Review: Keith James, Cheltenham Town Hall
A SINGER-SONGWRITER who died in the 1970s aged only 26 was the main focus of Keith James' concert. No, this wasn't Cheltenham born Brian Jones, but another musician who had a similarly troubled life, his name - Nick Drake.
Keith James' reminiscences of Drake revealed a strong admiration and affection for a shy musician who was a complete perfectionist. He would tune guitars in twenty or so different ways to increase the emotional intensity of a work.. I counted four differently tuned guitars on stage, but even these had to be retuned at times.
Drake was particularly drawn to the poetry of William Blake and made arrangements of Songs of Innocence and Experience. There was a sense of anguish and disillusion in the accompaniment to London, and the setting for the Garden of Love was permeated with bleak sadness. The arrangement of The Tyger was more muscular; A Dream with its gentle strumming accompaniment.had a wistful feel
Keith James is keen to champion these works, but regrettably his own ill-health has delayed the completion of this project. So instead he moved on to better known numbers like Time of No Reply, with its powerful evocation of loneliness, and I was Made to Love Magic.
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Also featured was the more romantic and optimistic Northern Sky, Fruit Tree (about the elusiveness of fame) and the desperate Been Smoking too Long.
Keith James' own arrangements of Going to Santiago and The Mask, poems by the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, brought a rhythmic Spanish flavour to the proceedings, while the Davy Graham number Skillet was a folksy fun piece.
From my seat in the candlelit Pillar Room the performance looked so laid-back and easy - a testament to the impeccable musicianship of Mr James.