience.

The two parts, at first, contrasting, distinct in genre – one part, Durrant alone, the accomplishment of his virtuosity shining through, the second part, The English Guitar Hymnal, a collection of “hymns”, speaking of joy and humour as well as praise – meld into a theme of reverence, for the myriad wonders – music, nature, humanity – of the world that Durrant so vividly inhabits.

Ten of the first part’s fourteen tracks, are by Bach, reminding us of Durrant’s deep classical roots, and yet, with consummate finesse, he embroiders the master he so idolises with such colour it is as if one is coming to him afresh.

Solos on the Bog Oak Guitar, this part’s title, alludes to the 5000 year old tree, heaved from a Norfolk bog, its ancient timber rendered into an instrument of extraordinary resonance, infusing the music with its own mystique.

The opening ebullient Prelude is followed by The Deep Dark Woods, hinting at Durrant’s influences; the lilt of Davy Graham’s Angie, evoking a smile of recognition, and surely, a nod of approval from Bach himself. Durrant and Bach are indeed perfectly attuned as we dance – gavotte, bouree, courante – Davy Graham’s flavour interspersed with purity of interpretation.

Then, in sudden contrast, and yet holding the same mood of euphoria with just a hint of melancholy, The Skye Boat Song, plaintively melodic on Durrant’s four string Tenor Guitar, the mist of the wistful opening dispersing, offering the vista of the sun touching the island’s rugged peaks.

Via a suite on ukulele, light, precise, and the deeply traditional Speed the Plough, we culminate with the sumptuous Prelude in G.

For Part 2, Durrant is joined for a veritable feast of instruments and voices by some old friends – Howard Beach, Nick Pynn, Piers Adams – themselves players of phenomenal talent, his own musically steeped family, the massed ranks of Sompting Morris, to name but a few of the crowded cast list, the opening track, however, being Durrant alone, paying homage to another of his influences, John Renbourn, of the legendary Pentangle.

The Walrus Tree, self composed, marks the shift from Bach to bucolic, Durrant’s understanding of man’s affinity with the natural world liberated and given luxuriant expression, embroidered with passing themes, as here, of the ethereal, resolving into a joyous mood of journeying through summer countryside. With Edward the Good Angel, Beach’s fulsome baroque harpsichord evolves into a veritable cartoon soundtrack with Durrant’s acoustic guitars coming to the fore in the whimsical Kenneth the Hedge, this time with a distinct influence of early Pink Floyd.

With To Be a Minstrel, Durrant, with a hint of yearning, declares his true colours, as minstrel and troubadour. Indeed, one senses that here he is truly baring his soul, pleading for music in all its forms – hymns, storytelling, refrain – to be allowed to inhabit that same space, his voice expressive, redolent of the Pogues’ Shane Macgowan.

Morris Dreams, psalm to the deepest of traditions, with the sound of Sompting Morris captured on an ambisonic microphone and the Durrants in full choral mode, evokes village greens and summer days, leading, as fitting closure, to Daisy Durrant’s beautiful, unblemished We Plough and Scatter, the harvest hymn interwoven with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from the 9th symphony.

In the ensuing quiet, one is left with the feeling that here is an extraordinary musician at the very top of his game; maverick maybe, to the puritans of classical music, but maestro of music in its myriad guises, as the very stuff of life.